Articles

Conflict Resolution: Fathers

Please refer to Monday’s article for the broader context of this discussion.

Reference Text:  Romans 5:6-10

Continuing to use God as the ultimate example in conflict resolution, today we will consider our children.  Do any of you remember an advertising campaign that McDonald’s had for the Happy Meal a few years back?  It was something like “Happy Meals:  Stopping Temper Tantrums since 19__.”

The ad was effective because it was based on reality and I believe it reveals one of the most common parenting problems I face on a regular basis and one I see all around us.  It seems that “conflict avoidance” is one of the most used parenting strategies of our time…but at what cost?

God initiated the reconciliation

“While we were still helpless…while we were enemies”, God took action. God didn’t sit back and wait for us to show willingness to reconcile, He didn’t even wait for us to acknowledge we had a problem, He took the first step. One of the easiest ways to avoid conflict in the home is to simply let our kids get their way. Saying it like that sounds ridiculous but this idea takes many forms. We can lavish gifts upon them and provide a certain lifestyle and never require any work or responsibility from them. We can be “supportive” and enable them to follow their “dreams” even when those dreams take them farther away from God. We can make empty threats and never actually hold them accountable to their commitments or for their actions. In truth, this kind of parenting is simply forgoing small manageable conflicts now for what will most likely be large destructive conflicts in the future. What does God require from us as fathers?

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  (Ephesians 6:4)  As fathers, we have been called to bring up our children in “discipline” and “instruction”. Discipline is the idea of training, chastisement and correction. Instruction is the idea of admonishment and warning. Both of these ideas imply conflict. Our children will naturally go the way of selfishness and self-gratification and it is our job to correct attitudes and behaviors so that they become more Christ like, so that they become servants. This process always has the potential to produce conflict, especially as our children grow and begin to develop their own identity, their own faith, and their independence. In essence, God is telling us to introduce conflict into the lives of our children. The text in Ephesians also instructs us “do not provoke your children to anger” which implies that we are responsible for providing the path of reconciliation when conflict arises. How do we do that? There is a significant amount of guidance in scripture to assist us, but for the sake of time let’s consider one simple thought from the text in Ephesians. The passage says “the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

First, and primarily, this is done by our example. How can I hold my children to a standard that I am not willing to meet? How can I expect them to submit to the Lord’s authority if I won’t? If we have a great deal of conflict in our homes with our children (especially teenagers), we should always look to our own hypocrisy first. Resolving our conflict with God is often the first step in resolving conflict in our homes.

Second, let the Lord set the rules. I have had a number of occasions when one of my “rules” was a source of constant conflict and when I examined the Lord’s teaching I realized I was drawing lines He never drew. On other occasions I’ve seen conflict arise in my house from attitudes and behaviors that I had never addressed. In other words, I had ignored the Lord’s instruction and had not been holding my children accountable to His instruction. To resolve conflict, sometimes we will need to throw out some rules and sometimes we will have to establish some new ones. But in every circumstance we should be sitting with our children and reading God’s word to help them understand the source of all the discipline and instruction that takes place within the home. “Because I said so” needs to be replaced with “Because God said so”.

There is so much more we could discuss regarding this topic, so much we could learn from my plethora of mistakes as a father, but this article is already too long for this current format.  So let me close with this encouragement.  Read Hebrews 12:4-14 to get a broader picture of the purpose of discipline and especially as we approach the growth and maturity of our own children.  You’ll notice in this text that the purpose of discipline is healing and peace (vs 12-14). And the greatest peace we can provide for our children is found as they develop a relationship with our heavenly Father through Jesus Christ His Son. And peace with God will involve our willingness to introduce and manage conflict as we bring them up in His discipline and His instruction.

Conflict Resolution: Marriage

Please refer to Monday’s article for the broader context of this discussion.

Reference Text:  Romans 5:6-10

Using God as our ultimate example in conflict resolution, let’s consider our marriage relationships. The marriage relationship was intended to be the pinnacle of human relationships, even used as an analogy for Christ’s relationship with the church. In our marriages we should be able to be completely vulnerable, feel safe and secure, and experience true intimacy. However, marriage is often where we experience our greatest conflict in this life. We will explore one aspect of God’s example in resolving conflict and apply it to our marriage relationships. I don’t expect that any of this content will be new or overwhelmingly insightful. Instead, I hope to ask some tough questions and challenge each of us to act on the truths that we already know.

God sacrificed, to His own hurt, to resolve the conflict because He loved:

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” At great personal cost, God provided us the path of reconciliation. Jesus willing handed Himself over to be mocked and crucified so that we could be saved from the wrath we deserved.

Ephesians 5:25-31 uses Christ’s sacrifice for the church as the example and tells us that we should “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” and that husbands should “love their wives as their own bodies…nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.” When in conflict with Kristine, is that how I think? More often I have thoughts like this:

“She ALWAYS does this…”

“Why should I bother, she’s just going to_________”

“I’m not going to __________ until she ____________”

“If she does that ONE MORE TIME I’m going to _____________”

“Here we go again. It’s always the same thing.”

Here’s the challenging part of any conflict; who do I control I can raise my voice and puff out my chest and intimidate Kristine into fearful submission but is the conflict actually resolved? I can pout and sulk and play the silent game and guilt Kristine into action but is the conflict actually resolved? I can cower and avoid confrontation and give the false impression that everything is alright as bitterness takes root but is the conflict actually resolved? The only person I can control in any situation is me. I can defend myself, justify myself, exert my “rights”, get puffed up in self-righteousness and continue to drive a wedge in the relationship. Or I can choose to love her as Christ has loved me. I can sacrifice to my own hurt, doing what is best for her, in an effort to resolve the conflict.

Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” As far as it depends on me? How far am I willing to go to resolve conflict and be at peace with my wife? Will I allow myself to be mocked? To be ridiculed? To be nailed to a cross? Jesus did.

Conflict Resolution: God’s Example

This week we are going to focus on conflict resolution in our various relationships.  Have you ever noticed the bible is full of conflict?  The disciples of Jesus seemed to argue a lot, Jesus Himself was in constant friction with the religious leadership, and you might even call Paul the Apostle of conflict. He had to oppose Peter to his face, he had a sharp disagreement with Barnabas over John Mark, and he seemed to have to defend his apostleship constantly. We don’t have time to review all the examples throughout the Old Testament. Elijah and Ahab/Jezebel, Sarai and Hagar, Saul and David, Moses and Miriam/Aaron, just to name a few. The book of Job is mostly one big argument between Job and his friends.

Is it any different today? Do you have a single relationship in your life that hasn’t experienced conflict? Conflict goes all the way back to the beginning of man’s existence when Adam and Eve ate of the tree and created conflict with God. Today it is this essential conflict, between God and man, we are going to explore in order to learn how to resolve conflict in all of our relationships.

The most significant relationship we have in this life is with our God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Every single one of us has experienced conflict in this relationship because of sin. Look at Romans 5 and consider what God did to resolve this conflict.

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath through Him.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”  Romans 5:6-10   

God initiated the reconciliation:  “While we were still helpless…while we were enemies”, God took action. He didn’t wait for our willingness or even our acknowledgement of the problem.

Reconciliation did not depend on our “worthiness:  Notice the words used to describe us in this text…”helpless”, “ungodly”, “sinners”, and “enemies”. They don’t really scream of our worthiness do they? Did we deserve His efforts towards resolution?

God sacrificed, to His own hurt, to resolve the conflict because He loved us:  “God demonstrated His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Not only did God take the first step towards reconciliation for a bunch of unworthy enemies but He did it at great personal cost because He loved us. Not a warm fuzzy feeling but vulnerable, sacrificial, painful love. Conflict resolution starts with love.

God offers reconciliation but doesn’t force anyone to accept it:  The vast majority of people will reject the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Do you think God knew that when He initiated the plan for our redemption? Do you think Jesus knew that when He hung up there on the cross? Yet God still acted. God still reached out to resolve the conflict.

In sending and sacrificing Jesus, God provides us the motivation and the pattern to resolve conflict within all our relationships. We must have the trust and the courage to follow His example. But there is one last thing to consider. Think on past conflicts or current conflicts. How often is the conflict 100% one person’s fault? Usually both parties share some of the blame and even when someone else might start the conflict, my improper reaction will often escalate the situation. Now what about our conflict with God? Our choice to sin is what caused the conflict and it was 100% our fault and yet…God still reached out and provided us with a path towards reconciliation. What excuse are we left with?

________

Note from Aaron: We will pick back up on the Monday Beatitude series next Monday (May 16), Lord willing.

Distracted with Much Serving, Part 2

Today we are continuing from yesterday’s article to look into how Martha was “distracted with much serving” and how Jesus brought her back to (#1) reality and (#2) perspective (see Luke 10:38-42).

“She approached Him and said, Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” When we become “worried and troubled over many things,” we can fall into the same trap as Martha did. Martha became the standard of judgment for Mary, and she even assumed that Jesus would agree with her assessment of the situation.  She could not figure out why Jesus would not order Mary to get in the kitchen. Like Martha, we can begin to view our gifts and level of involvement as the standard of judgment for others.

For example:

  • You go visit someone in the hospital or shovel snow for a shut-in and wonder why every Christian cannot find the time to do what you are doing. I mean, how hard is it to get in the car and go visit with dear sister Smith?
  • You are cleaning the church building and wonder why every person is not as diligent and dedicated as you are. You wouldn’t have such a hard time cleaning if the family the week before would have “done their job.”
  • You stay up extra late or get up extra early to make sure that your Bible class lesson is completed and come to Bible study and see so many adults with nothing done at all. Some have blank pages and blank expressions, some even forgot their books. Why can’t they just spend more time preparing at home?
  • You say to yourself, “Good grief! There comes the Jones family again. Late as usual to service. Running in at the last minute. I mean, come on, Sunday morning comes the same time every week. Why can’t they get it together and set the alarm clock a half hour earlier?”

When we get troubled and worried over many things, our joy of serving and the blessing of using our gifts for Jesus get replaced with bitterness and resentment.  We start grumbling about the work, and complaining (even to God) about others.  It then just becomes a job, a grind, and we really don’t like doing it anymore.

Jesus knows our tendency to get distracted while doing good works, and He is acutely aware of how easily we lose our focus and begin to grumble against God and others.  That is why so many Scriptures are devoted to this very thing.

  • Do not grumble against one another (James 5:9).
  • Be hospitable…without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9).
  • Do all things without complaining… (Philippians 2:14).
  • And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart (Galatians 4:9).

So then, what is a person to do when he or she falls into this trap?  What further words of encouragement did Jesus have for Martha?

“But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”  Mary took time to focus on the one thing that mattered, so therefore it meant that some very important things had to be set aside for the moment. Jesus was not condemning Martha in any way for being a servant, He was encouraging her to see Mary in a positive light.  He was giving Martha permission to set her apron aside for a moment and to focus on the one thing that truly mattered – His words of life and salvation.

If people had to eat a little later, it was fine. If the guests did not have everything they wanted for supper, it would not be the end of the world.  Jesus seemed to have little concern here if the house was immaculate and spotless. Who was in that house that day and what was said mattered more than who was working and what was being served. All too often we get caught up in the jobs and the ministry and forget the people and the perspective.

Mary was Mary and Martha was Martha.  Jesus did not expect Martha to be Mary, but Jesus expected Martha to use her talents in His service while keeping focused on the one thing that mattered.

I hope this helps, men. For me, I put my name in that verse and hear Jesus saying, “Aaron, Aaron you are worried and troubled over many things, but one thing is needed…” Put your name in the verse, and think about it.

Distracted with Much Serving, Part 1

Today and tomorrow, Lord willing, we will focus on the passage from Luke 10:38-42 about Martha and Mary, especially that Martha was “distracted with much serving.” The illustration above was done by my daughter, Lindsay. Great work, Linz!

“Hey, Jesus! Don’t you see I’m busy working my fingers to the bone here in the kitchen all by myself? Don’t you care that I’m feverishly trying to take care of all these guests? Mary is not helping me; I mean…she isn’t doing anything. She is just sitting there on the floor listening to you. Why can’t you tell her to get her tail here in the kitchen to help me? You see, Jesus, my “ministry” is service and hospitality, and I’m trying my best to make sure that everything is just right so that everyone’s needs are met. But Jesus, I can’t do this all alone. There are meals to prepare, breads to bake, tables to set, drinks to fill, and dishes to do. Tell her to get in here and do something!”

The above words are merely my paraphrase, so please read Luke 10:38-42 to see how the Holy Spirit through Luke records the actual conversation between Martha and Jesus.

“Martha welcomed Him into her house.”  Martha was hospitable, that was her gift and her passion, and that is a good thing. In fact, God expects every single believer (including men) to be hospitable and to serve others. As God’s people we are all to use our homes and resources to share with others, especially with the less fortunate (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2,16).

Martha was a servant, a doer, and it seems that she had a very practical, no-nonsense personality about her. These are great character and personality traits and are very useful in the kingdom of God. She wanted to make sure that everyone was comfortable and well fed.  This is not the only time we find Martha serving guests and using her gifts of hospitality (see John 12:2). We are very thankful for the Martha’s in our lives. They get the job done, don’t they?

So what’s the problem? Isn’t Martha doing what she was supposed to be doing?  Is that not what Jesus had been preaching about all along?  Even Jesus said to be greatest in His kingdom, you had to be the servant of all.  At one point He asked His disciples, “For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves” (Luke 22:27).  Martha had that very heart, the heart of a servant, so Jesus was by no means correcting her for trying to serve others and to take care of others’ needs.

“Martha was distracted with much serving.”  What did Luke say?  What was distracting Martha? Much serving. You see men, Martha was not being pulled away by evil pursuits; she was just trying to be a servant to others. She was so involved in serving that she lost perspective on the reason for the gathering.  The dinner became the focus instead of the feast Jesus was offering. This is a vital point in the text here. She was not getting distracted with indulgence in sinful pleasure; she was getting sidetracked while using her gifts and talents that God had given her. The Scripture records that these things had become a “distraction” for her.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things.”  Martha, Martha.  Remember that Jesus loved Martha just as much as He loved Mary and Lazarus (John 11:5). Martha wanted more than anything to please her Lord, and it is clear from other passages in Scripture that she had a strong faith in God and a clear understanding of who Jesus was and what He was teaching (Please see John 11:20-27).

Martha was a dedicated servant to Jesus, but she lost her focus. Jesus, in His tenderness and patience, called Martha back to (#1) reality and (#2) perspective.

Here is the reality – Martha was worried and troubled over a lot of stuff. She was worried about the guests. She was troubled over all the preparations.  Sadly, she got all worked up over what she considered to be Mary’s lack of involvement.  And here’s the kicker – she was really bothered by her assumption that Jesus did not even seem to care that Mary had left her alone to serve all these guests!

Here is the perspective – Mary had chosen the good part.  Mary was not lazy.  Mary was not un-hospitable.  Mary was not less interested in taking care of others.  She, as Jesus said, had chosen to focus on the most important and pressing thing at the time, and that was to listen to what Jesus was saying. Both Mary and Martha “approached” Jesus, but for very different reasons.  Mary sat at His feet to listen to what He had to say, but Martha wanted to tell Jesus what to do.

More on this tomorrow, men. Meditate upon this. May we as men in the world today think about what Jesus taught Martha.

Lessons from the Passenger Seat

Did you know that the human brain does not fully develop until a person is around 25 years old? Why then do we in the U.S. allow people to drive, shoot guns, vote and get married before then? Just a thought. Really, I’m kidding.

My second child, who is no longer a child, is now a licensed driver. Jessica passed her road test last week, and in fact, she did a fantastic job. It’s pretty cool, sad and scary all at the same time to see your kids grow up and become their own person and develop independence.

Today, I wanted to write a bit about the parenting lessons I’ve learned from the passenger seat, and I hope it will be helpful for you. I’m pretty sure that more lessons are to come…I still have four out of six kids to teach how to drive. I’ll either be grey-headed, bald or paralyzed before it’s all done.

They have been sitting in the car with you for 15-16 years. Yes, dad, they will drive like you drive, because they’ve been watching you do it for a decade and a half. If you drive like a maniac, guess what? If you yell at and insult other drivers on the road, they do the same. If you are constantly distracted, then that was their pattern for how to drive. Dad, if you ignore the rules, they will ignore them too. If you are a father with small kids, think about this now, for their sake. One day that kid in the car seat will be behind the wheel of a ton of metal moving along at 70 miles an hour. Set the example. They are watching. It is a life lesson that I have learned as a father – my kids, for some strange reason, act just like me!

You have to relinquish control. If you have been with a beginning driver, have you found yourself looking for that brake pedal on the right side of the car? I have about put that foot through the floor many a time with my son and daughter. That brake pedal just is not there, at least in the U.S.

It is a great lesson for me…giving up control is hard to do! In order for my son or daughter to learn how to drive, I have to sit in passenger seat. They have the wheel. Their foot is on the accelerator. My hands are not on the wheel. Again, I believe this is a great life lesson that I have been learning as a father. We are teaching them to become mature adults who will make wise decisions and lead their own life under God’s direction. That means, however, that we have to take our hands off the wheel. Their foot is on the brake pedal, not ours. They will have to learn and do for themselves. I cannot make every decision for them.

When your son or daughter drives away from home all alone for the first couple of times, it is a sinking feeling. It is, at least for me. But it gets better. As I’m watching them make good decisions, and grow from their bad ones, it is encouraging to see God working in and through their lives.

Last thing for today…it is really sweet when you can send a kid to the grocery store, and you don’t have to go! There are some really positive things that come from your kids growing up and taking on their own responsibilities. I can now say, “Hey, Joseph, please go to the store and get…” Sweet! My oldest son Joseph took two of his younger siblings yesterday to get ice cream and they had a blast together. There are some really cool rewards that come from teaching them to drive.

Ways to Honor Mom

Mother’s Day is coming on Sunday, so I thought it would be good to talk about some ways to honor moms, not just on Mother’s Day, but every day.

Honor her with respect.

Be nice to mom, whether you are sixteen years old or sixty years old. Men, give your mom a hug once in a while and tell her you love her. If geographical distance separates you, call her often on the phone. I know that my mom just loves to hear my voice. I don’t always call to talk about “important” stuff; I just call to talk to her. Respect her by fully listening to her when she is talking. Be engaged…turn off the TV or smart phone and give her some attention!

Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old (Proverbs 23:22).

Respect her by telling her often how valuable she is to you. A lot of guys just don’t do this well, but as men of God, we need to rise up and honor our moms with our words. We need to verbalize that honor and respect. Now I know that there are men who had a horrible childhood and a mom that did not love them, but I do know in those situations that there was often another godly woman in their lives that acted like a mom to them. Show honor to those “moms in the faith” as well.

Her children rise up and bless her; her husband also, and he praises her, saying: “Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all” (Proverbs 31:28-29).

Honor her by following God’s word and living right.

If your mother taught you about Jesus and about following God, what is the greatest way to honor her? By continuing on that pathway and living for Jesus.

For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well (2 Timothy 1:5).

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3).

Hear, my son, your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching (Proverbs 1:8).

My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother (Proverbs 6:20).

Let your father and your mother be glad, and let her rejoice who gave birth to you (Proverbs 23:25).

“I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in truth” (3 John 4).

The words of King Lemuel, the oracle which his mother taught him… (Proverbs 31:1).

I really like the above verse in Proverbs 31. These words of a King came from his mother, and he honored his mother not only by living those words, but by reminding everyone the source of those words! It’s okay to tell your mom she is right once in a while! 🙂

Honor her by taking care of her when she is older.

“Honor your father and your mother” (Mark 7:10). The context here is when Jesus was talking to the hypocritical Pharisees about not taking care of their parents financially. The apostle Paul addresses this as well in 1 Timothy 5, by saying that children are to take care of their parents and grandparents when they are old, especially the widows. To honor her is to provide for her.

Consider the example of Ruth and Naomi, and how Boaz commended Ruth for all that she had “done” for mother-in-law (Ruth 2:11). There are times when our elderly moms could use some physical help around the house, and as sons and grandsons, we could bring the family over and get to work helping on those projects. Our wives can use help around the house, too! As husbands and fathers, we can be the initiators to get the kids working on chores to help take the burden off of mom.

Give your wife time to get away and to do something fun. Make sure you don’t make her feel bad about it, either! For a lot of guys it is easier to get away from the house and do the things we want to do, but what about our wives? Taking care of the kids, being asked a million questions non-stop on a daily basis, cleaning house and all of the other responsibilities are taxing! Make sure they have the ability to do this regularly to be refreshed and rejuvenated. Encourage them in it.

Thanks, moms! We love you!

Beatitudes, Part 3

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

We are continuing our Monday series on the “Beatitudes” that Jesus delivered in His Sermon on the Mount. Today we are going to meditate on mourning. Blessed are those who are crying. Happy are the sad?

Is Jesus talking about everyone who cries? Are all tears promised comfort by God? I do not believe Biblically we can say that all people who are ever sad are promised to be consoled (Proverbs 1:24-33). Remember the context of these Beatitudes – Jesus is talking about the character and mindset of people who will be citizens in His kingdom.

One type of mourning that I know has a promise of comfort by God is when we mourn over our sins and lament our desperate condition spiritually before God. This is called “godly sorrow” by the apostle Paul and it leads to repentance without regret. This sorrow leads to eternal life, in contrast to the worldly sorrow that produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Just a quick word here about worldly sorrow. You are sorry that you got caught. You are sorry that you lost something here on this earth because you got caught (reputation, possessions, illicit relationships, etc.). I am sorry I got a speeding ticket, but I’m not really going to stop speeding…I’ll just keep a better eye out for the cops this time. That kind of sorrow leads to death, and it does not have any promises of comfort in the end.

Take a look at James 4. Here we see the Beatitudes of Jesus from James’ perspective.

Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:7-10)

What did James just say? “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” This, I believe, captures what Jesus is really talking about in the Beatitudes. This is the sorrow that truly leads to comfort by Jesus. It is the sorrow of David in Psalm 51 after he sinned with Bathsheba, and it is the godly sorrow of 2 Corinthians 7:10.

Specifically we are mourning over our sins. It pains us to know we have hurt God and broken His laws. The realization haunts us that those sins were laid on Jesus at the cross as He was slaughtered as our Passover Lamb. We lament and cry over our spiritual situation. As we look into the mirror of God’s word, we see that we are lost, broken, and helpless. We need a Savior.

Consider this parable by Jesus which I believe fits very well with this discussion.

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

The man who went to his house justified was the man who mourned. He beat his breast. Because he knew his position before God, he could not even look up into heaven. He needed mercy and salvation. According to Jesus, he got it. Comfort was promised because he truly mourned.

Watch this video. This garbage worker found an old piano that someone regarded as trash and began to play beautiful music with it. I believe that is exactly what Jesus does with us. He takes us when we are at our lowest, and through His grace He plays beautiful music as He restores us and revives us.

Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. (Psalm 51:8)

Relationship C.S.I.

I like shows like C.S.I., Law & Order and N.C.I.S. Its about finding out who did it and why. Crime Scene Investigation. They come to the scene of the crime and dig into all the details: the blood, the fingerprints, DNA, etc. In the end the criminal is behind bars.

In the book of James, at the end of chapter 3 and going into chapter 4 is what I call often “Relationship C.S.I.” Why do we fight? Why are there quarrels among us? What is the source? What is the evidence at the scene of the crime?

I wrote about this previously in “Uncovering the Underlying Causes” but I thought it would be helpful to approach it again.

James is pretty straightforward on this one.

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? (James 4:1)

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. (James 3:14-16)

What is the source? When we have quarrels and conflicts among brethren at church or in any relationship, what is the reason? Well, it would not take an hour-long episode to figure it out, in fact we wouldn’t even fill enough space to get to the first commercial!

The culprit is the lust what wages war in our members. I want what I want and you want what you want and we can’t see past our own desires in order to have peace among us. Plain and simple. The fingerprints of selfishness are all over the crime scene. The DNA of jealousy and selfish ambition are on every surface.

When there is disorder in a church; when their are quarrels among us; when we just can’t get along, we need to do some real quick Relationship C.S.I. from the book of James and assess the situation honestly. There is jealousy and selfish ambition, and wherever and whenever those two thugs raise their ugly heads, we have disorder and every evil thing.

It isn’t any more complicated than that.

So, men, do you want to be considered “wise”? Do you want to be known as a peacemaker? James also addresses this. Let’s look at the positive side of Relationship C.S.I. There are two kinds of wisdom in James 3, one from above and one that is demonic. We’ve already looked at the demonic side of this; it is ugly and always causes fights.

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. (James 3:13)

When we see someone acting wisely; when we see a person who is known for diffusing tense situations, what is the source of that? James says this person’s deeds are done in the gentleness of wisdom. Read further in James…

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:14-18)

Take some time today to meditate on the DNA and fingerprints of the wisdom that is from above. Pure. Peaceable. Gentle. Reasonable (willing to yield). Full of mercy. Full of good fruits. Unwavering. Without hypocrisy.

Be the man who sows peace. Be the man whose heart is not full of jealousy and selfish ambition. Be the man who leads others to peaceful resolutions.

Warning: Graphic Biblical Punishment

“So after all this the Lord smote him in his bowels with an incurable sickness. Now it came about in the course of time, at the end of two years, that his bowels came out because of his sickness and he died in great pain. And his people made no fire for him like the fire for his fathers. He was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years; and he departed with no one’s regret, and they buried him in the city of David, but not in the tombs of the kings.” II Chronicles 21:18-20

I read the passage above and I just cringe at the thought of what King Jehoram went through. When Elijah is pronouncing God’s judgment he says in verse 15 “you will suffer severe sickness, a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the sickness, day by day.” So day by day for two years Jehoram suffered until he died in “great pain.” In my opinion, this might be the worst recorded death in the bible. But notice that the passage said “So after all this”. The Lord started by invading Judah and carrying away all the king’s possessions together with his sons and his wives, leaving only his youngest son. The youngest son was only spared for the sake of David.

But even after all this, I think the saddest part of the story might be the people’s reaction. They built no fire for him, they did not bury him in the tombs of the kings and “he departed with no one’s regret”. “No one’s” would even imply his own son showed no regret.

What could this man have done to deserve such a fate? How could a king of Judah fall so low that his own people wanted nothing to do with his funeral? You can read the details earlier in the chapter but in verses 12 and 13 we are told that he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and caused Judah to play the harlot like the house of Ahab did and he killed his own brothers to secure his kingdom. He killed his brothers “who were better than you”. Verse 6 highlights that he walked in the way of Ahab “for Ahab’s daughter was his wife.”

The easy response for me would be to say “well I’d never do those things” or “what a terrible person…glad I’m not like him”, but I think there is something I can learn.

1. Walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, just like Ahab – Who influences me? What company do I keep? Do my friends and close associates draw me closer to God or pull me farther away? Young man, that special lady you’re dating, does she encourage a life of faith or of idolatry?
2. Caused Israel to play the harlot – What is the result of my influence on others? Are people encouraged when they are around me? Do I stimulate love and obedience to God in the lives of others? Or do I teach people how to chase false gods like wealth and entertainment and pleasure? Does my example show discontent and complaining?
3. He killed his brothers to secure his kingdom – “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (I John 3:15-17). I can honestly say that I’ve never, ever considered murdering anyone. But I have closed my heart to a brother. I have ignored the needs of my brother when I could have helped. I’ve chosen to keep a safe distance so I wouldn’t be aware of their pain and their struggle so that my comfortable, tidy life wouldn’t be disrupted.

I can read passages such as this one in II Chronicles 21 and walk away feeling superior or I can take it as a warning, evaluate my life, and strive to me more like Jesus.