Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Relationships a Mess Worth Making: Obstacles

When I think of an obstacle I think of an immovable object. I don't know why, I just imagine an impenetrable wall. When I searched Google for the definition I found several definitions all of them were similar but this one seemed well suited to our discussion.

"An obstacle (also called a barrier, impediment or stumbling block) is an object, thing, action or situation that causes an obstruction." 

This chapter is aptly titled "Obstacles" and in it we discuss conflict with others.

Ahhhh, Conflict, would that the world were free of this thing called conflict. Again, my trusty friend Google: "To come into collision, or disagreement; to be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash." When I hear the word "conflict" it brings to my mind images of gladiator's crashing into one another, not people having a conversation where they disagree, but doesn't it feel that way sometimes when you'e having a disagreement? Your words literally clash with the other person and soon it seems that you are embattled.

C.S.Lewis in his book 'Mere Christianity' said, "On the one hand we must never imagine that our own unaided efforts can be relied on to carry us even through the next twenty-four hours as "decent" people. If He does not support us, not one of us is safe from some gross sin. On the other hand, no possible degree of holiness or heroism which has ever been recorded on the greatest saints is beyond what He is determined to produce in every one of us in the end. The job will not be completed in this life: but He means to get us as far as possible before death."

Let that sink in for just a moment. On our own, unaided by God we would be guilty of who knows what sin...just let your mind wander to what you thought of and the Holy Spirit controlled in you just this morning. Now consider the greatest Christian you have ever read about or heard of. C. S. Lewis is saying that God is determined to produce THAT same character in EACH of us and that He will not cease working on and in us until we leave this place and stand before Him.

How awesome is that??

The authors tell us that conflict with others is one of God's mysterious, counterintuitive ways of rescuing us from ourselves. Rarely do we view trials as a positive thing until after they are over. My sister, Theresa used to tell me hindsight is ALWAYS 20/20.

The authors describe a conflict between two friends, see if you recognize yourself in the situation:

Ashley and Hannah had worked side by side for years in a campus ministry. They loved what they did and they loved doing it together. One of the women though had been slowly seeking to undermine the other woman's relationship with the students. Hannah wanted to be seen as the one who was more capable and in charge. To be blunt, she wanted the students to like and admire her more than they liked and admired Ashley. Now, Ashley felt as though things had gotten out of control, so she set an appointment to meet with Hannah. However, when Ashley began the meeting she immediately accused Hannah of talking negatively about her behind her back to students. "I can't believe you would talk that way about me behind my back! I have never done anything to you and I  never would." Ashley's hurt feelings had boiled over into anger and accusation. Hannah denied everything. "I can't believe you would accuse me of saying those things to other people. I thought or friendship was stronger than that. How come you have held on to this for five years? Why didn't you come to me sooner?"

At first blush knowing that Hannah wanted to be seen as more capable and in charge you may be leaning toward Ashley's "side" in this matter, but the reality of what happened is far more complex. Proverbs 18:17 tells us, "He who states his case first seems right, until his rival comes and cross-examines him." Hannah DID make a comment to someone who did not care for Ashley, but it was not meant to be malicious. It was a comment made in exasperation at how "task-orientated" Ashley could be and how at times was difficult to live with her. This remark, as with all gossip was repeated over and over again and took on a life of its own until it reached Ashley, and you can bet it resembled nothing of the original comment. Ashley WAS task oriented. Why do you think that was? When a person wants to control every aspect of everything around them it is a sin.

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a similar situation? Do you run away or do you confront it head on? If you DO confront it head on HOW do you confront it? Do you march in there like gangbusters and start hollering and accusing the person of debasing your character?

That doesn't sound right, does it?

See, here's the deal. We are ALL sinners. Remember that little nugget I shared with you from Elisabeth Elliott? She told her daughter who was preparing for marriage to remember that she was marrying a sinner because that is all there is to marry. You start with the understanding that we are all sinners, no one is perfect, least of all you (most of all me) and go from there. Then you have to decide how you want to proceed. If you choose to avoid all sinners, as the authors say, you will avoid conflict, but that safety has liabilities of its own. I suspect it has a great deal to do with the fact that you still dwell with yourself, who is in fact the biggest sinner of all, but I digress...If you choose to face sinners head on, the authors tell us it is full of is own great risks and the potential for great hurt, but it is redemptive. Either way you will not remain untouched by your decision.

James asks us in James 4:1-3 "What leads to strife (discord and feuds) and how do conflicts (quarrels and fightings) originate among you? Do they not arise from your sensual desires that are ever warring in your bodily members? You are jealous and covet (what others have) and your desires go unfulfilled; (so) you become murderers. (To hate is to murder as far as your hearts are concerned.) You burn with envy and anger and are not able to obtain (the gratification, the contentment, the happiness that you seek), so you fight and war. You do not have because you do not ask. (Or) you do ask (God) for them and yet fail to receive, because you ask with wrong purpose and evil selfish motives. Your intention is (when you get what you desire) to spend it in sensual pleasures."

The authors say that conflict is a good problem to have, It is one the Bible addresses very directly, all you need is a heart ready and willing to hear the answer, is yours ready?

The questions:


If you have children and you come upon them fighting and you ask them why they are fighting what is their response? "I am fighting with my sister because I am jealous and I am covetous of what she has. My desires are unfulfilled and I am burning with envy and anger towards her and so we have begun fighting."

Oh....that wasn't how it happened?

Doesn't it usually go something like this "SHE_____" and She made me ______" right?

Don't we feel justified because the other person is annoying and frustrating and maybe even a little more sinful than we are? James says that's no excuse for our own sin, in fact he says the reason we sin is because WE have a little some somethin', somethin', going on in US. James says there is some desire in us, and the authors say the word James uses for desire there in the Scripture would be best translated as a "selfish desire".

See, all desires are not wrong, but a selfish desire IS.

The authors then share a story about a time when their own selfish desires caused conflict in their marriage. The wife was cooking and the husband was loading the dishwasher and each was in the way of the other. He commented sarcastically to her, "I'd hate to get in your way while I load the dishwasher." and she quickly retorted, "I'd hate to get in your way while I cook dinner." Both were in service to the other when suddenly their desire to be recognized for their service overshadowed their desire for service. Has that ever happened to you?

In my own life I have had times where I have done things and waited expectantly for thanks, or pats on the back and when none came I would behave like a petulant child. I have learned as I have gotten older that my desire to DO is good, my desire to be noticed for the doing, not so much. So now I do what I do for an audience of One. It is not something I have overcome, there are still things I struggle with, I am after all a sinner. An recent example would be that I worked for hours creating a perfect gift for a friend. I spent lots of time thinking about how this friend would respond and how excited and how perfect this gift would be for this friend. When I presented this gift to this friend, she was happy, but I had built up in my mind a much different reaction, and my feelings were hurt. (she had no idea) My husband helped me to realize how I was sinning, I had made the gift all about me.

The authors ask us to ask ourselves these questions: What tends to produce conflict in your life?


They then explain how these good things can go bad, and they ask us to pay particular attention to how each desire once it morphs into a selfish desire comes with its own fear.

COMFORT: I want, must have, and deserve comfort and you'd better not get in the way of my getting it. (I fear hard work)

PLEASURE: I want, must have, and deserve pleasure and you'd better give it to me. (I fear pain)

RECOGNITION: I want, must have, and deserve recognition or I will be devastated. (I fear being overlooked)

POWER: I want, must have, and deserve power and you'd better do what I say! (I fear being told what to do)

CONTROL: I want, must have, and deserve control and you will feel the brunt of my disappointment if you mess up my tidy little universe! (I fear unpredictability)

ACCEPTANCE: I want, must have and deserve acceptance and you are responsible to give it to me. (I fear rejection)

Could you identify with any of these? Think back to the last conflict you had...can you identify the desire and see where it turned? James says these are the kinds of things that live just under the surface of every conflict. In Hannah and Ashley's relationship what do you see as the real problem in their relationship?


In James 4:4 James calls out all of us with these words, "You (are like) unfaithful wives (having illicit love affairs with the world and breaking your marriage vows to God!) Do you not know being the world's friend is being God's enemy? So whoever chooses to be a friend of the world takes his stand as an enemy of God."

The authors say anything that has first place in our lives, even if it is a "good" thing, if it is not God, causes us to be guilty of spiritual adultery. Even if it is a "god-thing". Think about that for a minute. If you are doing god-things, but not giving God first place in your heart and mind and trust me it can be done, then you stand guilty. You have fallen in love with something ELSE besides God. This verse is BOTH terrifying and encouraging...the authors point out that while James is slamming us for committing spiritual adultery and for being friends with the world he is also implying that God is our only rightful friend. This is shocking when you first read it but if you know your bible at all you know that this is true. The God who does not tolerate sin has made us not only His bride but His friend through the life, death and resurrection of His son Jesus Christ.

The authors remind us again of how when loading the dishwasher he went from serving his wife to serving himself. He realized he was seeking self-love, self-glory. Ouch. When I look back on the gift giving fiasco, I realize I wanted my friend to gush at how wonderful I was for finding the perfect gift for her, and to tell me what an amazing friend I was. I went from serving my friend to serving my self. It truly was all about ME. I listen to this radio show called Kidd Kraddick in the Morning and one of the radio personalities has a clip they play that just says, "ME ME ME" that was me in this gift giving scenario.


That is why we must ALWAYS be vigilant and on guard. Ask yourself, When was the last time you experienced an ungodly irritation with a friend, spouse, co-worker or child. Then ask yourself, What was MORE important to you than God's glory right then in that moment.What temporal blessing did you want that you did not get? What did you fear would happen if you did not get what you wanted?


The authors ask us to consider the marital relationship.How would either partner respond if they were to find out the other had been unfaithful? The offended spouse would never calmly respond with, "Oh that's ok dear, I understand you had a momentary lapse of judgement." A human response the marital bond being broken ranges from murderous to the broken hearted, but never is it indifferent. God cares so much more for us than a human heart does the Scripture says He is a jealous God. You can search through the Scriptures and read for yourself the places where the Lord calls Himself a jealous God in Exodus 20:5; 34:14 and in Deuteronomy 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 32:16 and 32:21 and in Nahum 1:2 but I think that II Corinthians 11:2 captures the essence of what the authors are trying to get us to grasp and that is that God is not jealous as we perceive jealousy but rather zealous. To be zealous toward something or someone is to be ardently active and devoted to a cause or objective. With that definition in mind read II Corinthians 11:2  and see if you can pin-point God's objective.

"For I am zealous for you with a godly eagerness and a divine jealousy, for I have betrothed you to one Husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ."

I have been helped with understanding God's pursuit of His wandering, and yes, adulterous people by reading the book of Hosea. He loves us in a way we can. not. fathom.

To get our attention He uses many things, the authors say that one of the ways He draws us back is through conflict in our current relationships. It is a blessing we often do not recognize until after the conflict has passed, but a blessing none the less. They point out that the loading of the dishwasher with their wife was a conflict that revealed the author served others sometimes as a way to gain self-love and self-glory. That is tough though, we do not want to see the ugliness that is in our hearts and we struggle and gnash our teeth. When my husband tells me I am being unreasonable as in the case with my friend and the "perfect" gift I sometimes get mad at HIM because he is the voice of reason pointing out my sin. I feel it, I know it to be true but I am so embarrassed that I am so ugly,  then my pride kicks in and well, we've got a mess on our hands. Thankfully my husband is patient and loving with me and I am not long for the fit-throwing ;)

Consider this: Conflict, no matter how ugly, is a place where growth takes place. I like to think of it like this: God foreordained the world and all that is in it and Jesus forgave all of my sin past present and future, and ALL of it will be used for my good so this is my training ground. I don't despair,

In fact that's what II Corinthians 4:7-10 is all about:  "However, we possess this precious treasure (the divine Light of the Gospel) in (frail human) vessels of earth. that the grandeur and exceeding greatness of the power may be shown to be from God and not from ourselves. We are hedged in (pressed) on every side (troubled and oppressed in every way), but not cramped or crushed; we suffer embarrassments and are perplexed and unable to find a way out but are not driven to despair; We are pursued (persecuted and hard driven), but not deserted (to stand alone); we are struck down to the ground, but never struck out and destroyed; Always carrying about in the body the liability and exposure to the same putting to death that the Lord Jesus suffered, so that the (resurrection) life of Jesus also may be shown forth by and in our bodies."

 I get up and keep moving, and so should you. What other choice do we have?


Again, the answers are found in James' letter to us.What do you do when you are faced with such an amazing display of love? Have you read the book of Hosea yet? I urge you to STOP what you are doing and make time to do so. YOU are Gomer, I am Gomer. The Lord pursues us and loves us with a love that is UNFATHOMABLE. I don't love like that. I am learning to though. The response to that kind of unmerited love is the joy of daily, hourly, minute by minute repentance. It is seeing, admitting, confessing and forsaking sin in our lives. It is adoring Christ for Who He is and what He has done for you.

James 4:7-10 "So be subject to God. Resist the devil (stand firm against him), and he will flee from you. Come close to God and He will come close to you. (Recognize that you are) sinners, get your soiled hands clean; (realize that you have been disloyal) wavering individuals with divided interests, and purify your hearts (of your spiritual adultery). (As you draw near to God) be deeply penitent and grieve, even weep(over your disloyalty). Let your laughter be turned to grief and your mirth to dejection and heartfelt shame (for your sins). Humble yourselves (feeling very insignificant) in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you (He will lift you up and make your lives significant.)"

Remember that training I talked about earlier? The conflicts we have with those closest to us prepare us for the conflict we have with those outside of our family. Those that consider us their enemies. If we can not resolve a conflict biblically with our loved ones how can we present Christ to those we consider strangers?

I am always, ALWAYS reminded of Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie who were in a Nazi concentration camp. Betsie often chastised Corrie for her ill-tempered responses to the inhumane treatment they received from the guards. Betsie, according to Corrie's recording of their ordeal was always willing to turn the other cheek and always offered a kind word in place of the harsh ones she was given. Years later when Corrie was speaking on the subject of God's forgiveness one of the guards came up to speak to her afterwards and she felt herself filled with the old familiar rage against all of the injustices wrought by this person against she and her sister and she prayed, simply, "Jesus, help me." and followed it with an action.

The authors give us some practical applications to help us too, so to help us better understand what James is teaching us we have to first understand that relationships are built on commitment and love. Finally, we have to learn HOW to engage in godly conflict when we are in the heat of the moment, not worldly conflict. Remember, worldly conflict focuses on, me, me, me.

*Understand that conflict is one way that God works in our lives
*Identify what drives ungodly conflict in your life
*Recognize your default strategy in conflict
*Engage in specific and intelligent spiritual warfare
*Consider the other person
*Make a plan to approach the person
   *Own your sin
   *Name the problem
   *Explore possible solutions
   *Implement the agreed upon solutions
   *Evaluate your implementations
*If you get stuck and things do not improve, be willing to get outside help.

The chapter started with a quote from C.S. Lewis, and we will close with the rest of that quote here:

"That is why we must not be surprised if we are in for a rough time. When a man turns to Christ and seems to be getting on pretty well (in the sense that some of his bad habits are now corrected), he often feels that it would now be natural if things went fairly smoothly. When troubles come along-illnesses, money troubles, new kinds of temptation-he is disappointed. These things, he feels, might have been necessary to rouse him and make him repent in his bad old days; but why now? Because God is forcing him on, or up, to a higher level: putting him in situations where he will have to be much braver, or more patient, or more loving, than he ever dreamed before. It seems to us all unnecessary: but that is because we have not yet had the slightest notion of the tremendous thing He means to make of us."

Keep that in mind when you're kicking against the goads...XOXO