Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Ignoring conflict never makes it better

For being someone who communicates for a living, talking to people is hard work for me. I’m much more comfortable communicating in written words than I am in spoken ones, mainly because I don’t trust myself to be able to say what I want to say out loud when I want to say it.

Generally I can talk to anyone if I have to.  But it becomes extraordinarily more difficult to talk to somebody if I know they have something against me–or if I have reason to hold something against them. Conversation just falls flat. And it’s my personality to just run away from it, ignore that there’s a problem, and get on with life. Whenever I face conflict, that’s my first reaction. But that’s not healthy, and that kind of reaction doesn’t do anybody any good.

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Flamingos fighting at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Matthew 5:23-24.

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.

Communication is hard work, and even if you do it well, you’ll still run into times when something goes wrong and somebody gets his or her feelings hurt. And in those instances, you have to make a decision–let it go or face it.

Now, it’s true, in some instances, it’s better to just let it go. Otherwise you’ll be making the proverbial molehill into a mountain. But sometimes communication problems start out as mountains, and they’ll only get bigger if you don’t take steps to correct what went wrong and reconcile everyone involved (as much as possible).

I think it’s really interesting that Jesus talks about this. He considers it so important that He would rather you leave your gift on the altar and go fix what’s wrong between you and the others around you first.

Let’s be honest here. It would be so much easier to just finish doing what you’re doing before you track down people to smooth out your relationship. Am I right?  But that’s not what Jesus says to do.

If you realize someone has something against you, drop what you’re doing right now–even if you’re doing it for God–and go and make it right with that person. Not from a distance. Not with an email or a text message. Go talk to them in person. Sort it out.

Do it first. Or the chances are you’ll never do it at all. You’ll keep finding reasons not to because communication in conflict is more difficult than any other sort of communication out there. And human beings are really talented at finding excuses.

But what if you can’t make it right? What if you’ve missed your chance? What if the person you need to get right with won’t listen or isn’t around anymore?

I think how Jesus phrases this is interesting: “You suddenly remember that someone has something against you.” Think about that.

He’s not saying you’re remembering something somebody did to hurt you. You’re remembering something you did that hurt somebody else, either intentionally or not. You remember what you did wrong, and you take it on yourself to go make it right.

I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about it that way before. It’s a lot easier to look at conflict as though it’s somebody else’s fault. After all, we never do anything wrong, right? We never hurt anyone else’s feelings, do we?

In all seriousness, conflict always takes at least two sides–at least two people disagreeing about something. Conflict isn’t inherently bad. Sometimes conflict can be good, and we certainly do grow as a result of it. Many times the strongest friendships we have in our lives have experienced some kind of conflict and have overcome it together.

So what’s the point? Don’t run away from conflict. Don’t be afraid of it either. Conflict is a natural part of living on Earth, and if we treat it right, we can learn from it and grow stronger as individuals, families, friends, and teams.

But we always have to remember that conflict is never just one person. If you have a problem with somebody, communicate with them. If you come to a realization that your actions have hurt someone, don’t shrug it off. Don’t ignore it. Don’t pass it off. Own up to your actions. Take responsibility for your choices. And make it right with the people you’ve hurt.

If you don’t, you’re going to be distracted. If you continue to muddle your way through life, leaving a trail of conflict behind you, even if you’re serving God, you’ll be so distracted by all your unfinished relationships that you may not hear God speaking to you.

It’s time to clean house, Christians. Be honest with yourselves. Who have you hurt? And are you courageous enough to face that person and try to reconcile?

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Barney the Beefeater, our "ambassador" at the Tower of London, London, England

A different perspective on being an ambassador

Ambassadors are everywhere. We just don’t think about them. I mean, when I think of ambassadors in general, I think of government officials who travel to other countries to represent their home country. I think of politics in general. The term ambassador conjures up all sorts of political symbols and hierarchies that I learned about in high school. But if you think about it, an ambassador can be anyone who represents someone else.

Anyone into Mary Kay cosmetics? I know people who are. Your Mary Kay consultant is an ambassador. And how about the Boy Scouts? Going door to door selling popcorn? They’re ambassadors too. Car salesmen. Customer service representatives. Anyone with a face to a potential customer is an ambassador.

It’s kind of overwhelming if you think about it, especially when you let yourself realize that as a follower of Christ, we are Christ’s ambassadors. We are here to represent Him to the world.

Barney the Beefeater, our "ambassador" at the Tower of London, London, England

Barney the Beefeater, our “ambassador” at the Tower of London, London, England

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 5:20-21.

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

The first thing I think about when I read these verses is what a stunning responsibility this is. To be Christ’s ambassador? To be Christ’s voice to a world that doesn’t know Him? That’s huge. That’s intimidating on a level beyond terror. If you have chosen to trust Jesus for your salvation, that means you are His voice. You are His representative to the people in your life.

Scared yet?

It terrifies me. That’s a lot of responsibility. That’s a lot to live up to. Because when people see me, they’re supposed to see Christ. When people hear me speak, they’re supposed to hear Christ. When I interact with people, they’re supposed to know that Jesus loves them and that He died for them and that He wants to have a relationship with them. And that’s a tall order from a girl who prefers to hide in the corner at social events.

And that’s where my brain goes automatically. How on earth can I meet those expectations? Well, no, let’s be honest here. My brain goes instantly to wondering how I can exceed those expectations. Merely meeting expectations has never been good enough for me; I have to blast the roof off people’s expectations or I feel ashamed of myself. So because my focus is exceeding the expectations (the rules, the regulations, etc.), I start plotting and planning how I can manipulate a circumstance or a situation so that I can control the outcome.

I’m focusing on my performance. I’m focusing on my actions. I’m focusing on what I need to do to make God happy with me. Anyone see my performance-driven perfectionist self rearing its ugly head anywhere in this?

Well, here’s something I realized today. Granted, it’s something I’ve always known, but it hit home with me today on a level that I hadn’t understood before. I am God’s ambassador.

Yes, news flash, I just said that above. But in my mind there are two perspectives to being an ambassador. One, you have to be careful and watch what you say and how you act because you represent an authority in your life. That’s true. That’s 100% true. But that’s not all there is to it. If you are an ambassador, you were chosen for the job.

Now, before you religious scholars get up in arms, I’m not going to get all theological about this. I could. But the purpose of this blog is to provide a place of encouragement, not only for me but for anyone who is searching. And I don’t intend to start a theological discussion about Calvinism vs. Armenianism vs. any-other-isms that are floating around in the world.

What I’m trying to communicate here is that Christ-followers have been chosen to represent Jesus in the world, just like ambassadors. You don’t get to be an ambassador just because you put on a fancy suit and can give pretty speeches or you have a good handshake. No. You apply for the job, and you’re selected for the position. Why? Because your authority, your boss, has seen the potential that you have and wants you to be his representative.

If you have accepted Christ, God calls you one of Christ’s ambassadors. You have something that you can use to reach out to the world and tell them about Jesus, and it’s not something that anyone else can do. So to all you performance-driven perfectionists out there who are running yourselves into the ground trying to make God happy with your list of accomplishments, this is the heart of what I learned today: Stop. God has already given you the job as His ambassador, so stop treating Him like you’re applying for the position. Stop stressing yourself out over whether or not you’re good enough. Stop worrying yourself bald over what you’re going to say or how you’re going to say it or what other people are going to think about you.

Just do the job. Just live for Him. Love for Him. Help others for Him. And stop worrying about whether you’re going to do a good enough job or not. Because it’s not about you. It’s about Him.

Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

You can always come back

Do you know a Christ-follower who has been hardened against God? Maybe you don’t think it’s possible to be a Christian and to have given up. Maybe it’s not. I can tell you that I haven’t been there, but I know people who have confessed Christ as their Savior who also decided at some point that following Him wasn’t worth it anymore. Does that make them not Christians anymore? No. If someone has trusted in Christ, they’re His; they can’t get away from Him, no matter how hard they try.

I know Christians who don’t want to be Christians anymore, or who at least don’t claim Christ anymore. But just because they have turned away from Him entirely doesn’t mean He’ll do the same. From what I’ve seen, He comes after those who have trusted in Him who decide to twist off on their own. And it takes a really hard heart to ignore God when He’s dead set on getting your attention.

Sin is so tricky. It doesn’t feel like sin at first. In the church, we always hear about “sin this” and “sin that” and you’d think sin would have a huge black sign on it that identifies it as something evil, something dangerous, something you need to stay away from. But the truth is that sin is easy. Most of the time, it’s easier than not sinning. And it’s fun, it satisfying (at least briefly), and it makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. Or it makes you feel like you’ve gotten away with something. And, let’s just be honest, getting away with something you know is wrong has it’s own kind of allure.

But it doesn’t stop there. It’s like a malfunctioning GPS. You take one wrong turn and think that you can find your way back to your original path afterward, but it keeps leading you in the wrong direction. And before you know it, you’re so lost you don’t even know where the original path was. But then the other side of sin sneaks up and bites you. It tells you that you’re so far gone, so far off the path that even if you tried to get back to where you started, no one would let you. No one would give you a chance. No one would love you. And God must hate you, right?

Sin doesn’t just mislead us. It deceives us. After it’s directed us to follow our own path, it convinces us that it’s no use going back.

Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

Stone carving of Tiglath-Pileser III from the ruins of Ninevah at the British Museum, London, England

Today’s verses are Hebrews 3:12-14.

Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ.

Here’s the deal, my friends. Everybody sins. Each one of us is going to screw up somehow, probably in the next hour. I know I can guarantee I will because I’m going to be around people today. I’ve discovered that I can reduce my likelihood of sin by about 50% if I don’t have to talk to people.

We have all turned against God. We’re all broken. We want to do things our own way, and we have to rely on God’s help so that we don’t. We have to rely on each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to help us stay on the path. And for those who’ve wandered off the path, we need to be the beacons that help them find it again.

“Today” isn’t going to last forever. Sin is tricky and sneaky and everywhere, and if you’re using your own reasoning to get through life, you’re going to fall prey to it. Just accept it. It’s going to happen. If you use your own reasoning, you are going to sin. But if you live your life by the Bible, you won’t. And if you help each other using the Bible, you’ll save yourself and your friends a lot of heartache.

So if you’re a Christ-follower, know what the Bible says. Otherwise how are you going to know how to help another believer? Are you going to use your own reasoning? That won’t work. We’re here to help each other, support each other, point each other in the right direction, but if you’re just as lost as the person you’re trying to help, what good are you going to do? You’ll just have company while you’re wandering around.

And if you happen to be someone who used to follow Christ, remember that God never gives up on you. He never will. He’s still there, waiting for you to tell sin to shove it. And whether you believe it or not, there are probably still believers in your life or around it who haven’t given up on you either. So when you make the choice to come back, don’t hesitate. Come back. Some might not believe you, but I guarantee that the people who really love Christ will rejoice to see you coming, because it’s likely they’re in the road watching for you.

Lights on the Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Peace on earth

I don’t like conflict. I took a personality profiling course at the last writing workshop I attended and discovered that I’m what folks call a Feeler, which means I like it when others get along. Conflict stresses me out. I don’t really have anxiety attacks, but the closest I’ve come to one is trying to handle situations where people aren’t getting along.

Granted, some people thrive on conflict. It’s the spice of life for them. But about 50% of the population are Feelers, according to what I’ve been told. So the vast majority of people out there don’t like conflict either.

This is the time of year people start singing about peace on earth. They sing about it. They talk about wanting it. Even at my office, one of my coworkers put up a white board with the question: “What do you want for Christmas?” Someone responded: “Peace on Earth.” Everybody wants it, and it’s a great thing to want. But no one really seems to realize what it will take to achieve.

Lights on the Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Lights on the Christmas tree at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 5:18.

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.

I love the word reconcile. I was thinking about it this weekend when we sang “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” at church. There’s a certain lyric in that song that always makes me tear up:

Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled

The word itself is just fun to say. I don’t know. I’m a word freak so maybe that’s just me, but the word means so much more than its syllables and etymology. It dates back to the 1300s:

re – which means “again”
concilare – which means “to make friendly”

To make friendly again.

So if you think about it from the context of the song, “God and sinners reconciled” means that at one point, God and men were friends until something happened to split them apart. But then everything changed when this little baby was born, and this little baby the angels are singing about is the one who will reconcile God and men. He’s the one who will make God and men friends again.

The same is true of today’s verse.

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.

God brought us back to himself through Christ. God reconciled us to Himself through Christ. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross allowed us to become friends with God again, after our first parents Adam and Eve chose to turn away from Him.

But not only has God reconciled us to Him, He’s given us the responsibility to help others be reconciled too.

Because let’s be honest here. Who really loves conflict? Who loves being conflicted and pulled in different directions? Yes, some people enjoy the challenge that conflict represents, but who really lives and breathes because of it? Who doesn’t want peace, not only with others but with God?

We weren’t designed to live in conflict, not with each other and not with God either. We were designed to live in peace, and we screwed it up. But thanks to Christ, we don’t have to stay that way. We can be friends with God again. We just have to go through Christ.

How do you do that? You ask for forgiveness. You recognize that you’re not perfect and that you’ve made wrong choices and you take responsibility for that and ask Christ to forgive you. You recognize that Christ is the Savior, the only One.

You want peace on Earth? Be reconciled. And maybe that won’t bring peace on Earth, per se, but it will bring peace between you and God. And God will take care of Earth. You just need to take care of your own heart first.

Driving the wrong way down a one-way street is not a good idea.

Have you ever turned the wrong way on a one-way street? This is something I can tell you that I haven’t done. Yet. And it’s a miracle, actually, since I work downtown and many streets in that area are all one way.

Now, I have been driving and someone else has turned the wrong way down a one-way street.  And that’s a little disconcerting. I remember one morning I was driving down Second Street (a one way street) and I saw a semitruck heading directly for me. The driver had gotten confused and turned the wrong way. I remember seeing cars scrambling to get out of his way before he realized what he had done. I’m not sure what he was trying to do, but if he wanted to get on the highway he couldn’t. Not on Second Street. You can get off the highway onto Second Street but you can’t get on from there. Because it’s a one-way street and it only goes one direction.

It’s not a very good example, but that’s what I thought of when I read today’s verse, 1 Timothy 2:5-6.

5 For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time.

As much as people would like to argue the fact, there is only one God. Granted, people don’t live like there is. And even Christians don’t live like this is the truth, but the Bible says there is only one God.

Similarly, there is only one Mediator between God and Man and that is Jesus. It’s not a priest. It’s not Mary. It’s just Jesus.

What is a mediator, though? What does it take to be a mediator?

Well, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law, a mediator is “one that works to effect reconciliation, settlement, or compromise between parties at variance.” So a mediator is a person who intervenes between two people (or groups of people) who are at odds and seeks to bring peace between them.

Well, how does that work? Ideally, a mediator is going to need to understand both sides of the story.

If you’ve ever been in the middle between two people who are fighting about something, you (as the third party observer) will understand if you open your eyes that there is always more than one story happening. And if you desire to bring peace between two people, you have to understand both (or all) sides of that story. Who wronged who. Why they did it. What their motivation was. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Then, once you understand both sides, you can start to bring peace between them.

This is what Jesus did.

He is God. He’s has always been God. God created everything we know through Jesus, and Jesus is the force holding everything together.

But what we celebrate as Christmas is the miraculous event where God came to us in flesh and bone. He lived here with us. He walked with us. He talked to people and loved people and experienced everything people experience — just without sinning.

I’ve heard people say that they don’t think Jesus really understands us because He wasn’t the same as us. I can understand how people would believe that because, yes, He’s God. And even if he put on skin and lived among us, He was still God while He did it. But He was still 100% human at the same time. How can that be? I don’t know. That’s one of those things in Scripture that can’t be explained. How can anyone be 100% anything AND 100% something else at the same time? That’s not anything we can do. But we’re not talking about us. We’re talking about God. And for God to understand 100% what it was like to be us, He had to become us. So that’s what He did.

Every temptation and every struggle and every difficulty and every problem we have in our lives, Jesus experienced too.

So, now, He’s in heaven at God the Father’s right hand mediating. He understands what it’s like to be human. He knows how hard it is to keep working even though you’re overloaded. He knows how hard it is to be a good son (or daughter). He knows how hard it is to say goodbye to friends who are bad influences. He knows how disappointing it is to say no to temptation. He knows.

And it’s not to say that God the Father doesn’t know what it’s like to be human. Of course, He does. He’s God. But there’s a big difference between knowing and understanding. And Jesus understands.

And I guess I said all of that to say this:

There’s one God. There’s one Mediator. So that means there’s one way.

People get really upset when we talk about there only being one way to get to heaven, but that is what the Bible says. Of course, you are free to disagree. But if you do disagree, please don’t say you believe the Bible. Because that is what the Bible is about.

As it says at the end of 1 Timothy 2:5-6, this is the message that God gave us. There is one way to get to heaven, and that is through Jesus, who gave His life to bring everyone freedom.

I’m thankful there is a way to get to heaven. Knowing who I am and what I have done in my life, I don’t deserve any way. But God loved me enough to send a solution — and not just a solution so I can get into heaven, but a means for me to be reconciled to Him. So now I have a relationship with God Himself. I can drop everything I’m doing and talk to Him, tell Him how I’m struggling, tell Him what I’m worrying about, and He’ll help me. He’s my Father. He’s my Friend.

You can try other ways to get to God if you want, but they won’t work. Much like a one-way street, you can drive the wrong direction down it, but you run the risk of getting hurt (or hurting others) and, in the end, you won’t get where you’re trying to go.