Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Choose Peacemaking

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: Mar 16, 2010

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” (James 4:1, NAS)

MAIN POINT: Peacemaking starts from inside our heart; Quarrels and conflicts too. The difference lies in which one we choose.

Pastor Craig Groeschel was about to preach one Sunday morning. Just a few moments before he takes the pulpit, a female Church member passed him a note labeled, “Personal.” Thinking that it was a nice message of encouragement, he opened that note with hope. Unfortunately, it was a cruel accusatory note. It curtly criticized and put the pastor down for not making time to see her last Friday, which was the pastor’s day off. According to that lady, the pastor was insensitive to her, for not prioritizing her in his schedule. It is one thing to give a hurtful note. It is yet another to time it just before the preacher's sermon delivery. Imagine how one small note can hurt the soul big-time.

Conflicts happen. Sometimes, too often. Even in the Bible, there is a famous example of conflict that occurred between Peter and Paul. Paul opposed Peter ‘to his face,’ over the issue of hypocrisy in preferential treatment between Gentiles and Jews (Gal 2:11-14).

Conflicts can happen at the personal level, at a congregational level, or even among good friends like Peter and Paul. The key to recognizing how to resolve any conflict is to first identify the source, and then to make a choice on what to do about it.

A) Where is the source of conflicts?
Some say the fault lies in the other person. For two feuding groups, fingers can be pointed at each other. Harsh words fly. Tempers flare. An ungracious attitude fuels even more negative reactions in a downward spiral of strife. Any fallout from the hostility can even injure people outside the two groups, especially when the warring groups start to canvass for political support. Both factions can issue ultimatums to the rest: “If you are not with us, you are against us.” When this happens, a church crack begins to appear as members draw an ugly line that divides. 

Such a black and white scenario makes it a tough place to be for any church member. In a heated environment, no position is safe. If one supports the left, the right gets upset. If support goes to the right, the other will threaten to terminate relationships. If one chooses not to support either, one risks getting slammed by both groups. No position is safe when a church is deep in conflict. Perhaps, one way out is to relinquish power during such a heated situations. This is because the moment each group starts to load up their verbal weaponry, more people will get hurt. Why not lay down our weaponry of hurt, unload the ammunition of angry words, and give some space and time to resolve any differences? After-all, when church members fight, the evil eyes are the ones smiling.

B) Desires inside us

Dave Edling, of Peacemaker Ministries observes that the fault lines in any relationship issues lie not outside but inside a person's heart. According to Edling,

"Disagreements begin when the desires that battle within us, as described in James 4:1, lead to expectations of others—maybe an over-elevation of who we think we are, and what our rights are, and what we deserve to have." (Christine Scheller, Missing the Rupture, Christianity Today, May 2003)

Indeed, one of the causes of many conflicts and misunderstandings is due to an ‘over-elevation’ of who we are or our points of view. When we start having strong views about our rightness, it only increases our perceptions about other people's 'wrongness.' If a person stubbornly thinks that he is usually right, in his eye, others will seem flatly wrong. Eugene Peterson, a former pastor for 29 years, translates James 4:1 as follows:

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves.” (Jas 4:1, MSG)

This is scary yet so true. When we want things our own way, everything has to be bent to our own desires. ‘Desires’ can be a very powerful thing. When used compassionately to help people, it can bring about a multitude of goodness that warms the soul. When used otherwise, it can hurt, even kill. I remember reading a heartwarming story just after the horrifying terrorist attacks of September 11. The aftermath of the disaster did not simply shock those who are still alive and grieving. It angers some people enough to start to hunt and hurt people of Muslim origins. Anticipating the potential problems, a group of Catholic nuns set out for the neighborhood mosque. Holding hands, and lighting candles, they sing hymns to promote peace and goodwill while protecting the mosque. This example of peacemaking is truly counter-cultural. By placing themselves as a cushion between the mob and the Muslim victims, the nuns make themselves vulnerable in the name of peace.

C) Choose Peacemaking

The desire for revenge is part of a very sinful human condition. When we do not have things our way, we often gravitate between two choices. We can hurt ourselves by beating ourselves up inside, or hurt others by accusing others outside. Is there a third way?

The good news is yes. There is a third way. This is the way of peacemaking. More importantly, it is to change our ‘desires’ to CHOOSE peacemaking over all others. Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman who prior to her being gassed in the Auschwitz Holocaust, writes in her diary:

After this war two torrents will be unleashed on the world: a torrent of loving kindness and a torrent of hatred. I knew that I should struggle against hatred.” (Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life: The Diaries, 1941-1943, and Letters from Westerbrook, NY: Henry Holt, 1996, p208)

Imagine such inner strength, that no gas chambers can overcome. Hillesum chose the path of peace amid the awful hatred happening all around her. If she, being victimized and tortured can choose peacemaking despite the most horrific circumstances, how about us, who are not in any physical torture chamber, sitting in our comfortable chairs choose peacemaking?

We can choose the path of peace. This is also the path chosen by Pastor Craig Groeschel, after receiving the terrible accusatory note. That day, he chose compassion for that hurting lady, and went on to do his ministerial duties. Choosing peace means being conscious of the larger good. Choosing peace means struggling against hatred and ill will, replacing them with love and goodwill. Choosing peace means making peace, rather than simply waiting letting silence dictate the peace process. Choosing peace means we maintain a posture of open hands instead of clenched fists. May we all learn to choose peace. May we all become peacemakers for the kingdom of God. In fact, when we choose to become peacemakers, we accomplish two objectives in one stroke: we bring goodwill for the kingdom of God, AND nip sinful desires from growing in our hearts.

To be a peacemaker means not to judge or condemn or speak badly of people, not to rejoice in any form of ill that may strike them. Peacemaking is holding people gently in prayer, wishing them to be well and free. Peacemaking is welcoming people who are weak and in need, maybe just with a smile, giving them support, offering them kindness and tenderness, and opening our hearts to them. …… It is to approach people not from a pedestal, a position of power and certitude, in order to solve problems, but from a place of listening, understanding, humility and love. When we relinquish power, we become more open to the compassion of God.
(Jean Vanier, Finding Peace, Toronto, ON: Anansi, 2003, p68-9)

Thought: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matt 5:9, NIV)


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