Handling Conflict – Part 5

I began this series of posts about conflict by stating that none of us can avoid conflict in our lives and in our relationships with other people. We are like porcupines who can travel through life without much angst and confusion when we’re left to ourselves; but, when we begin to interact with other porcupines, we need to realize that there are going to be times when we are stuck by the quills of others and when we are going to stick a few people ourselves. This is a natural part of human relationships and there is not much that we can do about it. However, we have many options and opportunities during times of conflict with others. And so, as I bring this series of posts to an end, I would like to summarize some of the things that we have explored together:

First, in times of conflict, we need to remember the Eighth Commandment, and we need to be able to separate what happened from our interpretation of what happened. Some of the conflicts in our lives are created by the things that other people do and some of the conflicts in our lives are caused by our interpretations of things that other people do. Perhaps the tension and stress in our lives would begin to decrease if we learned to separate what has happened in our lives from our interpretation of what has happened? Perhaps we can find a sense of peace and calm in our lives, even when we are feeling weary and frazzled, by stepping back and by trying to interpret the actions of others in a more kind and gentle way?

Second, in times of conflict, we are all going to need to choose a path forward after we have carefully reflected upon what happened and have tried to interpret the actions of other people in the kindest way. Can we accept the fact that porcupines cannot avoid sticking each other with their quills? How do we decide if our strained relationship can be mended, or if the fine china plate has been so severely damaged that it can no longer be repaired? There are three different kinds of conflict: (1) there are conflicts that arise simply because porcupines cannot help but stick each other once in a while, (2) there are conflicts where the relationship has suffered some damage, but can be repaired, and (3) there are conflicts where the relationship has been so severely damaged that there is no longer a road back. Which type of situation are you facing in this time of conflict? How is your understanding of what has happened going to shape your End Game? Your End Game is, ultimately, your choice.

Third, in times of conflict, we can return to the teachings of Jesus for guidance. The person who has hurt you may want to apologize to you if you simply talk to him/her one-on-one. If that does not work, you may want to take one or two level-headed and fair-minded people along with you the next time you talk. Please remember that this is not about finding allies and Triangulation. This is about level-headed and fair-minded people being asked to help to keep the discussion on track as a path toward resolution is sought. If that does not work, you may need to get other people involved. If you are a part of a church, synagogue, mosque or temple, you can probably rely upon some sort of governing board. If you have experienced sexual abuse within the Church, you may want to contact the Bishop, another leader and the police. You have the right to be heard and to be taken seriously, but moving conflict to higher and higher levels of hurt, distrust and embarrassment may not be necessary. Remember: The goal of Jesus’ teaching about how to handle conflict is to help you to regain your brother or sister. Dragging more and more people into the middle of a conflict may not be the most fruitful approach.

And fourth, in times of conflict, you need to clearly ask yourself if you are being physically or emotionally abused. You are precious and valuable. God smiled on the day when you were born and God is cheering for you, right now. You are a good person who deserves to live a good life. God created you to have good relationships with people who love you; but, maybe because of what is happening in your life right now, you have begun to doubt that. Abuse changes people’s lives and abuse changes how people think. If you think that you somehow deserve what is happening to you, I want to assure you that that is not true. If you are confused and doubting yourself, I want to remind you that God has given you a wonderful mind and the ability to think. If you are feeling both alone and isolated, please remember that there are still people who care about you and who want you to have a good life. If you are feeling trapped right now and believe that you don’t have any options, I want you to know that there are people in your community who are more than willing to help you to escape what’s happening and who are willing to help you to get back on your feet and move in a better direction. And, if you have been told by a religious leader that it is your duty to submit to the person who is abusing you, I want you to know that you have been told a lie. You are precious and valuable, and there is no kind of relationship in your life that is so important for you to maintain that you need to jeopardize your physical or emotional health – or even your own life.

I hope that this series of posts has helped you to think about conflicts that you have, or may have, with other people. Please remember that conflict is an unavoidable part of human relationships; however, conflicts come in many different shapes and sizes. Some conflicts can be resolved with a simple apology, but other conflicts can create enough damage in a relationship that there is no longer a way back. Please choose your End Game wisely and remember to pray as you are trying to decide what to do. Jesus has promised to be with us in times of conflict, and Jesus will surely point you in the right direction when you ask for His help.

Handling Conflict – Part 3

I have been encouraging you to think about conflict in my last two posts. I have encouraged you to keep the line between what happened and your interpretation of what happened clear. I have, also, encouraged you to try your best to interpret the actions of other people (even when they hurt you) in the kindest way. I have, lastly, encouraged you to think about what I’m calling your End Game. Is what happened to you the result of what happens when two less-than-perfect people interact with each other and step on each other’s toes, or is what happened to you the result of ongoing physical or emotional abuse? If you have decided that you want the relationship that you have with another person to continue as you travel through a time of conflict, Jesus has some wonderful words of guidance to offer you.

Jesus lays out a path toward conflict resolution in Matthew 18:15-20.

Jesus speaks, firstly, about going directly to the person who has hurt you before you drag other people into the conflict. As I’ve mentioned before, there may be a difference between what happened and how you have interpreted what happened. You may discover that the person who has hurt you realizes that he/she has done something wrong and wants to apologize. You may discover that the person does not even realize that something has gone wrong. It’s always best to go directly to the person who has hurt you during a time of conflict (unless some sort of emotional or physical abuse has occurred and you have a reason to fear for your safety). And remember: When Jesus lifts this first step toward conflict resolution before you, the End Game is to “regain” your brother or sister. Most people appreciate honesty and being given the chance to apologize when they have done something wrong, and most people will become defensive when they know that you have been talking about them behind their back. And so, if you are moving through a time of conflict and if you have been hurt or put off by the actions of another person, try going to that person first.

Jesus, then, speaks about what we should do if talking with the person who has hurt us does not work. Jesus tells us to take one or two other people along with us when we talk with the person who has hurt us. But even this sage advice can become problematic. Think about this second step as a paring knife. Paring knives can be used to pare a piece of fruit or to slice an apple. But a paring knife can also be used to open an envelope, to open a cardboard box, or even to cut plastic. The second step that Jesus recommends is just like that. We can reach out to one or two people who are level-headed and fair, or we can search for some allies. We can reach out to one or two people who are willing to listen to all of the people who are involved in the conflict, or we can select one or two other people who will simply take our side. When you try to get someone involved in a conflict that you are having with another person and to simply take your side, it is called “Triangulation.” And the neutral person can be one of your friends, your spouse, your pastor or even a counselor. But “Triangulation” does not work; in fact, “Triangulation” usually paints the person that you have asked to help you into a nearly impossible corner and will, most likely, deeply affect your relationship with that person, too. And so, if you believe that the person who has hurt you isn’t taking you seriously, you may need to take one or two neutral people along with you the next time that you talk with the person who hurt you. And please remember, again, that this step in the process is designed to help you to “regain” your brother or sister.

Jesus, lastly, talks about what to do when the first two steps in the process fail. Jesus talks about taking it to the Church; and, by “taking it to the Church,” I don’t think that Jesus means that we should stand up in the middle of a worship service and create a stir. Congregations have councils and elders who can provide a listening ear during times of conflict. Many Christian congregations have Mutual Ministry committees that can be consulted during times of conflict with church staff members. Many Christian congregations are a part of a larger denomination and have a bishop or president who can be consulted if an alleged incident of clergy misconduct occurs.

The road back to reconciliation becomes more and more bumpy as more and more people become involved in the conflict. If your End Game continues to be reconciliation and the restoring of the relationship, this final step should be considered as a last step in a longer process. People tend to become more and more defensive as more and more people are pulled into conflicts. The option of gracefully apologizing and searching for a path forward may disappear if too many people become involved and the person who has hurt you feels like he/she is being painted into a corner. But, sadly, there are times when things need to be taken to another level and when the relationship itself may need to end. And that’s why Jesus includes this step forward in His teachings about conflict.

In closing, I would like to lift one last idea before you.

Conflict can be difficult and can involve many different dynamics. But, at every step in the process, we need to ask ourselves: Will I be satisfied if the person who has hurt me apologizes? It is hard for us to open our hands and to let go of things that people have done when they hurt us. It is always going to be tempting to talk about other people behind their backs and to search for allies when we believe that we have been treated unfairly. But, sometimes, people are genuinely sorry about what they have done. People who have hurt us may offer an apology at any point in the process that Jesus provides. And so, as we move through the process that Jesus describes, we need to ask ourselves whether an apology is sufficient. Porcupines cannot unstick each other. A piece of fine china can be glued back together; and, while it will never be the same, it can be good again. And so, again, you need to ask yourself: What is my End Game? Do I want to be right, or do I want to be reconciled? Am I willing to let go of the hurt and disappointment that I’ve experienced, or does the path back no longer exist? Will I be satisfied if the person who has hurt me apologizes and is sorry about what happened? These are all questions that only you can answer. Jesus provides a process that we can use during times of hurt and conflict, but the process will only work if we are willing to allow it to work.

Handling Conflict – Part 2

I began this series of reflections on conflict by stating that conflict is a normal part of human living. We do not always agree with each other. And even when we do agree with each other, we can still step on each other’s toes. I mentioned in my last post that we need to be careful in times of conflict because we can begin to confuse our interpretation of and our feelings about what happened with what actually happened; and, when we do that, conflicts and disagreements can blossom and grow.

We are all going to face times in our lives when other people hurt and disappoint us. We are all going to need to choose a path forward after we have carefully reflected upon what happened and have tried to interpret the actions of other people in the kindest way. We may decide that the relationship is still important to us and that we want to find a way to be reconciled, or we may decide that the relationship has been too badly damaged by what has happened and that we need to walk away. The process of deciding which of these is true is what I am going to call: Choosing Your End Game.

Let me lift two images before you that may help you to choose your End Game.

I have often heard people described as porcupines on a cold winter night. Porcupines can crawl through the snow and stay in their dens during particularly bad weather. Porcupines tend to hunker down when the weather turns fowl, and they spend their time in hollowed logs, under rocks, in abandoned burrows that other animals have created, or even under buildings. But just imagine a porcupine on the coldest night of the entire year. A couple of porcupines might decide to curl up with each other, so that they do not freeze to death. A couple of porcupines might decide to share a little bit of body heat in order to survive. But there’s a problem, isn’t there? Porcupines sometimes stick each other with their quills when they get close to each other. Porcupines sometimes do the sticking; and, sometimes, porcupines are the ones who get stuck by the quills on other porcupines.

Now think about your relationships with others. You might be able to find total peace and calm by going off to a deserted island and by living by yourself. Porcupines normally do not stick themselves with their own quills, right? But if you don’t do that and if you choose to live your life in relationships with other porcupines, you need to realize that you’re going to get stuck by other people’s quills once in a while, and you are probably going to stick other people with your quills once in a while, too. Welcome to life! I truly believe, as I’ve said before, that most people are trying to do the best that they can do; and yet, we still get stuck by other people’s quills and we, sometimes, do the sticking ourselves. And that’s why, when we find ourselves embroiled in conflict, we need to ask ourselves: Have I simply been stuck by the quills of a porcupine who is trying to do his/her best? Is this conflict being created by the fact that none of us can go through life without stepping on other people’s toes and without having our own toes crunched, or is something bigger going on?

Now, keeping that in mind, let’s move to another image.

Picture your relationships with other people as pieces of fine china and picture times of conflict as times when the fine china is dropped on the floor. A piece of fine china is changed when it breaks, and it will never be what it once was. However, two different things can happen after a piece of china is dropped on the floor: (1) the piece of china can be glued back together, or (2) the piece of china can be thrown in the garbage. This important distinction needs to be a part of choosing your End Game.

I have a piece of pottery in my home that was once broken, but the piece of pottery has been mended using the Japanese art of kintsugi (also known as kintsukuroi). Kintsugi in an artform where Japanese artists mend broken pieces of pottery by using lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. This approach to mending pottery isn’t designed to hide the fact that the pottery has been broken just as conflict resolution isn’t designed to say that what went wrong in the relationship isn’t important. We need to honestly admit that we’ve been hurt during times of conflict in order to be both open and authentic. What happened to us matters. However, during times of conflict, we need to assess the damage and decide whether the relationship can, or should be, repaired. That is the question that you’re always going to need to ask yourself and that only you can answer.

And so, it seems to me that there are at least three different kinds of conflict: (1) there are conflicts that arise simply because porcupines can’t help but stick each other once in a while, (2) there are conflicts where the relationship has suffered damage but can be repaired, and (3) there are conflicts where the relationship has been so severely damaged that there’s not a road back. Thus, when we find ourselves traveling through times of conflict, we need to step back, and we need to separate what happened from our interpretation of what happened. And then, when our minds are clear about what happened, we need to assess the damage that has been done and choose our End Game.

I need to lift one last thing before you while we are talking about choosing your End Game.

There are, very sadly, many relationships that are deeply scarred by physical and emotional abuse (we will look at that important truth in more detail in a subsequent post). People who are being abused can find that choosing an End Game is nearly impossible. Many people who are being abused have been convinced that they deserve to be abused by the person who is abusing them. Sometimes, there is nowhere to go. Sometimes, it is hard to leave the relationship because there are children involved. Sometimes, the decision is based upon available financial resources.

But, please, let me be clear. You do not deserve to be physically or emotionally abused. Many people who abuse others promise that their abusive behavior will stop, but it rarely does. Some abusers use something called “gaslighting” to confuse the people they are hurting and to make their victims doubt their own good judgment. Others try to blur the line between abuse and times of unavoidable conflict.

You are precious. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. We all have times when we are stuck by the quills of other porcupines and when we do the sticking ourselves. We all have times when the fine china plate has been broken and when it needs to be repaired or discarded. But, as you think about your End Game, please remember that there are times and events that break relationships in a way that repairing them is no longer possible. In many cases, damaged relationships can be repaired by separating what happened from your interpretation and your feelings about what has happened. Conflicts can, also, be resolved by deciding to grow through what went wrong. But there are also times when the piece of fine china has been broken beyond repair and when discarding what’s left is the best option. And, when that is the case, you may decide to walk away from the relationship for your own physical and emotional health, and for your own safety. Choose your End Game wisely.

Handling Conflict – Part 1

Conflict is something that has always been hard to handle.

Almost all of us are both tired and frazzled these days. The coronavirus has dramatically shaped our lives and our ability to interact with others, and the political atmosphere in our nation has deteriorated to the point where we’re being asked to take a side and to define everyone on the other side as our enemies. Many people are facing unemployment and are finding that their best path forward is not clear. Other folks have taken to the streets and have joined in peaceful protests, while others are looting businesses and burning buildings. History indicates that, in times of upheaval and uncertainty, caregivers and other people on the front lines begin to hit walls about six months after a disruption or disaster occurs, and that caregivers often respond to the burnout that they are experiencing by pulling back, by quitting their jobs, or by simply choosing to plod forward silently in the gray funk for another day. I read a story, just last week, about a 70-year-old man being dragged through a store by his hair and being thrown to the floor, where he was punched and kicked many times, because he asked another customer in the store to wear a mask.

Conflict is something that has always been hard to handle.

We tend to withdraw and to hunker down when conflict is swirling around us. We have the tendency to believe that we are totally right and other people are totally wrong. I suspect that we all find it easier to talk to our friends and family members about things that are going wrong in our lives than to talk directly with people who have stepped on our toes. Some people simply become silent during times of conflict, especially in times like these, because they just do not have the energy to walk a different path.

I am going to be exploring the issue of conflict in my next few posts because I believe that the teachings and principles of our faith are important in times like these. And I am going to start this series of posts by exploring the Eighth Commandment because I believe that the Eighth Commandment can help to unravel many of the conflicts in our lives long before we get to the point where hurts and disagreements become more difficult to handle.

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

Have you ever considered the fact that it is easy to bear false witness in times of conflict? Most of us want to believe that we are right in times of conflict and that other people are simply wrong. Many of us hunker down during times of conflict and withdraw from people who hurt or disappointed us because our first instinct is to believe that those who hurt and disappointment us are enemies. But one of the lessons I’ve learn in life is that, in one way or another, I interpret everything that happens to me; and sooner (rather than later) my interpretation of what actually happened becomes even more important to me than what happened itself. This can create a challenge.

How I feel about what happened can become more important to me than what actually happened.

Read those words carefully once again; and then, think about how your understanding of the Eighth Commandment can shape your thinking in times of conflict. Our interpretation of what happened may be true, or our interpretation may be false. The man who blows the horn on his automobile as soon as the stoplight turns green may be acting like a jerk, or he may be in a hurry to get to a hospital emergency room before his mother dies. And so, when we’re trying to make sense of things that happen to us, we need to step back for a moment and allow our interpretation of what happened to soften.

I still believe that most people are trying their hardest to do their best these days and that most people are not intentionally trying to make the lives of other people more difficult. But relationships can easily become strained when we are tired and frazzled. Little things can become big things and big things can become monstrous things. We tend to magnify things that happen when we are weary and exhausted; and, when we do that, we need to be careful that we do not break the Eighth Commandment.

Martin Luther, the 16th-Century Protestant reformer, offers some sage advice to us in his explanation of the Eighth Commandment in his Small Catechism (1529). Martin Luther wrote that parents should teach their children that the Eighth Commandment means: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.”

What would times of conflict in your life look like if you stepped back and intentionally tried to interpret the actions of people who step on your toes in the kindest way possible? What would happen if you installed an “Eighth Commandment Firewall” in your mind; so that, long before you start to interpret the actions of others, you remembered to be both charitable and kind?

Perhaps the tension and stress in our lives would begin to decrease if we learned to separate what is happening in our lives from our feelings about what is happening in our lives? Perhaps even the weary and frazzled could find a sense of peace by stepping back and by trying to interpret the actions of other people in a more kind and gentle way?
And today, I want to lift those thoughts up as the first step forward in times of conflict. What happened and our interpretation of and our feelings about what happened may be different; and, when we keep that in mind, many conflicts in our lives can be unraveled before they grow and become unmanageable.

Jesus: The Lamb of God

The-Lamb-of-God
Many Christians wonder why it’s important to read the Old Testament.

The Old Testament has stories about God sending a man to the top of a mountain to sacrifice his own son, and about God opening up the earth and swallowing people. The Old Testament contains stories about God sending the “Angel of Death” to kill the first-born male in every home in Egypt that didn’t have blood smeared over the top of the doorway, and about God telling people to destroy their enemies without mercy. And for many of us, stories like these aren’t very appealing because we want to think about God as a God who loves people and forgives them. We want to believe that no matter what we do wrong, God is always willing to give us another chance.

But the Old Testament contains many stories and images that can help us to understand the New Testament better.

We’ve all heard the words: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16) right? But what about the verses that come right before that one? “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the Wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)?

These verses refer to a story in the Old Testament book of Numbers (Numbers 21).

Moses has gone down into Egypt and has stood toe-to-toe with the Pharaoh. Moses has told the Pharaoh to release his slaves. By the time we get to Numbers 21, the Israelites are well on their way and have even been led through the Red Sea. But then, they began to whine and complain. The Israelites became impatient with both God and Moses. And, in response to the whining and complaining, God sent fiery serpents (the seraphim) to bite the Israelites and cause them to die. People were dropping dead all over the place! But, when the Israelites repented, God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and to lift it high into the air with a pole, so that those who looked at the bronze serpent would live even after having been bitten by the fiery serpents.

God has a long history of finding creative ways to work with people who have failed.

We all have times in our lives when it would be nice to be able to re-wind the hands of time and do things differently. Many churches begin worship services with a time when people are encouraged to confess their sins. We don’t always love God with our whole heart, and we don’t always love our neighbors as ourselves. We all have times when our pride gets in the way. We all have times in our lives when we’re apathetic and indifferent to injustices that surround us. And, of course, we all have times when we think of others in uncharitable ways, and when our biases and prejudices cause us to treat people that we don’t even know very unfairly.

So, why doesn’t God just send more fiery serpents?

Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the Wilderness, Jesus – “The Lamb of God” – has been lifted high upon the Cross. Just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent on the end of a long pole, Jesus – “The Lamb of God” – has been hoisted high in the air for us to see. And, in that mighty act of God, a new path forward in life has been provided for us. God has, once again, chosen to do a wonderful thing when there was every reason in the world to just flatten us like a pancake or send more fiery serpents to bite us!

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did NOT send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” – (John 3:16-17)

And that’s the Gospel – The Good News of Jesus Christ – in a nutshell…!

No matter what you’ve been told, God is NOT looking for a reason to pound you as flat as a pancake because you’ve wandered off and made mistakes. No matter what you’ve been told, God is NOT looking for a reason to throw you into the raging fires of an endless and eternal Hell. Jesus – “The Lamb of God” – came into the world because God continues to love us and care about us. Jesus – “The Lamb of God” – came into the world because God wants us to know that, no matter how far astray we’ve gone, health and wholeness and healing are still available because of God’s unending love.

And that’s a word of Good News!

Click Here for This Week’s Message

It’s All About the Table

Bread and wine

Some things drive me absolutely crazy.

Think about this scenario…. You’re in a hurry, and you either want to print something that you have been working on for several hours or you just want to send a quick email. And then, your computer freezes. CTRL/ALT/DEL sometimes does the trick. Sometimes you need to hit the power button and hope for the best. I have even had to unplug my laptop and remove the battery pack. And why? Because, sometimes, a computer gets so messed-up that the only thing you can do is re-boot the entire system.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 30:15-20), God clearly sets a choice before us. We can love God and obey God and keep God’s laws, or we can allow ourselves to be led astray by other gods. We can live our lives following God and be blessed, or we can choose to live our lives in a different way and not be blessed. And, according to Deuteronomy, the choice is ours.

And then, Jesus comes along….

Jesus tells us that, even though we’ve all be told that we should not commit murder, we do the same thing when we get angry. Jesus tells us that when we drift off-course, even a little bit, it’s both horrible and inexcusable. And then, Jesus gets radical! We’re told that, if our eye causes us to sin, we need to pluck it out. We’re told that, if our hand causes us to sin, we need to cut it off. Because, after all, it’s better to live your life without one of your eyes or without one of your hands than it is to spend eternity in Hell, right? (You may want to read: Matthew 5:21-37.)

Sometimes, our lives get as messed-up as a frozen computer. We can’t always fix the damage we’ve done. We can’t always repair relationships that we’ve broken. We can’t always fix things and make them right again after we’ve made choices in life that have caused us to lose a part of our good health.

And then, just when we’re ready to throw in the towel, Jesus provides a solution.

In the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread and gave thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, “Take and eat. This is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.” And again after supper, He took the cup and gave thanks, and He gave it for all to drink saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood which is shed for you – and for all people – for the forgiveness of sin. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

In essence, Jesus comes into our lives during a holy moment and shuts down everything that isn’t working right. We come to the Table weighed down with sin and brokenness, and Jesus sends us away forgiven and renewed. We come to the Table burdened by all of the mistakes that we’ve made, and Jesus shines light in the darkest corners of our lives and send us back into the world to live in a new way.

But, even after that holy moment, we still go back into the world and make mistakes, don’t we? We’re called to live our lives in a new way, but we don’t always do it. Even after Jesus forgives us and renews us, we can still go away with hearts that are hard and with attitudes that are unwilling to be changed.

And that’s why Christians live from Meal – to Meal – to Meal – to Meal.

We come to the Table to be forgiven and renewed, and to be sent back into the world. And, when we go back into the world, we mess up again. And so, we come back to the Table of the Lord to be forgiven and renewed, and to be sent back into the world. And this kind of Christian life, lived from Meal to Meal to Meal, is our spiritual journey.

You see, Christian worship isn’t just about flashing lights, music that stirs up emotions and having a chance to listen to the best preacher in town. Christian worship is not about the buildings where Christians gather. It’s not about singing only familiar hymns or using the “right” instruments. It is, certainly, not just about touching base with people that you haven’t seen all week.

Christian worship is always about the Table. Christian worship is always about the Table where we find forgiveness, renewal and strength to meet the week ahead.

And the next time your computer freezes, I want you to remember that. We come to the Table weighed down with sin and brokenness, and Jesus forgives us and re-boots the entire system. We come to the Table as people who are far less than perfect; and Jesus forgives us, renews us, and then sends us back into the world to live our lives and to help our world to become a better place for us all – at least until Jesus calls us to come back to the Table again next week.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Do You Want to be Healed?

question mark

I suspect that we all have questions about healing.

We can all see the difference between those who appear to be healthy and those who are struggling with disease. Even little children can sense the distinction between justice and oppression. Almost all major religions try to speak a helpful word to those who struggle with human mortality and to point them to the hope of eternity. Today, we experience many gaps between where we live and experience life today and where God’s promised to take us in the future.

This week’s story is one of my favorite stories from the Bible.

Picture mighty Naaman, an “important” man who lived his life commanding others to do what he wanted them to do. Picture this same man carrying 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold across nearly 80 miles of untamed wilderness. And when Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, he expects something big to happen.

But we read that the prophet Elisha didn’t even come out of his house to meet Naaman.

And then, we hear this very human response from a man who expected the prophet to heal him. “I thought that FOR ME the prophet would surely come out!” Naaman says to those who were traveling with him. And, in those very human words, we can hear our own voices can’t we? Have you ever expected God to do something big and spectacular in your life? Have you ever asked God to ride onto the scene and heal a terminal disease, or give you something that you really wanted? Have you ever been disappointed because God didn’t do what you expected? That’s the beauty of this story.

We’re reminded, in the story of Naaman, that God doesn’t always bring healing into our lives in big and spectacular ways. God brings healing through the touch of doctors and nurses, and through the medications that we take. God sometimes brings healing into our live while we’re talking with a trusted friend, a professional counselor, or even a pastor. God fills us with strength and faith as we come to the Table to be forgiven and renewed by Bread and Wine – the Body and Blood of Jesus. God, sometimes, even helps us to bring healing into the lives of other people through the kindness, forgiveness and compassion that we extend to other people when they need it most.

At this end of this wonderful story, there’s a hidden gem!

Picture mighty Naaman, a commander of soldiers, walking down to the Jordan River to wash himself in the water. Naaman, undoubtedly, wore heavy armor. He wanted to look strong and ferocious in battle. He, also, wore his armor everywhere he went because a thick layer of armor also hides leprosy, doesn’t it? Can you imagine what would have happened if Naaman had just walked to the water – wearing armor? Can you imagine Naaman sinking like a rock as his armor dragged him to the bottom of the river?

As Naaman approached the Jordan, he needed to remove his armor didn’t he? Before Naaman could be healed, he needed to remove the armor that protected him from other soldiers in battle and from the eyes of those who would have been shocked when they saw his leprosy. And healing often begins in our lives when we do the same thing.

Sometimes, we need to remove the “masks” that we all wear before God can work in our lives to bring healing. How many times have you told people that you’re “fine” when you really weren’t? How many times have you carried burdens that you carefully concealed because you didn’t want other people to know what was happening in your life, or even in your family? Healing often begins when we become both honest and authentic with ourselves and other people. The “masks” that we wear aren’t always helpful.

Jesus once called us to come to Him when we’re heavy laden and nearly overcome. Jesus calls us gather with other Christians in a community of faith where we can be forgiven and strengthened, renewed and even healed.

What are you going to be doing this weekend? Perhaps, it’s time for you to push all of the busyness of life aside, for just a moment, and to find a precious place to rest with those who love you and who want what’s best for you? God’s calling you, right now, to set aside some time in the next few days; and to spend time with people who will strengthen, heal, renew, and help to make you whole again.

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Do You REALLY Want Life To Be Fair?

scale

I have always believed that life should be fair.

I like to watch “Law and Order” because less than an hour after somebody commits a crime that person is hauled off to jail. I believe that good things should happen to good people and bad things should happen to bad people.

But life is NOT always fair, is it?

Several weeks ago, a woman in the area where I live, drove off with a little child in the back seat of a car leaving the child’s father standing in the dust. Several hours later, the child was found dead. Just last week, a man who plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates (who shall remain unnamed) was arrested for allegedly abusing young people while he was being paid millions of dollars to play baseball. Have you ever been hurt by a person who walked away from you as if nothing happened or by a person who refused to admit that something was wrong? Have you ever had a time in your life when you were trying to do your very best, but ended-up on the short end of the stick? We probably all have.

This week, we focus our attention upon a really strange story that Jesus told about a man who squandered someone else’s property and who was fired for doing it. (Luke 16:1-13) And, even though many of us have seen people get fired because they did something that was wrong, the horror of this story is compounded when the man who is being fired for his misbehavior calls-in other people who owe his boss money and “cooks the books” to reduce what OTHER people owe, too. Now there’s nothing really fair about that is there? And yet, the boss commends the man and pats him on the back. “Well done!” the man’s boss exclaims. “You were really smart when you decided to cooked the books and reduce the debts of other people!”

And that’s NOT fair, is it? People who borrow money from other people should pay back every penny they borrow with interest! People who struggle to make ends meet should just work harder. People who commit a crime should be labeled as “felons” for the rest of their lives even it means that they can’t find a job after they have served their sentences. Why is a man’s boss commending him for doing something even more outrageous than he was doing before he was fired?

Perhaps, the reason we have a problem with this story is because even though we THINK that we believe that life should be fair, we really don’t? We THINK that life should be fair to US, but we DON’T really care if life is fair to other people.

Think about a time in your life when you hurt someone with your words or actions, and when somebody forgave you even though you didn’t deserve it. Think about all of the times when God has filled your life with blessings even though your life of prayer was pretty dry. Think about all of the times when God has scooped you up and has  forgiven you after you’ve fallen flat on your face. Think about love. Is love always fair? I thank God that I have relationships with people who continue to care about me even in times of disappointment. I thank God that people don’t simply strike back and try to hurt me as badly as I’ve hurt them. I thank God that love often survives ups and downs in daily life simply because it ISN’T fair and because it DOESN’T demand justice when a relationship is moving through a difficult time.

What if I told you that God’s love isn’t fair? And what if I told you that “unfairness” can be a sign of the inbreaking of the Reign of God?

Think about Jesus crying out from the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing!” Think about a Risen Lord who continues to challenge us to live with a sense of “unfairness” in our lives and in our interactions with others. The “forgiven” are given the chance to forgive. Those who are “embraced” have the chance to embrace other people. Those who know that they are “loved” have a chance to love even when it’s tempting to feel that we have the right to strike back in the name of justice and fairness.

And so, let’s think about what I call “holy un-fairness” as we travel through life this week. Is there somebody that you need to forgive today? Are there people that you’re unwilling to welcome and embrace for a reason that you don’t want to share because you are a bit embarrassed to admit the way you feel? How could embracing “holy unfairness” bring you peace, heal your soul, and restore a sense of calm and wholeness in your life?

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Looking at Life Through Clean Windows

dirty window

James 3:13-4:3

Clara was a woman who was never afraid to speak her mind.

She would rock back-and-forth in her rickety, old chair carefully observing things that were happening all around her. Clara’s grandchildren sometimes arrived at her home with spots of ketchup and mustard on their shirts. Clara always noticed when her grand-kids’ shoes weren’t tied, when Johnny had a hole in the knee of his pants, when the mug of hot coffee that her daughter brought to her didn’t have enough cream in it, and when there was dust on the piano. And that’s why Johnny wasn’t surprised when she got going.

“Hey, Johnny,” Clara said, “look at those sheets hanging on Esther’s clothes line! Aren’t those the dirtiest sheets you’ve ever seen?” “Just look at those filthy things! They just look like a bunch of dirty rags!”
And Johnny sat there as his grandma went on and on and on and on….

There wasn’t anything wrong with the sheets. And, after a few minutes of listening to his grandma’s newest complaint, Johnny got a little, quirky smile on his face and said, “Hey, Grandma, when was the last time you cleaned your windows?” “You’re seeing all of those dirty spots because you’re looking at Esther’s sheets through your own dirty windows.”
We’ve probably all had times when we looked at the world and at other people through our own set of dirty windows.

We’ve all been told to stay away from certain “kinds” of people and we do it. We’ve all had time when we’ve heard rumors about other people; and, suddenly, we discovered that we could never look at them in the same way. We’ve all been hurt or disappointed by others; and, when that happens, we decide that other people are “bad” and that they will never change. We usually believe that when people do things that are wrong they will always be people who do things that are wrong. And, that’s it. Period.

In this week’s message, “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, we take some time to explore the ways that we look at each other. St. James leaves us dangling between a “fractured” world filled with conflicts, disputes, greed and anger – and a world that is filled with Godly gentleness that’s born of wisdom. St. James tells us to “be doers of the word and not just hearers” (James 1:22) and to live lives that point others toward the Christ that we love and serve. But, sometimes, the ways that we “see” other people can stop us from doing that. Sometimes, the spots on our own dirty windows keeps us from seeing the goodness in others and causes us to interpret things in unhelpful ways.

Martin Luther, the 16th-century Church reformer once explained the 8th Commandment using these words: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead, we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything that they do in the best possible way.
How would our lives and our relationships change if we started to do that?

This week, try to find the good in other people. Try your hardest to interpret the things that other people do in the best possible way. Ask God to help you to clean your windows, so that you’re more able to see others in the ways that God does – knowing that when you are “Looking at Life Through Clean Windows”, you’re going to be happier – you’re going to have more friends and deeper relationships. You may even find that when you live your life seeing the goodness in others and accepting other people just as they are, other people will begin to see you and to treat you in the very same way.

You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!

pointing at you

Mark 7:24-37

What does it mean to be a “community of Jesus” that welcomes everyone?

In this week’s message, “You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!”, we explore one of the most unusual conversations in the Bible. It’s the story of a Syro-Phoenician woman – an outcast – a woman that we’re supposed to avoid. It’s the story of a unclean woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon and who came to Jesus asking for help. And, right after the woman asks Jesus to heal her little girl, Jesus responds: “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs!” (Mark 7:27)

Many people travel through times in life when they don’t think that they’re worthy to receive the crumbs that drop from God’s table. We make mistakes and sometimes choose to do the wrong thing. We confess our sins to God; and, then, return to the world to just sin again. And, no matter how many times we promise God that we’re going to change our lives and live in a different way, we get off track – don’t we? And that can leave us with a lingering sense of guilt and make us think that we don’t deserve God’s blessings at all. I once talked with a man who told me that he knows that he’s nothing more than a worm in the eyes of God. And worms don’t deserve to eat the children’s food – do they?

But then, the woman responds to what Jesus has said saying: “But even the dogs eat the crumbs under the table.” (Mark 7:28) And Jesus responds to her words by giving her the blessing that she sought. Perhaps, even people who believe that they’re nothing more than worms can receive God’s blessings, too? Perhaps, even people that we consider to be outcasts and unclean can be embraced and welcomed by the same God who embraces and welcomes us? What a radical idea!

When we pray and come to worship, we sense that the stories of our lives are connected to what Jesus is doing in the world. When we pray and worship, we’re invited to share in a “sacred moment” when God stretches-out arms of welcome and embrace. And, when that happens, it’s a “holy moment” because it’s the moment of God’s presence. It’s a “holy moment” when we’re reminded that all of us are important to God – even in dark times when we make mistakes and bad choices – even in times when we believe in our hearts that we’re not worthy to receive God’s blessings.

“You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!”
In Christ, we become a community where everybody is welcome. There is nobody who’s unworthy to eat the crumbs that are left on the floor. There is nobody who needs to sit – or to stand – at a distance because of a mistake or bad choice that’s been made at some point in the past. Jesus calls us to eat the children’s food – no matter where we’ve been – no matter what we’ve done – and no matter what kind of “story” we’ve written. And, as we respond to the invitation of Jesus, God’s story of continuing forgiveness and embrace becomes a part of our story even in times when we don’t believe we deserve to eat the crumbs that are left on the floor.

Christ’s Church for ALL People has been created to be a “community of Jesus” that welcomes and embraces everyone – and that clearly proclaims to ALL people: “You (and I mean YOU) Are Welcome!”