Divisions are all around us. We see them on the news, in our neighborhoods and in our churches. The edges are scraping across religious lines, political lines and racial lines, whether it is Charleston, Scotus or ISIS. The different ideological sides seem to get more deeply entrenched with every major media event, and we can find ourselves caught up in the tide of emotions. It can make us feel unsafe, afraid, and even angry.
I am not immune to these tensions. And as we began a teaching series this past Sunday on Conflict Resolution, I found myself in need of meditating on the principles that I was preaching about. First, the conflicts that are raging around us are not all external. My heart is in conflict with what is right and what is part of my cultural and personal tendencies toward sin. When I look at issues of race, I must acknowledge my own challenges to love and value those that are very different than I am. When I look at issues of sexual orientation, I have to acknowledge that my own sexuality is still not yet fully sanctified and glorying God as it one day will. In dealing with issues of religious pride, I must confess that it is often me who is angry toward those that don't acknowledge God in the way that I think He deserves. Conflict starts in the heart, and I am part of the problem. As I acknowledge this, it allows me to view those that I disagree with as fellow sojourners that are also making strides towards overcoming their shadows of sin and hate. It helps me to remember that the enemy that we battle isn't flesh and blood, but the powers and ideologies that are contrary to Christ's kingdom.
Second, I have been reminded that conflict, though it feels like inconvenience and anxiety, is actually an opportunity. It has been said that, 'we are only as sick as our secrets.' And in conflict, all of our secrets surface, and we are forced to address important issues that have been ignored or met with apathy. In conflict, we have an opportunity to make things right. We have an opportunity to truly hear others. We have a chance to turn away from our emotional, reactionary responses. Conflict is one of our best opportunities to grow more into the image of Christ if we stand up to the tyranny of our feelings. This week, when I have found myself as odds with a loved one, with a neighbor, or with an enemy, I have been forcing myself to take a deep breath, and to remember that this conflict represents an opportunity. And then, by faith, I have been asking the question, "God, how can you be honored and glorified in this conflict?" (1 Cor 10:31). I have often been surprised to see the way God stands so ready to enter in to the divisions that we have created.
For more ideas regarding conflict resolution, feel free to listen to our sermon series, or check out peacemaker.net.
Author: Cameron Lemons
Reflections from the pastor