Conflict and Change

I sometimes think about what it would have been like to travel with the apostles, spreading the gospel and following God as the first missionaries.  The apostle Paul had a reputation that most likely intimidated and unnerved most of his companions.  His boldness often got him into trouble.  Silas was beaten and place in prison. Others suffered with Paul.  Quite a few companions were unable to simply keep up.  John Mark might have fallen into this last category.

Mark joined Paul and Barnabas on their first trip which set out from Antioch.  They sailed to Cyprus and traveled across that island, preaching and teaching and ministering wherever they went.  After that, they went to Pamphylia (modern Turkey).  Scripture simply says that at that point, Mark left the team and returned to Jerusalem.  Later, Paul refused to allow Mark to join him on another trip because he thought Mark had abandoned the first team and the work they were doing. Barnabas thought Mark deserved a second chance.

By the time the missionary team departed, Barnabas had decided to take Mark on a different outreach and Silas became Paul’s new missionary partner.  Later Biblical comments make it clear that none involved considered this a permanent rift.

Conflicts can be opportunities to clarify ideas, expectations, and goals.  They may bring into the open what needs to be changed.  Even good change rarely happens without conflict.  Mark probably didn’t enjoy the fact that Barnabas and Paul separated over him, but he had to appreciate that someone believed he was worth another chance.  Mark eventually grew into a godly disciple whom Paul counted as a trusted friend.  Conflict can lead to good endings. Isn’t it great that we serve the God of the second chance?  Even when we were sinners, He came and died for us so that He could make a way to settle the conflict between Him and us.  We didn’t deserve it.  But He did it anyway.  Doesn’t that just make you feel so astonished sometimes???  What an amazing God!

Critical Spirit

Some people seem to be experts at evaluating others.  They think they have an uncanny ability to read others’ minds, evaluate their actions, and judge their motives.  The danger in assessing others’ behavior in such a way is that people become judgmental.  Such people have critical spirits that can be cruel and divisive.  Setting themselves up as prosecutor, judge and jury, they proceed to tear everyone apart who does not see things their way.

The Bible is full of examples of judgmentalism – the Jews in the wilderness (Num 16), the Pharisees (Matt 22), the prodigal son’s older brother (Luke 15), the immature Christians in the early church (1 Cor 3).  One of the most serious biblical examples was Miriam’s criticism of Moses’ wife (Num. 12).  God severely judged Miriam’s judgmental spirit.

Just for the record, there is a difference between judging and being judgmental.  Christians need to be able to judge what is good and what is evil so they can discern God’s will for their lives.  Believers are also called upon to judge disputes among believers, as well as to judge sin and deal accordingly with it (1 Cor 5).  Sometimes believers need to discern sin in their fellow believers and point it out in a loving way (Prov. 27:17).

So what about when Jesus said, “Judge not that you be not judged.  For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you?”  (Matt 7) In this same passage, He also said that people cannot remove the speck from someone else’s eye when they have a plank in their own eye.  Jesus was speaking against having a critical spirit.

Judgmental people are critical, condescending, unloving, and unforgiving.  They are more concerned with pointing out others’ mistakes than helping them with their problems.  Their attitudes create anxiety in others whom they attempt to manipulate by demanding compliance with their opinions.  Critical people tend to make others feel that they are all alone in the world.

Another characteristic of judgmental people is their self-centered view of life.  They are far more concerned about themselves than anyone else.  They lack empathy and resist opening up enough to let others talk freely about deeply emotional issues.  It is easier for them to condemn than to forgive.  They lock themselves in parental-style role and refuse to change.  They may try to shame people as a means of controlling them.  While some judgmental people may think that they are helping others do the right thing (according to them), they are really hurting them in the long run.  Forced behavior, controlled by guilt manipulation, often leaves people wanting to break free.

People’s reactions to judgmental people can include feelings of detachment (being emotionally inaccessible) and abandonment (connecting then leaving), and can result in criticism (unloving responses) and even abuse (emotional violation).

One of the major causes of judgmentalism is guilt.  People tend to criticize others for problems with which they tend to struggle themselves.  Another cause is fear.  People fear those they do not understand.

Judgmentalism is a heart attitude that often blinds people to their own problems.  It is quick to point the finger but slow to bend the knee.  To be set free of a critical spirit, believers can begin by praying for others and working to genuinely reach out to others in love.  They can get into an accountability relationship to learn to discern the difference between appropriate judgment and judgmentalism.

A critical spirit can often be discerned by identifying people’s motives.  If their words are meant to tear others down in order to build themselves up, then they are being judgmental.  If they are minimizing and excusing their own faults while pointing out the faults of others, then they are being judgmental.  If we find ourselves being critical of others, we need to ask God for forgiveness.  Ultimate judgment belongs to God (Rev 20).  We dare not attempt to put ourselves in His place!

Valley of Sadness

Ecclesiastes 3:4 – A time to weep, and a time to laugh;  A time to mourn, And a time to dance.

Hebrews 4:16 – Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Psalm 130 – Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord; Lord hear my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.  I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word do I hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning – Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.  O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and wit Him is abundant redemption, and He shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Sooner or later, we all feel sad, down, or blue.  Life happens.  Solomon wrote of this in Ecclesiastes and the writer of Hebrews assures us we will have times of need in our lives.  However, occasionally, the sadness can become overwhelming and turn into a deeper level of emotional turmoil and can affect us in many different ways. 

This deep level of sadness can be caused by a number of different things including stress, fear, loneliness, guilt, and anger. David wrote his sadness came from unconfessed sin, leading to a groaning in his soul and a loss of strength (Ps 38).  God used sadness to get Nehemiah’s attention to do his work (Neh 1 and 2).  Job experienced financial, personal, and relational losses that led him to curse the day he had been born (Job 1-3).  Elijah was so sad after a great victory that he wanted to die ( 1 Kings 19:4).

How do we know when our sadness has moved from a simple sadness to a more concerning depth?  Scripture tells us many symptoms to watch for.  Psalm 102 describes David’s battle with this.  “Let my cry come to You.”  He write of feeling stricken physically and described losing meaning and purpose in his life: “My days are consumed like smoke, and my bones are burned like a hearth.  My heart is stricken and withered like grass.”  (102:3-4).  He lost his appetite: “I forget to eat my bread.” (102:4).  He felt isolated and rejected:  “I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am like an owl of the desert. “ (102:6).  He couldn’t sleep: “I lie awake.” (102:7).  He had frequent crying spells:  “I have eaten ashes for bread, and mingled my drink with weeping.” (102:9). 

Elijah demonstrated both healthy and unhealthy responses to sadness (1 Kings 19).  After the great victory on Mount Carmel, his life was threatened and he became afraid.  He focused on the situation instead of focusing on God.  His fear eventually became so intense, he ran away, isolated himself, and prayed he would die.  A summary of his behavior can be described as the HALT syndrome – a very vulnerable place for anyone to be.  At his most sad state, he was:       

·         Hungry – He stopped eating

·         Angry – he was mad at God for not caring about him

·         Lonely – He left his servant and traveled alone

·         Tired – He collapsed into sleep

God counteracted this syndrome in Elijah’s life at every level.  He responded by providing food for Elijah.  An angel touched Elijah, reminding him he was not alone.  Two times God encouraged Elijah to regain his strength by eating, drinking, and resting.  God brought him out of the HALT syndrome, which enabled Elijah to listen and obey.

This story reminds me of the importance of having a real and personal relationship with God .  When I’m sad, I can feel like running away just like Elijah.  I have to avoid isolating myself, tempting as that may be at times.  I have to remember that, no matter how hopeless I might feel at the moment, God is ready to help and all I have to do is accept that help.  I need to remember to listen to God.  That is where I find my strength and encouragement.  That is where I find the ability to cope with life’s tribulations and that is where I find my hope. 

Nehemiah and Discouragement

Discouragement – a battle I’ve been fighting lately.  Tonight in church, while listening to our pastor discuss the book of Nehemiah, I thought of discouragement and how easy it would be to give in to it.  When discouragement sets in – when life gets overwhelming and we have difficulty seeing the way through and out, we are faced with choices.  We can choose to give in and give up.  We can choose to find somewhere or someone on which to place the blame.  Or we can choose to use the discouragement to propel us to new heights.  Nehemiah was such a great example of one who chose to use his discouragement to work his way to great heights.

Nehemiah was a Jewish exile living in Persia.  We know he had proven himself to be a man of trust and integrity because he served as cupbearer to King Artaxerxes.   His job gave him constant access to the king – tasting the food and drink before it was placed before the king.  Many of the Jews had been given permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild and had chosen to do so under the leadership of Ezra.  Nehemiah learned through hearing the news from Jews who had returned to Persia that, even though the temple had been rebuilt, the wall around Jerusalem had not been.  Nehemiah was discouraged with this news.  In those times, a city without walls was vulnerable to attack – it was a weak city.  Jerusalem would not ever be able to be a strong city, a proud city, or regain its former status until the wall was rebuilt.  It was an overwhelming job – a large job – and one in which it would be difficult to see the possible ways to the end.  But instead of choosing to allow his discouragement lead to despair, Nehemiah worked on developing a course of action to correct the problem.

After praying and planning, Nehemiah took advantage of his close, trusted relationship with the king.  It is somewhat noteworthy that the king so paid attention to Nehemiah that his downcast expression was remarked upon.  The king must have cared something for him.  Nehemiah explained the situation, said a quick prayer, and then boldly asked for everything he would need to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall.  The king granted the request and Nehemiah carried out his plan.  The wall was rebuilt.

When we are faced with discouragement, we can choose to allow it to develop into depression and inability to act or we can choose to allow it to motivate us, giving a renewed determination.  Like Nehemiah, we can choose to allow discouragement to motivate us to find a way to solve the problem and not wallow in it, feeling sorry for ourselves.  We can choose to grow from it.  We can choose to allow God to work His mighty changes in us for His glory.  We have the responsibility and freedom to choose.  It is our choice.

Psalm 77

I cried out to God with my voice – to God with my voice; and He gave ear to me.  In the day of my trouble, I sought the Lord; my hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing; my soul refused to be comforted.  I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained and my spirit was overwhelmed.  You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled I cannot speak.  I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times.  I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search. 

Will the Lord cast off forever?  And will He be favorable no more?  Has His mercy ceased forever?  Has His promise failed forevermore?  Has God forgotten to be gracious?  Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?

And I said, “This is my anguish; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.”  I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old.  I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of Your deeds.  Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; who is so great a God as our God?  You are the God who does wonders; You have declared your strength among the peoples.  You have with Your arm redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.

The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were afraid; the depths also trembled.  The clouds poured out water; the skies sent out a sound; Your arrows also flashed about.  The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightening lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.  Your way was in the sea, Your path in the great waters, and Your footsteps were not known.  You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Failure

Proverbs 24:16  For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity. 

Jude 24  Now to him Who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy.   

Jude makes it clear that God is able to keep us from slipping and stumbling.  However, He also knows that every failure has seeds of growth.  He knows that apart from failure, we would have no need of His forgiveness, His communion, or His help.  In His hands, failure can become one of life’s greatest teachers.  His hands can use failure to refine us in ways successes cannot.  Failure can reach down into the very depths of our souls and expose pockets of selfishness, pride, etc.  It makes us more aware of our own limitations and humbles us.  It increases our sensitivity to others and reminds us that God is not finished with us yet but has promised He will complete the work He has begun in us.

Peter is a good example of someone who fell.  He had boldly told Jesus, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble. “ (Matt. 26:33)  He insisted he would never fail, but Jesus stopped Peter’s bravado short when He told him failure would indeed come that very night.   Most of us know how Peter failed Jesus that night by denying Him three times.  Frankly, Peter’s failure had begun the moment he became overconfident and insisted he would never fail. 

Sometimes our first response to failure can be to focus on the failure.  “My ministry is over,” “God will never be able to use me again,” “My kids will be damaged for life.”  Although we must be concerned for the present, we must be careful not to focus on it exclusively.  We need to allow God to help us put failure into the proper perspective. 

Failure is never final until a person quits trying.  As we continue to try, failure is really only a setback and an opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  Proverbs contrasts the righteous person and the wicked person.   The righteous may fall time and time again, but he or she gets back up and keeps trying.  When the wicked person falls, however, he or she is led into a downward spiral that causes calamity.  There is no recovery, no hope, no more trying.

Failure is a part of the human experience.  It can be painful but it can also be a great teacher.  God’s definition of success does not preclude failure, but it does include a willingness to refuse to quit, to learn from our mistakes, and to try again.  Failure can be our greatest teacher.  It can destroy us, or it can immobilize us, or it can simply teach us a lesson about what not to do.  It can rub off our rough edges and soften our hearts.  It can be the first step towards being a great success.  God can use our failures, whatever they may be, to make us the people He wants us to be.

The Cure for an Attitude of Entitlement

2 Thessalonians 3:6-15  But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.  For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.  For even when we were with you, we commanded you this:  If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.  For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies.  Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread.  But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.  And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.  Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

A sense of entitlement.  It seems to be growing more and more in our society.  It’s a spirit of dullness and a spirit of “give me” and it seems to be invading our workplace and our nation.  This is not a new thing, not even among Christians.  Paul was writing this epistle during a time when some of the Thessalonians believers had stopped working.  It seems they were relying on the generosity of their fellow believers, supposedly for the sake of being spiritual and waiting for the second coming of Christ – or maybe they were just being lazy.  Whatever it was, Paul had harsh words for this sense of entitlement.

Paul begins this by stating that we are to withdraw from people who are disorderly.  Who are the disorderly?  Paul defines them as those who will not work.    This command in the Greek has the force of a military command and is given in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who is our Supreme Commander.  The word “withdraw” (stellesthai) means to stay away from; to have no fellowship with.    We are not to be identified in any way with these disorderly people who will not work.  Hanging out with people can also cause them to believe we condone their behavior.  We are to be careful not to do this.

This passage gives four reasons why we are to withdraw from the disorderly.  Verse 6 tells us that the person who does not work disobeys God’s commands and instructions.  The word “tradition” (paradosin) means all the Word of God, whether taught or written.  Pau says he had already taught these people the value of working as it applies to the commands of God and so they are without excuse.  If they continue in this life style, believers are to withdraw from them.  The second reason we are to withdraw is because they have examples and so should know better.  Paul worked day and night in labor and toil.  As a minister of the gospel, he had a right to be supported but chose not to be because he could set a dynamic example for these people.  This is not saying ministers should not be paid a real wage.  Paul obviously saw a problem with these particular people and was trying to set an example. 

Another reason we are to withdraw from disorderly people is because they lose their right to eat.  It can’t be stated any plainer: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.  Note that this is also a command.  Again this is not talking about those who are truly disabled or unable to find employment.  This is taking about people who choose not to work – who choose to sit around doing nothing all day.  There are too many people in the world who are destitute, desperate, and dying.  Almost every church could put people to work, helping the truly needy.  The fourth reason is that those who are idle tend to be busybodies.  Our minds are active things and are never still.  Either it is busy thinking positive, productive thoughts or it is busy thinking negative thoughts.  This is why so many idle people, especially young people, get into trouble today. 

Verses 12-13 command us all to work.  Again this is a forceful command, a command that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are to earn our living in quietness in contrast to being busybodies.  We’re to work with a quiet spirit and mind our own business – being efficient workers.  We are not to get weary in doing good.  Don’t slack – be a good example for others as unto the Lord.  Some values and goals are important when we consider our work:

·         Pursue your life’s choice of work as a calling from God, whatever it might be, believing that He will guide and prepare you to accomplish a good work.

·         Increase understanding of your interests, personality, style, gifts, and talents.

·         Increase your skill and usability of universal job skills such as analytical thinking, evaluating skills, learning good communication, writing, speaking skills, interpersonal relationship skills, and problem solving skills.

·         Whatever you do, do it with thanksgiving and praise and give glory to God for any achievement.

Work is good for us.  When God placed Adam in the garden, He gave him work to do.  When we see our work as God-given, we have a whole new perspective.  It’s not a necessary evil that takes time away from “spiritual” things, but a gift from God through which we are to grow spiritually and minister to others.  This is the solution for the sense of entitlement.  It also gives a sense of real purpose and the right kind of self esteem.   God needs people in all walks of life in order to reach those who have not heard the good news of salvation.