You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?

Dealing with conflict.

Everyone deals with it, but the question is how do you deal. There are constructive and destructive ways to deal with almost anything including conflict, criticism and stupidity.

Hmm… that last descriptor is less from my Bible Study and more from the movie I just caught last night: GI JOE.

andy as GI JOE

I so loved it. I was 11 again.

If one of the JOEs ran into conflict they’d blow it up, punch it in the face, or just kill it.

And, as machismo and testosterone driven as that is (and, oh so appealing for so many situations), I don’t think it’s the answer for the Christ follower in conflict.

I just can’t imagine Jesus strapping on a fully automatic machine gun with rocket launcher attachment and sneering at his 12-man commando posse as He jumps on the back of camel yelling, “Mount up”.

That’s just wrong, and you know it. Jesus would handle things, differently.

I saw an example of a Christ-like response in my Bible study the other day and have to replace this teaching with the “Yo JOE!” propensity that is within me.

Here’s the passage from Acts 21:

Paul Arrested

27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)

30 The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. 31 While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

33 The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. 36 The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Away with him!”

[1]The Holy Bible  : New International Version, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, c1984), Ac 21:27-36.

This passage contains some of the classic ‘red flags’ of conflict and ends with an amazing twist. Let’s walk through it.

First, a little background. Paul had returned to his hometown of Jerusalem knowing there would be some trouble, but when he got there the locals said, “Dude, you have NO idea how peaved these people are at you!”

That’s from the modern translation Andius Barelycorrectomus.

So, Paul begins to put himself and others through some serious, legalistic, and humbling practices: financial, religious and social sacrifices. He did all this to show his critics he was humble before them and did not want the conflict.

Seven days later the story unfolds.

And, as is the case in most conflicts, everything he did to try and pacify his opponents didn’t help a thing. Thus, conflict red flag Number ONE.

Red Flag Number ONE – in the heat of conflict people’s minds are seldom ever changed. Once people have taken a stance there is almost no chance of swaying them. Especially if the source of their discomfort is you.

Facts mean nothing. Truth is what they say it is. And, you are what they believe you are.

A few years ago Kathy and I removed a chain link fence from our backyard. It took some effort to dig out the posts, but there was one in particular (the corner load bearing post) that really made life difficult.

We dug and dug and dug. We watered the area and made a huge mud pit. We even hooked up the truck and tried to pull it out. In the end… I cut off the post with the sawzall and its still there today.

Barely buried in ourbackyard.

Others may see a slight rise in the yard, a mere bump in the landscape. I see the post that would not move, held by the Devils claws himself, a monument to stubbornness and difficulty for ALL ETERNITY! (pant… pant… pant)

Just like that post, we need to remember that in conflict there is very little we can do to change someone’s mind/perception if we are the one that infuriates them.

Red Flag Number TWO – “They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting…” Once you go to shouting, the discussion is over. This line from the text shows the emotional nature of conflict, and while there are good emotions like love, peace and hunger. There are destructive emotions as well like anger, malice and hunger.

(Hunger is good or bad depending on your personal metabolism and that’s why we ‘hefty’ people hate you skinny people. Hate… there’s another destructive emotion. Hmm, blog on that later.)

You’ll always have emotion in everything you do, but once emotion becomes the driving force, you’re in trouble. Rationale and logic are gone! They made like a tree and leafed, made like a banana and split, made like a drum and beat it, made like a missile and cruised, made like the Red Sea and split, made like the wind and blew, made like a driver and kept on trucking, made like a bread truck and hauled buns.

Once emotion takes over, there is very little room for discussion.

Red Flag Number THREE – “shouting, ‘Men of Israel, help us!’” The third red flag of conflict is all about ally forming. When people are in conflict they try to feel better about their position by seeing how many people they can get on their side. It’s like starting a gang war. You’ve seen it in divorce cases too many times.

People feel safety in numbers. Even if everyone is headed in the wrong direction, most people feel better if we’re all headed there together. It’s the lemming phenomenon. “We’re all running off a cliff? You must be crazy, we ALL couldn’t be that stupid. Keep up… your falling behind!”

Red Flag Number FOUR – When in conflict prepare yourself for red flag number four: exaggeration. “This is the man who teaches all men everywhere …” Wow, they were really giving Paul some credit. They made him just like God, omnipresent. He apparently had the ability to influence every human in every location on the planet.

He also invented the internet.

When in conflict prepare yourself for the exaggeration. Bill Hybels in his book AXIOMS reminds us to look for the kernel of truth in every criticism and use it to make ourselves better. I agree, but make sure you know, and are ready for, the fact that when in conflict you will have achieved superhuman feats of villainy.

I’m a pastor. I know. You should have heard of some of the stuff I am capable of… I should be locked up.

Red Flag Number FIVE – The fifth red flag is to know that your accusers will turn even your positives to negative. “This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place.”

Paul wasn’t out to destroy the Jewish faith and/or practice, or especially the Temple. His intent was to promote the Good News of Jesus. Still, his critics took his positive and turned it into a negative.  Once again, critics will only see what they want to see and just like Chubby Checker… here it comes… they can sure do the twist! Twist and turn anything: your pro into con, your yes into a no, your positive into a negative.

Our church has grown 1,071% in the last seven years. I think that’s a big, “Yeah God.” But… not everyone does. You can tell by the labels:

  • Gospel compromisers
  • Easy believism
  • Entertainers
  • And my all time favorite… cult

Cult? Are you serious? We’re a church just like anyone else, and when the spaceship from heaven number 7 comes to beam us all up on the starship ST. Peterprise… you’ll all see. You’ll see!!! (just kidding)

Anyway, don’t forget that when in conflict even your positives can be turned negative.

Red Flag Number SIX – “And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)” The sixth red flag is a warning to be prepared for the assumptions.

They already think your evil, so, its a quick and easy task to escalate you to the status of devil himself at the first assumptive chance. I think its pretty risky to base any argument on a phrase that begins with, “and besides.” Sounds like your making stuff up from the get go.

Just because they saw Paul with a Gentile they assumed he had taken him to the Temple (a no, no for Jewish culture).  But, Paul was just snatched where? In the Temple and he had no Gentiles on him anywhere.

He was clean.

In conflict, accusers WILL make assumptions about you and the caricatures that are drawn will be horrifying to look at. Shudder, shudder.

When there has been conflict between myself and another, I didn’t even know I could be so bad. Thank goodness someone is there to point out our fictitious flaws.

Well, once all the accusations were out, things got worse. They snatched up Paul, drug him out of the Temple (because it would be wrong to slaughter someone INSIDE the Temple, much more appropriate outside – sarcasm warning) and began to beat him to death.

Here’s the twist, and I find this to be the most awesome part of the story.

The beating was stopped, and Paul was rescued by… Roman soldiers.

“While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.”

These were Roman soldiers in Jerusalem. There is a good chance that some of these guys were on hand at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Some may have lined the streets for crowd control as he walked up the hill to Golgatha.

One or two of them may have even been in the compound when Jesus was punched, smacked, mocked with a robe and tortured with a crown of thorns.

But, these same soldiers were Paul’s rescuers.

Curious.

It leads me to one assumption. In the midst of conflict, we can never really know how God is going to provide the rescue.

So, don’t tell God how you need to escape, just look to Him for the way out.

His escape was into Roman custody, bound by chains. Probably not his, or any other believers choice for rescue. But, he was alive.

“When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers.”

Amazing.

God promises to be our Rescuer, Redeemer, Savior, Defender, but He reserves the right to do it as He pleases.

Obviously, for Paul, the conflict was not resolved, but God saved him anyway. We can live with that same confidence.

So, where does all this lead us. We’ve basically looked at this passage from the perspective of being the accused, but we need to make sure we never follow the pattern on the mob as the accusers when we are in conflict.

We aren’t allowed to be stubborn, form human alliances, be controlled by emotions, exaggerate, twist the truth, or assume anything. And, especially, we aren’t allowed to tell God how to rescue us!

Even though I have been greatly sheltered in my time of surgical recuperation, there have been a few stray emails, a couple of well-placed comments. a little conflict leakage, if you will.

It never ends.

So, I’d like to apply these ‘red flag’ principles to my own life by sharing a prayer that may work for your life as well. Here’s a peak into my personal prayer journal after studying this passage:

Dear Lord Jesus,

In the conflicts that surround my life at the personal and public level, I pray that I would learn from this story.

Help me to never feel like a success or failure based upon what other people believe, or whether I can influence them or not. Help me to be totally preoccupied with Your judgment of me.

When I am in conflict please help me to not let my emotions get out of control. But, help me to think and pray in order that You may help my spirit and mind to outweigh my heart.

Lord, allow me the security of relationship with you and decrease my desire to build a human army around me to justify my hurts and ambitions. Let me rely on You and You alone as my sole asset and closest ally.

Please prepare me for lies and protect me from their sting, but never allow me to participate. I know that just answering their exaggerations will often validate their beliefs in their own minds.

When assumptions are made about me, would you not let that distract me from what I am called to do. Do not let me get caught up in redirecting, redrawing and spinning the situation so that others ‘know the truth.’ Let me just do and be what you have made me, and be satisfied with that.

Finally, God, forgive me for telling you how I need to be rescued. You are the General and I am the foot soldier. I won’t give you orders anymore , but I will keep my eyes on the horizon to see from where my salvation will come. And, I won’t scoff at whatever ‘out’ you provide.

Thank you Jesus for all you’ve done. In each conflict that comes my way, let me look like You.

In Jesus name, Amen.

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Physical/Recuperation update post surgery (By The Way… thanks for the prayers). Below are different formats for different operating systems with different browsers… same video:


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