Stepping Up, Staying Strong, Speaking the Truth

Conflict: A Constant Opportunity

Once we've examined our hearts and are ready to own our part in conflict, we must learn to speak hard truths in love, being careful to "maintain the spirit of unity in a bond of peace." Todd walks us through four times we must never avoid conflict and ten things to bear in mind when we are bringing a wrong to someone's attention.

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Todd WagnerApr 25, 2010Proverbs 27:5-6; Jeremiah 9:1-6; Matthew 12:38-39; Matthew 23:24-28; Proverbs 27:17; John 8:43-45; Galatians 2:11-14; Proverbs 19:11; Galatians 6:1-2; Ephesians 4:1-3; 1 Peter 4:14-15; Proverbs 24:11-12; 1 Peter 2:12-15; Matthew 18:15; Proverbs 18:8

Love is still a worthy cause. Talk about not honoring the moment. I'm sitting there listening to that song, and Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride flashes before my face where he says true love is the most noble of all causes. Rent the movie. It's worth it. It is the most worthy cause, but true love, not the way the world makes it about Westley and Princess Buttercup. It's about the kind of love that presses in though your strength is gone, when you don't feel like loving Princess Buttercup anymore, when Westley quits saying, "As you wish" and starts doing as he wants.

That's where most folks bail out, but it's where true love presses in. It's where we really show that we are imitators of God. God demonstrates his love for us while we were yet sinners. In this is love, not that we love God but that God loves us and sent his Son to be a satisfaction for our sins. That is the truest love. We're in the middle of a little series where we're talking about what love really looks like.

"Wait a minute, Todd. I thought you said we're doing a series on conflict." We are. What love looks like is a leaning in when you feel like moving on, not pressing on because your strength is gone. That's where the world moves out, but it's where divine love, unfailing love moves in. As we already sang this morning, the God who never lets go, whose love is stronger than us doing as we wish irrespective of what he wants.

What we're going to talk about is what marks us as his sons, what makes us, individuals… The world will look at us and go, "Who is your daddy? He is not of this world," and we can say, "You're right. I'm learning to love as my Father in heaven loves." It's interesting and not a coincidence that the number-one predictor of divorce… Number one. I want to enlarge it from Westley and Buttercup, from you and your spouse, to this is the number-one predictor of fractured friendships, of dysfunctional families.

It's the number-one predictor of churches that will not be healthy, for pseudo-Christianity to advance. The number-one predictor of divorce in our country is an attitude about conflict that is distorted. Specifically, a habitual avoidance of conflict, because you think if you really love somebody you wouldn't have conflict. No. If you really love somebody, you will press on when you don't feel strong, because love, biblical love, which has nothing to do with feelings and everything to do with a commitment to care, presses on. It is the most noble of all things. Without this we are nothing, and we'll never lift his name higher.

We are talking about how you do conflict. The last couple of weeks we talked about how the world positions conflict, why this is such a great opportunity for us. Last week we talked about what to do when you realize you've created conflict in other folks' relationships with you, and we talked about how difficult it is to ask God to search us and know us, to try us, to see if there's anything hurtful in us, to lead us in the right way.

We talked about how difficult that was, and we gave you seven very practical steps and what to do when you realize that you bring stuff into a relationship that causes it to suffer. Today, what I'm going to do is talk to you about what to do when you've done that personal hard work and you still need to lean in. Though you feel like moving on, you're going to press on because you care for them and really reconcile with them when they've hurt you or dishonored God.

What do you do then? What steps do you take? You're going to see how exceedingly practical God's Word is, and you're going to be reminded of what people who love God always do. Now, it's something we always hear. People don't want to go to church because there are all kinds of hypocrites there. They really misunderstand what a hypocrite is.

A hypocrite, biblically, is somebody… The word is hupokrites, which is under judgment. A hypocrite is somebody who's under judgment because they say, "Anybody who does this should be, in fact, prosecuted or has offended God," and they themselves go and do it as a matter of practice. Therefore, they are under judgment because they've already pronounced, if you will, that anybody who does that is worthy of being judged as wrong.

A hypocrite, however, is not somebody who makes mistakes, when they call what they did a mistake. That doesn't make you a hypocrite; that makes you a truth-teller. There is a reason when we gather in here and sing praise and worship songs that we don't talk about how great we are, how magnificent we are, how lucky the world is to have us as friends. No. This is a church of people who know we are under judgment because we have not lived according to the standard of righteousness that a holy God has as an appropriate course of his nature and person.

So we gather in here and say, "If it were not for his love that was stronger than our rebellion, we would be without hope." We are people who are imperfect, who are fallen, who though we have recognized that God has redeemed us still at times give ourselves back to our flesh. We still rebel against him. We still don't say, "Spirit, lead me," at times. We say, "As I wish."

The satanic Bible, which is no Bible at all, if you could boil it down to one phrase, that little toy the Enemy has always given you is this idea: "Do what thou wilt, and you'll find life there." We are still people who do what we want. We do it in relationships. We do it in choices. We do it in chasing after our emotions. We do it in following the way of the world. Even us. As a result of that, we need the Spirit to convict us, the Word to remind us, and the body to spur us on.

We're not hypocrites because we make mistakes. We have been saved by grace, we're being transformed by his power, which mightily works within us, and there will be a day where we will no longer sin, but we are not without sin today. So many folks say, "Oh, you guys struggle just like everybody else." I go, "We do struggle, and we call it a struggle, and we call it sin. We don't sugarcoat it and we don't pass over it, or at least we shouldn't."

The church, however, is under judgment and is a pseudo-church when it stops caring for one another, when we start to say, "Your issue is somebody else's problem." It amazes me that there can be people who have come into relationship with Christ who lean into the awkwardness in developing relationships with other people who say Christ is their King but their lives don't change. They're still just as moody. They're just as awkward. They're still an over-talker.

They're still dressing inappropriately, in unhealthy relationships. They're still abusive in speech. They continue to use money in a way that does not have eternity in mind. They are not loving and shepherding their children the way God says a loving parent would shepherd their children. They're still operating according to the systems of this world, and that continues, and the church never speaks about it. It makes the world go, "What's up with you people? There is no difference among you."

I love what Dallas Willard wrote in his book The Spirit of the Disciplines. He says, "How many people are radically and permanently repelled from The Way by Christians who are unfeeling, stiff, unapproachable, boringly lifeless, obsessive, and dissatisfied? Yet such Christians are everywhere…" He goes on to say what they're missing is the aliveness that springs up from a balanced vitality within God's loving rule.

I love that statement: within God's loving rule. God's loving rule says you need to be continually attentive to his Word, continually yielded to his Spirit, and connected to a body that is loving you and spurring you on to good deeds, because you drift. The people who drift and never connect at Watermark or in a community of faith… The Scripture tells you why. "He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom."

What's really tragic is folks who do connect are not around other believers who love them and care for them and who address these things that anybody in just a 15-minute conversation at some little social gathering can see or people at work know or kids know about.

One of the things that drives kids away from the church is they watch their parents live in dysfunction and nobody call them out; watch their marriages be pseudo-marriages, their friendships be pseudo-friendships, their lives still be ruled by the way of the world much more than by Christ, and nobody ever admonishes or encourages them. So they go, "What a joke. His name is not being lifted higher. They're singing songs, but their hearts are not captured."

One of my favorite cartoons is The Far Side. It has this one little scene I'm going to show you in just a minute where a cursory glance at somebody should be able to tell you that there is a problem. There is more than an elephant in the room; there is a rhino up your rear. Check this out. We send people to professionals all the time. Go there, and they'll tell you what's wrong with you. Look at this cartoon. It doesn't take a genius to see what's wrong with Mr. Crumbly. "Maybe it's not just kidney stones after all, sir."

I think what happens is the world sometimes looks at those of us who are supposed to be part of a loving family, and there's still so much obvious stuff in our lives that's inconsistent with Christ, but we just politely dance around it. We don't think we want to bring it up. I don't want to be the one who says something to you, because you may not like that.

Frankly, I would rather love me more than love you, knowing that if I love you the way the Scripture tells me to love you you might kick me off the island. I may no longer be part of your posse, and I love your posse. I want to be a part of your posse, so I'm not going to love you to help you be the leader God wants you to be. It is a sad truth about believers that we would often rather sin ourselves than to confront one another when we're living lives that are dishonoring to God.

What I mean by that is God says, "I do want you to care for one another. I do want you to encourage one another. I do want you to admonish one another. I do want you to speak the truth to one another in love. This is how they will know you are my disciples." We'd rather say, "I'm not doing that. I'd rather sin against God than go toward that person." As a result of that, we're walking around with a rhino stuck in our back and making weak excuses.

We become that church that is an endless offense and a permanent source of repulsion to many, many people instead of being a community of grace where we don't pretend like we're perfect but love each other enough to go, "Look, that's not of Christ. I'm for you. I have a lot in my life that's not of Christ. I need you to care for me." There is no mystery about why my life is what it is today. If there's anything good in me, I can trace it back to three very specific things.

First and foremost, God's Word and the truth revealed in there about my need for relationship with Christ and then a loving Father who I've come into relationship with who speaks to me and says, "Todd, the way you've learned to do it, the way maybe it was modeled for you as a child, the way the world says to do that…that's not the right way. This is the way that leads to life." God's Word shepherding me and transforming me has been a huge part of what has changed me. I've learned to humble myself underneath God's Word.

Secondly, his Spirit, which convicts me of times I live my life outside of his Word. Then thirdly (and I desperately need this), I need faithful friends who love me and will speak the truth in love to me. God has given me over the last two or three decades brothers, guys who say, "Wagner, I want you to be all that God wants you to be. That means there are going to be times I'm going to lean into you and press on when my strength is gone, not really caring how you respond to me, because what I want is to love you, not you to like me.

I do like you and I hope we like each other more, but this is a worthy cause. It is the very purpose for which Christ saved you, to conform you into his image, that you might be restored to the fullness of the glory God intends for you, and I'm going to help you be that man, that husband, that dad, that servant, that leader, that neighbor." It has been tough. I don't want to make any excuses about how hard it's going to be. Even as I told you, it's very difficult to see the log in your own eye. It's difficult when somebody comes alongside of you…

This is what the Scripture says in Proverbs 27, where it says, "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Just think for a second about the metaphor that's there. If iron had nerves and a mouth, what would iron say when it is being sharpened? There would be huge chunks of ore that would be dropping on the ground there, and they'd be going, "Ow! Hey! Ow! You've got to be kidding me! No! Stop! Aaah!"

Sparks fly. Shrapnel is down. But then out of that relationship comes something useful, something beautiful, not just this mass that you stub your toe and bang your shins on but this thing of beauty, this precious sharpened tool that is a source of honor for the one who owns it, this valuable treasure that now the community adores. That's what happens when the ironsmith gets to work.

My life is moving in a direction toward Christlikeness because I have faithful friends. Proverbs 27:5-6: "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy." God calls us to be faithful friends to one another, but pseudo-Christianity kicks in way too often, and we bail out. We have mislabeled love to doing what feels good to the other person or even what feels good to me, but that's not the way of spiritual men and women.

Great men and women lead in. In fact, God says, "If you're going to be my community, you need one another." That's why we call you to connect. You are to be a part of a family, and if you isolate yourself from that family you're not just an orphan, you're not just dismembered, which is a grotesque idea. You are doing it because you seek your own desire and don't want the accountability that God in his sovereignty ordained that you need.

It is not a sign of weakness that you need others; it is because you're made in the image of God. You are designed for community and relationship, and to live outside of loving, accountable "one anothers" will both wither your heart and disable your hands. So God says, "You find yourself a community of friends who love you, care for you, encourage you, admonish you with great patience and instruction."

So we're going to dive in today on how we do that. Let me show you how seriously God takes this. It was one of the reasons he brought judgment on the nation of Israel. They stopped doing this. Jeremiah, chapter 9. Jeremiah is so broken about the fact that there was pseudo-spirituality in Israel. In Jeremiah 9:1-6 he says…

"Oh that my head were waters and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people! Oh that I had in the desert a wayfarers' lodging place; that I might leave my people and go from them! For all of them are adulterers…" They say they love one thing, but they really love another. "…an assembly of treacherous men." This is what was going on in Israel. So what was the big problem with Israel?

"'They bend their tongue like their bow; lies and not truth prevail in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,' declares the Lord. 'Let everyone be on guard against his neighbor, and do not trust any brother[because they're not loving you]; because every brother deals craftily, and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer.'" They tell others what's wrong with you instead of being that iron in your life.

"Everyone deceives his neighbor and does not speak the truth…" Do you see how significant this is? Judgment fell on the nation because they stopped loving each other the way God said they should love each other. "'…they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Your dwelling is in the midst of deceit; through deceit they refuse to know Me,' declares the Lord."

This has a large idea here about them being deceptive about what God says, but it's deceptive about the way they care for and love one another. The same thing shows up in the book of Zechariah where they're told in chapter 8, verse 16, "These are the things which you should do: speak the truth to one another…" When they don't do that there is tremendous consequence.

We think about Jesus being this incredibly kind person, and I want to tell you, he was the kindest person who ever lived, but please don't mistake kindness with a lack of truth-telling. Jesus was not an expert at cocktail conversations. He was world-class…no, he was supernaturally enabled…to speak the truth in love, not have comfortable conversation. There are so many examples. I'm just going to grab a few.

How about this? In Matthew 12:38-39, it says some of the scribes and Pharisees said, "Teacher, we want to see a sign from You." Appearing to be very spiritual. Jesus says, "Well, here's the problem with that. We've been over that. Since you brought it up in public, it's an evil and adulterous generation that craves for a sign." Not such a good tact. Let's move on beyond that.

A little later he gets even more specific in Matthew 23:24-28. He says, "Here's the deal. You guys are leaders of the nation," and as he said earlier in the same little gospel, "When the blind lead the blind they both fall into a pit, and you, my friends, are blind leaders who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. You're dealing with little innocuous religious rules and systems, but you're swallowing things that would gag a giant.

Woe to you, hypocrites! You are under judgment, because you say if people offend God they're going to go to hell and you're offending God. For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but on the inside you're full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and the dish, so that the outside will maybe become clean. Woe to you, hypocrites! For you're like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside you're full of dead men's bones and uncleanliness."

That, friends, is not exactly dancing around the issue. Jesus' life is filled with this. How about this? John 8:43-45, in case you missed it. This is where he's headed. "Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word." Do you want to know why you can't hear my word?

"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I speak the truth [and you are a descendant of a devil] , you do not believe Me."

Now why did Jesus do that? Because he just loved giving folks a tongue-lashing? No. Because you, gang, cannot get well until you acknowledge there's a problem. Step one is acknowledging, "I have a problem." If I don't have a problem, I don't need to be healed. If I'm not a drunk, I don't need to get sober. If I don't have an anger issue, I don't need to work on my tone. It is acknowledging you have a problem.

There was a time that Jesus finally stepped up and went, "I love you. I want you to be glorious leaders. I don't want you to be blind, and I'm going to care enough for you that if you want to nail me to a cross, it's not about me. But far be it from me to sin against God by letting you continue, because you're a person of power and prestige and influence. Bring me to cower. No, I'm going to be a friend to you, and I'm going to speak the truth in love."

That takes great courage. Don't ever let somebody tell you that following God is for weak men. The reason most men don't follow God is because they don't have the courage that comes from walking in the Spirit. This is for great men. Paul was a great man. That's why he went in Galatians, chapter 2… When Peter came to Antioch, he says, "I opposed him to his face," in verse 11, "because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles, but now he has gotten caught up in Judaism."

In verse 14, he saw that Peter wasn't living straightforward about the truth of the gospel, so he said to Peter in the presence of everybody, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?""You, Peter, rock of the church, are messing up." That's why a little bit later in Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 15, Paul writes, "Speak the truth in love." It's why in verse 25 he says, "Lay aside falsehood. Speak the truth, each of you, with his neighbor."

All right. So how do you do that? It is the worthiest of causes, and it's not going to be easy. It's what marks us as believers. Well, here's the deal. There is a time to move in. How do you know what time to move in? Let me make it very clear to start that what God doesn't want you to do is to be a troublesome meddler. He doesn't want you to be a moral policeman. In other words, to run around and report on everybody every time you see something.

In fact, there are some things you should just look over. In other words, I'll say it to you this way: don't sweat the small stuff. You go, "Great, Todd. I really appreciate that encouragement. What's the small stuff?" I'm going to give it to you today, and I'm going to give you biblical support for when you cannot look over an offense. Let's just look at a few verses, though. Proverbs 19:11: "A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression."

That word transgression is the word for sin or some grievance you have. You have to be very careful. It's not telling you to look over certain types of sin. It's saying when somebody offends you, transgresses against you, and it's not going to sever the relationship but is just an inconvenience, just a nuisance, just a bother, just a moment, just a quirk in personality, and it's not going to have a long-lasting effect…it's not going to make you speak poorly of them or tell other people to avoid them and drop innuendo about them behind their back…let it go. Let it go!

If somebody just double-dips in front of you and you go, "Oh, I don't like double-dippers," let it go. Now if they're slobbering all over the chip, wiping their nose with it and going back in, all right. We have to talk. I have women come to me all the time and go, "How do I know? I don't want to be a nag. I don't want to be a contentious woman. I don't want to be a drip, drip, drip faucet." I go, "Well, good. So you have to pick your moments."

"Well, how do I know?" I say, "Well, look." I give them a subjective illustration first. There are times when you eat something and it just doesn't sit right, and you know it doesn't sit right. You're like, "Ugh, that didn't make me feel really good." But if you just let it go for a little bit it will pass, literally. Then there are other times when you eat something and you just go, "Whoa! This one is not doing well, and the truth is it's not going to pass. It's coming back up." When it's coming back up, you have to deal with it.

You just know when you get that stuff. I can remember I was traveling through Colorado with a friend. It was early in the morning. We stopped at a little diner, the Silver Spur. It had a beautiful big window that looked out on the front range of the Rockies. We were there. We sat down. I got myself a Western omelet, that good old ham and cheese and green pepper. I'm sitting there eating it, and about three bites into it I go, "Whoa! Something is not right."

Of course I go, "Taste this." The guy goes, "No, I'm not going to taste it. You just told me it's nasty." I go, "It is nasty. Taste it." "No! I'm not going to taste it." So I took another bite, and I just go to the waitress, "Could you come here? This doesn't taste right. It doesn't feel right." She goes, "Oh, I'm sure it's fine." I said, "Well, could you just check?" Literally…it was a very small diner…she walked into the kitchen, and I heard this: "Maybelline! Come on in here." Then about 30 seconds later I heard someone go in there and go, "Oh my goodness!"

Then I heard a sound like a ham being fired right there in the trash. She walks out and says, "Um, sir, we're going to make you another omelet." I went, "Uh-oh." I knew it wasn't going to pass. Right then it hit me. My temperature spiked. I said, "Excuse me." I walked right out. I barely made it outside that door, right in front of that big picturesque window. We renamed that thing the "Silver Hurl" for a reason. I just knew it wasn't going to go away, and it was time to deal with it. I felt great after that. I really did. I went back in, reordered (not the omelet), and ate.

There are times like that in a relationship where you just go, "Look, this isn't going to pass." I've done the things I'm going to teach you to do in just a minute, and I want to talk to you about it. I want to have this conversation. I want to do it wisely and in love. Here's the thing. If you don't do that you're going to be like a kid who projectile vomits. All of a sudden, you're holding your little baby, and the next thing you know this white dragon just comes shooting at you. You're like, "Whoa! Where did that come from?" The next thing you know I'm wearing it.

Doesn't that happen sometimes in a relationship? You say something to somebody, and it's like all of a sudden, "Whoa! Where did that dragon come from?" Y'all know what I'm talking about. You don't even know… "Whoa, did I say that that way in public just now?" Then you start to dig and realize what it was that was getting at you.

Here's the thing. Now I'm going to go very objective. If it's just a small nuance and a quirk and it's not going to make you move away from that person and say, "Don't eat at that restaurant. Don't hang out with that guy. Don't dine with him," then you can overlook it, but if it's something that's going to make it come back up, you have to. Specifically, here are four objective things rooted in Scripture. You cannot be quiet…

1._ If you see somebody do something that dishonors God_. That's not a transgression against you and your personality and your preferences. This is an offense to God. If you love somebody, you can't be silent. You have to speak up. You have to love them enough to go. This is what it says in Galatians 6:1-2.

"Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself." So you're not arrogant and prideful when you go, making sure you're not going to gloss over it or back away but you're going to really go and love the way Jesus wants you to, so that you won't be tempted to make that mistake. "Bear one another's burdens…" Just the allure of sin. "…and thereby fulfill the law of Christ."

It's Hebrews 3:13. "Encourage each other day after day, as long as it's still called 'Today,' lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." If you see somebody continually moving back habitually or just living in a dishonoring way, you have to raise your hand and say, "Hey, can I grab a second with you? I know who you are. You're a man who wants to honor and love God and respond fully to the cross, so we have to talk." If it's dishonoring to God, it's not a minor offense that you can overlook.

2._ If it damages your relationship with that person_. Ephesians 4:1-3. It's the whole deal right here. "Walk worthy of the calling with which you've been called, with all humility and gentleness and patience, showing forbearance to one another in love…" Then it says in verse 3, "…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

That means if there's anything that makes you not want to draw to that relationship, draw to that person, stay with that friend, worship with that sister, walk again around the track with them, partner with them for ministry advancement, you have to go, "Look, I love you…" One of the ways people express value to me all the time is they say, "Todd, I need to talk to you, because I've been shrinking back. I've been avoiding you."

I've had people talk to me about facial expressions, other nonverbals, tone, and then actual words and actual deeds I have done, because they love me and they go, "I don't want to avoid you. I don't want to speak ill of you. I don't want to reject truth coming from you because of something that happened. I need to sit and talk with you." Close friends.

I go, "You love me, because you're willing to fight through what might be at first a fleshly response or whatever it would be that would make you think I wouldn't want to be more of who Christ wants me to be." When I know folks really love me is when they say, "There's something, Todd, that makes me quiet when someone mentions your name or, worse yet, speak up in a way that doesn't speak to the unity Christ has for us." I know they love me when they do that.

3._ If you see it damaging that person's relationship with somebody else. There are people who can't speak up for themselves, maybe because of their socioeconomic situation, maybe because of where they are in life stage or their development in utero, and you see certain decisions being made that are causing _them to suffer, people made in the image of God. God says you can't be silent.

If it's damaging that person, if it's damaging that life, if it's damaging that relationship, that son with that daughter, that man with that wife, you are not a troublesome meddler. You are there, and it is your ditch. What I mean by that is you don't go around looking for conflict. We've been told not to do that. First Peter 4 says, "If you suffer for the cause of Christ, great, but let it never be that some of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or a troublesome meddler."

But you're not a troublesome meddler when you're walking along through an evening with another couple and you watch that guy respond to his wife in a way that did not reflect Christ's love for the church. That is your ditch. On that road that you pass by, that is your time to speak up and just love them and say, "Hey, guys, can we talk about what just happened? Because I need you to talk about it in my life when it happens." This is Proverbs 24:11-12:

"Deliver those who are being taken away to death, and those who are staggering to slaughter, oh hold them back. If you say, 'See, we did not know this,' does He not consider it who weighs the hearts? And does He not know it who keeps your soul? And will He not render to man according to his work?"

If you see people who are being led to death because they're living in disobedience to God the way they're damaging relationship and they're just a terror and you're afraid to speak up, God says, "I have a problem with that, because I stuck you on that earth to be my man, my woman. If you see something hurting or damaging relationships with other people, and I'm all about reconciling relationships with people, you have to speak up."

4._ If you see somebody doing something that's hurting their ability to be an effective witness for Christ._ If you call them brother or sister, you say you're a member of the body for one another… I'm going to talk about this in two weeks. I'm going to talk about why we do this little thing called a 4B form, and every year we communicate as best we can through email and phone calls. We can't have a relationship with you if you don't respond to us.

We're not just Facebook friends here. We are individuals who are going to give an account for one another before a righteous and holy God. So we're saying, "We take it that you don't want to be in relationship with us. We can't find you. We can't hear from you." We'll talk about how we'll handle that, just specifically this whole series, what we do with that. When you see them doing something that's damaging their relationship with others, that is when you have to speak up. Again, here it is in 1 Peter, chapter 2.

"Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. […] For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men." If you see somebody not silencing the ignorance of foolish men but reinforcing the stereotypes that believers don't change and believers don't care about one another, you have a problem, and God wants you to speak up.

Now I want to say this again. When you speak up, you are to speak wisely. Here we go into what you do when it's not small stuff. Step one is don't sweat the small stuff. Step two is don't spread the big stuff. That means you don't go tell other people about all that you're seeing. You love that individual enough to go directly to them. You talk in private, and you do it wisely. Your words are chosen carefully, and you go in humility.

I just want to say again the Bible never, ever celebrates or venerates a guy who says everything he thinks. Even in the way you go to some people sometimes to reconcile… Some of you guys know about The Onion, a website that does parodies on news stories. There's another one called LarkNews. I love this one. This is a made-up article. The headline is "On Forgiving Spree, Man Alienates Friends and Family."

"Lubbock, Texas—Dan Bentley, 48, used to have trouble admitting he was wrong until a sermon series convinced him that asking forgiveness was the path to personal freedom. Now he is asking forgiveness so much that he's on the verge of losing every friend he's ever made. 'I'm cleaning the slate with everybody, no matter how difficult that proves to be,' he says.

Bentley recently asked a woman at work to forgive him for spending years ogling her, especially when she wore particular outfits. He was promptly hit with a sexual harassment claim and a demotion. He asked forgiveness of two high school buddies and detailed what had bothered him about their personalities. They haven't invited him fishing since.

Even his mother is angry at him for confessing that for years he'd seen her as overbearing, selfish and manipulating and that he needed forgiveness for 'always liking Dad a lot better.' […] Bentley says that though he's paid a high price for coming clean he 'really feels free.' 'My pastor was right,' he says. 'Asking forgiveness completely changes your life.'"

Look. When you go… This is Galatians 6:1. Think about it. You don't ever make amends with somebody if doing so will cause them greater harm. We can talk more about that. We will, but let me be very specific. What do you do when it's too small to overlook and you want to go well? Don't sweat the small stuff, and then don't spread the big stuff.

There are a couple of things I do whenever I go. This is, by the way, Matthew 18:15. "If your brother sins [if they're dishonoring God, damaging relationship with you, damaging relationship with others, or hurting their witness] , go and[reprove him]in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother[and you have something to celebrate]."

What you want to do is when you see something like this, you have to go, "Okay, Lord. I didn't think I had time for this, but I'm walking down this road, and that is my ditch. It is my person in the ditch, and I'm the Samaritan who must stop and help them, because you had me on this road in your sovereignty, and I cannot pretend I don't see what I see."

It's easy to get frustrated. It's easy to be sometimes less than gentle and loving. There are certain things I always do before I go. The first thing I do is I always get the log out of my eye. We talked about that extensively last week. The other thing I do is there's always a series of Scriptures I read. One of them is 1 Thessalonians 5:14. I just meditate on it. I've memorized it.

He tells us we should be individuals that, as we go to other people , "…admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone." I always read Hebrews 5:1-2, which says, "For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins…" That's great, but watch this. Look at verse 2. "…he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided…" Why? "…since he himself also is beset with weakness…"

Wagner, you are ignorant and misguided. You need help. So when you give help to others, do it gently. Do it lovingly. I read Ephesians 2:1-5. I read Colossians 3:12-14. I read Titus 3:1-5. I read 2 Timothy 2:24-26. I meditate on these verses and talk about patience and love and my own issues. I read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. "And such were you before the grace of God appeared." Then I go. I go to them.

Gang, this is huge. This alone would transform the body of Christ. We hit this hard. When we go, we go to that individual and we don't go to seven other people to seek counsel about "Should I talk to them about this?" I know if it's dishonoring to God. If somebody comes to me and says, "Doesn't so-and-so bother you? Hasn't this happened? Haven't you seen them?" I go, "Wait a minute. Stop. Why are you coming to me and telling me about what that person has done? Have you been to that person?" This is just a rule. It's the way I operate.

If I ever hear somebody criticize somebody, speak an unkind word, I send them to that person. I say, "You have to go. I'm going to hold you accountable for this, because there's obviously something bothering you." They look at me and go, "No, you cannot tell them I said that." Can I stick this in here? Whenever somebody starts a sentence with, "I'm going to tell you something, but you have to promise me you'll never tell anybody else," I never make that deal. Why? Because the Bible tells me never to make that deal.

What I do tell people is, "If you can't trust me, I totally accept that, and feel free, but if you trust me enough to share with me this information, I want you to trust me enough that I will handle it responsibly, and I will not surprise you with what I do with this information. I will tell you what I'm going to do, and I will explain from Scripture why I have to do it."

If somebody tells me something about what they think about somebody else, I say, "You have to go to them. I'm going to ask that you send an email to them today. Make a phone call today and say, 'We have to get together.' If you don't, I'm going to call you the next day and say, 'Hey, have you had a chance to reach out to so-and-so yet?' and if you say, 'No,' I'm going to love you enough to tell you I'm going to call them, and I'm going to bring them.

He and I are going to come to you, and we're going to sit. I know you might be intimidated by him and scared by him, but listen. If he acts in an abusive way toward you, I want to be there to call him out on it, but I'm going to go with you to this person, and I'll bring that person to you if that's what it takes." Why? Because that's what the Scripture tells me to do: to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

But don't you love it? Don't you love your TMZ friends? When they go, "Can you believe so-and-so? Do you know what they did with such-and-such at such a place?" you're kind of like, "Really? With who? How? How many times? That's unbelievable. What else?" Everything about us is curious about that, but this is what Proverbs says. Proverbs speaks about this specifically. It says that a person who speaks that way… Proverbs 18:8 says, "The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body."

Can I make a confession to you? I love donut holes. I love peanut M&Ms. I love chocolate chip cookies right out of the fridge or right out of the oven or stale. I love dainty morsels. I love them, but here's the problem with dainty morsels: they are so sweet to the lips, but they get down here and clog my heart and sit in my gut, and I carry around stuff I didn't want to carry around.

I had a friend who was trying to lose weight one time, and he put a sign on his refrigerator that said, "Do you like it enough to wear it?" That was the sign every time he opened the fridge. You're going to wear it. Don't you love those dainty morsels? Here's the thing: You're going to wear it. It's going to clog your heart. It's going to sit in your gut and make you feel ill toward another person.

The words of gossip are like that. He warns you against it. If you live on dainty morsels, you're going to be a sick, unhealthy person, desperately needing the nutrition of truth. So we have to call each other. Don't come to me. Go to them. I'm going to call you to go to them, and I'm going to have you love them.

One of the things we say to our folks who are shepherding each other in Community Groups… The thing you're saying to your wife on the way home from Community Group, you have to start talking about that in Community Group. You have to start to say, "You know what?" That couple that's just driving you nuts… You have to lean into that stuff, because if you don't you're going to drift away.

Do you know what the number-one cause of Community Groups not working at Watermark is? A habitual avoidance of conflict. Do you know what the number-one cause of us not being conformed to the image of Christ is? A habitual avoidance of care-frontation. Do you know what the number-one cause of us not being friends, of us not being all that Christ wants us to be as shining lights amidst a perverse generation is? A habitual avoidance of conflict.

It is the most noble thing you can do: to lean into broken relationships. It is what makes you an imitator of God. It's what makes you a son of God. Blessed are those. I'm going to give you very quickly… I told you I was going to do it, and I did it. I gave you a little thing right there. It's a field guide to Conflict: Our Constant Opportunity. Everything I've been sharing these last few weeks is in that little field guide, so don't worry you're missing all this stuff.

Go back, study it, fold it, put it in your Bible, and use it. The PDF is free on our website. Pass it out. Use it at your office. Here are 10 tips. Last week I gave you seven A's. Thank goodness my friend Ken Sande did such good work on this, and he has been so generous. Here are 10 tips to get in the ring or, if you will, to begin the journey with your friends as you start to work through some stuff.

1._ Pray for humility and wisdom._ Meditate on Scripture, so when you go you'll go with gentleness. God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Look to yourself, Galatians 6 says. Remember that you yourself are beset with weakness.

2._ Plan your words carefully_. Proverbs 16:23 says, "The heart of the wise instructs his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips." The way you do it matters, folks. Truth is not a club. I love Proverbs 15:2. "The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable…" I say this to people all the time. I go, "If the way I'm saying this, if who I am, makes this truth difficult for you, I want to ask your forgiveness, but if it's the message itself, for that I cannot apologize.

I love you too much to not go here. So help me with all humility and reverence and gentleness and patience, because I love you and I'm committed to you, and if we don't deal with this your witness for Christ is going to be diminished, our relationship is going to be damaged, and your relationship with God is compromised." So you plan your words carefully.

3._ Anticipate the different possible reactions and plan appropriate responses_. We're supposed to make war by wise guidance. When you're moving into areas that the Enemy has captured us… Maybe it's strategies of coping with life that people become very committed to, so you'd better predict that this is not going to be "Oh, thank you so much." That's all they've done, maybe for years, and all of a sudden you're going to move in. So you have to think about how they might respond and be ready to love them.

4._ Choose the right time and place_. Proverbs 16:21 says, "The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness." Sweetness of speech. Is this the time? Is this the place? Are we ready? Are they tired? I have to go to them, and I have to choose and be wise. I have to say, "Hey, can we get together? I need to talk to you. You tell me when we can get together, but it does matter."

5._ Assume nothing when you go except that you don't have all the information yet_. Gang, if I could give you one verse that would help you so much when you hear people say something about somebody else, it's Proverbs 18:17: "The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him."

Oh my goodness. If you're a parent and you don't memorize this verse, you are going to kill your kids. "Mom! So-and-so just…" "So-and-so!" No, the first to plead their case seems just until another comes and examines him. If you hear somebody say something about me or somebody else, don't assume it's true.

Don't deny that I'm not capable of the most egregious of dishonoring actions, but just say, "All I know about Todd is this. If he has made a mistake, he will eventually, by the grace of God, ask your forgiveness, and maybe he'll clear up the misunderstanding. I don't know. Wagner has never asked me to pretend like he's perfect, but he has asked me to love him, which means if you have a problem with him we're not helping him by talking about it here. Go to him." The first to plead their case seems just. Assume you don't know anything about what really is going on until you listen.

6._ Listen carefully_. Proverbs 18:13 says, "He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him." So when you go, listen. Don't think about what you're going to say while they're talking. Listen.

7._ When you speak, speak to build up. Ephesians 4:29 talks very clearly about that. "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification…" A building is called an _edifice. It means something you build up. "…according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear."

When you speak, make your words wise. Proverbs 12:18 says, "There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." Wives, when you go to your husbands, don't thrust a sword. "This is why I don't respect you." Men, when you talk to your wives, you speak gently. You affirm them, because the tongue of the wise brings healing. You speak to build up and restore.

8._ Ask for feedback_. Proverbs 18:2 says, "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.""What did you hear me say? Repeat back to me. Tell me what you just heard, because I want to learn. Did I do this…? I know I just told you you had cancer. How was my bedside manner? This is a tender moment, and I want to tell you I love you. I want you to come back to health. How did I do?"

9._ Repeat back what you heard them say when they give you feedback_. "This is what I just heard you say." There's a reason, it has been wisely said, that God gave us two ears and one mouth. James 1:19: "This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger…"

10.Trust God. I don't know how they're going to respond. You're not even responsible for how they respond. Romans 12:18 says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." Your job is to trust the Lord and do good. You don't sweat the small stuff, but you don't spread the big stuff.

Then I'm going to tell you next week you don't stop just because it gets sticky. When you get to number 10 and they tell you to take a walk, you're not done, and that's where we're going to pick it up. Before we do, I want you to watch, real life, what I'm talking about. Check out my friends.


Male: Leticia, where is Amy? I thought she was all in. She's the one that picked a day to set up the packages for the military ministry.

Female: She had to meet Brian.

Male: Brian? What's up with her and Brian?

Female: Oh, I'll tell you what's up with her and Brian. She has fallen head over heels for that guy.

Female: Brian? The guy she met at her sister's wedding?

Female: You know what, guys? I am really worried about her.

Male: Why?

Female: I'll tell you why. She's starting to dress all desperate, like she's trying to sell herself, if you know what I mean.

Female: Hmm, I know what you mean.

Male: Is that the guy I met with her at Bible study?

Female: Yeah.

Male: I thought he said he wasn't into spiritual things but knew she was.

Female: Well, they're spending all sorts of time together…nights, evenings, if you know what I mean, mornings, if you know what I mean.

[End of skit]

Pseudo-Christianity, if you know what I mean. That looks way too familiar, doesn't it? We're there. We're talking about it. Things are going up. Just going to imply this and imply that. That is not worthy of Christ. That is gossip. That is slander. It is a dainty morsel, and it poisons everyone. The church of Jesus Christ is diminished, and Amy is left still wandering deeper into darkness, dishonoring her opportunity to be a witness for Christ, and they're carrying around stuff they shouldn't carry. What if a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus Christ was in that circle? What if this happened? Watch this.


Female: They're spending all sorts of time together, if you know what I mean.

Male: I know what you mean, but she's not here. Look, we can't have this conversation. I know we love Amy. We care about her, but we can't talk behind her back. We need to bring this to her.

Female: It's because we love her. We care about her.

Male: Exactly. We care, so that's why we need to talk to her.

Female: Well, let's just pray for her.

Male: Great. Let's pray for her, but we still need to get together. We wouldn't love her well if we didn't.

Female: So remind me what the big deal is, except that she's dressing like…

Female: Well, this guy is not what she's all about. We know she's saying, "I want a guy who loves Christ just like I do." I'm thinking she's not believing she's going to find that guy.

Female: Why did we even bring this up?

Female: I don't know.

Female: You know what, guys? I love Amy. Let me give her a call. Let's meet again.

[End of skit]

"Why did we even bring this up?" I'll tell you why. Because you see the rhinoceros sticking out her rear, and you love her, and she's not supposed to walk around with kidney stones. That's why you brought it up. "Well, let's just pray about it." Great. Let's pray about it, but we still have to not just talk to God about other people. We have to talk to other people about Christ and love them.

Let's not hide behind the Christian way we gossip. "Hey, can I ask you to pray for Amy with me?" That is sick. It's dishonoring to God, and it's pseudo-Christianity. But when you do what they did and say, "We have to go. We're going to love her. We're going to lean in. We're going to press on even when our strength is gone…" Amy comes. Let's see what happens.


Female: Hey.

Male: Hey, Amy.

Female: Aw hey, we missed you last week.

Female: Oh, I know. I missed you guys too. Brian got tickets to the Rangers game last minute, so we went to that. So what's up?

Female: You know, last week we met and we talked about you, and we're really concerned. I said some things behind your back about the way you've been dressing. Amy, it was totally wrong. I should never have said anything. I should have come to you first a long time ago and talked to you about this. You know you're my friend, and I want to protect you. I want to love you well, and I'm really sorry. Will you forgive me?

Female: Yeah. I mean, it hurts, but yeah.

Female: And, Amy, I said a lot of gossipy things about you and Brian and left some things open to interpretation about you guys' relationship. I never should have done that. I'm sorry. Will you forgive me too?

Female: Yeah. I mean, Leticia, I love you. It's fine.

Female: I love you too, Amy. Tell us about Brian.

Female: Well, I mean, actually, things are really good, you guys. We're having a lot of fun, and he's a good guy. I don't know. Honestly, I think that he might be the one. I know it's crazy and it's a little bit fast.

Female: I'm sure he's a great guy. He's got good taste. That's for sure.

Female: Amy, what are you looking for in a husband?

Female: What kind of a question is that?

Female: Remember that conversation we had a while back about wanting to find a guy who loves us well and loves us like Christ loves, who's the same kind of dad who leads with an informed heart? You didn't have that in a dad growing up, and I just wanted to…

Female: How do you know he's not going to be like that?

Male: Amy, when I met Brian, he said that God really wasn't part of his life but he knew it was important to you.

Female: Well, maybe he's not like you, Aaron.

Female: Amy, please, we don't want to offend you. We want the best for you. We want God's best for you, and we don't want you to miss out on the gift of a relationship that's centered around Christ, the way Christ loves us.

Male: I had coffee last week with Brian, and he openly told me that he did not believe in Christ. I shared my faith with him, but at the end of the day he just said, "I don't buy it."

Female: Thanks, Aaron. I appreciate you having coffee with him, but you know what? He's still a really good guy, you guys.

Male: I'm sure he is, but that doesn't mean you need to marry him.

Female: Right.

Female: Okay. You know what? Bottom line, you guys just need to butt out.

Female: Okay, wait. Wait, Amy. We love you, and I'm sure everything is going to be fine with you and Brian. In fact, we're all praying that things are going really well.

Male: Yeah. He seems like a nice guy.

[End of skit]

Chickens! We did really well for a while. It was moving in a good direction. Right? Then all of a sudden, Eject! Amy said, "Butt out." I'm butting. I'm moving on. I want to tell you what. That's not what Christ has you do. This is for strong men. God has not given you a spirit of timidity. In gentleness and kindness you press in. Let's wrap it up. Watch.


Female: You know what, guys? Bottom line, you just need to butt out.

Male: Amy, we made a mistake. We talked behind your back and we didn't come to you first, and we don't want to make that mistake again. Look, Brian is a great guy, but he's not the problem; you are, Amy. You took vows to trust and follow Christ, and I think it's less than trusting to enter into a relationship in marriage with a nonbeliever.

Female: You know what? I dated a church guy, and he lived much worse than Brian ever did.

Female: We know, and we didn't like him either. We talked about that. Just because you meet a guy at church doesn't mean he's following Christ. In the Scripture it talks about being equally yoked. That covers a guy like that too, Amy.

Female: Yeah, and you don't want to use a bad example to justify a bad choice. Amy, God loves you, and he wants the best for you. You have to learn to trust him. He'll bless those choices. There are believer guys who get it, Amy.

Female: You know what? You guys don't get it. It is hard. You don't understand. I've dated losers, and I'm tired of it. I finally meet a really good guy like Brian, and… You know what? I'm done listening to you guys.

Female: Amy…

Female: Can't you be happy for me?

[End of skit]

Two things. Girls, just because you meet a guy at church doesn't mean he walks with Jesus. Secondly, that's what love looks like. Was that comfortable? No. You don't overlook the big stuff. You go to them. In that case they had to go and confess that they talked to others first. We're going to pick it up here in two weeks and show what to do when it gets sticky, what to do when you've done everything you can and it's still not going well, what love looks like then.

The next time somebody tells you that God is irrelevant, that the Bible doesn't speak to stuff that's going on in 2010, tell them to download this message. Is there anything more relevant? The next time they tell you they can't believe that there's any love like that in the world, you tell them that's the God you worship, who enters into your dysfunction and seeks you in your brokenness and makes atonement for it and calls you back into relationship with him and then shepherds you to grow to be like him.

If you've never reconciled with God, you need to know something. God is pursuing you like that, and his love is stronger than any rebellion. I know you've walked out on him a thousand times, but he's asking you to come back. Provision has been made. If you are a follower of his, he's asking you to love like he loved, even if Amy walks out on you and it really gets uncomfortable. That's worship. That's how you lift his name higher: in humility and gentleness with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, but spurring them on lest they be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

O Father, I pray for our body, that we would not be pseudo-followers, that we wouldn't go a little bit and back off, that we would follow you, we'd imitate Christ, we'd be peacemakers, we'd speak the truth in love, we would bear one another's burdens, we would remember that we're beset with weakness. We have received grace and the kind intention of your will toward us, so we eagerly extend it to others. Thank you for what you're teaching us. Thank you that you, Father, never let go. May we be like you, informed by your Spirit, and never let go of one another as much as we are able. For your glory and our good we pray, amen.

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.