Conflict Week 1: The Big Idea

Sermon Transcript


Everyone knows conflict is part of life. There are some who tell stories of strength in relationships, marriages, churches and businesses because of conflict. But, the vast majority of stories seem to have another ending. Most people would love to hear a magic cure for conflict, but we all know that doesn't exist. Conflict even abounds throughout the pages of Scripture within people, between people, within groups and between groups. Sometimes it was handled in a godly fashion, but more often than not, it wasn't.

What if we could resolve conflict better? What if we could grow from it? What if we could learn from it? Maybe, just maybe, that starts now.

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Well, good morning to everybody and good morning, also, to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. There was a family of five children – obviously they also had a mother and father – that, over time, the father passed away and then, over time, the mother passed away. The siblings had a suspicion that, as the will would be read, the estate – which was not huge, but was meaningful and consisted of a main house, a couple pieces of property and some retirement funds and insurance money – would be distributed equally amongst the five.

Well, as the will was read, their suspicions were correct. The estate was to be equally distributed amongst all five siblings. Well, there was a little bit of a problem there because one of the siblings had grown up and had never moved out of the main house. He was a young man who had an emotional and learning disability. So, the other four got together and they said, "Listen, mom and dad want all of this equally distributed. So, what we'll do is we'll sell the main house, sell the properties, get all the stuff together and sell everything that we can sell. We'll put all the money together and we'll divide it equally amongst all five of us to make sure that everybody gets their fair share. We'll move our brother from the house downtown to a nice apartment. It'll probably be a nicer place than he's living now."

Everybody agreed that that was the way to go. So, they decided to contact a realtor, they put the main house up for sale, and the first time that the realtor went to the house he was met with a baseball bat by this young man who figured he wasn't moving out of the house. At that point, they knew that they had a family conflict.

So, the executor of the will asked if a mediator would come in. The mediator came in, sat down and listened to the four siblings. He said, "Explain to me the rational of how you've got to where you've got to about the way the estate should be distributed?"

Then he went and talked to the young man who had the emotional and learning disability. Then he came back to the four, sat them down and says, "Listen, I need to have a candid conversation with all of you. So, sit down here and look at me here because this is going to be a really important conversation. Are all of you Christians?"

They said, "Well, yeah. We're Christians."

He said, "You go to church on a regular basis?"

They're like, "Yeah, we even show up on Memorial Day weekend."

You know? He said, "So, you really are followers of Jesus, right?"

They all said, "Yeah."

He said, "Okay. Well, I'm going to ask you a real big question right now. I want you to lean in, all of you four. What are you all doing differently with this conflict than an atheist would?"

At that point, some light bulbs went off. At that point, they started to think about some things that they might be able to change. That story is not unlike many stories that you and I are aware of of conflict in our lives. In fact, we know this to be true and it's just a fact. It's in our lives whether we like it or not. In fact, it comes in so many different shapes and sizes. Many of us have conflicts at home. Many of us have conflicts with children. Many of us have conflicts with moms or dads, at work with a boss or maybe an employee or employees that we work with. Or maybe our neighbors.

Conflict is everywhere. None of us avoid it. It's just impossible for us not to be dealing with conflict. That being true, there's an equal truth that's really disturbing. It's this truth: Most of us are ill equipped to handle conflict. We don't know what to do with it when it comes our way. In fact, most Christians are under the impression that all conflict is sort of bad to begin with, so we already start off at a bad understanding of this idea of conflict. But, most people don't know how to deal with conflict. They just don't know.

Whether you're Christian or not a Christian, most people deal with conflict in two ways, but they're not really dealing with conflict. In fact, they're just continuing to perpetuate it. The way we deal with it usually or the way we try to handle it is that we either try to escape it or we try to escalate it. We fight or we have flight in our lives. Most Christians as a general rule, since they think conflict is bad, just try to figure out how to escape it. We learn to sort of be like Houdini artists and what we want to do is deny the fact that it's going on. You can see it oftentimes in a church setting where there is conflict going on and you know there's conflict going on.

It's like one person will go around one hub and the other person will come around the next hub, you know? And they sort of do their thing. Or at work if we're trying to escape conflict. It's like one person will go in one way, the other person will go in the other way. They'll go out to their cars different ways just sort of acting like it's not happening. They're in denial. Or maybe they'll run from it. You see people all the time when conflict gets really bad who just want to run. They'll go somewhere else and get away from it.

When we do that, when that's the way we respond to conflict, what we're saying is it's really about me. It's about me, the way I feel. I don't want to deal with this. I don't know what to do with it. So, I'm just going to run. I'm just going to get away from it because I don't know what to do and it bothers me. So, I'm going to get away from it.

That's not handling conflict. In fact, that just continues to perpetuate it and make it worse. Well, then there's other ways that we've learned to deal with conflict and some people have said, "Well, since everybody's trying to escape it or run from it, maybe if I escalate it I can win and I can just get this thing over with."

So, what happens is people escalate conflict and what happens is they want to get control. They don't want to lose. They want to win. They'll even get to the place of being angry or violent about it. They'll even go to the point of litigating to make sure that they win. And when you're on that side of trying to deal with conflict, what you're saying is it's all about the other person's fault. It's all about you. You're the problem and I'm going to win. And it doesn't take any sort of notice at all that maybe I did something or said something or contributed something or whatever.

So, the way we're dealing with it is we try to escape it or we try to escalate it. Here's the truth of the matter: Unresolved conflict deteriorates relationships in our lives and it destroys us. Lean in here and listen to this, because this is so important. I can tell you this as a pastor and I can tell you that other pastors say the same thing to me. I can tell you counselors say the same thing to me. It's just the stone cold reality here about the life that we live. When you find, like today, we've got more people on anxiety medication, we've got more people drinking two or three drinks at night to just sort of get rid of all the angst and frustration. We have more people that are just amped up. You can just see it. I mean, there's just a lot of hatred and anger in people's lives. People are driving down the road mad because you pulled out in front of them.

When you sit down and I sit down and talk to people in their lives and we see all of the stuff that's going on in their lives; the anxiety, all of the fear and all of the stuff. When you sit down, about 95% of those people that are dealing with those issues have an area in their life of unresolved conflict. They've got a problem with their dad, they've got a problem with their wife, they've got a problem with whatever and it's coming out sideways.

You know, I always say the person that's driving down the road and you pulled out in front of them and you didn't mean to pull out in front of them and you're telling them sorry and they're screaming at you, they're not screaming at you. They had something that happened three hours earlier and it's just coming out sideways on you. Because, most people don't act like that. We live in this world of unresolved conflict and we're ill equipped to handle it and it's not a good thing at all.

In fact, not only does it mess us up in these interpersonal relationships, but oftentimes – we don't think about this as Christians – it blocks our relationship with God. There's problems even with God. Look what John says. John says, "If anyone says, 'I love God. Me and God are cool. Everything's good. Me and God? We're there,' and yet hates his brother or sister, he's a liar."

I'll be honest with you. If I was writing 1 John, I would have probably said "he's a little misguided." He's a liar? That's pretty strong, isn't it? That's why I always tell me kids that when I'm teaching about homiletics, which is how to preach, I'm like, "Sick with the Bible, because if they get mad at the Bible, at least they're not mad at you. If you start preaching your own opinions, they're going to get mad at you."

But, the reality is he says he's a liar. Listen: For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has sin. People ask me, "Who am I supposed to love?"

People you can see.

"Well, who am I supposed to love?"

If you can see them, you're supposed to love them. If you can't love your brother or sister whom you have seen, you can't love God whom he has not seen. Let me break this down into a 2017, easy to understand way to interpret this passage of Scripture: You can't be right with God and wrong with people.

You can't. In fact, were most of y'all here last week? Were you here last weekend? Right? You know, Tom talked about how he did all that deep diving in Scripture and the Greek and everything? The only deep dive in Greek is in a Greek salad for him, okay? I just want to make sure that you all understand that. You know, he told you all that he passed Greek and Hebrew? No. You need to pay attention to the word. He went past the classes where Greek and Hebrew were being taught, okay? That's a really important thing. And he gave you that Tom Jones version, right? See, what this is is the Chip Bennett version right here, which is a much superior translation to the Tom Jones version. It also avoids its heretical tendencies.

No, I'm just kidding. I'm just playing. Did Tom not do a great job? Come on. He did a fantastic job. Tom and I have known each other for 30 years. We can play like that. We're like brothers. But, I'll tell you something. It's so nice, as a pastor, to know that there's someone in the church that can fill in and do such life-giving sermons to our church. Tom did a great job. Nanette runs our children's department. Madi does The Plug. It really is "Keeping Up with the Jones'" around this church. I'm telling you right now. Alright? But, good stuff.

But, we can't be right with God and wrong with people. Not only that, but it blocks our prayers if there's conflict in our lives. Look what Peter says. Peter says, "Husbands," – listen – "live with your wives in an understanding way."

First century women were just like property. He says, "No, no. You treat your women right. You treat your wives right."

Because, if you don't, it's going to hinder your prayers. And that doesn't just apply in marriage; that applies in life. Oftentimes, we're like, "I wonder why God's not answering my prayer."

Maybe there's some unresolved conflict in our lives. How about this one? It blocks our worship with God. These are passages of Scripture that I'm going to read to you that I say that we read them but we don't do them. Because, I get a lot of people since I teach who will come up to me and say, "Hey, Chip. You believe the Bible literally?"

And I just want to go, "Well, do you actually do it? Let's stop talking about how we interpret it. Let's talk about do we do it?"

This is one of those passages where we all go, "Oh, man. That is a tough one."

Look what Jesus says here. He says, "If you're offering your gift on the alter, you come to church and you're offering your gift to God and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, some conflict going on, here's what you do: You leave your gift there in front of the alter. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift."

Which means for many people in the Church throughout the world that they would need to not come into a Sunday service and go get right with someone else first before they came in and sang "it is well" with Justine. This is a real like, "Ah, man."

This is where it gets real. Look at me here and lean in here. We can't escape it and we can't escalate it. You and me, who call upon the name of the Lord, who say, "We believe that Jesus Christ is really who He is," we're called to be different. We're not called to look like everybody else. We're not called to handle it the way everybody else calls it. We're called to be different. In fact, when Jesus talks about you and me and He talks about those people that will be called the children of God, when He says, "The sons of God and the daughters of God – the children of God," this is what He says in the beatitudes:

"Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God."

We're called to be peacemakers. We're called to see conflict as an opportunity to bring in the Gospel of Jesus Christ into a conflict zone to see God start to transform you, me, others, churches and society and communities. That's what this is all about. We can't just do it by escaping it. We're not going to handle anything. We can't do it by escalating it. We've got to learn to transform conflict or we're going to be a little bit behind the curve of what we should be doing as Christians.

In fact, we talk about transforming conflict. What we're talking about now is I'm putting God first and it's not about me and it's not about you. It's about "we." And the reason it's always about "we" is because God is a relational God. In His essence, before He ever created the world, before He ever created you and me, before any of that ever happened, He existed in a community. He existed Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God's essence is a community relationship. God is all about relationships. It's all about that. And when we breakdown relationship, because the Bible, everything about the Bible is based on two things: Relationship with God and relationship with other people.

You know, when we read the Bible, we pick out sins, right? We go, "Oh, that's a sin. You shouldn't be doing that."

No, no, no. All of the things that we call sins in the Bible that we want to point out in other people like, "Oh, you're doing that? You're a sinner. You're not going to go to heaven."

All of those things, fundamentally, are a break in either a relationship with God, which means we're putting other things before Him, or we're treating others in a way that we shouldn't be treating them. Because, we treated them with dignity and respect, we wouldn't be doing the things that we're doing. We wouldn't cheat on people, we wouldn't lie. It's the fact that we're not treating others the way we're supposed to be treating them.

So, we can transform conflict. We can overlook an offense. I mean, this would be awesome. If you're a mature Christian, when somebody does you wrong, sometimes you've just got to be able to get over it. I can't tell you how many Christians were just so sensitive to everything. We can be in the hub and two people can be talking about the Cleveland Cavaliers versus the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals and you can be thinking they're talking about you and you're offended. Right?

Sometimes we've just got to grow up. We've got to stop being so sensitive. Sometimes we can transform lives by just overlooking things. Sometimes we need to reconcile. Sometimes we need to get down and dirty and say, "Hey, this has gone on and we need to get this thing right."

Well, if you can't do that, then we need to learn how to mediate. We're going to look at Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 6 over the next few weeks. We're going to read some of those passages of Scripture and you're going to be like, "Whoa, man. I had no idea this was in the Bible. This? Wow."

It's really going to be a mind-blowing experience because Jesus is like, "Hey, if you can't get it right, then get some other people in the church to come and let's handle it and let's get it right."

In fact, in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul says, "Hey, you shouldn't be dragging people in front of the courts. What you need to do is you need to come into church and you need to let the people in the church then decide your issue if you can't do it."

Because, the last thing we want to do is have a bad witness out there in the world that makes us look like we're not peacemakers. We're called to transform stuff. This is huge. It's huge that we learn to get equipped to handle conflict, because it's not going away. And let me pull the curtain back a little bit here for everybody that's here and for those that watch via the internet and the mobile app. Traditionally the way we do things around here is we try to plan some series' out in advance. You know, at the beginning of the year, I sort of lay out like 10 or 12 potential series' that I'm going to be dealing with and try to give them a rough skeleton and then I tell them, "Hey, I'm going to do this one next and this will be next," and we try to work two or three ahead.

These three weeks – this weekend and the next two weekends – were built into the calendar for me to sort of have some free flow time to deal with some issues that maybe I just wanted to talk about. Some one-off sermons. They weren't supposed to be a series. We were supposed to move from Blueprint Myth into a series as Father's Day was starting called "Risk." What happened was in the middle of Blueprint Myth I just started, in my heart – nothing here with the church. But, just talking to people and seeing things and just the world that we live in and some of the hostilities that are going on, I just in my heart said, "You know what? I really need to speak about conflict."

And I'm always – if you know me very well, sometimes I don't know the difference. Am I hearing from God or was it a bad burrito? You know? You're just like, "Which one is it?"

But, a lot of people over the last three messages – and this will be the fourth one – have said, "Man, this was really timely. I needed to hear this," which is great, because I really felt in my heart that we need to be talking about this. If this is your first time at Grace or maybe you're not even a Christian and you don't even know what to do with the God thing, I can tell you you're going to get a lot of good information that will help you out in your understanding of God.

But, for those of us who are Christians, we need to get equipped and we need to really know what to do in handling conflict because we don't usually, as a general rule, do a very good job with it and we don't see it as an opportunity to see God move in our life.

So, here's what I want to do for the next few minutes here before we get out of here: I want to talk to you about some life lessons. What I'm trying to do here this weekend is I'm trying to set up a crucible, so to speak. I'm trying to set up a platform that God can start to work in our hearts so over the next three or so weeks – maybe even four – as we look at Scripture and really look at some of the things that God has said and then we get really practical. Because, I know some of you are thinking, "I've got this relationship and I've tried. I don't know what to do. Do I need to create boundaries?"

We're going to talk about all of those things. We're going to get really, really practical, which is why I want you to be here. And if, for some reason, you missed Memorial Day weekend and you're watching on the internet, allow yourself to let God speak to you about these issues because there's five of them I want us to just sort of process through over the next week so that we can allow our hearts and our spirits to become fertile ground for God to help us deal with this issue of conflict.

The first one – if you take notes, this is a great time to write stuff down. If you don't take notes, it's a great time to learn to be a note taker. Okay? So, here's what we're going to do here. The first one is – and this is just the truth of life – getting rid of conflict is impossible. You and I want to get rid of it. We'd love to get rid of it. It's not going anywhere. In fact, there was a pastor that did a marriage seminar with married people and it was all about dealing with conflict in marriage. And, at the end of the two-day seminar, he told everybody, "I'm going to pray over you guys and gals, but on your way out I've got you a little wooden cross and I want you to pick it up as a couple. We're giving you this wooden cross because we want you to take it home and we want you to put it in the room where you have the most conflict at. So, when you go in there and you start to have conflict, you'll remember the principles and things that we taught you. You'll also remember to lay things at the cross, check your ego and pride and all of that."

And everybody said "amen" and he prayed for them and he was sort of getting his stuff together. And he noticed there were like 100 couples lingering around. And he's trying to figure out what was going on. It didn't look like they were there just to talk. They looked like they were there needing something from him. So, finally, he said, "Can I help you guys?"

And they're like, "Yeah. Have you got some more crosses? Because we've got more rooms in the house than just one that we fight in."

Right? The reality is this is just true. Getting rid of conflict is impossible. In fact, lean in here and listen to this: God has created the body of Christ and has created the Church in a way that there's always going to be conflict. Do you know why? Because He didn't call us to uniformity. He called us to unity. To be in unity means that we've got to put away some of the peripheral things and focus on the main thing, which means we're always going to have those areas of conflict to try to figure out what's the most important thing in a church.

You're not going to get rid of conflict. Let God speak that deep inside of you. Because, some of you are like, "Ah, I don't want to hear about conflict. I want to run from it. I don't want to deal with this stuff. I want to push it away."

It's not going anywhere. In fact, Ken Sande, who is one of the foremost Christian mediators in conflict, this is what he says:

"The Bible teaches that we should see conflict neither as an inconvenience nor as an occasion to force our will on others, but rather as an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of God."

Can you imagine if every time we entered into an area of conflict we said, "Man, alright. Yes. This is a great opportunity for God to work in my life, in their life and transform some of them. This is a great opportunity for the power of God to be shown."

It totally would change the way we deal with conflict. Life lesson number one: You're not going to get rid of conflict. Secondly, conflict only becomes sinful when our responses are wrong. You know, I talk to so many Christians and they say, "Okay. Conflict's wrong."

No, no, no. Conflict's not wrong. Conflict is all over the Bible. It's not the conflict that ever gets dealt with, it's the way in which people respond to the conflict that the Bible writers talk about. It's the response to it. In fact, in the book of Ephesians when Paul is dealing with a church that's having some internal struggles, here's what he says to them:

"Be angry and don't sin."

In other words, when you do life together with Christians and you do church together or you do marriage together or you do friendships together, there's going to be times where people just get on your nerves. Right? That's not the time where you take your elbow and punch your spouse right now, okay? The divine elbow gets rebuked right now in the name of Jesus. Alright? Don't be doing that. But, the reality is we do. We get frustrated from time to time. We get frustrated at pastors. Tom. We get frustrated – but, we do. You know? The reality is that there's all of that stuff that goes on in our lives and Paul says, "Listen, you're going to get angry from time to time. You're going to get hot from time to time. But, what I don't want you to do is respond to it in a bad way."

Because, when you do and you let that germinate and you let that seed get planted, what you do is you give the devil an opportunity. And what happens is that seed starts to germinate and starts to grow and it starts to deteriorate relationships and it destroys you and me.

In fact, a few verses later, Paul says, "Don't grieve God's spirit."

How do you grieve God's spirit? You grieve God's spirit by having conflict amongst people and not dealing with it rightly. That's why He says, "Listen, you were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. So, let all bitterness, anger, wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you."

He's like, "Listen, you're going to have conflict, guys. But the way you're handling it is wrong. The way you're handling it is allowing the devil to plant some seeds in you that's going to destroy you and damage those relationships. Don't do it. Don't let all this stuff go on. Here's what I want you to do: Be kind and compassionate, forgiving one another just as God in Christ also forgave you."

It's not the conflict that's the issue, it's the way we respond to it. And when we respond with destructive words, gossiping, hurtful things, abusive stuff, anger and violence, that's when we've stepped into an area that gives the devil the ability to deteriorate those relationships and destroy you and me. It's not that the conflict is bad. It's the response that we have towards it. If we see conflict as an opportunity for God to put His power and Gospel in place and to bring the peace of God and transformation, it changes the way we deal with it. But, when we see conflict as something that we run from or something that we escalate, our response is not going to be good and it's going to create these areas in our lives that many of us are aware of where we just stay up at night, we're bothered, we're worried, we have all kinds of stuff.

Jesus says that conflict's going to happen. You can read it in Luke 16. He says, "Offenses are going to come. Conflict's coming your way."

So, you can't run from it. It's impossible to get away from. And your response will really change everything about conflict.

Thirdly, and thank God, Scripture provides help to us in dealing with this issue. It's Scriptures maybe we don't read very often or Scriptures that maybe we don't want to do. I know nobody wants to raise their hand, but I'll do this for you. I'll take on the sin of the congregation. There's plenty of times when I read the Bible and I go, "I just simply don't want to do that. I just don't want to do that."

And I have a conversation with God. Listen, if it were my world, this is the way it would go down. And God's not concerned with my world. He's like, "Dude. This is what it is, Bennett."

So, I know you all never do that. I'll just go ahead and confess that sometimes I read Scripture and go, "I don't want to do that. I don't want to act like that. I want to do this."

Okay? So, Scripture tells us, but we get to choose whether or not we want to follow Scripture. And one of the things we're going to find when we really look at Scripture is this: Dealing with broken issues is the business of the church. That's what we do. If you're new here today, let me tell you something. Grace Community Church is not a courtroom. You're not going to come through these doors and we're going to tell you what you did wrong and all this stuff and everything else.

Grace Community Church is a place where you can understand that God loves you with an everlasting love. He is the bloodhound of heaven. He jumps off the porch of the prodigal son's house and he runs towards you and me and puts His robe on us and His ring and His sandals. He loves you and me. This is not a courtroom. Grace Community Church will always be a place where we come in here and try to deal with issues so that we can look more and more like Jesus so that when we leave here we can make it tough for people to go to hell in Lakewood Ranch.

Fourth – and this is a big one. Write this down. Download this. Conflict is used by God for our growth, learning, transformation and salvation of others. Like, "Whoa. God could use conflict for salvation?"

Yeah. When the four young siblings realized that they were really not taking into account their brother's needs, they really realized that they weren't putting him first. They weren't doing the godly thing first. They found a way to keep him in the house and still get rid of the stuff and to create a trust for him so that he could live in the house and then everybody came together and all of it was great and everybody loved each other. But, the kicker is that the children in that family came to faith because they saw God active in their family members and their moms and dads in the way that they handled conflict.

Everybody grew from it. Everybody learned from it. Everybody transformed from it. And some people even came to faith.

Now, many of you all maybe have read 1 Corinthians. Some of you maybe in here go, "I didn't even know that was a book in the Bible."

That's okay. We meet everybody where we're at.

"Where's 1 Corinthians?"

Go to Matthew at turn right. You'll eventually run into it. It's 16 chapters, so it's pretty big. But, the reality is this: Most of us, if we've read 1 Corinthians, if we're honest – and I hope everybody's honest here – when you read chapters 8, 9 and 10, you're doing the head scratch when you read it because it's all about this meat that's been sacrificed to idols. And you're like, "What is that all about?"

It's not like when I go to Publix there's the Beelzebub Filet. The raw sirloin. The Zeus Porterhouse. You know? We don't deal with any of that stuff so it's like, "What? What is that about?"

Well, in first century Corinth, what happened was the meat shambles where they would go get their meat, all that meat had been offered to all kinds of different gods and all kinds of different temples. So, the Christians would come in and some would be like, "I'm super Christian. Me and God are cool. I can eat whatever I want to eat. It don't make a difference. I don't care if it's the Beelzebub Porterhouse. I'm going to chow down because God's God and they're not. Amen. Hallelujah. I've got the Spirit walking in me. I can do that."

Other Christians were like, "Man, I want to be holy and I really want to do the right thing. I'm not quite sure eating that stuff's good because it was sort of sacrificed to another God and I believe that I'm supposed to be holy. So, I'm not sure what to do."

Then there were others going, "Well, what do you do when you go over to your friend's house and your friend's not a Christian and he serves you up the Satan Sirloin? What do you do? Do you eat it? Do you not eat it? How do you handle that?"

So, there was a lot of conflict going on in Corinth about this particular issue. Here's what Paul says – and you may be taken back at what Paul says. It may blow your mind, what Paul says. Here's how he sums it up after he's talked about how you do this and how you do that and how you don't do this and how you don't offend and how you work. Here's what he says:

"So, whether you eat or drink, whatever you're doing or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Put God first. Not super Christian or 'I can eat it' or 'I can't.' No, no. Do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense. Don't create any conflict for Jews, Greeks or your brothers and sisters in the Lord. This is the way I want you to handle it. Just as I, also try to please everyone in everything. It doesn't always happen. It doesn't always happen. But, I try my best to make sure, in everything that I do, I'm looking out for the other person first. Not seeking my own benefit, but the benefit of man."

Listen: "So that they may be saved."

In other words, when the Church doesn't walk in all the things that God wants us to walk in, we become a bad witness out there in the world and the world look at the Church and goes, "There's no difference between them and us."

Paul says, "No, no, no. I'm going to live my life serving others."

Do you know why? Because, Paul knew he was in and Paul wanted to drag as many people as he could with him. And so many people will sit here and go, "Yeah. I don't want to do this because that means if I have to give too much somebody might take advantage of me or I might..."

Whatever, whatever. Listen to me. Do you know why Paul can live this way and do you know why you and I can live this way? Because Jesus has already won. We're winners. We've won. We can't lose. We've won. We're on the right side. So, since we've won, why don't we do whatever it takes to drag everybody else in to be a winner too? You know, the more I pray and the more I come in here, the more my heart starts pumping. I want Grace Community Church to be the church in Lakewood Ranch that makes it so difficult for anybody – I want it to be miserable for people to try to figure out a way to go to hell. I want to love people and be people of peace and people that serve and people of grace so that people can be saved.

If we look at conflict as an opportunity for me to grow and to learn and to transform and to see that in others and to see that in the Church and to see that in the world and to realize that the way we behave and the things that we do could in fact lead someone to ask the question, "Why are you doing it that way? Because, nobody does it that way."

Oh, that's not true. Jesus does it that way. Let me tell you about Jesus.

That's when it all matters, when God just uses you and me, just being faithful to the things that He’s asked us to do, to be that conduit to bring that person into the Kingdom of God.

Fifth: As Christians, we don't seek the absence of conflict – and so many Christians do. We seek the presence of shalom. There's a big difference. You know, we talk about shalom and people go, "Ah, that's a Jewish word, I think. What's it mean? Peace or prosperity? I think it's a little bit more than just peace."

And we're not quite sure what that word means. Well, the word "shalom" is built on three pillars. It's built on truth, mercy and justice. You can't walk in biblical shalom, which all of us want – I've never met any Christian that says, "Man, I don't want to walk in the fullness of God, man. I like to be half in. I don't really care if I sin a little bit here."

Most people are like, "Man, I really want more of God. Sometimes I don't know what I'm doing, but I want more of God. I really want God's abundant life."

Well, the shalom of God is built on three pillars and they're all relational with other people. Relational with God. The first one is truth. This is acknowledging the wrong we've played in the conflict and accepting responsibility for hurting the other person. Sometimes we've just got to own it. Like, I don't know about you all. Maybe your kids are not like mine. But, my kids will do something to another one of the other kids in the house and you'll see them do it and then you'll say, "Hey, why'd you do that? I didn't do that."

I'm like, "You did bite them. They have teeth marks on their arm."

And they're like, "No. That was somebody else."

"There's nobody else in the room but me and you and that's not my teeth."

They're like, "I didn't do that."

Sometimes we've just got to man up or woman up and say, "I'm guilty. I shouldn't have said what I said. I shouldn't have responded that way.  I shouldn't have talked about them that way. I contributed some to this mess. It takes two to tango. I'm going to acknowledge the wrong. I played in the conflict and I'm going to acknowledge the fact that I hurt somebody else."

In fact, John always talks about this in terms of saying the same thing. The word "confess; if we confess our sins," that means to say the same thing. Anybody ever done this one?

"God, I'm sorry about what I did last Thursday."

No, no.

God, I gossiped about so-and-so and this is what I did."

That's the way God wants us to pray our prayers.

"I think I sinned last week. I'm not quite sure."

No. You did. This is what you did. If we confess our sins, He's faithful and righteous to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That's called walking in the truth. That's called walking in the light. We're called to walk in truth. Not only that, but we're called to walk in mercy. Mercy is the need to accept the other person, let go of past hurts and allow for new beginnings. We'll never walk in the shalom with God if all we do is walk in truth but we're unwilling to accept other people, we're unwilling to let past hurts go, we're unwilling to start again new. We'll never have shalom because it's all about relationships.

Sometimes people go, "Well, that's hard because somebody's done me wrong."

Listen, I get it. It's not like I live in some different world than you all do or put on my pants differently than you all. I get it. Sometimes you just don't want to forgive somebody. Sometimes it hurts you really bad. This is a little trick I've learned, and we'll talk a little bit more about this over the next several weeks. But, this is a trick I've learned: When somebody's done you wrong and you're just really mad and you're frustrated, if you'll go find yourself a closet – I'm talking about a real closet. One that's dark. You know? You just shut that door, get in there and you have this moment.

You sit in there and say, "God, when I first came to faith, when You found me, this is what I was doing and this is the way I talked and these are the sins that I was doing. This is who I was doing wrong. These are the things I was doing wrong. God, You just cascaded Your love and mercy on me. Man, You just gave me a full dose of grace. You were like the bloodhound of heaven. You made me feel like I had value and dignity. Man, You shaped me up. You came down and You poured Your love out on me. God, I was so unworthy of it. Man, I was so bad off. But, God, thank You so much for reaching out to me. Thank You so much that when I was an enemy You came to me. Thank You so much for sending Jesus."

It's really hard to walk out of the closet and then not go be nice to somebody else after you've had one of those moments. You know what I'm talking about?

The last one – and we struggle with this one. This is one that's sort of foreign to all of us. This idea of justice. We sort of get the truth and mercy thing, but the justice thing, "I don't understand what that means."

When you read the righteousness of God in the New Testament, that is the Jewish theme of justice that runs through the whole Bible. The idea of the righteousness of God and the justice of God is Him putting everything back to the way it should be. It's bringing it back to right. It's bringing it back to getting it the way it should be, which means people have rights and dignities.

A lot of times, students will say to me, "In the Old Testament, it always talks about the people that are sinners and that the people of iniquity don't understand the rights of the poor. What does that mean?"

Well, what that means is in that time, people that had didn't want to have anything to do with the poor people because they didn't want to give up something that they had to help others. So, what they did is they called them poor. What happens is when we give somebody a label, like "tax collectors," "sinners," "poor," or whatever else, we can treat them less than human. The Bible says that the justice of God treats everybody with rights and respect. Everybody has dignity. Everybody is someone that God cares about. We recognize rights.

We establish healthy boundaries by restricting our relationships with justice. You know, I'll be honest here. I think the Church has done a miserable job over the last several hundred years to woman, to be honest with you. I think many times we've treated women horribly. I've heard preachers and people say to women who were in abusive relationships or violent relationships, "You just stand by your man and you pray to God."

No. You need to get out of that situation. God has not called you to get hit. That's the justice of God. We'll never have shalom if we don't have boundaries that we can set in our lives that allow for us to have good interaction. And sometimes it's even providing restitution. It's paying back things that you've done wrong to someone. In fact, we see it in the Proverbs this way:

"Justice executed is a joy to the righteous, but a terror to those who practice iniquity."

What does that mean? It means that when someone is not honoring God in the place that they should be and is not valuing people in the way that they should, when somebody comes along and talks about justice, it's a terror to them. Because, what happens is it messes up their life. They want to live their life a certain way and God says, "No, no. I want you to live it differently."

So, see, justice executed is a joy to those who really want to do the God thing and the people thing the way it should be. For us to live in shalom, we've got to live in truth, mercy and justice. So, that's what we want to do here. We want to get equipped over the next few weeks to deal with conflict and to live in the abundant life that God has for you and me and to see God use you and me in ways that we have never, ever, ever seen Him use us.

So, lean in here. I want to conclude with this: Two brothers had really nice farms side by side. But, they hated each other. I mean they hated each other. And the natural property division was a creek. I mean, they hated each other so much that they'd damn up part of the creek just so that the other one wouldn't be able to get water. You know? It was like a snake through their property. I mean, they just hated each other. One day, one of the brothers was out in the farm area and a guy pulled up in a station wagon. The guy got out of the station wagon and he walked up to this brother and he said, "Listen, man. I've fallen on some hard times. I really need a job. Is there anything you can let me do out here?"

He said, "Man, today is your lucky day. I can't stand my brother. I hate my brother. He lives on the other side of that creek. I want you to build me the biggest fence you can build me. I mean, make it a wall, man. Make it big. I don't want to see him. In fact, you can put it on this side of the creek even though I own half of the creek because I can't stand him. Build me a big ol' fence and separate us, because I hate him."

The guy said, "Okay. Well, I'm going to go to town. I'll be back later."

So, the guy goes to town. He's gone all day. He pulls in in his car, gets out and he's all excited because he knows he's going to walk up and see this beautiful fence. He walks out and, as he walks out, he didn't see a fence. There's this beautiful, I mean beautiful bridge, going over the creek. And he is absolutely irritated. I mean, he's so mad he can't see straight.

So, he walks up to just chew out this handyman and right about as he gets to the handyman, he looks and his brother is walking across the bridge. His brother says, "You're a bigger man than me, putting this bridge here. I've treated you bad, man, and it's time to bury the hatchet. Come here."

And he grabs him and he hugs him. Listen: You and me in the world that we live in today may be almost an unparalleled time. We have an incredible opportunity to be a church that builds a bridge to those so far away from God to come back into the house of God and to find Jesus as Lord and Savior; to make a difference in their life. We have an opportunity to be bridge builders to so many people in the hostile world that we live in. We're called to be peacemakers. Let's be that church. Let's be those people. Let's build bridges. Let it change our life, your life, our church's life, Lakewood Ranch's life and let's make it miserably difficult for anybody to go to hell because these beautiful bridges are going everywhere into town to bring people back to the house of God. Amen?

Let's pray.

Dear Heavenly Father, I come to You right now in the mighty and wonderful name of Your Son, Jesus. I have two things I want to pray for, God. The first thing I want to pray for is if anybody is in here today that is far away from God or anybody in here that's been living their life for themselves and they're at a place right now and some way, some how, they just feel in their heart they want to move forward with You. Lord, I pray right now at their seat they would reach out to You and realize the everlasting love and grace and mercy that You have for them. Lord, I pray that they would reach out to You and say, "God, I want more of You in my life."

And Lord, as they do that, I pray that when they leave today they would find somebody with a Grace shirt on or a name tag and say, "Hey, I'm praying that prayer. I want to move forward with God. I want God to make a difference in my life. I want that."

I want to pray for those people. Lord, I also pray for those of us that are on this journey of becoming more like Jesus. Lord, I pray that over this week You will really download in our hearts and spirit this idea of maybe embracing conflict in a different way, of learning to be peacemakers, of learning how to really do this thing right and follow Your Word in the way that You've asked us to do it. Prepare our hearts, Lord. Make it fertile ground to hear Your Word so that we can become the people that You've called us to be.

So, Lord, I pray that as we walk out of here today that You would watch over us and protect us, that You would lead and guide us, and I pray that You would bring us back safely to when we meet again. And Lord, help us to be the church that shines bright for You, for Your glory and for Your honor. We love You for it. In Jesus' name, and everybody said, "amen."

Give the Lord a big hand clap. Tell Him you love Him. 

John FlowerreeComment