We Must Work it Out: Learning to Deal with Conflict

Gifts I'd Give My Children

Are you a peace faker, a peace breaker, or peace maker? Unless we have learned what God's Word has to say about handling conflict - and it's an unavoidable fact of life - we will be ineffective at living the kinds of transformed lives that speak of God's grace. Our success as friends, spouses, and members of a thriving body of Christ followers depends on it. Learn God's time and way to pursue restoration and what to do when your best efforts at peacemaking are rejected.

Todd WagnerOct 14, 2007

Everybody Loves Raymond. Do you know why we all love Raymond? Because we see a lot of us in Raymond. That's laughter of familiarity. How's that suitcase thing going for you? Do you have some baggage laying around nobody wants to move? Nobody wants to initiate? Nobody wants to be the leader? Nobody wants to step out and say, "I will take care of the suitcase"?

How's that house of clutter going? It's putting other people at risk. It's making it difficult to navigate your way around your life. Other folks are tripping over it. Maybe sometimes your life gets so cluttered you just choose to move out and start all over in an uncluttered house until another suitcase incident shows up in that relationship, and you leave that one there. We're going to help you with suitcases today. We're going to help you understand one of the primary responsibilities of leadership.

We are in the middle of a little series called Gifts I'd Give My Children. This one today, gang, I have to tell you… I keep saying this every week because it's true. This one today is a gift I'm absolutely passionate about my kids having. As a dad and as a man who gets to be part of the leadership of this community of faith, I will tell you I am a freak about this particular issue.

Without having this gift in your life…the ability to work through conflict well, the ability to deal with the natural tensions that arise in relationships…without this skill set, your life is going to be filled with clutter. Your life is going to be nomadic. You're going to move and move and move. There's going to be a trail of tears behind you and not a deep abiding sense of being known, being loved, and having success in intimacy that you were designed for. Everything about our lives that we've been talking about builds on itself.

The very first week we talked about how one of the things I'm passionate about is for my kids to be devoted to Christ, because Christ is where life is. One of the things I had to get over was that God was a gift. Having a relationship with God was a source of blessing. It wasn't a curse. I have to tell you, I lived for a long time with the understanding that God was trying to rip me off (I really did), not set me free, not give me life. I thought God was just trying to hold me down.

When I came to understand who he was, who Jesus was, and what he wanted from me, it changed everything about my life. I'm desperate for my kids, my friends, and the people I get to hang with to have a real understanding of who Jesus is. He's not trying to rip you off. He's trying to set you free. Jesus says the way you're going to be set free is to know truth.

The truth will set you free, which was the second gift, right? You don't have to figure out truth on your own. You have to understand that God is trying to lead you to a place of great provision, to where your life can be successful and prosperous, not just in limited, fleeting ways like materially. He really wants you to be successful in life.

He wants you to have the kind of life others folks would look at and go, "Man, I'm not a genius, but if I had to design a life that was going to go well, that would be the life right there. The way they love. The way they give. The way they serve. The way they are somebody who contributes and doesn't suck life from this world. I would say that's a skilled life." God wants you to have that life. He says, "This is my Word that will lead you to that life. You don't have to figure it out on your own. You can have the mind of God, that you might live the way God would have you live through his Word he's revealed to you." A passion for God's Word.

Thirdly, I talked about how I want my kids, I want our community of faith, to have a real sense of how God wants to use us to introduce other people to life and introduce other people to the means through which we can live in a way the world would go, "That' a good way to live." We talked about how another gift we give is a passion for those who don't know Christ, who don't know God's Word, and to do everything we can to reach out and to serve them.

This week, I'm going to give you the next gift. In order for us to have a real impact in the world we live in, we have to be individuals who can go through life together without constantly fracturing and splintering off. That won't happen without this particular skill set, without having this gift built into your life.

Let me share with you a little bit about one of the most consistent attributes of a lot of what are called the didactic books in the New Testament. Didactic means, "I'm going to speak. You're going to learn. You're going to listen this way." There are a number of books that were written by a guy named Paul. They all have a very similar formula. Romans, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, all have this exact same idea in them.

What Paul does is he starts off by saying, "Look. Here is some doctrine. Here is some truth. This is who God is. This is how he loves you. This is how he pursues you. This is what he's done for you." After he gets through explaining that doctrine, in the second half of the book, he'll talk about, "This is how you do life in light of this truth."

In other words, here's the orthodoxy. Now here's the orthopraxy. Here's the word. Now here's how you walk. What you're going to find is this gift I want to talk to you about today is a gift that is required for us to do the very first thing that, in a number of these books, he says is the primary evidence we've come to understand who God is. I'll use Ephesians as an example.

Ephesians 1, 2, and 3 say that you are set apart from God without Christ and without hope in the world. You were dead in your trespasses and sin. But God, in his incredible grace, pursued you, tried to restore you to have relationship with him, to resolve the conflict that came by your turning away from him and going your own way, withdrawing from him, and cursing at him. God sought you and brought you back. Now, having been brought back to God, having been brought near to him, you can learn to love as he loves and, therefore, be near to each other.

He says, in Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 1-3, "Therefore…" In light of what Christ has done for you. In light of the Spirit of truth that now reigns in your hearts. "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord…" What Paul means by that is he wasn't just literally in prison. What Paul meant by that is that I am constrained by the love of Christ. "Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee." Paul said, "I am bound to Christ. I am in love with him because of what he's done for me and the fact that I've understood this now, by grace."

He says, " [I] implore you…" In light of this and finding life where I've found it in a relationship with God. "…to walk in a manner worthy…" Of your finding this same truth out. "…of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

What Paul is saying right there is, "You have to know, as you go through life, there is going to be natural tension which comes up and arises. You're going to have to work to keep the unity Christ has accomplished. You have to work with your own 'prone to wandering' in your life to stay near to God, through confession, through seeking forgiveness, through having God's Spirit quickened continually in your heart, by putting yourself before his Word, and by being spurred on to love and good deeds by those who are around you. And guess what?

You're going to need to seek forgiveness from each other because, though you've come to Christ and been forgiven, you're not like Jesus yet. At times you're going to hurt each other, and so you're going to need to be diligent." What does the word diligence mean? Steady, constant, and focused in your application to staying near to one another.

There were about 600 of us who got away this weekend. We were talking about marriage. We were talking about how God wants for us in marriage, not just to not commit adultery. I mean, surely being faithful and living a life of fidelity is a good thing, and it is, but our goals for marriage are much higher than just that you wouldn't commit adultery.

God wants much more for you than that you just wouldn't file a document down at the courthouse that says you're divorced. In fact, I firmly believe marriages that stay together and are really just marriages of mutual toleration, that you're more un-divorced than you are truly married, are just as dishonoring to God sometimes as people who are honest, and who say, "We're through, and we are separated."

When people are separated, the world looks at them, and they go, "There is no oneness there." God's design for you is that you would have oneness, not just that you wouldn't divorce. He wants you to be tightly joined and connected to one another. I want to share with you this morning how we go about that.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 28, says this about marriage. He says, "Listen. I want to warn you. You're going to need some skills if you're going to be married successfully." In fact, do you know what the number one primary predictor is for divorce to be a likelihood in your life? In other words, I'll say it in a positive way.

The number one predictor of marital success is an ability to work through conflict. In other words, the number one predictor of relational success…man-to-man, woman-to-woman, father-to-son, son-to-mother, the number one predictor of neighbor-to-neighbor relational success…is that you would know how to work through conflict.

Why? Because conflict is not a sin. Sin is the causer of all conflict, but when you're in conflict, what you do with it determines whether or not it's going to be a source of life for you or a source of certain death. Suitcases that clutter up your life. I want to give you a skill set here. Paul says, "But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned…" But I want to warn you. "…such will have trouble in this life."

Here's the deal. "In the midst of life," Paul is saying, "I want you to know you're going to have trouble if you make a covenant relationship with another person. That trouble, appropriately, is going to take a lot of diligence, attention, and time. I want you to focus on that in the way you should. I'm more zealous for folks who don't know God, so I wish you wouldn't put this (appropriately) priority relationship into your life so you could go and reach those who don't know Christ like I could."

The Holy Spirit said very lovingly to Paul, "Paul, I'm glad you're passionate, but I haven't made everybody like you. In fact, you're more the exception than the rule. What I want for you is for you to know that most folks are going to get married. You tell them they haven't sinned if they get married. It's okay to remind them they're going to have trouble, but you have to give them the skills to navigate through that trouble."

There's a story. I know it's not true, but it's hilarious. It's about a dietician who they say was speaking in Chicago about all the different things that hurt our bodies. They went through and talked about the different foods and the different toxins that are in our world, but also in things we willingly take in.

They went through, and they talked about how red meat is so awful for you. They talked about how there's so much MSG in Chinese food, there's salt in a lot of our different foods, how there are a lot of vegetables that actually carry things in them that can be damaging to us if we don't eat them in the right amount in moderation, and the long-term effects of some of the impurities in our drinking water that are out there.

This dietician went through all these different things that are out there. She said, "There's one particular food that creates more poor health, more pain, and is more dangerous to you than almost any other food you could eat." Before she started, she said, "Do you know what it is?" There was a 73-year-old guy sitting in the front row who raised his hand. He said, "Absolutely. Wedding cake."

Which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about that guy's marriage. There are suitcases all over the place. But it's not just that 73-year-old guy who feels that way. Some of you guys might go, "I'll tell you. You want to know what the most dangerous food to eat is? Turkey at my house every Thanksgiving, because it just makes me sick every time I go."

Some of you guys might say, "Well, you know, the bread of friendship. I've broken with people, and it's caused me more pain than anything else." That is clearly a made-up story, but it suggests that even in rooms like this, people would say, "I'll tell you what's really dangerous to your health. It's potluck suppers you get at churches or Communion bread, because there's always trouble there."

It's like the guy who was shipwrecked on a desert island. He was there for a number of years and was finally found by a vessel that was passing by. They saw the smoke and the fire, and they came and rescued him. They got him, and they said, "You've been found." He goes, "Thank you so much." They said, "Well, let's go. Get on the boat. Let's take off."

He says, "Well, wait. Let me go run and get a few things. I've been here for five years, and so I've established a little bit of a niche here in this world. I want to take some artifacts with me back home." He ran back into the jungle. They chased after him back into the jungle. While he was in there, they followed him, and they came across these three amazing structures. They walked up, and they looked at the first structure. "This is amazing!"

He goes, "Well, I didn't have much to do. There was nobody here but me these last five years, and so I've gotten pretty busy." They go, "What is that?" He goes, "That's my house. That's where I live." They go, "That is an amazing piece of architecture." He goes, "Thank you very much." They go, "What's that?" He goes, "That's my church." They go, "That's awesome. What's that third building?" He goes, "Oh, that's the church I used to go to."

It's amazing how many of us have come around places where we are called to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, but we don't practice the thing God has given us, which is going to be one of the primary indicators that we are people who are different than other folks in this world. We don't leave suitcases around. In fact, what I want to tell you is this.

You cannot be a spiritual leader if you are not an individual who doesn't just do conflict well but initiates taking suitcases out of relationships, moving them upstairs, and getting that clutter out of your life. I will say it this way, as strongly as I can. It is impossible for two people to be in an abiding relationship with Christ and to be stuck in conflict or to have irreconcilable differences that keep them in isolation from one another.

It is always a spiritual problem, whether you're talking about nation-to-nation, husband-to-wife, friend-to-friend, father-to-daughter, employer-to-employee. I will tell you something else about this stuff. You can live with these tools I'm going to give you today in your life for 20 years and have good intimate relationships, and the moment you stop applying these tools, isolation and death will come to you.

Just like if you have suitcases everywhere in your life, the moment you start to apply this gift I'm going to give to you today that's from God, it can start to heal your life. Today can be the day the suitcase gets out of there, you can run freely up and down the steps, and you're not looking to move out because your life is ruined by the presence of all this junk. It's a big deal.

This is what the Scripture says. In Proverbs, chapter 17, verse 14 he warns you. He says, "The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out." Why? Because if you don't deal with that levy, it can ruin your city. Some of you guys have had Katrina-like disasters in your lives because you've not dealt with that little bit of trickle that's come out.

In fact, it's even more important the more intimate the relationship is. That's what it says in Proverbs, chapter 18, verse 19. It says, "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city…" In other words, the closer you are to somebody, it gets really difficult when they're hurt. "…and contentions are like the bars of a castle." They're hard to get through.

The closer you are to somebody, the more difficult it is to work through conflict when it arises. That's why Paul says, "I implore you…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent…" Don't stop. Don't quit. Be diligent. "…to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

In your marriage… I will tell you the reason my wife and I went to the marriage conference this weekend. We had a great time Friday night talking about six wrong ways to think that really will never make a right relationship. Things that really threaten the oneness. Afterwards we gave ourselves a little homework assignment, to go, sit down, and go, "Where are you struggling in this?"

The reason I got after that thing, and I got down with my wife… She looked at me, and she goes, "I am great with you. I'd love to go sit down if you want to lock eyes and talk about this, but we're doing well." The reason our marriage is doing well is not because we don't struggle, but because we struggle biblically. We apply these things in our lives all the time.

Here's what I want to do. I want to share with you, to kind of start, some things you don't want to do when it comes to conflict. Then I'll tell you how God says, "This is how you work it out. This is the gift I want to give you." Let it be known, gang, that you cannot be a godly man or woman and not feel like it is your responsibility to dive in and to focus on this. It is the very first responsibility of a spiritual leader to preserve unity and oneness that Christ himself died to accomplish. Here we go. In the midst of issues that are coming up in your life, you have to make sure you deal with it in the way I'm going to share with you to. In other words…

1 . _ Don't be a peace-faker, where you deny conflict, where you avoid conflict, where you withdraw from conflict, and _don't be a peace-breaker, where you say, "I'll tell you this. You don't get along with me, and I'll teach you that you don't ever want to cross me. I'll punish you verbally and physically if I have to. I'll intimidate you. Legally. I'll do whatever I need to do to get you to back down, so you'll live the way I want to live, so we won't have conflict."

God says, "That's not what I want. I don't want you to pretend there's not conflict. I don't want you to intimidate people to not have conflict with you. I want you to be, not a peace-faker or a peace-breaker. I want you to be a peacemaker." He says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." What's that mean? You cannot be considered a godly man or woman if you are not an individual who continually pursues peace, because that's what God does. While we were yet sinners, Christ pursued peace with us.

What we do (sometimes as married couples, but this really, really connects with every relationship) when you're in conflict, and what we tell married couples in communication classes… We didn't do this little session in our marriage conference, and I'm going to insert it right here. Don't be a WENI. What's that mean? Well, it's an acronym we've come up with to help you get your arms around what not to do in the context of conflict.

First, the W is to withdraw. When there is tension going on, what you don't want to do is use the W, withdraw. By the way, that's one of the things I learned in my life about how you deal with conflict. When we did the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out: Let's Do It Our Way," our way growing up was: Here came the tornado of temper, and everyone withdrew quickly.

Get under the mother hen's wings, go to the corner, cower, and stay away until the tempest passed. Then we'd slowly stick our heads out. We'd see things had settled down, and we'd kind of step back out. We don't talk about the tornado that just moved through. We just withdraw. That was not a biblical way to deal with conflict. You don't want to withdraw. That's the peace-faking.

Secondly, the E is to escalate. You don't want to escalate. This is the peace-breaking. "Oh, hey. You want a tornado? Well, here comes a Category 5 hurricane right back at you. I'll throw in a little earthquake and a tsunami of spit in your face to accomplish it. I'll teach you. You don't tornado me." You escalate. You meet the conflict head-on and say, "All right. You want to play passive-aggressive? You ain't seen passive-aggressive. You want to play the quiet game? Watch how long I can go without talking." Don't escalate.

Thirdly, the N is negative interpretation. What's that? The next two I'm going to give you are things we do in the context of not having dealt with conflict well. We negatively interpret. Sometimes when things aren't going well, maybe because I'm moving a lot and fairly fast… I have a tendency to do that sometimes with my wife.

In fact, we had a recent issue where I came running in the house, and I put a fresh stack of clothes on the steps I needed to use to change and go somewhere else. I put it right there. I ran and did something else. I came back to grab the shoes, the shorts, and the things I needed, and they were gone. I go, "Where are the shoes that I just put there? Where are the shorts that were with them? I have to go!"

My wife is sitting there very calmly. She goes, "The ones on the second step?" I go, "Yes! I just put them there." She goes, "Well, I took them upstairs." I look, and I go, "Why? Why don't you leave my stuff alone? I just put it down there a second ago. Where are my keys? Did you move my keys?"

"I was just trying to clean the counter." "Well, why did you move my keys?" She's looking at me, and she says, "Because I was trying to keep a little order around here. I didn't know to differentiate the new stack from the one three stairs up that's been there for two weeks. Rather than nag you, I thought it would be simple to serve you. I was going upstairs, and I picked it up." I go, "Well, I don't have time for you to pick it up."

She said, "Todd, do you think I live to make your life miserable? Do you think I sit around all day and wait for you to lay something down so I can quickly go get it and hide it from you? Do you think that's my goal? Do you think I work at that?" I go, "No. I think you do it naturally. You annoy me naturally."

I want to leave quickly, so I have negatively interpreted. I want to withdraw, and I've escalated. It's a triple major for me at this point. My wife is just loving me through it and doing a great job. Sometimes you negatively interpret other people's actions instead of saying, "Hey, I need to clarify and get some understanding here. I need to figure out what's going on."

I love the story of the guy who came home from work one day and there was a snail on his porch right by his door. He sees that snail. He goes up, and he kicks that snail clean out, right in the other dude's lawn. He's sitting there watching TV two years later, and there's a knock at his door. He goes out. He doesn't see anything. He looks down, and there's that snail. The snail goes, "Hey, what was that all about?"

I heard that, and I think, "Man, that dude held a grudge for a long time." He really didn't hold a grudge, because it took that snail two years just to get back. When he came, he didn't have a grudge. He wasn't angry. He wasn't bitter. He just said, "You need to help me here. I'm confused. You hurt me, and I want you to know you hurt me. I'm coming back as quick as I could get here."

I look at my life, and sometimes I could get back to somebody in a couple of hours. I wait two years sometimes, and I come back. Typically, when we wait that time to come back, we do come with bitterness and anger and with a trail of slandering somebody, all behind us everywhere we've turned. It doesn't honor God. It doesn't help that person. It doesn't help you. In the midst of this, be careful. Maybe I'm negatively interpreting this because I have not dealt with conflict well in the past. Maybe because there's some stuff going on with me.

Fourthly, the I is to invalidate. What happened in the midst of that is my wife was saying, "Hey, Todd. I'm just trying to help you out. By the way, I'm not even concerned right now about the fact that you leave your clothes everywhere as much as I am by the way you're treating me and talking to me."

I'll say something like, "That's your problem. Get over it. If you wouldn't move my stuff, I wouldn't talk to you like this in this particular moment. Your feelings, right now, are the problem, not the fact that I'm talking to you like this. If you didn't care that I talk to you like this, we wouldn't have a problem." Genius, right? We don't invalidate how somebody else feels.

To the snail, "What do you mean, 'Why did I do that?' You're a snail. Get out of my life. You don't matter to me." Don't be a WENI. It's not the way to deal with conflict. When you're communicating, don't withdraw, don't escalate, don't negatively interpret everything, and don't invalidate somebody else's point of view. The Scripture says, "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind." In the midst of conflict…

2 . Don't believe it's not your responsibility. What do I mean by that? As I've already said, gang, one of the things that will define you as a leader is that you're the one who goes and says, "I see that suitcase. It's a source of tension between you and me. I'm going to be the one who does everything I can to move it."

By the way, that doesn't mean, and God does not expect you to, heal every conflict you're in. There are some conflicts you cannot heal. That's why the Scripture says, "… [as much as you are able], be at peace with all men," but you are to do everything you can. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say stuff like, "Well, it's not my problem. It's their problem. Am I my brother's keeper?"

I go, "Let's deal with that last comment." Do you know who said that first? It was when God was approaching somebody and saying, "I'm not really happy with the way you dealt with conflict or the way you just let this little problem go on between you and your brother, Cain. Where is Able?" "Am I responsible for my brother?"

The answer is, "Yes. You're extremely responsible for your brother, and I'm going to hold you accountable for how you treat your brother. Have you done everything you could to be at peace with him?" "No, I have been murderous in my attitude toward him." God says, "This is your responsibility to do everything you can. I called you to be conformed to my image. If you're not a peacemaker, you're not being conformed into my image."

Don't believe it's not your responsibility. That's what James, chapter 5 says. James, chapter 5 says, "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back…" That's an issue. "…let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins."

Proverbs 24:10-11 says, "…and those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back." If you don't, "…will He not render to each man according to his deeds?" In other words, God says, "If you see somebody living their life in a way or doing some things that are damaging and destructive to them, it is your responsibility to help them with that suitcase and to get involved." Don't believe it's somebody else's responsibility to deal with that baggage that's there, that luggage that's getting in the way.

3 . Don't forget to start with yourself. Watch this. Matthew, chapter 7, verses 3-5. This is what it says. "My brethren, if any of you wants to help your brother or your sister, I'm cool with that. I want you to help them, but before you can do this very delicate thing called eye surgery, if you're going to take a speck out of somebody else's eye, you'd better be able to see clearly."

"Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?" You can't take the speck out if you can't see. Maybe the problem is yours. He goes on to say, "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite…" In other words, you're under judgment. Your noticing that person's not being able to see clearly is a problem, but you can't see clearly yourself. Look at the log in your own eye. Watch this.

"…first take the log out of your own eye, and then…" In other words, God does want you to help them. But then, "…you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." Before you go engaging in resolving the conflict and the luggage and the baggage, you might want to go, "Okay. Where is this my baggage? What do I need to move first in order to clear up this path that is all cluttered between us?" By the way, the most difficult part of resolving any conflict is seeing your part in it. Lastly, I would tell you…

4 . Don't wait. Do not wait. You have to be an individual who says, "Look. This is a big issue." Proverbs 6 talks about that in verses 1-6. It says, "If you're in a position where something you said…" And what's implied there is and/or have done. "…is causing a conflict between you and another person…" It says, "Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter's hand and like a bird from the hand of the fowler." Go immediately. "Give no sleep to your eyes…" Which means this is a matter of first importance.

That's what Jesus says in Matthew, chapter 5, verse 23 and following. He says, "If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you…" Right then and right there. "…leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering."

God says, "I don't want you to tell me you celebrate the goodness I brought to you, the forgiveness available to you, if you're not willing to forgive somebody else; the grace that was extended to you, if you're not willing to extend that grace to somebody else; the healing from being imprisoned in your isolation from me, if you're not willing to go and pursue the isolation somebody else is in."

God says, "You want to be a worshipper?" When I say to you each week, "Have a great week of worship," do you know what should be first on your mind? "Where is there baggage that I need to do everything that I can to take out of the clutter in the house of that relationship?" Don't wait.

Can I throw this one in there as well? So many times, we think it's a real noble thing to be an individual who, because I'm a loving person, I'm not going to say anything. Listen. Don't confuse being a loving friend or a loving husband or wife with enablement. When you have somebody who has a consistent issue in your life that's affecting their relationship with you, for you to go, "Well, a good loving, submissive partner here would just not say anything and kind of let them be," I'm going to share with you this morning that couldn't be more wrong.

Every day you wait to deal with it the way God wants you to is a day you allow your spouse to live in the isolation God says is a dishonor to him and is damaging to them. Plus, you're not experiencing the life God wants for you. That's why he says, "Be like me. Love. Love them just the way they are but love them enough not to let them stay that way."

How do you do it? How do you go about it? What does it look like to deal with conflict well? One of the things you have to do when you're in the midst of conflict, is you have to first of all decide…How do I even put this in a category of whether or not I investigate saying something about it? You have to run it through the grid of Proverbs, chapter 19, verse 11, where it says, "…it is his glory to overlook an offense."

If you go, "All right. I want to be an individual who is slow to anger, is slow to be bothered. It's a glory, God says, to overlook when somebody else does something that's hurting in the relationship. That's why I'm not enabling. I'm doing something glorious. I'm overlooking that." Well, here's what I want to tell you. The very first principle you have to apply as you live with this mindset is:

1 . Don't sweat the small stuff. I am not going to sweat the small stuff. I am going to overlook minor offenses. By the way, the stuff I'm going to give you right now is all in your Watermark News today. It is stuff we are absolutely passionate about. We are absolute freaks about this here, and I believe it's part of the reason God has chosen to allow us to experience what we've experienced here.

What we did is we put it in a very transferable format for you that you can keep, read through this stuff, and go, "All right. How am I applying this in my relationships at work, in my relationships with my kids, in my relationships with the neighbors, in my relationship with my spouse, in my relationships with my friends, in my relationships with others who love Christ with me at Watermark, in my relationships with others who love Christ with me in this world?" It's all there.

The first thing I'm going to tell you is don't sweat the small stuff. Which begs the question...How do I know if it's a big deal or not? How do I know if I should pursue this as a problem or not? I'm going to answer that. Let me answer it first with a graphic illustration, and then let me also give you some very specific points.

Sometimes women go, "Look. I don't want to be a nag. Who wants to be a nag?" "It is better to live in a corner of the [attic] than in a house shared with a contentious woman.""Better to live with a drippy, leaky faucet than to live with a contentious woman." "I don't want to be a nag, so I want to keep looking over all Todd's junk laying all around." Right? Nope. Here's what God says. As he talks to us, he says, "You have to realize oneness is what I want for you."

Here's the graphic illustration: Sometimes we eat a meal, and the meal doesn't go well with us. It doesn't sit just right. You sit there and go, "Man, I just need to be still for a second. This isn't good right now for my soul. Give me a minute, and it will pass." Literally. Right? And then you can move on. You might choose not to eat that again or to prepare it differently next time, but you're okay. Just a little indigestion. A little gas. A little something. Move on.

There are other times you eat something, and you go, "Oh, dude. That is really not right." If you don't purge it, it's going to make you really physically sick. In fact, you're going to be someplace one time where you don't want to be and, all of a sudden, it's going to come flying out in a way you didn't mean to, in a way that's going to embarrass you and others.

"Wow. That was a little bit awkward over the table there like that." Or it's going to come out the other way, all loose. You're going to kind of go, "Doggone it. I have to walk funny to just get out of the room and change." Very graphic. Here's what I want to share with you. You have to decide which one it is.

You have to decide, "Is this one going to pass? Is that really not that big a deal, or is this something that if I don't deal with it now, it's going to really stick with me and make me very uncomfortable? It's going to make me walk differently. It's going to make me come out with something at one point when I wasn't really meaning to come out with it that's going to make everybody uncomfortable."

If it's not going to pass, don't overlook it. Deal with it. Go, "I'm really sick about this. This isn't going to just go away after a few minutes." Here's the deal. Let me give it to you now in a very specific way.

First, an offense is not too small to overlook if it dishonors God. In other words, because you love this person and you know everything about them in their core doesn't want to be a person who lives a stupid, self-absorbed, narcissistic life, you're going to say something to them. This is where my wife loves me so well.

She goes, "Todd, let me tell you something. I am absolutely convinced you love Jesus Christ. I am absolutely convinced grace has its arms firmly around you, that you are a person who wants to live a life in full devotion to Jesus Christ. That is who you are. There are some moments, though, when I see you act in a way that, if I weren't your wife, I wouldn't want to go to the church you pastor."

Rather than just getting a hard heart toward me, right away she says, "I can't overlook that, because I want you to be my pastor," which is what every man is in a relationship with a woman. The priest of the household. What she's really saying is, "I want to be one with you. I don't want to mutually tolerate you." When she sees me do something that is dishonoring to God, she knows who I am. "Todd, what I see right here is inconsistent with who I believe in your heart you want to be. I can't overlook that because it would be overlooking helping you be what God wants you to be."

Part of our role with each other is to spur each other on to love and good deeds. "Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy." "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed." The woman's role is to be a completer. Why? That means we're not done. We need to be completed, and so sometimes my wife says, "Todd, let me help you here."

There was a great incident yesterday where I was going to bless my kids. I was so excited to get to do something with all of my kids. It was something I've never done before. I was going to grab a bunch of them, go someplace I thought would really be cool for them, and introduce them to a really neat environment. I was so excited about it. I kind of held it back and didn't give them all the details, but I told them what they all had to do to get to go.

One of them didn't do it. It broke my heart. It broke my heart that I wasn't going to get to give them this gift I was really excited about giving them. So, I got frustrated by that. In the midst of my frustration, I was short. I was speaking in an inappropriate tone with that particular child, as well as some of the other children and, frankly, with her. My wife said, "Hey. Come here. Listen. I know you're frustrated but look. The way you're handling that right now isn't helping."

I didn't deal with that really well. I probably escalated a little bit. I invalidated. "Well, you guys… You know, I'm frustrated." She goes, "Okay. It's the second time I'm going to tell you. I know you're frustrated, but I also know that's not the way you, as a man who loves God, wants to handle that frustration. Let me help you with something else. The kids who are going to go with you are looking at me like, 'We're not sure, Mom, we want to get in the car with him right now when he's like that.'"

Three or four different times she came back at me, and she said, "Todd, come on, man. I know who you are as a dad. You're not selling the fullness of the goodness of who you are as a follower of Christ right now to the kids. Get it together. I can't overlook this, because it's dishonoring God, and it's hurting your ability to lead these kids." I'll tell you what else it was doing. It was hurting my relationship with her.

Secondly, you can't overlook something that hurts their relationship with you. God says you're supposed to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Our oneness was being threatened because I was short with everybody. I'll tell you what…

Thirdly, you can't overlook something when it's hurting somebody's relationship with others. That's really why she was coming. She goes, "Todd, look. The kids right now are getting tense around you." Literally, three or four times inside a five-minute period, she kept following me around. She goes, "Hey. Settle down." I felt so justified in my frustration, because it was all about me not getting to do something I wanted to do for this child I love.

She was like, "Deal with it a little better than you are. This is dishonoring to God. I'm telling you in this moment, I'm not respecting you. I want to be able to respect you. The kids are not wanting to be with you. I want them to want to be with you. There's not a man in the world I'd rather them be with than you, but not like this. Come on."

Fourthly, when it's damaging that person's relationship with others where they can be a spokesperson for a God who is good. When it's hurting that offender and diminishing that person's usefulness to God, you have to speak up. Why? Because you know that's the greatest privilege God gives us in this world, to be a minister of reconciliation, a source of hope. A person who lives as salt and light in the world so "…they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." That means if you see anybody…

When is an offense too big to overlook? When it's any one of those four things, you cannot let it pass. That means, if in your life you go, "Well, that's not a big deal with me. That really bothered me, but I'll let it get away." If it dishonored God, if it damages your relationship, if it damages that person's relationship with another, or if it hinders their ability to be a spokesperson for the gospel of Christ, you don't have an option.

So, what do you do now? Let's say, "I have to deal with this," when we know we don't want to be a WENI. I know we don't want to say, "It's not my responsibility." I know I don't want to say I'm just going to be a lover by looking over that, because I can't look over that. I become an enabler at this point. What's the next thing you do? You don't sweat the small stuff, but here's what you do:

2 . You don't spread the big stuff. In other words, what my wife didn't do is quickly call six people. "You wouldn't believe what a jerk I live with. I know. He's a pastor, right? But you wouldn't believe what he's doing around here." She came right to me. She said, "I want to help you with this." This is what Matthew, chapter 18, walks us through. It says, "And if your brother sins…" If your brother is dishonoring to God in the way they're living. "…go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother."

That's what happened yesterday with Alex. I finally took a deep breath and went, "I'm sorry." It took me a while. I was so focused on how it was going to hurt me not to get to love. I went, "I'm sorry. I know when I do that, I get short, and I'm tense. I make everybody else around me tense. Will you forgive me?" She goes, "Of course. Come on. We have to figure out other ways to cope with this next time."

In the midst of this kind of stuff, you get to that person, and you don't go spread it around to everyone else. Let me tell you, this is a big deal. Twice in Proverbs… It says it in chapter 18. It says it again in chapter 26. This is what it says: "The words of a [gossip] are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body."

What does that mean? When you hear people talking with other folks about the issues that are going on in their lives, at first it's real sweet. You take them, and you keep eating them, but if you keep eating stuff, after a while what does it do? It gets in there and makes you start to feel sick. It puts a bunch of baggage on you.

I love it. I was in a friend's house one time. They were trying to be more disciplined in this one area, and so they put a big sign on the refrigerator. It said, "Do you like it enough to wear it?" If you keep eating the stuff that's in this fridge, you're going to carry it with you everywhere you go. It's this way with gossip. It's really sweet when you hear people speak poorly about other folks, but you're going to wear it in the form of bitterness or prejudicial ideas about another person that may or may not be fair.

This is how I handle it when folks come to me, and they say, "Todd, have you heard about So-and-so?" or "Did you see what they did?" or "Do you know they did this?" When I hear that, I go, "Uh-oh. Stop. I have to tell you that now that you brought me in, I have to ask you this question: Have you told them what you just told me?"

They go, "Of course not!" I say, "Well, guess what? The way I roll is if somebody was saying something about me like that, I would want somebody to send them back to me so I could clean up that misunderstanding, or I could ask for forgiveness if I blew it. The person you're talking about…

Look. I'm not telling you they're perfect, but I can tell you if you go to them, I think they're going to want to either own their mistake and ask your forgiveness, or they're going to clear up the misunderstanding that makes you feel that way. I'm going to tell you, I'm going to ask you to go to them and tell them what you just told me." They go, "You're crazy, and if you tell them I told you that, I'll never speak to you again."

I go, "Well, that's going to be your choice, but I believe you don't speak to somebody unless they're part of the problem or part of the solution. What you've done now, no matter what you say, is I'm going to carry that baggage with them. I'm going to ask you, in the next three or four days, shoot them an email and say, 'I need to get together and talk with you about that.'

If you're scared to death of doing that, I'll go with you, but I'll tell you this. In about three or four days, I'm going to call you back and say, 'Have you had a chance to say something to them yet?' If the answer is no, I'm going to call that person. We're going to come to you together, and we're going to work this thing out."

What do you think happens when I tell people that? I am off the dainty morsel list immediately, is the first thing. I don't carry a lot of bitterness and baggage in my heart toward other people. I can really be a source of friendship and reconciliation with others. I make a lot of folks really mad the first time I do that, but it brings so much healing.

In fact, I'll tell you very quickly, when we first started Watermark, one of the things we were doing as a group of core families is that we started talking about who were some of the men who could lead us going forward. What we did is we looked at the entire group of guys the Lord had brought around, and we threw out different names. Every time somebody threw out a name, if somebody said, "I would not be comfortable with them in a primary leadership role at Watermark because of this," I said, "Have you ever told them that?"

They were like, "What? No." "Well, guess what? If we're trying to help people grow, and you see an area they should grow in so they can lead the way we believe they want to lead as followers of Christ, we have to tell them that. If you're not sure about it enough to tell them that, then you shouldn't have said it right here. Maybe we should keep them in the process."

There were a number of guys who we said, "We do feel sure enough about that, but we haven't told them." We set up time with every single man who was mentioned who we didn't feel was ready to carry the mantle of leadership here. We sat them down, and we said, "We love you. We believe you want to be useful to God. Here's the reason right now we don't feel like you could be used in this primary role."

I want to tell you something. We have elders now who we went to six years ago and told them that, who said, almost with tears in their eyes, "Thank you so much. Do you know? I've known that to be true in my life, and nobody has ever told me that. I have never felt so loved as I have in this moment." They dealt with it, and they dug in. They didn't try and excuse it and get rid of it. Those are men we hold up today and say, "Follow these men."

If all you do is talk about folks behind their backs and never go to them, they don't have a chance to grow. Here's a deal I pulled out that came from a church. This is a church that had a tremendous amount of growth early on, and so people said, "Write a book about how you grew." This is a little excerpt from that one little book.

It says, "And now, I charge you…that if you ever hear another member speak an unkind word of criticism or slander against anyone—myself, another pastor, an usher, a choir member, or anyone else—you have the authority to stop that person in mid-sentence and say, 'Excuse me—who hurt you? Who ignored you? Who slighted you? Was it [the pastor]?'"

I know Wagner. He's not perfect, but I will tell you I've seen him humble himself. It continues, "Let's go to his office right now. He will get on his knees and apologize to you, and then we'll pray together, so God can restore peace to this body. But we will not let you talk critically about people who are not present to defend themselves."

Mark my word. Understand this. If I'm ever in the presence of hearing you speak poorly about another person, we will call you on it immediately. What happens when you live in that kind of community? We don't think we're perfect here, but we're saying if we're imperfect, we're going to tell each other that, not speak to everybody else about it.

If it doesn't dishonor God, if it's a just a vanilla-chocolate thing, if it just kind of made you a little uncomfortable or you kind of thought they had a certain day, and you let it pass, fine. But if it dishonors God, damages the relationship, damages their relationship with others, or causes that person not to be somebody you'd hold up and who the world would look at and say, "I want to follow them," then we have to go. But when you go, you go to them first. Okay?

What happens if you go to them, and they don't respond well? You go to them, and they're an individual who kind of says, "Hey, man, that's your opinion. That's the way it's going to roll around here." What if I had said to my wife yesterday, "You power down. You're bothering me as much as the kids are. Just get them ready! In fact, if you'd done what you were supposed to do, she would have done that so she could go with me," and tried to escalate and intimidate?

I'll tell you. People have asked me this before. "Todd, what's the best thing you do to lead your family? What's the best thing you do to love your wife?" That is an easy answer for me, and it comes right out of this little lesson we're talking about today.

I tell me wife, "This is who you call. You don't have to wonder who you should go to. These are the names of the men and their cell numbers. If you love me and you come to me and I'm dishonoring God, I'm hurting my relationship with you, I'm hurting my relationship with others, I can't be a man who can say, 'Imitate me as I imitate Christ,' and you've told me that, and I tell you to get lost, this is who you call, because you love me."

3 . You don't stop if you've been stiffed. You take two or three others along. This is what it says in Matthew 18, verse 16, "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED." In other words, those guys will come to me.

They won't rush up and go, "Hey, man, we heard from Alex that you were a jerk." They'll go, "Hey, Todd, guess what? Your wife has called us and unpacked for us what happened Saturday afternoon." I might go, "Well, I'll tell you what happened. Alex was really stressed out, and she was just not having a good day. She was overreacting to everything."

They go, "Okay. That's a different perspective than we received, but the Bible says, 'The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.' Let us get involved. Let's get you and Alex together and talk about this thing." Or they might find me, and I'll go, "Uh-oh. You know, guys, I'll tell you what it was. I was a jerk. I need to ask my wife's forgiveness. I'm not going to intimidate you away, am I?" "No, you're not."

I will tell you there have only been one or two times in my entire life that my wife has had to say, "You know what? I'm not happy with the way you're responding to me, and we need to bring in others," but I've told her, "If you ever need to do that, you have my permission. Please love me enough.

If I'm not responding to the completer you are in my life, get some more completers into my life, because I want to be who God wants me to be. A guy you love. A guy you respect. A guy who the kids, when they say, 'Who is my hero?' say 'I like my daddy.' If you don't help me, sweetie, I won't be that guy. A guy who others can say, 'I'm glad he's the leader in our community of faith.' If you don't help me, I won't be that guy." You take two or three others along. Here's the deal. What if he doesn't listen to the two or three? Here's the next thing I'd tell you:

4 . Don't stop if it gets sticky. The Scripture says, "…tell it to the church…" Now what's the church? In context, the church is everybody who knows and has a relationship with that individual in the church. I wouldn't tell you about a guy in our body who is struggling in his marriage whom two or three of us went to him who knew him well, and he rebuffed us.

I would then grab everybody I knew at Watermark who knew him. It might be 14 people. It might be 30. It might be 40. If he's a real significant leader, it might be 100. We've done it with about 200 people before for a ministry director. We got those folks who knew him and were under his leadership in the room together.

We said, "We love you. We're not mad at you. We're not angry at you. We're coming to you together to say, listen, please. Please. Here's what God says we should do in this moment. If you don't want to do it, then we want you to know this is not a personality conflict. This is not a matter of opinion of one or two or three strong people right around you. We stand together as the body of Christ, and we love you. We're saying this is dishonoring to God." Then what do you do?

5 . Don't stop if they're stuck in their sin. You treat them as a nonbeliever, but how do you treat a nonbeliever? You love them. You invest time with them. You initiate with them. You pray for them. You call them to follow Christ. What you don't do is hold them up as a leader. You don't say, "This is a guy you should follow." When they're out there saying, "I'm a devoted follower of Christ," you don't go, "Yes, they are."

You go, "You know what? Just so you know, we love him. We really are for him, but right now there's an area of his life that he knows all about our opinion on this. We've said, 'This guy, this gal, right now is not walking with Christ in the manner they should walk with Christ.' We love them, but don't let them confuse you right now. This is not a personality conflict. There are hundreds of people who have been intimately involved in this. This is what the Scripture says. This is the truth, and this is how we stand. We're praying."

That's how you do it. That's what the Spirit of God says we should use to help each other. Why? all for the purpose of oneness. What do you do when that person eventually…? Let's say they stay out there in that position for years. Well, the second they come back and do what I did in my house yesterday inside five minutes, where I went, "I am so sorry. Will you forgive me?" I asked for each of my kids' forgiveness.

You know what was even better than that? Even sweeter than that? I wasn't 10 minutes away from my house, and I hadn't even had a chance to clear it up with the one I was really frustrated with. I got a text message on my phone from one of my kids saying, "Dad, I know you love me. I am the one who earned the tension you gave me. I want to tell you thank you for loving me. I wish I could go, and I'm mad at myself that I didn't do what I needed to do so I could go. Will you forgive me? I love you and can't wait to see you."

That was a little girl who hadn't I had a chance to go back to yet and own my junk. I go, "Whoa. The log out of her eye." Spiritual leadership. Closeness with a dad and a daughter. Who wouldn't want that? It's all right here. It's a gift I was so glad my daughter had. I got to ask the kids in the car with me, "Will you forgive me? I didn't handle that well."

I got to ask my wife that, and I got to celebrate that with my other little girl. It is good. When we take a family picture, it's not just a pose for the public. It's who we are, not because our family doesn't have conflict but because, by the grace of God, we've learned to live this way and have peace with one another. Who wouldn't want that? Let's pray.

Father, thank you for a chance to be here together and to be reminded of these central and core things. I am so humbled, Lord, being here in this moment and to realize no matter how many suitcases are laying around in places they shouldn't be, today is the day we can start to bring healing back into the home, get rid of the clutter, start to be trafficking freely, and have respect, love, and care for one another so that, as we live, the world would look at us and go, "Oh, man! Who are you people who get to stay unified even though it's an imperfect broken world where people hurt each other? How do you love so well?"

Lord help me to more of an initiator. Help my moments where my heart is hard to be one minute, not five, one sentence, one word, to not happen, as Christ takes more control of my life. We all pray for that, but I thank you for the grace that is available to me, to have friends around me, a wife near me, kids by me, a community of faith everywhere near me, who will spur me on, who will say, "Hey, I'm confused by this. It looked dishonoring to God. As humbly as I can, can I talk to you about this?" Or, "This hurt my relationship with you. Maybe it wasn't dishonoring to God, but it hurt my relationship with you, and I want to be close to you. Can we talk about this?"

I thank you for those kinds of friends whom I have in rich abundance in my life. I thank you that this is the place where you can make mistakes, because we've all made mistakes, God. You've forgiven us. Having been forgiven, we freely extend that to others. We love you. We thank you that you're teaching us to live the way you live, to love the way you love, so we can be at peace with one another as you intended for us to be.

Lord, we pray you'd hasten the day when faith will be sight, and we won't hurt each other anymore, but until then may we embrace this way of living and may we help each other. I pray for those who really are not sure how to execute this in their lives, that they'd come and they would let us walk them through a biblical way to deal with some of the messes they've made.

I pray for those out there right now, Lord, who have never dealt with the mess they've made with you, as you initiate with them again through this moment to reach out to the blood of Jesus Christ and say, "Come. Provision has been made. I'm ready to forgive you for your dishonoring me. I'm ready to heal the relationship that is broken with me. Come." May they come in faith, hat in their hand, ready to confess their sins and receive what you've offered for them. In Christ's name, amen.

About 'Gifts I'd Give My Children'

What's the best gift you've ever received? What present is so special that you'll never forget the moment or the person who shared it with you?In this series, Todd Wagner overviews 11 gifts that the Lord desires for us to have. This collection of gifts forms the foundation that any pastor would want for a church and any parent would want for their child. In short, these gifts represent 11 non-negotiables in a life that is committed to full devotion to Christ.