Are you ready to make peace?

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Today’s chapter: Matthew 5

What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘hippie’? You probably picture someone with long hair wearing a bandana, bell-bottom jeans, and a tie-dyed T-shirt. He probably drives a small van or VW bug covered in bright colors and slogans like “Flower Power” and “Make Love, Not War.” With one hand he’s making the “peace” sign. We’ll assume that’s a Marlboro cigarette in the other hand…

Hippie Peace Sign

Hippies are known for loving peace. They are generally philosophically opposed to war. But even though they’re in favor of peace, they’re not what Jesus has in mind when he talks about peacemakers.

Jesus didn’t say blessed are the peace lovers or the peace keepers. He said it is the peacemakers who are blessed and will be called sons of God. I love being around peacemakers because they are so dependable. They make organizations and people better. Peace lovers, however, do incredible amounts of damage.

Peace lovers are people who avoid conflict in an effort to keep the “peace.” Instead of working through issues, they work around them and try to ignore them. Rather than standing up for what’s right or confronting something that is wrong, peace lovers prefer to not talk about anything unpleasant or that might cause a disagreement. Their primary goal is for everyone to get along, and especially to get along with and like them. Peace lovers mistakenly think peace is an absence of conflict.

Peacemakers, on the other hand, are willing to confront issues. They’re tactful and respectful, but they know it’s unwise to ignore hidden tensions and pretend like everything is okay. Peacemakers embrace conflict, not because they’re psychotic, but because they know it is the only way to real peace.

I’ve seen well-meaning peace lovers destroy families, churches, and companies because they stayed silent in situations that desperately needed someone to speak up. I’ve also seen spiritually mature peacemakers work through conflict and achieve real peace in situations where most people thought it wasn’t possible.

I’ve got three sons and they all look a little bit like me. Fortunately, they look like their mother, too. I suppose that’s one of the ways they are blessed. Regardless, there is definitely a family resemblance.

Jesus said that when we take on the difficult role of being peacemakers, there is also a family resemblance. We’re called sons of God because we look a bit more like our Father than we did before. That’s a blessing I definitely want.

DO IT
Do you tend to avoid conflict? Real peace isn’t an absence of disagreements, but the result of working through them. Prayerfully embrace your next conflict as an opportunity to achieve peace. Listen well and trust God.

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The most awkward moment ever

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Today’s chapter: 2 Samuel 12

If you’ve ever watched “The Office,” then you know that no place on earth has as many awkward and uncomfortable moments as the Scranton office of Dunder Mifflin. Most of the awkwardness revolves around the boss, Michael Scott. In the pilot episode he fires Pam as a prank. There was Diversity Day where he uses the most insensitive approach imaginable to teach his coworkers about stereotypes. Then there was the time he had to renege on his promise to pay the college tuition for a group of inner city students. Of course, Michael still showed up to accept an award for his generosity.

MichaelScott

Those scenes make us laugh and cringe at the same time because we can imagine how it would feel for something similar to happen to us. None of us wants to experience that sort of discomfort, so we do all we can to avoid those kinds of delicate situations. Unfortunately, in our efforts to avoid the difficult and awkward moments, we often fail to do the right thing.

In the ancient Israel job market, the occupation of prophet would have definitely been featured on the reality show: “Israel’s Toughest Jobs.” In those days if a prophet brought a word from God that the king didn’t like, the prophet would likely pay for it with his life. And Nathan the prophet is about to confront a king who has already shown he is willing to execute people if it is convenient for him.

Nathan confronted King David because he loved him. Nathan told a story about a sheep that connected with the former shepherd’s heart. David realized what he had done and repented.

Lots of people say they want to follow God, but few are willing to lovingly confront a friend with the truth. Even though we’re not jeopardizing our lives like Nathan by addressing the situation, we think about all of the ways the conversation could go wrong and decide to remain silent. Or instead of going directly to the person and having a one-on-one conversation, we go tell someone else and hope the gossip train will eventually deliver the message to them in a way that can’t be traced back to us.

One reason so many churches are unhealthy is because so few people are willing to lovingly speak the truth to each other. Ironically, they convince themselves they’re protecting the health of the church by remaining silent. But what is really motivating them is their fear of being rejected or disliked like Michael Scott. The inevitable result of their silence is that the church slowly drifts further away from what God intended.

It’s vital that we have people in our churches and in our personal lives who love us enough to point out the uncomfortable and painful truth. If we don’t, we’ll suffer far worse consequences than awkwardness. As Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

DO IT
Do you have anyone in your life who helps you pay attention to God, even when it’s awkward and uncomfortable? Invite someone who you know loves you to be a “Nathan” for you. Give them permission to tell you the truth you may not see about yourself. Commit to listen to them and to thank them for loving you enough to tell you the truth.

Who in your life do you know will lovingly tell you the truth about you?

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The difference between unity and unanimity in your team

italian pizza

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Today’s chapter: 1 Samuel 29

When our family goes out to eat, it’s tough to get everyone to agree about where to go. I can probably count on one hand the number of times we’ve had an immediate, unanimous selection. If one of our boys wants to eat Mexican, then the other two will inevitably want buffalo wings. If two say they want burgers, the third will want pancakes.

Erin and I usually quietly listen to their opinions, and then we select one of the options they mentioned. The boys have learned that once mom and dad have announced where we’re going, there is not much point in arguing. They might as well do their best to get excited about our choice and start thinking about what they’re going to order. Even when we can’t get unanimity, it’s amazing how quickly we can get unity.

Achish and the commanders of the Philistine forces are having trouble achieving a unanimous choice about the best course of action as they head into battle. Achish trusts David completely. He is so convinced David and his men will be loyal to him and will fight against their fellow Israelites that he has even named David as his permanent bodyguard (28:2). Of course, he is basing his opinion on the lies David has been telling him about which cities he and his men have been plundering.

The Philistine commanders, however, recognize that taking David into a battle against the Israelites is a huge risk. They know he could turn on them during the fighting, which is probably exactly what he would have done. They’re convinced the best course of action is to send David back to his home in Ziklag.

Achish recognizes the importance of unity, so he capitulates and asks David to leave. He knows that if the Philistine leaders don’t have complete trust in each other in battle, they’ll be their own worst enemy. Instead of making decisions based on strategy and strength, they’ll each be forced to look out for themselves. Rather than being focused on the enemy across the field, they’ll be simultaneously looking for enemies within their own ranks.

It’s hard to move forward as a team when you’re constantly worried about sneak attacks or being undermined. But it can be just as hard to get everyone on a team to unanimously agree on the best course of action. Fortunately, unity and unanimity are not the same thing.

Unity is not the absence of conflict. In fact, when conflict is handled well it promotes unity. When a team values progress over individual recognition, they can collectively come up with better solutions than any one individual ever could. On a healthy team, a disagreement about the best course of action can become a tool that propels them toward the best possible solution.

But when individuals have their own agendas and refuse to consider any ideas other than their own, unity becomes impossible. The dissension and backbiting result in a group of people (which I won’t even refer to as a team) who stay on the defensive, since like the Philistine leaders they have to beware of enemies within their own ranks. Their “kill or be killed” mentality ensures that what gets killed is any hope for unity.

Do you contribute to a healthy team culture? When the majority of your team decides to move forward with an idea you don’t think is the best option, are you ultimately still able to get behind it and give it your full support? Remember: unity is not unanimity. Being a team player means knowing the difference.

DO IT
Today’s assignment may surprise you. We can have unity with our political leaders, even when we don’t have unanimity. You can be an encouragement to a politician with a different perspective on the issues from yours. Contact some of your elected representatives and let them know you’re praying for them. Ask if they have any specific prayer requests. Show them God’s love in a practical way with no strings attached.

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Pay attention

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Today’s chapter: 1 Samuel 20

I just couldn’t help it. In Mrs. Malernee’s high school English class, I was constantly tapping my pencil and playing the drums along to whatever soundtrack was playing in my head. No matter how many times she would call me down, within minutes I would again be playing along with Phil Collins or Huey Lewis or INXS or some other band.

Bless her heart, I know she thought I was doing it on purpose. But while other kids silently played the air guitar, the pencil drum was always my instrument of choice.

The problem with my distraction was that it distracted others. Because of the noise I was making, Mrs. Malernee knew my failure to pay attention was making it harder for the people around me to pay attention.

Have you ever been reading something (like perhaps a devotional on David and Jonathan) and when you get to the end, you realize you have no idea what you just read? Sometimes we all need a little help paying attention.

Jonathan wanted to believe the best about his dad. Whether it was because he wasn’t paying attention or his relationship was blinding him to reality, he couldn’t fathom that his father wanted to kill David. But David cared enough about Jonathan to tell him the truth, even when it was hard.

Some people have the wrong idea about what a healthy relationship looks like. They think loving someone means avoiding confrontation at all costs. They swallow their hurts, ignore problems, and hide their true feelings so they can “keep the peace” and keep pretending everything is okay. But a relationship based on superficial peace is a relationship based on a lie. Real love rejoices with the truth.

It isn’t easy to talk with a friend about his wandering eye or his inattentiveness to his kids or his growing dependence on pain killers. Those things aren’t easy to say and you’re a bit psychotic if you look forward to those conversations. But everybody needs a friend like David who not only points out reality, but helps us pay attention to God. Your willingness to tell your friends the truth will determine whether you’re making it easier for people to pay attention to God or becoming a distraction.

When you hold back and stay silent, it’s because you’re choosing to love yourself more than your friend. The ironic reality is if you never lovingly confront anyone, you will never really be close to anyone. Although we usually dread having these conversations, they are the foundation the very best friendships are built on.

DO IT
Pray and ask God who you can trust to lovingly tell you the truth about you. Then invite that person to point out your blind spots and give them permission to continue to hold you accountable. And if you have a friend who isn’t paying attention to God in some area of his life, stop putting off the tough conversation. Take your friendship to the next level by telling them the truth and encouraging them to take the next step toward God.

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