Friday, September 26, 2014

Peace in Conflict, part 5

Selfish, earthly cravings are the things that spark conflict.  They are like fuel poured on a fire.  These cravings, and the attitudes that come from them, can do tremendous harm in our lives and the lives of others.  As we have seen, these cravings were part of our old life, and while they do not have the power they once had, they still exert far too much influence in our lives and relationships.  As Colossians 3 reminds us, these are things in our life we must put off.  But what is there to replace them?

As we continue our discussion about relational peace and the conflict we all experience in relationships at times, we come to Colossians 3:12.  It says: 
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience…  (ESV)
In this verse, Paul lists a number of things that, rather than throw fuel on the fire of conflict, actually work to suppress the conflict.  As we recognize that there are things belonging to our old life that we must put off, we also must recognize that there are characteristics that are part of our new life in Christ that God wants to cultivate in us.
Andy Farmer, in his book Real Peace: What we Long For and Where to Get It, does a wonderful job defining these characteristics for us.  Listen to what he has to say: 
“Compassion is the disposition of a heart toward mercy.  Mercy causes us to look for some way to extend grave to a person who might do something that could tempt us into conflict. Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit that will not respond to evil with evil, but will look to do good in whatever situation we encounter. Humility is a profound awareness of our own weakness and unworthiness before God that makes it difficult for us to exert our demands or personal sense of “rightness” on others. Meekness is a gentleness that is careful in all circumstances to not affect others in a negative way, or tempt them in their weaknesses. Patience is the capacity to absorb the wrongs of others against us without retaliation.” (Andy Farmer, Real Peace, pg. 135-6) 
Each of these things are characteristics of God.  They are gifts of grace.  They are reflections of the new self, the transforming work of God in us.  God desires to cultivate these characteristics in us.  He is remaking us into the image of his Son.  And He desires to see us overflow in the very things that suppress conflict, rather than the kind of things that enhance it.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Peace in Conflict, part 4

Continuing our discussion of peace, conflict and Colossians 3 from Andy Farmer’s wonderful book Real Peace: What we Long for and Where to Find It, we come to Colossians 3:10-11.  We have been challenged to seek the things above, the things as they ought to be, the things that come out of our reconciled relationship with Jesus Christ.  We have seen that there is much in our life which must be put to death and many ways those selfish, earthly cravings manifest themselves in our words, attitudes and actions. Each of those things contributes to peace-breaking rather than peace-making.  And now, in Colossians 3:10-11 we come to a transition in the chapter.  Colossians 3:10-11 read, starting mid-sentence:

…and have put on the new self with its practices, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.  Here there is not Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. (ESV)

In verses 5 and 9, Paul declared that we are to put to death and put off what belongs to the old life.  But life in Christ is not merely a matter of putting off so that there is some kind of strange vacuum in our lives.  The old self is dead, but Christ has given us a new self.  The old self must be put off, to be replaced by a transformed new self.

You see, believers have the grace and peace of God at work in our hearts.  The presence of God is at work against the earthly cravings of our hearts and against all the ways those cravings manifest themselves in our lives.  We are being transformed from the inside out.  As we grow and progress in our Christians lives, we should see less of those earthly cravings and more of Jesus.

And so, this is not about new behaviors or trying harder or making new habits.  This is not about watching our words a little more closely or refocusing our desires to be more honoring to God.  This is about submitting to the transforming power of God that is present in your life.  This means that a believer who struggles with anger, by the grace of God, can choose, in the power of God, not to angry.  God is transforming us.  He is changing us.  He is renewing our hearts into the image of our Creator.

As a result, as verse 11 reminds us, God has made a new people.  Our unity in Christ is so much greater than the things that divide us.  We hold so many more things in common than the things that separate us.  Paul lays bare many of the typical relational fault lines in the ancient world.  Jews and Greeks did not associate, but are now one in Christ.  The circumcised and uncircumcised were spiritual opposites, now brought together in Christ.  Barbarians, and even Scythian, the worst of the worst from the edges of civilization, slaves and free people – all are one in Christ.
We live in a different world than Paul’s, but we still have divisions.  We still gravitate to the people like us and it is easy to be in conflict with those who differ.  Conflict is so easy - me against you, us against them, whether we are Jews or Greeks, white or black, Calvinist or Arminian, public schoolers or homeschoolers, or any of the other things that divide us.  The point Paul is making is that God has created a new people in Christ, a people who are united by the most powerful, transformative Being in the universe, the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is what the gospel of Jesus Christ does – it creates a new community that would have never been formed without it.

So what does that say to those petty conflicts we have with those other believers who have slightly different views, those believers who do things in a different way, or have opposing political views than we do?  Remember Christ is all and in all.  Only in Christ is there true peace.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Peace in Conflict, part 3

As we continue our discussion about peace and conflict based on Andy Farmer’s book Real Peace:  What we Long for and Where to Find It, we come to Colossians 3:8-9.  We have seen that we need to seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated.  We have seen the importance of putting to death our earthly cravings, those things we pursue that fall far short of real peace. We recognize that peace is broken by our desires which war against our souls.

Our natural response to this kind of thing is this:  if our cravings are the problem, maybe we should just bottle them up and or keep them to ourselves.  The problem with this is that our commitments to do just that don’t last very long.  Our human ability to bottle these things up is extremely limited.  All too often, our earthly cravings escape as actions which cause conflict.

Colossians 3:8-9 says,
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices… (ESV)
If you thought long and hard, I don’t know that you could come up with a better All-Star team of peace breaking actions than the ones listed in Colossians 3:8-9.  Think about the conflicts you become involved in and how these 6 things inject themselves into almost every one of them. 

When we display anger, we are looking for a fight.  An angry person is easily frustrated and always ready to respond with harsh words or revengeful actions.  Related to anger is wrath.  Human wrath is a hurtful, explosive outburst meant to wound.  How many conflicts begin or are kicked into a high gear by these things?

Next on Paul’s list is malice.  To hold malice against someone else is to harbor the wrongs done to us.  Malice quickly morphs into hatred and bitterness, poisoning our souls toward that other person.  Malice has the ability to sustain a conflict.  That insensitive word at work or that selfish action by your spouse can become, if we are not careful, something we dwell on and use as a weapon, sometimes days or weeks or months later.

Slander also escalates conflict.  Perhaps born out of an angry or bitter heart, in slander we give our tongues free reign to say anything we want about the other person.  We don’t hold back and we discover the most juicy, cutting, or vicious things coming out of our mouths.  We don’t even care if they are true or not, as long as their hurt.  Partnering with slander is obscene talk, verbal attacks using offensive and violent language that is far away from anything peaceful.

Paul ends his list with lying, this tendency we have to cover our sins, to reject our responsibility and to avoid blame for our selfishness.  We lie because we fear the truth, or have placed our pride on the throne of our hearts or perhaps we are convinced that we are the victim.  There is no peace in lying, there is no wholeness or well-being or order in a heart that is set on speaking things that are not the truth.

Again, Paul reminds us that these things are part of our old life.  They should be things that are put away in our new lives.  Their power to control our lives has been crucified with Christ.  You no longer have to be enslaved by these things.  While we will never be free of these things completely this side of heaven, God seeks to apply his powerful, transformative power to these areas of our life.  He is able to increasingly replace our peace-breaking words and actions with words and actions that promote His peace in our lives and in the lives of those around us.