Monday, September 27, 2010

"Accentuate the Positive" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 196
“Conflict Resolution – Accentuate the Positive”

By Rev. Greg Smith

I know of a family with four children who were constantly squabbling.  Two of the sisters in particular fought a lot, and the mother had no idea what to do. One day, when they started pulling hair and scratching, the mother had had enough of the nonsense. She stood them toe to toe and said, “Look—you two love each other too much to just hurt each other randomly. So instead, you—go ahead and hit your sister. Then once you’re done, she’ll take a turn and hit you. And you can have a fight in a nice civilized way.” The girls stared at each other, then looked back at their mom with tears in their eyes, “Don’t make me hit my sister,” they pleaded. “I love her!”

I don’t recommend this as good parenting, but it does bring up a point about changing our focus during times of conflict. In a strange way, this mother used irony to make her children think about the fact that they really did love each other, and would never actually want to hurt each other.

In Philippians 4:8, the apostle Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” In our final discussion on conflict resolution, we look at Paul’s suggestion that when you’re in conflict you can make a decision to change your focus.

I can’t tell you how many times in pastoral counseling sessions, someone has said to me, “He makes me so angry,” or “She makes me so sad.” In actuality, nobody can make you feel anything. You choose what to feel, and you choose what to think. You’re not a slave of the other person—you can choose to shift your focus to the positive.

Another mother I know took her two fighting children and stood them toe to toe, saying to one, “You need to tell your brother something good about him.” Then, after the child reluctantly came up with some positive thing about his brother, the mother said to the other one, “Now, you need to tell your brother something you admire about him.” And on it went. One compliment followed another until the brothers had developed a mutual admiration society.

Whether you’re experiencing conflict in your marriage, at work, at church, with friends or neighbors or anyone else, Paul says that you can change your focus. Instead of dwelling on the things that irritate or infuriate you about the other person, meditate on those things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. You’ll be able to say, “I can’t change their attitude towards me, but I can change my outlook on them.” And that will make all the difference in the world.

Monday, September 20, 2010

"Anxiety or Peace" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 195
“Conflict Resolution – Anxiety or Peace”
By Rev. Greg Smith

In Vital Speeches of the Day, David Moore writes:  “Two men who lived in a small village got into a terrible dispute that they could not resolve. So they decided to talk to the town sage. The first man went to the sage's home and told his version of what happened. When he finished, the sage said, ‘You're absolutely right.’ The next night, the second man called on the sage and told his side of the story. The sage responded, ‘You're absolutely right.’ Afterward, the sage's wife scolded her husband. ‘Those men told you two different stories and you told them they were absolutely right. That's impossible -- they can't both be absolutely right.’ The sage turned to his wife and said, ‘You're absolutely right.’" 
Sometimes you don’t have to go looking for conflict—conflict finds you!  Sometimes two different parties are making perfectly good points, and you have to choose between this one who’s right, and that one who’s also right.  This can cause frustration and anxiety.  But God’s Word gives a solution:
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;  and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV).”  Being anxious for nothing seems like a tall order, until you realize that anxiety is really a lack of faith.  Anxiety says, “God can’t handle it,” but faith says, “God can!”  
            Instead of letting anxiety consume you, turn to God in prayer.  Paul reminds us to pray with thanksgiving.  As you pray, thank God for the many ways He has been faithful to you in the past.  By remembering victories of the past, you gain faith for the future.  Also, you can thank God in advance for the solution that He is going to bring to your problem—even when you haven’t seen that solution yet.  Faith is “the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1),” so through faith you can expect that which you haven’t yet witnessed—and be thankful for it.
            The result of exchanging your anxiety for faith, and turning to God in expectant prayer, is peace.  In John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  God’s blessing for you is, as Paul put it, a peace which “surpasses all understanding.”  It is a supernatural peace that others just can’t grasp.  When they see the tumult all around you, they’ll wonder how you can have such peace.  But your peace is not of this world.  It’s a gift from above.  I pray that when the conflict comes to you, you’ll live in God’s unimaginable peace!


Monday, September 13, 2010

"Conflict Resolution - Gentleness" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 194
“Conflict Resolution – Gentleness”
By Rev. Greg Smith

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Philippians 4:4-5 NKJV)

I get a kick out of watching parents deal with their misbehaving children, as the holidays draw near. Even as early as September and October, I’ve heard parents say, “You’d better watch out—Santa Claus is watching.” If the child is a believer in the jolly old elf, this elicits immediate obedience. After all, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”

If we can be good for Santa, then by all means, we should be good for Jesus! The scripture says, “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” When you find yourself in conflict, let your gentleness show through. You should do this because Jesus is watching, because you want to please Him. You are able to do this because the Lord is at hand, constantly lending His aid in your life.

How can you be gentle in the face of conflict? Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible explains that word that Paul uses for “gentleness,” which he translates as “moderation.”

Let your moderation be known - The word επιεικες is of very extensive signification; it means the same as επιεικεια, mildness, patience, yieldingness, gentleness, clemency, moderation, unwillingness to litigate or contend; but moderation is expressive enough as a general term. "Moderation," says Dr. Macknight, "means meekness under provocation, readiness to forgive injuries, equity in the management of business, candour in judging of the characters and actions of others, sweetness of disposition, and the entire government of the passions."

Jesus is our source of gentleness, our example of meekness. The Holy Spirit works in our hearts to produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Allow Him to have His way in your heart, and you will be able to approach conflict with a gentle spirit, because the Lord is near.

Regarding gentleness, President Woodrow Wilson said:

The way we generally strive for rights is by getting our fighting blood up; and I venture to say that is the long way and not the short way. If you come at me with your fists doubled, I think I can promise you that mine will double as fast as yours; but if you come to me and say, "Let us sit down and take counsel together, and, if we differ from one another, understand why it is that we differ from one another, just what the points at issue are," we will presently find that we are not so far apart after all, that the points on which we differ are few and the points on which we agree are many, and that if we only have the patience and the candor and the desire to get together, we will get together. (Bits and Pieces, September 17, 1992. Pp 14-15).

I pray that the next time a fight comes your way, you’ll access the fruit that the Holy Spirit has placed within you. I pray you’ll find your gentleness, which leads to peace.

Monday, September 6, 2010

"Conflict Resolution - Rejoice!" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 193
“Conflict Resolution – Rejoice!”

By Rev. Greg Smith

Sometimes we find ourselves in conflicts. Nobody likes conflict, but are all conflicts bad? Author and pastor Chuck Swindoll writes:

Several years ago I met a gentleman who served on one of Walt Disneys' original advisory boards. What amazing stories he told! Those early days were tough; but that remarkable, creative visionary refused to give up. I especially appreciated the man's sharing with me how Disney responded to disagreement. He said that Walt would occasionally present some unbelievable, extensive dream he was entertaining. Almost without exception, the members of his board would gulp, blink, and stare back at him in disbelief, resisting even the thought of such a thing. But unless every member resisted the idea, Disney usually didn't pursue it. Yes, you read that correctly. The challenge wasn't big enough to merit his time and creative energy unless they were unanimously in disagreement  (Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p.107)

So just because you’re having conflict, that doesn’t mean that good things aren’t happening. Maybe your conflict indicates that powerful forces are at work, and a great dream is about to be brought to reality.

Last week we talked about a conflict in the church at Philippi, between Euodia and Syntyche. In Philippians 2, Paul encourages the two women to find joy. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice (verse 4)!” This seems so outlandish a suggestion that Paul feels the need to say it twice. So great may be the conflict in your life right now that you can’t even imagine rejoicing once! Yet Paul says twice that we need to express our joy to God—even in the midst of difficulty. By choosing joy, you can let God lift you above the circumstance and into His glory.

James 1:2-5 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”

Joy isn’t something that comes naturally when you’re in the midst of conflict. But joy is something you can choose. You don’t rejoice because of the struggle—you rejoice in the Lord, always. You rejoice because God has been good to you, because He is seeing you through, and because He is creating in you the personality traits that He wants you to have for His glory. Only when you learn to rejoice in the midst of conflict will have the peace you need to get through it.

"Pagans and Tax Collectors" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 192
“Conflict Resolution – Pagans and Tax Collectors”
By Rev. Greg Smith

            Someone once told me, “You can’t have growth without change, and you can’t have change without conflict.”  This means that if you’re having growth, change, and blessing in any area of your life, there is at least the potential for conflict.  You’re probably thinking of one area of conflict in your life right now.  Is there a biblical prescription for conflict resolution?
            In Philippians 4:1-3, Paul writes to a church in conflict.  Two beloved women, Euodia and Syntyche, are squabbling, but we are not given the details of their fight.  It could have been a personality conflict, theological disagreement, or an argument about different ways of doing ministry. 
What we do know is that they were both good workers in the church.  They had probably both helped to assist the poor, visit the sick, care for the bereaved, and give counsel to the searching.  Paul valued both of them individually (note that he speaks to one, and then the other, but does not use their names in the same phrase).  Both are Christian women, and both of their names are written in the Book of Life (which means they’re of equal value to God).  They actually have more in common than they have difference, and Paul wants to see this conflict resolved.
            Paul entreats his companion (possibly Epaphroditus, who is supposed to have been one of the pastors of the church of the Philippians) to help settle this dispute.  This shows that a mediator is sometimes necessary when a conflict can’t be settled between two people.  He also says that it may be necessary to bring Clement and the other fellow workers in on this reconciliation as well, if peace cannot be achieved in any other way.
            Jesus gives us a method for this kind of reconciliation in Matthew 18:16-17:
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”.

            Jesus says that if you have a problem with someone, you shouldn’t gossip about them behind their back.  You should go directly to them and try to settle the matter.  Only if this is unsuccessful should you bring anyone else into it.  Then, take one or two others along, not to gang up on the other person and show them that you’re right and they’re wrong, but so the conversation will have impartial witnesses.  This avoids a “he-said, she-said” scenario.  Only if your disagreement can still not be settled should you take the matter before the church.  If there still cannot be reconciliation, then Jesus said to treat an offender like a pagan or tax collector.  How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?  Not with disgust and disgrace, but with love and compassion.
            Are you in the middle of a conflict right now?  Why not try Jesus’ method of conflict resolution?  Next week, we’ll talk about Paul’s continued advice for Euodia and Syntyche.  When you bring the truth of God’s word into the middle of your struggle, I guarantee you’ll find peace.