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Conflict Is an Opportunity for Grace

David Mathis / May 19, 2015
Conflict Is an Opportunity for Grace

You know the feeling. The sour taste in your mouth. The heavy feeling in your heart. That unpleasant aura of conflict that everything in you wants to avoid.

It’s so much easier to talk about nice things, and comment on the weather and the playoffs, than to embrace the awkward moment and actually address the elephant in the room.

We’re quick to believe the lie that if we just avoid the conflict, or at least minimize it, then it will diminish over time and eventually go away. But wisdom speaks a different word. Sure, there are offenses we can forebear and personal frustrations we can get over, but interpersonal conflict doesn’t go away with inattention. It festers. It deepens. It curdles.

Conflict Is Inevitable

Relational conflict is not something that should surprise us as Christians. We need not be ashamed that it exists, and that we’re involved. We should expect it. The world is complicated and fallen, and we are complicated creatures, and fallen. Conflicts will come. They are unavoidable.

And yes, conflict is inevitable in the church as well. Christians often have conflict with each other — true, genuine, faithful Christians. The question is not whether conflicts will come, but how we will handle them.

In the healthiest churches, the leadership doesn’t announce, “There will be no conflicts here; that’s not how we do things.” Rather, the message will be that when conflicts do arise, we won’t run from them. We won’t neglect to address them head-on. We can’t afford not to.

Occasion for Grace

One reason that avoiding conflict is such a problem is precisely because it worsens with negligence. It doesn’t just go away.

But another reason is that it cuts us off from the most significant opportunities for grace. This is the way God does his deepest work in a world like ours. Not when things are peachy keen, not when all seems right with the world, not when times are easy. It’s the toughest times, the hardest conversations, the most painful relational tensions, when the light of his grace shines brightest, and transforms us most into his Son’s likeness.

The highpoints of the history of God’s people are accounts not of fleeing conflict, but moving toward it in hope, believing God will be at work in the tension, pain, and mess. Such is the story of the prophets —Moses with the stubborn people he refused to give up on; Elijah at Carmel squaring off against Baal; the embattled Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel brought into increasing conflict, seemingly at every oracle, with a hard-hearted people they were commissioned to serve.

And so it was with the apostles. When tensions emerged in the fledgling church between Hebrews and Greeks, they dealt with disunity quickly and did not let it fester. God had a gift to give these young believers in Acts 6 — seven newly appointed leaders to serve the people’s needs — and it came not through shying away from conflict, but through straightforwardly tackling their troubles. And when conflict arose again along the same fault lines, this time over circumcision, the apostle Paul didn’t avoid or neglect it, but traveled to Jerusalem to address it in person (Acts 15:2).

For Gospel Advance

Then, when Peter’s lapse in judgment at Antioch separated him from Gentile believers, “fearing the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12), again Paul moved toward the conflict, not away. “I opposed him to his face,” he said (Galatians 2:11), and with it, Peter and the gospel witness in Antioch were restored.

The life of Paul, we might say, became a series of one conflict after another — and each one a catalyst for the ongoing progress of grace. He wrote to the Philippians about “the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (Philippians 1:30) — a conflict, which he says, “really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).

And he recounted to the Thessalonians how not cowering from conflict was essential to the gospel coming to them. “Though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). His thirteen letters are a tribute to the fact that he wasn’t afraid to address emerging conflict and see what good God had in store for his people in it.

The Pattern of Christ

And of course, our most compelling emblem of not shying away from conflict, but turning to take it head-on, is the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2).

The trajectory of Jesus’s life was toward need, and inevitably toward conflict, not away. He set his face like flint to go to Jerusalem, to the great conflict at Calvary, to rescue us from our greatest conflict, eternal separation from God because of the rebellion of our sin against him.

And so being saved by him, we Christians, “little christs,” learn increasingly to follow in his steps, empowered by his Spirit, to move toward conflict, toward need, toward pain, toward tension, looking past the imposing awkwardness and difficulty that lies before us to the promise of joy on the other side.

The Lord’s Servant in Conflict

Which doesn’t mean we become bull-headed and pugnacious and develop a penchant for a good fight. Rather, our gospel-thickened skin frees us to lean in — with kindness, patience, and gentleness — to the caldrons of conflict that would otherwise send us running. We take on the heart and posture of “the Lord’s servant” who “must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24–25).

And as we consider that hard and scary conversation that needs to happen — to gently remove the speck from our brother’s eye, to address the elephant in the room — we acknowledge our weakness. In ourselves, we are unable to address this conflict with intentionality and kindness. But this we couple with a prayer for his strength. And we move forward in faith, knowing that if tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword cannot separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35), then neither can conflict. No matter how tense. No matter how intimidating.

For the Christian, conflict is not something to avoid or ignore. It is an opportunity for the triumph of grace.

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Walking Through Weight-Loss with Friends

Lindsey Carlson / May 19, 2015
Walking Through Weight-Loss with Friends

I have been overweight all of my adult life.

While not everyone’s additional pounds are directly linked to sin, I know many of mine are. Historically, I’ve gone through seasons of facing my sin directly, and other seasons where I’ve completely avoided dealing with it and allowed indulgence to rule the day. However, this past year, I’ve experienced a measure of victory both in my heart and, perhaps in smaller measure, on my bathroom scale.

From years of gains and losses, I know that a few lost pounds do not mean the battle is over. The good gift of weight-loss comes by God’s grace, but it also requires my own sweat and tears. Waging war on sin happens one day at a time, through weakness and temptation, prayer and confession, and through better eating and regular exercise.

Thankfully, God has given me precious friends to walk with me through weight-loss. Through their compassionate words, their encouragements to persevere, their hard and probing questions, and their condition-free love and acceptance of me whatever my weight, they have spurred me on towards Christ-likeness. These friends have been solace to my soul in a world that often views extra pounds as a scarlet letter — even inside the church.

As the church, we must strive to be a gentle refuge and a cheering squad for each other. If you’ve been put by God in the life of a brother or sister like me who is battling body weight, here are five ways you can walk with them through weight-loss:

1. See the whole picture.

Sometimes sinful, gluttonous choices result in extra weight. Sometimes, sin isn’t part of the picture. Our bodies are beautiful, and broken. Intricately created and beautifully functioning, they also bear witness to the curse. This means none of our bodies work exactly as they should, all the time. Aging, pregnancy, hormonal imbalances, and a host of other factors often lead both men and women to experience the undesirable result of weight gain.

Extra pounds aren’t always the result of ongoing or unrepentant sin. Don’t be afraid to ask a couple questions, but assume the best about a person until you know their weight is the result of sin in their life.

2. Be patient.

Allow us time.

Be patient for God to convict the sinner.
Be patient for the sinner to ask for help.
Be patient for the sinner to accept help.
Be patient for God to work inside their heart to conform their desires. Be patient for all the Spirit’s work on the inside to produce the visible results on the outside.

Long-term battles with sin and flesh take time and energy, and the fruit of obedience may bloom slowly. Unlike fast-acting fad diets, God most often changes people through the slow and steady process of sanctification. Not only must we be patient, but we must also encourage our struggling friends to be patient with themselves as they wait for God’s work.

3. Point us to the gospel.

To the overweight or obese believer, extra pounds can feel like a spiritual failure or divine punishment. But Christ already bore all of our punishment and God is no longer wrathful towards those who’ve placed their trust in him. Body fat cannot separate believers from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Our friends aren’t required to lose weight, fit a certain size, or hit a specific number on the scale in order to come to Christ and receive help in their time of need.

The gospel — not weight-loss — is the only answer to brokenness and the only hope for lasting change. We’ll relate well to our friends when we find fellowship in our shared need for Jesus, not in our success at the scale.

4. Encourage spiritual fitness.

Learning to discipline the flesh is challenging and tedious. More than burning calories, we all will benefit from an exercise regimen that disciplines the mind. The brain and heart are often our most out-of-shape muscles and must be conditioned to reflect the new life we are to put on as followers of Christ. We must hold our friends accountable to pumping iron in our personal pursuit of God, in our training in righteousness, so that we might be strengthened by all the truth of God’s word.

5. Celebrate the grace of perseverance.

Compliment more than changes in physical appearance. While noticing a friend’s slimming waistline can offer positive affirmation that his hard work is paying off, a good word aimed at the heart, assuring him of the ways you see God working, will be more meaningful and longer lasting. When we strive to cheer on the inner man, we encourage the one being conformed to Christ-likeness, and outward change will follow. Instead of simply celebrating lost pounds, celebrate God’s grace enabling the good works of perseverance and self control.

Weighing in the Light

The friends that have helped me the most through the years have been the ones who see my heart needs before seeing my weight problems. They’ve spoken truth in love, stuck around through my weakness, celebrated victories, and journeyed with me toward holiness in gracious and restorative ways. These friends have waited patiently for the Spirit’s work in my life without any measuring tapes or weekly weigh-ins.

If losing weight is in your future, find this kind of friend. If you’re hoping to restore or strengthen someone who battles weight problems, be this kind of friend. Energize one another through God’s word and the gospel. Strive together for holiness (Hebrews 12:14). In all your thoughts and “helpful” words, love. I urge you, church, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak and over-weight, and be patient (1 Thessalonians 5:14) as you walk with one another through weight-loss.

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God Will Supply Your Every Need

John Piper / May 19, 2015
God Will Supply Your Every Need

God exalts himself by serving us, not by having us serve him, and that sets him apart from all the gods. In this lab, John Piper shows why we should never think we have served God as though he needed anything. He ends by asking if we can serve God at all.

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