Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Turning Conflict into Dialogue

Moving from Conflict to Dialogue

In our study of conflicts in the Body of Christ, we have looked at several topics

How is the Body supposed to work? (I Corinthians 12:20-26)
The “principle of the little toe” – every member is valuable and key to the function of the entire body. It weakens the body when one member is fighting, but the body is just as weakened when one member is silent and doesn’t give input.

What causes conflicts in the body? (James 4:1,2)
One or more people set a personal agenda. These goals (with a little “g”) by definition always compete with the Goal (with a big G) of furthering the Kingdom of God. When people pursue little “g” goals, it inevitably starts fights and quarrels. Some want square wooden tables and some want round steel tables, so the fight begins.

How should we deal with conflict? (Ephesians 4:25-32)
Two keys are to get input from everyone (the principle of “little toe”) and to make sure that everyone stays focused on promoting the kingdom above all else (the principle of “the big ‘G’”).

Our next question is….
How do we move from conflict to dialogue? (Acts 15)

There are some practical things to do that can be shown by illustration in the Scripture, but aren’t really taught (that I can see). The first is that we need to challenge our own version of the events. When we are in conflict, we tend to select a version of the facts that does 4 things.

1) Makes me the victim – “That serpent gave it to me.” “That woman gave it to me.” There are many examples. In the book of Malachi at least 6 times, God says, “You have done XYZ” (it’s a different charge every time) and the people respond “How have we done XYZ?” We create a version of the facts that portray us as completely innocent victims. (This completely prevents any needed repentance.)

2) Makes someone else the villain – “That serpent gave it to me.” “That woman that you made, she gave it to me.” The children of Israel told Moses “You brought us out here to die of thirst. You should have just left us in Egypt where at least we had food and water.” (This completely prevents an open mind, an attitude of acceptance and a willingness to forgive.)

3) Makes me helpless – The children of Israel never said “Moses, we’re sorry for following you out here because now you’re going to feel responsible for our thirst. But we don’t want you to feel bad, it’s our own choice to follow you or not that put us here.” David actually blamed Uriah for his own murder. In so many words, David concluded, “I had to have him killed because he wouldn’t go sleep with his wife but insisted on sleeping on my doorstep. He gave me no other option.” (This rationalizes sin – “It wouldn’t do any good to tell her what I think, she wouldn’t listen anyway, I’ll just be quiet.” Which we noted a few weeks ago is theft.)

4) Need for a rescuer – This springs out of the other three. Since I am the victim, and you are the villain, and I am completely helpless, then clearly I need someone else to make this right. The northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah both repeatedly turned to treaties with Assyria, Egypt, each other, and whatever other power they could identify. God saw every one of those treaties as worshipping other gods. (Jeremiah 2) (This creates a wrongful dependence on something or someone that is not God. This also motivates a lot of gossip.)

On Sunday we’ll look at Acts 6 (and the conflict over the food distribution) and Acts 15 (and the conflict over the Jewish law) specifically asking how people did or did not create a version of the facts that accomplished those 4 keys and how we can challenge ourselves and each other when we begin selecting a version of the facts that fits this description.

Friday, May 04, 2007

How different perspectives become different goals.

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed any stake to personal property but they shared freely with anyone in need. The apostles testified to Jesus with great power and they all enjoyed abundant grace. No believers were needy because periodically somebody would sell a house or land and give the apostles the money from the sale. That money was distributed to anyone in need. One man named Joseph sold a field and gave the money to the Apostles (they called him Barnabas which means: son of encouragement).” Acts 4:32 and following (paraphrased)

In our national capitalistic ideal the communalism of this and similar passages often takes our attention. But please notice that communalism is not the key. The key is (in The Message Bible):

“The whole congregation of believers was united as one - one heart, one mind!”

It’s easy to have generosity at that point. It’s also the Biblical foundation to avoid conflict. Conflict is never avoided by one person running his own agenda regardless of what anyone else thinks. Conflict is never avoided by just being quiet and not speaking up. God is honored when we are truly one heart, one mind. He is not interested in peace obtained through dominance or deceit.

As we discussed last week, we lose the unity of one heart and one mind when we fail to stay focused on the one Goal (what we called the “Big G” goal)

“There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

So, the questions are, how and why do we shift from being united in one Goal (big G, furthering the kingdom of Christ) and allow differing perspectives to become different goals (little g’s).

On Sunday we’ll discuss together:

Ananias and Saphira in Acts chapter 5
The widow’s distribution in Acts chapter 6
The persecution in Acts chapter 8
The sorcerer named Simon in Acts chapter 8

In each of these we’ll ask “How and why, did people make the downward shift to pursuing lesser goals?”One hint to understanding how we make the (little g) goals into matters of inappropriate importance is found in the verses that precede Ephesians 4:4.

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:2,3)