How to Get Seven "A"s When You Work Through Conflict

Conflict: A Constant Opportunity

Once we're committed to working through conflict in a way that honors God, how do we do the hard work discussed in part 1? In Matthew 7 Jesus talks about taking the log out of our own eyes, but doing that isn't alway our first inclination. Too often we're trying to be vindicated instead of working toward a resolution that is rooted in love.

Todd WagnerApr 18, 2010Proverbs 6:16-19; 1 Corinthians 8:1-2; Psalms 139:23-24; Matthew 5:21-24; Proverbs 6:1-5; Luke 15:17-21; Matthew 18:26

We're in the middle of a little series where we're going to talk about the fact that conflict needs some help. We typically think of conflict as something we want to avoid at all costs, but we began to look last week at the fact that conflict is not something to be avoided; it's something to be seen as an opportunity. It's a constant opportunity.

It's an opportunity to glorify God, serve others, and grow ourselves. It's an opportunity for us to dive in and to be imitators of God. It's an opportunity for us to love in such a way that people will know we are followers of him. It's an opportunity for us, as Jesus said, to set ourselves apart as peacemakers who will be known as sons of God.

Conflict is not a sin. Sometimes we treat it like it is. All sin does lead to conflict, but conflict itself… What you do with it determines whether or not it's going to be something great or something that will force us to float off into pseudo-Christianity that, frankly, brings great pain and consequence to ourselves or it becomes a blessing to others and an opportunity to glorify God and grow ourselves.

Just to share with you, this week I read a study that just came out, a recent study, and it talks about how there are millions of unchurched Americans. Over the last six months, 63 million adults have not been in any sort of organized spiritual service of any kind. If you take kids who are under 18 and associate them with that 63 million, over 100 million Americans have not had any kind of organized gathering with any sort of spiritual life.

It's because many of them have had negative experiences related to a local church or people in it. In fact, what's interesting, of those 100 million, about 83 percent of them would describe themselves as believers or as Christians. It doesn't mean they are; it just means they would say, "I'm a Christian."

Of those, 40 percent say… So, we're looking roughly in that 30 to 40 million category of individuals who haven't been involved with some sort of corporate spiritual life that God said is a gift and a blessing to you to spur you on to love and good deeds, to allow you to be comforted in times of sadness and to multiply your joys and help you experience what God who loves you wants you to experience. About 30 to 40 million Americans are not involved that way because they don't know how to work through conflict.

Then there are innumerable amounts of us who are involved and engaged in a local community of some kind, but we're not pursuing the things God says we should pursue, and there's a false intimacy or no real intimacy at all. In fact, in marriages, as I've said many times here, as many folks are un-divorced as they are experiencing the oneness God intends in marriage, because they don't know how to work through the natural conflicts that come in life because we are not complete people yet.

God hates conflict. God hates conflict because it damages relationships if you don't deal with it well. In fact, God hates conflict so much he was willing to enter into the conflict that we, as sinners, had with him, a holy God, in order to not just mediate it but to atone for that sin, that we might be one with him again.

God always initiates in the midst of conflict, and those who are sons and daughters of his are to do the exact same thing. Look at his pattern. "Adam, why are you hiding from me?" God knew, but he wanted Adam to come out. "Cain, where is your brother Abel? Sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you should act wisely in the midst of this." He calls folks out. Even with us, he makes provision for us and seeks us and comes after us again and again.

People sometimes ask me about the seven deadly sins. It's not a phrase that's in the Scripture, but it's one that has been made popular through modern literature and other art forms. They ask, "Todd, what are the seven deadly sins?" I go, "Well, there really aren't seven deadly sins, but there is something in Scripture that would probably get us as close to that as anything, and you can find it in Proverbs, chapter 6." Check out Proverbs 6:16-19, and watch what God says here.

"There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him…" He lists them off. "…haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers."

If you'll go back and look on your own time over those seven things, without much effort you can see that every one of those either terminates a life or destroys the relationship of two living people. God hates things which lead to isolation and that which severs the thing he intended us to live in, which is oneness, community, and togetherness. That's why he said we are to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in a bond of peace.

God wants us to be proactive in getting after conflict. In fact, there are many different Scriptures that talk about why it's such a big deal. Proverbs 17:14 tells us, "The beginning of strife…" Just the start of it. "…is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out." In other words, as soon as you see it, don't act like it's not there. Don't pretend like it's not there. Don't be peace-fakers, and certainly don't escalate it.

Don't teach somebody who has a little problem with you to not do that to you again by being harsh toward them. No, abandon it. Get involved and work through it in a biblical way before it turns into a flood of trouble. So many relational troubles can be traced right back to the fact that five or six months ago I heard something you did that bothered me, and I've just lost six months of relationship. I've had false intimacy or no intimacy with you.

God calls us out of this pattern, and he wants us to be individuals who actively engage with one another even in the midst of conflict. When you have conflict, it's an opportunity. We're trying to help us figure out tonight how to work through it. One of the things that is a typical problem in the context of conflict is that we enter into it without really understanding our part.

I mentioned last week that the application coming out of all we looked at last week was to begin to understand the most difficult part of any conflict was seeing our part in it. All of us can tell what other people have done that has bothered us, but focusing on that which we have brought, whether it's an attitude, an action, or just an unwillingness to work through what could be a potential misunderstanding, is the log in our eye.

This is what Jesus said. "I want you to be concerned about conflict. I want you to be concerned about what you see in other people's lives. There is a need for them to see clearly about life and relationships, so if there's a speck in their eye I want you to help them get it out. If there is something that is jacked up with their heart, I want you to love them through it.

But heart surgery, eye surgery is intricate stuff. It's a very delicate procedure, so you cannot in any way be hindered in your own view, in your own ability to understand how to get in there and help that eye out and work on that heart. If there's a log in your eye, deal with that first, and then you can help them out with their view of life or their way of doing life. Deal with that, and then let's move in together."

Let me just show you. This has been a problem for a long time. There was a time in a church… The church was in Corinth. Paul was admonishing them that there was a problem amongst the saints who were there because they both thought they understood a situation and the best way to glorify God in it, and what they did was they took a confrontational approach. What happened was there were two groups of people.

Over here there were folks who were pretty sure they had figured out the best way to honor God and serve him in the community, and over here was another group of people, and they were pretty sure that, in fact, they had deciphered the right way to honor God and make him famous in their little community, and they began to war over which way was, in fact, the right way. They had this confrontational approach, and they began to argue about what was truth and what was right.

What they didn't realize in the midst of this was that God doesn't want us to have a confrontational approach; he wants us to have a commitment approach. What Paul did as he wrote to them… The topic wasn't too important. He said, "Look. It's the fool, Proverbs 12 tells us, who thinks his way is always the right way." Proverbs 18:2 is a Scripture that says, "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind."

One guy said a long time ago that that's the double trouble of a fool. He has an open mouth and a closed mind. It doesn't allow you to see things from another perspective that might help you mediate this potential conflict. You see, when you have this approach working, that "I know more than you," and this person thinks, "I know more than you," and even sometimes when you say, "Okay, we'll meet in the middle…" The problem with meeting in the middle is most of us are a terrible judge of distance.

Even more than that, you have to start with a humility. Remember what it says in Ephesians 4. "Walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all gentleness and humility, showing forbearance to one another in love. Be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." First Peter 5 tells us to clothe ourselves in humility. Don't be like the fool whose way is always right in his own eyes.

Paul says there's another way to go at that. It's not to work toward self-exoneration where you're going to say, "I have to show you that I was right in this" and argue the other person into submission. What Paul says here is "Why don't we work from another perspective? Instead of confrontational…I'm right and you're wrong or you're right and I'm wrong…let's go with another perspective. Let's start with the fact that we love one another and we believe that you want what's best, that you love truth, that you love God. Let's work from this commitment we both have to love and to one another, and let's work together to figure out what is truth."

This is Paul's exhortation to the folks who are in Corinth, and it's God's exhortation to us as we move into conflict. Don't argue over rightness and wrongness. Start with this foundational commitment to one another and say, "Let's work together toward truth." Now let me give you a little insight to what was going on in Corinth. What was happening in that day and age was there was meat that had been sacrificed to idols.

What would happen is they would take animals, and in some of the pagan worship of the day they would sell the animals and sacrifice them to some said god, and then they would take that meat… There was no contamination on it, nothing wrong with it, and because they had already made some profit in the sale of the animal they could take that meat and sell it for less in the marketplace.

There were certain people who felt like you should never buy meat that was sacrificed to idols because you're supporting an industry that is a godless industry, and that would be dishonoring to God and would be participating in that pagan ritual. Other folks said, "That's ridiculous. We're not participating in a pagan ritual; we're buying meat for 50 cents on the dollar.

Instead of paying 10 bucks a pound for meat, we're paying 5 bucks a pound for meat, and that's better because we can use that extra $5 to care for widows and orphans and further the mission and the kingdom of God. That's a better use of money. You people who are paying $10 in your legalism and self-righteousness are not being good stewards of what God has given you, and that's crazy. That doesn't honor God." They were warring over this.

This is what Paul says: "Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge." In other words, Paul is saying, "We all know a little bit about what's going on with that sacrifice of different animals to idols." "Knowledge makes arrogant, but love [on the other hand, builds up and] edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything…" In other words, doesn't clothe themselves in humility. "…he has not yet known as he ought to know…"

"Your problem is that you are fighting about what you know, looking to exonerate your position, instead of starting with a fundamental commitment to one another. You all believe that God loves us. You believe God enters into our sinfulness and our brokenness, that he himself died to reconcile us. You believe God raised him to life on the third day and that Christ died for you so you ought to live for him. We both believe that. We want to honor God in everything we do. So help me understand why you think you should pay $10 a pound for meat, and tell me why you think you should pay $5 a pound for meat."

The first person goes through and says, "Because I think it would honor God. I think it wouldn't be good to participate with those folks and to be in any way attached to pagan worship." The other folks would say, "Well, I'm really not. In the marketplace the meat is just priced differently. I don't believe there is any god but one God. The Scripture says there's only one God. They're sacrificing those animals to a myth, and I can take that extra $5 and use it to further the kingdom causes we're so passionate about. I want to honor God." "I want to honor God."

You know what? All of a sudden there's new understanding here. Do you know what Paul's solution was, by the way? Paul said, "Look, if you ask me, I don't really care about idols. They don't exist, so give me the $5 meat. But really, you know what I would do?" What Paul says is, "If it would offend you for me to spend $5 on meat when you think I should spend $10 and it would offend you to spend $10 when you think I should spend $5, I just won't even eat meat.

My love for red meat is not as important as my love for you. I'm not going to use my freedom as a cause to offend you. This isn't even the main thing right now. What the main thing is is for us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. So if I can't figure it out with you, let's just have a salad. I'll be a vegetarian, not because I have to be or it's more spiritual, but it is more spiritual to love, not to win."

Do you see that? When I get locked into a position where I'm going to fight until I prove that I'm right and you're wrong, I'm immediately setting this thing up in a way that someone has to win and someone has to lose, as opposed to saying, "Hey, let's work through this, because I love you and I know you love God. You love God's Word more than anything. Right? So do I. Well, let's figure out where we're seeing this thing from different angles. Let's work toward truth."

Let me give you an amazing and maybe funny example of this. Sometimes conflict happens because we bring to bear attitudes we're not familiar with. I'll talk about that in a minute. Sometimes conflict is there because of actions we've committed or words we've done. Other times there's conflict just because we haven't humbled ourselves and we're sure we know all knowledge and we forgot to clothe ourselves in humility.

I was speaking a number of years ago down in South Texas at a little family camp. Before we got down there, they knew we had a lot of kids and they said, "This is kind of rough terrain, and the normal strollers and stuff don't work down here, so we just want to let you guys know if you have a Baby Jogger you might want to bring one. We do what we can to help folks out, but I know you have a lot of kids, so just a little word to the wise, you might want to bring your own stroller down here."

So we went out and bought a double Baby Jogger. We were really thrilled that we had it. We needed it a bunch of times. We got down there. The very first day, we go to breakfast and we park our little Baby Jogger outside. When we come out I'll be dadgum if that sucker wasn't gone. We'd gotten there a little late. We had missed the introductory thing the night before, so we were just meeting some people. We walked out, and the first impression was, "Wow! Someone took our Baby Jogger. That's crazy."

I looked around. There were a few other strollers that were around, but they weren't ours and they certainly weren't nice. Anyway, we just carried our kids back. Then a little bit later I saw our Baby Jogger. There was a diaper bag in it and some other stuff. So I took the stuff out of the pockets and nicely laid it down right next to it and put our stuff in it and went on to our deal and went to the next little site.

I'll be son of a gun if I don't walk up on that site and our Baby Jogger was gone. I go somewhere else, and there it is again with somebody else's stuff in it. I'm thinking, "That's crazy." This went on for about three days. I'd walk around. Our Baby Jogger would be gone. I'd find it with somebody else's stuff in it, and I kept taking their stuff out of it, laying it on the ground, and when I could, move my kids that way and not carry them.

Well, the funny thing is I'm teaching on conflict at this thing. There's one couple that is there, and on the third day they're kind of sitting there like this when I'm talking. Specifically, the husband is not really listening to me. That's not that terribly unusual, but in this case I just happened to notice it. I walk out, and I see that guy go out and put his stuff in my Baby Jogger. I just go, "Okay, here's an opportunity to engage this guy."

I walked up and went, "Hey, man, can I stop you for a second?" He goes, "Yeah, what do you need?" I said, "Well, look. I've noticed you have a couple of kids. This is our Baby Jogger, and we're happy to share it with you, but we also have some small kids, so I wonder if we can work out a way…" The guy goes, "What do you mean this is your Baby Jogger?" I go, "Well, it's our Baby Jogger. We bought it and brought it down here." He goes, "You what?" I go, "I bought it and we brought it down here." He goes, "Oh no." I go, "What?"

He goes, "I have been dogging you all week to my wife." I go, "Why?" He goes, "Well, because the first night during the little introductory time they explained to us that this was really rough terrain so even folks who had small kids would bring their own strollers down here but they wouldn't work. So somebody had donated a bunch of Baby Joggers that were here, and it was just kind of one of those mutual use things.

Whenever you see one just feel free to use it and go to the next place. Just leave it there and somebody use it from there and take it somewhere else. I kept telling my wife, 'That guy, Mr. Big-Time Speaker, thinks he always gets the new one. He always gets the nice one. He won't use the ones the rest of us have to use, these ratty ones that are bleached out in the sun and people have spilled their formula on. No, he wants the new one. Every time he sees our stuff in the new one he takes it out and puts it over here.'"

I think he's stealing my jogger. He thinks I'm big-timing him because I'm the speaker; I get the new one. We laughed. I said, "Man, you've got to be kidding me. It has been driving me crazy. I just couldn't believe people just take stuff." He goes, "It's been driving me crazy that you keep doing that." I'm teaching on conflict, so this became something we all laughed about, and we all talked about different stories.

We all have that in our relationships where we're sure we know all the information, that other people must be a jerk, and they're coming at it from a completely understandable other perspective, but because we start with, "I'm right, you're wrong; I'm right, you're wrong," we have this conflict. Sometimes if we just listen and delight in understanding and not just revealing our opinion to our spouse or whoever will listen about what a jerk that guy is there's unity.

What I want to do is give you seven things you should do as you work through conflict. My friend Ken Sande has done yeoman's work on this. I'm going to stand on his shoulders and take some stuff he has done, change it, personalize it a little bit, but by and large, this is stuff that will help you work through conflict. And you're going to have it, all of us. Here we go. Here's the very first thing you have to do. I told you the most difficult part of any conflict is seeing your part in it.

1._ Ask God and others for help with self-awareness._ One of the things I do on a regular basis is I say, "Lord, help me. Who have I hurt? I need extra sensitivity. There's an old saying in the country: 'A fox can't smell his own hole.' I am absolutely certain that I am not aware of the things I give off that have damaged relationship or the things I do that I just think that's the way you relate. I don't know how loud I am, how big I am, how intimidating I am, how forceful I am. I sometimes think I'm being kind when I'm not. Sometimes I know I'm not being kind, but often, Lord, if there's something I'm doing just show me."

Psalm 139:23-24. I quoted it last week, but here it is again. This is a prayer you ought to memorize and say all the time. "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way." Just sit and listen.

"God, is there anybody I'm in conflict with that I need to initiate today? Not fake like I'm not in conflict with them, not intimidate them or threaten them so they will learn not to mess with me again, but who can I make peace with today? Certainly my wife, certainly my children, certainly those I interact with on an ongoing basis, but, Father, show me. Do I have any work to do in this one area? I want to be a son of God. I want to be an imitator of God. I don't want to fake. I don't want to break. I want to make peace."

Ask friends to come alongside of you. I had a couple of guys spend about three hours with me Monday of last week just working through a little bit of how I was making them feel undervalued, not appreciated, irrelevant in terms of some things I was about. They loved me enough to sit down and go, "Todd, we don't believe you mean to do this, and we believe you don't want us to feel this way, but we feel this way and we think there are some things that are going on."

I said, "Will you help me, first, be specific about that in the moment that it happens, and secondly, will you give me some strategies that I can be proactive, because I am communicating something I don't want to communicate." We were diligent. It took us hours. We were diligent to work toward that unity we want with one another. So you have to get the logs out of your eye. You ask God. You ask others to help you.

I'll just say this. Certain logs are easy. Actions and words sometimes are really easy to see. Other times we don't even know them. Again, it's that self-awareness thing. I'll tell you a funny story (obviously not true) of a Scottish boy who went to Oxford University. He was there for a couple of months, and his mom wrote him and said, "Dear William, how is it going with those English students?" He wrote back and said, "Mom, the English students are noisy, and they're an irritant. Blah!"

She said, "Oh, dear William, tell me about it." He said, "Well, the folks who live on either side of me are crazy. The guy on this side just bangs his head on the wall all night long, kicks the wall. The guy on the other side screams and moans and makes these obnoxious noises." "Oh, dear William, however do you put up with it?" He says, "Well, Mom, I just sit here, I mind my own business, and I play my bagpipes. That's all I'm doing."

You hear that story and you go, "Of course! It's the bagpipes." But if you're a fox from Scotland you don't know it's the bagpipes. Sometimes you need folks to help you. Sometimes our actions and the things we do are what are causing the conflict, and when you know it, when you figure out, "Yeah, that's what I'm doing to add to this conflict," you deal with it.

Other times it's attitudes, sometimes biases we bring to a certain situation that we maybe aren't fully acknowledging. One of the things we do when we go to Africa, when we're dealing with folks over there who have had years of conflict, is we try and help them understand the log in their eye about the way they perceive other people. In certain countries, Rwanda and parts of Congo and even Burundi, the Hutus and Tutsis have been at this thing for generations.

There has been mass genocide that is infamous in terms of world history, and the way they are taught to believe and think about one another they can't always see. One of the things we try and do is just to engage them on that. One of the things we say is, "Okay, what do you guys think about Americans?" They want to be polite at first, because they don't want to offend us. We're the teachers, we're there, and they want to welcome us.

So I start to say, "Come on. What are some things you think about America? Do you think we're imperialistic?" You can kind of hear them look at each other and turn left and right. "Well, yeah. Yeah." I immediately go, "No, we're not imperialistic. Do we still inhabit Germany? Are we still in Japan? We're there at times to do stuff. We try and get out." I go, "Okay, so you think we're imperialistic. What are some other perceptions about Americans?" Eventually, they'll start to raise their hand and say, "You're all rich."

"Okay. What else?"

"You guys don't have any problems."

"Okay. What else do you think about Americans?"

"You use your nuclear arsenal to intimidate people and get what you want."

"Okay. What else?"

"You support surrounding countries because you want to get in and take some of our minerals like everybody else."

"Okay. What else?"

"You hate children."

"That's interesting. Why do we hate children, by the way?" They don't even know enough about our abortion culture to mention that. They just go, "Because you don't have as many children in your families as we do, so you must hate children, because you don't have 10 children like we do. You hate children."

"Okay. What else?"

On and on we go. Then I go, "So what do you think…?" It's funny, because at first they're slow to start, and then they just unleash a tidal wave. After about 45 minutes I go, "Okay, enough about the Americans. What do you think Americans think about you?"

"We are hardworking."

"Okay, good. What else?"

"We glorify God even though our circumstances are difficult."

"Okay, very good. What else?"

They go through this long list that would be like they're nominating themselves for some Nobel Peace Prize of great humanitarian… It's funny, because we're all like that. Then I offer some things: that you guys are all uneducated, that you run around in loincloths, that you wear bones in your nose. They laugh, and sometimes they're offended, and we talk and work it out.

I say, "Okay, let's do this," and we give them a little assignment. We make up two imaginary tribes, the Liwis and the Okis. They don't even exist. We take the Liwis and the Okis and say, "I want you to read this story about the Liwis and the Okis and the way they're raised." We go through, and we let them work through this issue that the Liwis and the Okis have always had with each other and the way they were raised up to believe about the other tribe.

They get in there, and we put them in a circle, Hutus and Tutsis and everything in there, and they're all helping the Liwis and the Okis. They're helping the Liwi see the log in their eye and the Oki the log in their eye. Then you bring them out of there, and we look at what the source of the conflict was and the counsel they give to them. Then all of a sudden we pull them out and go, "What if that was the Hutus and the Tutsis?"

You can see them go, "Oh!" And the walls are down. They just partnered with one another to work through this conflict, and they realize, "That's our conflict. That's the white man and the black man. That's the rural and the urban. That's the different social classes." On and on and on. All of a sudden they go, "Let's take these principles we've learned and apply them to us." Attitudes and biases.

Sometimes our attitudes are not even bad things, not even negative things. Sometimes they are good desires that are elevated to an unhealthy place. In other words, wanting to be understood, wanting to be loved, wanting to be vindicated that our position wasn't crazy, wanting to be respected. Those aren't bad things, but when you elevate them and say, "I'm going to make you respect me. I want you to love me…"

You can't make somebody love you, and when you make that an idol in your life to say, "You have to feel this way about me," and you go after that and you can't get that person to change, it's going to be a source of conflict. That is a log in your eye. Your real conflict with that person is not that they won't treat you a way but that you have maybe an unhealthy need, an idolatrous need for them to view you a certain way instead of just loving them.

Let me read this to you this way. This is a statement that's worth thinking about. Whenever we are excessively preoccupied with something, even if it is good, and we seek to find happiness, security, and fulfillment in it rather than in God, we are guilty of idolatry, which leads to conflict with not only God but, invariably, with other people as well.

This is what James, chapter 4, was all about. "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?" It goes on later and says, "You are envious, so you fight and quarrel." You have idols in your life, and you elevate maybe even good desires to an unhealthy place, and you go, "I want that person in that position to see me a certain way and to acknowledge me."

If they don't, you don't like them, and often you're quick to tell other people why you don't think they're worthy themselves of being liked. I've had folks who come up to me sometimes and say, "Hey, I have to ask your forgiveness, because for the last three years I have been trashing you around town." I go, "Okay, well, you're forgiven since you've asked, but can I ask you why?"

"Well, Todd, nothing you've done. I just had an unhealthy need for this" or "I wanted this" or "I wanted that." Or I've had folks tell me, "Because one day I was driving through the lot and saw you walking out to your car, and I waved at you, and you didn't even acknowledge me. I just went, 'There he is. There's the arrogance.' I knew guys in his position, guys who looked like him and talked like him and had positions like him… I knew they'd feel that way about guys like me." I go, "Can I just ask for a little bit more detail?"

"Well, you probably didn't even see me." I go, "I don't think I did see you." They go, "Well, you were even on the phone," and off they go. "Anyway, this wasn't what you did, but for three years I've talked to others about you in this way because of that incident. Finally, God got that log out of my eye."

I usually say, "Will you forgive me for not being more sensitive and aware? I wish I would have seen you. I wish I could have waved. I wish I'd be better with names so I knew everybody's name the first time I met them. I'm sure there are things about me that communicate arrogance and that I don't need you, but I don't want that. Thank you for coming to me."

The first thing you do is ask God and others for help. "Show me the logs that are in my eyes. Teach me to not be a fool who does not delight in understanding. Teach me to not be a fool who thinks all of his ways are right. Show me where I'm idolatrous."

2._ When you realize there's an issue, address everyone immediately, as soon as possible._ The Scripture says, in fact, you can't do anything right in God's eyes; you can't even be a worshiper until you go after the conflict that exists. You have to make that priority one. Matthew, chapter 5, verse 21, and following. This is what it says. When God is talking to us about how he wants us to go through life and we realize we have an issue…

"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you[it's not just that physical act but]that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool'[is guilty of murder, in effect, and]shall be guilty enough to go **into the fiery hell."

Application, verse 23: "Therefore [knowing that God is serious about relationship and not wanting you to drift from one another] if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and [you realize you have a problem with a brother or] your brother has something against you, leave your offering there…" Before you do anything philanthropic, before you go and head off to your little ministry, before you give your next talk, before you do your next little study, you go apply what you know.

"…go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and [offer what you have for me] ." You can't even worship right if you choose to not do what worshipers do, which is make peace, initiate. You can't make them respond the way you want. That's not your job. As much as you are able, be at peace with all men. He said, "Let us pursue the things which make for peace." You can't always make peace, but your job is to do the things that make for peace. He said it's the first job.

Men, 1 Peter 3:7 talks about the fact that if you have an issue with your wife and you don't get on that rapidly and fully, he says, "I have an issue with you. In fact, I'm going to show you if you don't care that your relationship with the one you committed to a covenant oneness is moving toward a place of greater intimacy and health, then I'm going to show you what it's like if somebody you want to be one with does not care about you."

It will hinder your prayers. God said, "I'm not going to listen until you reconcile and move back in oneness with her the way you want to move in oneness with me. You want me to hear you? Then live with her in an understanding way." He takes it pretty seriously. In fact, he said in Proverbs 6:1-5, "My son, if you have become surety for your neighbor, have given a pledge for a stranger…"

The context here is if you have too quickly spoken with your mouth and put yourself in a position where you have said, "I am good for this guy; I will cosign on the loan," and you realize that was hasty and foolish, then you ought to deal with that as quickly as you can, but watch. There's a larger application here.

"…if you have been snared with the words of your mouth…" If your mouth has gotten you in trouble, if you've done something that has put you at risk that you're going to defraud a relationship, if you've been caught that way. "…do this then, my son, and deliver yourself; since you have come into the hand of your neighbor, go, humble yourself [acknowledge what you did was stupid, impulsive, and wrong] , and importune your neighbor." That means throw yourself before them. Prostrate yourself before them. Beg them. Acknowledge what you did.

"Give no sleep to your eyes…" Then it says in verse 5, "…deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter's hand and like a bird from the hand of the fowler." Like your very life depends on it. It's a matter of life and death, because when you move away from the unity that God wants, when you drift away from community in which you were designed to live, you are slowly dying. God says, "You get on it like job one."

This, by the way, is a great cross-reference to Ephesians, chapter 4, where it says, "Don't let the sun go down on your anger." It doesn't mean you have to fix it before you go to bed. It means you have to acknowledge not that something didn't make you angry, because God gets angry at sin, but what does God do? He initiates through that sin to love people and to reconcile.

So what you have to do is say, "Look, there's something going on here, and you matter to me, so I'm coming to you right away. I don't want this to foster another day. I don't want to give the Enemy an opportunity. I don't want to give him a foothold that's going to draw a wedge in our relationship and push us apart, so there is something we need to deal with. If we can't finish it tonight, we have to make it job one in the morning. It's a matter of life and death for our relationship." You address everyone involved…not others…everyone involved as soon as possible.

3._ When you go, avoid "if," "but," and "maybe."_ You don't dance around what happened. There's a great model for this in Luke, chapter 15. It's the story of the prodigal son. Watch what he did. It says, "But when he came to his senses…" When he was made aware of the fact that he had sinned against his father, sinned against his family.

It says he thought to himself, "How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, 'Father [if, maybe, possibly I have hurt the family name, if I've discouraged your heart, or if potentially I've thought poorly of you that all you really were was a means for me to get rich and to go out and party, then I should come to you and] …'"

No, that's not what he says. He goes to that father and even rehearses, which is something you ought to do. Plan carefully. He says, "Let's be clear. I have sinned against you, against heaven, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. I prostrate myself before you." He goes on.

There was none of this, "You know I was raised in a legalistic, dysfunctional home. Dad, you know how many 'family of origin' issues I have. I mean, a lesser man than me would have murdered you and Mom, not asked for the inheritance and gone off, but anyway, it's still been hard for you, so if you've got it in you…" That's not what he did. He owned his stuff, and he was specific. You don't use if, maybe, or but.

4._ Be an individual who apologizes._ This is important. You have to listen to me. These next two go very closely together. The word apologize, by the way, is a word that comes directly across from the Greek language, apologia. When you talk about somebody who studies apologetics… Apologetics are a rational defense of the faith. I'm going to tell you why it makes sense to believe in the Scripture as God's inspired Word, why the resurrection is a reliable event, and yada, yada, yada right through.

That's what most of us are doing. When we apologize, we're explaining why we did what we did, and we're giving a rational defense why you really shouldn't feel the way you feel, and if you didn't feel the way you feel then we wouldn't have a conflict. But most of us, when you get beyond that and you do go, "I'm going to apologize," what two words come to mind when you think about apology? "I'm sorry." Right?

That is a correct understanding of what an apology is: not a rational defense for why you shouldn't be mad at me but a declaration that I am sorry. By the way, the word confession means to admit. When you confess your sins, you are admitting that was sorry. "God, that behavior caused you sorrow. It made me sorrowful. It hurt your heart. It required Christ to be crucified. That was sorry." A biblical response to somebody coming to you and saying, "Hey, I am sorry" is this. Often people go, "I said I'm sorry," and you go, "Yes. What do you want me to do?"

"Well, I want you to acknowledge it. I said I'm sorry."

"Great. You said you're sorry for what you did that created sorrow in this relationship and was an offense to God. I agree with you. You are a sorry individual in that behavior."

"Really. Well, that's offensive."

"You just came to me and told me that what you did was wrong and it created sorrow, and I agree with you. That was a sorrowful and sorry behavior."

My wife a lot when I go to her… Typically, by the way, this is what guys do. They go, "I'm sorry. There, I've apologized. Now it's your problem. Serve to you. Your return. You don't reconcile? Your fault. I said I'm sorry. Your problem. I'm sorry. See? You don't want to reconcile." Women love that. No. Here's a biblical picture of what it means to apologize. It comes in Matthew 18.

I don't have time to develop the whole story, but for the sake of the illustration it's somebody who has an insurmountable debt that in several lifetimes they could not repay, and they become aware of the fact that they have exploited kindness in the relationship and have used the grace that had been extended to them to the extreme and have become abusive of that friendship. When they realize there is no way of escape, they finally go and prostrate themselves.

Matthew 18:26. Look at what happens. "So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself…" He went on to add something. He said, "I'll take care of it," which he never could have done, but that prostrating himself, that throwing himself down, was a sign of humility and sorrow and "My relationship in life has no standing before you anymore because of the way I've acted." That is what sorry looks like.

In fact, in that culture, people of equal dignity would meet and would kiss on the lips. People of a little bit lesser distinction from one another would kiss and greet each other on the cheek, but people where there was a great gap in terms of the distinction and dignity of the persons, when you came up you would get on your knees and bow and put your forehead toward the ground.

This is what this guy did. He said, "I'm no longer worthy even to be called your slave. I am before you, and I am guilty. I just kiss your feet. In fact, I worship you." That's the separation. That's an apology. Guys, when you go to your wife, I'm not sure that you need to necessarily get on your knees and put your forehead to the ground physically, but I can guarantee you this: if you don't communicate that nonverbally, if you just say, "I'm sorry" and give a rational defense for why you acted, it isn't going to get you very far.

But if you're an individual who takes that posture… "I want to tell you, what you just saw was not your imagination. That was real. It was abusive. It was arrogant. It was divisive. It was self-serving. It was an offense to God and an offense to you, and I think it causes great sorrow in my life and I know in yours. I have no excuse except to say I am unworthy for you to love me. I confess and admit that that was what you thought it was."

That's a very scary place to be. That's why when you do that that person should look at you and go, "You know what? You're right where you belong," but the Scripture tells us how we should act toward one another, and that means we need to be ready when people do that to treat them the way God treats us when we're in that position before him.

One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 3 where it says, "Thou, O Lord, are a shield around me. You're my glory and the lifter of my head." What God does when he sees me at his feet kissing him and worshiping him and saying, "I'm unworthy," he picks me up, he lifts my head. He says, "Get up here," and he embraces me. While I'm still a long way off, the Father runs to me and says, "My son who was dead has been found," and he kisses me on the lips and calls me "son."

He says in the same way you should be kind, tenderhearted, merciful toward one another, forgiving each other, even as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven you. But wait. You can't forgive somebody who doesn't ask for it. There's the next thing. After you apologize and say what needs to be acknowledged as wrong…

5._ Ask for forgiveness. Gang, this is not just a technicality. There is something spiritual about this act. When you get on your knees before somebody and acknowledge what you did that offended them… I don't care if they have a thousand things. Deal with your one thing. That's _your job. I don't care if they have a forest full of logs. You deal with your one. When you've admitted that what you did was sorrowful, you then say, "Will you forgive me? Will you by grace acknowledge that I need you to restore this relationship? Will you forgive me?"

God says people who have forgiven much will forgive. Now look. Just because you forgive somebody… I'll probably do an addendum at the end of this on what real biblical forgiveness looks like and what it means. Forgiveness doesn't mean a person automatically is exempt from any consequence. In fact, that's the next thing. After you ask for forgiveness, then the ball is in their court.

6._ You then accept the consequences._ You don't tell them, "Well, you've forgiven me. You ought to let me back in the bedroom. You've forgiven me. You ought to not ever bring it up again." By the way, forgetting is not biblical forgiveness. I know the Lord separates our sin as far as the east is from the west. I know the Lord does not remember our sins anymore, but in human life he doesn't ever tell us to punish ourselves that we remember offenses.

He just says what you have to do in forgiving is you then remove from your heart a desire to move toward that person with vengeance as a motivation. Everything you do should be done in love to them, but sometimes love lets consequences still exist. You should be an individual when you've hurt somebody to acknowledge that you have destroyed trust and trust needs to be rebuilt, that you have lost relationship and you need to restore that relationship, and you don't put them on the clock.

You don't say, "I'll be good now for six months, and if you don't let me all the way back in by then I'm out." You just continue to do the things which make for peace and build a reputation of renown of being Christ-centered and broken and humble and lovely and trustworthy. You accept the consequences. You make remuneration whenever possible. That's consistent with what Numbers exhorts us to do. If you have a means to replace what you've stolen you do it.

7._ You alter your behavior_. You want to be somebody who asks others not to now cover up this mistake with you but say, "Will you work with me so that I won't do this again? Can you help me think strategically what the triggers were that got me to speak that way to you or to do this thing, and can we bring community around us so that my life can be transformed?" What did Jesus say to that woman? He said, "Who condemns you? Nobody. Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more."

We're not going to be perfect, so we're all going to fail, so we have to keep extending each other grace, but you have to start to go, "I really want to alter my behavior, and they have to see a sincere and deep effort for me to bring about transformation in my life." How? By attentiveness to his Word, by reviving my relationship with Christ, by asking others in community to help me, by beginning to process through biblical strategies how I can overcome habits that are destructive in my life. Alter your behavior.

Let me just tell you I have done this with marriages and seen miraculous healing. I have done this with generational conflicts with families. I have done this with people in business in our body where literally hundreds of thousands of dollars and millions of dollars have been at stake, and we've walked through this. People go, "I can't admit this, because they've done all this. If I give them an inch, they're going to run with it." I go, "That's their business. Trust God in this thing."

I have done this where there has been blood shed. I have done this where there has been genocide. I have done this with countries, and I have seen God work. It's a matter of you saying, "I am going to let God lead my life, and I am going to lean not on my own understanding but apply the principles he has given me." Here's one story of how it happened right here that I want you to be encouraged with. Check it out.


Jeff: It was Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, and our family came into town. We were all playing. The dogs were outside running around when the phone rang, and it was our neighbor who we thought was calling to say, "Happy Thanksgiving." It was the dogs themselves. We were leaving the dogs outside, and throughout the day, according to him, they'd bark uncontrollably and he wasn't able to get any work done.

He continued to complain to the city and file complaints on us and on the dogs. Unfortunately, they were going to the wrong address, so we never got any of them. From that point, it escalated again to the point where my wife was in the front yard with my daughter one day, and a constable pulled up, and she was served to appear in court.

Now we're thinking he's going to try to put the dogs down. We're going to have all kinds of issues with the city. It's going to cost us money. The neighbors hated us. We considered putting the house on the market. I thought he had control of my life, and I didn't like that. I have a light that's on the corner of my house that shines into his yard. We went to the store and I purchased the highest watt light bulb you could find. In the middle of the night it looked like the middle of the afternoon in my backyard.

I would be so concerned with my anger and my rage that I didn't realize there were two sets of little eyes watching everything I said and everything I did. Whether I realized it or not, I was teaching them the wrong way to handle conflict. About the same time that all this was going on, I got an email from Todd. He invited me to come to Summit. It wasn't just the Bible study itself, but it was a place where I could go and I could share, not just me but everyone in our small group could share what was going on in their life.

I remember sharing that my first reaction was I wanted to go over there and pull him out of his house. Everyone kind of laughed about it, but at that point Todd made it really clear to me that that wasn't the answer and that wasn't the direction we were going to go. He offered that he'd come over and meet with him. When he told me that, I still didn't want to even go to the front door. Even when we were walking over there, I told him, "You just go, and I'll wait at the house," because that was the way I dealt with conflict. I ran from it or I just avoided it.

What we ended up doing was we both went together, and we said a prayer, actually, when we were on our way up to the door. We were standing there, and I can remember he said, "Knock on the door." We hit it head-on, and we made it really clear that we didn't want any more problems and we wanted to work together. The thing we were most concerned about was resolving this in a loving way and letting him know that we were neighbors and we were going to be neighbors for a long time and we wanted to love him and support him and be there for him in any way we could.

As soon as we said that, everything changed. His immediate reaction was, "That's exactly what I want." There was no more hate, no more anger. We actually worked out a schedule with the dogs on our end, and they had no interest in pursuing anything else. When the door closed, I can remember looking at Todd, and I was almost in tears because it felt like I had the weight of the world off my shoulders.

The biggest problem was we never communicated. This particular incident should have never gotten to this point. The kids, even to this day… It can still come up that he may get called the "mean neighbor" or they may say something negative about him, and we're really quick to correct that and take the blame for what happened.

Through a lot of prayer from a lot of people, God was able to intervene and show me and, more importantly, show my children who were there the whole time through the whole event how you're supposed to love your neighbor and how you're supposed to address conflict and how you're supposed to live in a way that Jesus would want you to live.

[End of video]

What I want to tell you is when we went over to the house I said, "Hey, this is about your log, about your dogs, about your choices, about your ramping this thing up, your increasing the wattage in this conflict. Let's not talk about how he's going to respond." I just want to tell you this other person was not a part of the community of faith. There were things about his life that were very clear that he didn't operate with the same worldview that we did, but that didn't matter.

When Jeff walked up to that door, I introduced myself and Jeff introduced himself. I said, "I'm just here because Jeff is a follower of Christ. I told him I'll help him with this. We're here because Jeff is a follower of Christ. I also am a follower of Christ, and we've become aware of an area in his life that he has not been living in a way that would make you understand how transformational that decision is. He is here to ask your forgiveness, and I am here to make sure he does that in a way that is appropriate and honors his Lord. Jeff?" That was the way it started.

The guy looked at Jeff, and Jeff said, "I need to ask your forgiveness, because my dogs have been a nuisance. In fact, I've escalated and I've enjoyed the fact they've been a nuisance, and I have done this with the light bulb, and I've done this with my attitude. I have wronged you as a neighbor." You could just see it happen. It took us getting attorneys involved, because the city didn't want to let go of that case, even though they both now were working together. Eventually it went away.

I want to tell you I've also been involved in those situations where the other party slams the door in your face, and that doesn't change the fact that it's the right thing to do. You take the light bulb out. You use the Spirit of God to shine the light on your heart where the problem is. You humble yourself as soon as possible. Avoid ifs, buts, or maybes. You apologize, you ask for forgiveness, you accept the consequences, and you alter your behavior, and the world will start to go, "Who are you? Who is your Daddy that he teaches you to make peace this way?" That's where we pick it up next week.

Next week I'm going to give you a field guide when you come that has everything we've talked about here in one little guide you can put in your Bible, put in your pocket, so that we can take conflict and make it our constant opportunity, a win-win-win, not something we avoid. You have a great week of worship. We'll see you.

About 'Conflict: A Constant Opportunity'

When relationships exist conflict is inevitable, but the way we face it is up to us. This series calls us to abandon the approaches most of us take - withdrawal, avoidance, aggression to name just three - and consider the approach God has laid out in His Word. You'll find that working through conflict from God's perspective will actually be a source of constant opportunity instead of a constant source of discouragement and frustration. An opportunity to glorify God, serve others and grow to be more like Christ. You'll be amazed to see how honest God's Word is about conflict and how powerful His plan is to deal with it. And if you'll apply it, you'll be even more amazed to watch this plan bring healing and health to your relationships.