Sticks and Stones

Last week at our midweek Bible study called SURGE, we deviated from our normal study of the book of Acts. I took us on a journey of dealing with conflicts and attacks in an Old Testament story.

I’ve been asked more than a dozen times since then if we had that teaching on video. Sorry, we haven’t been recording that midweek service. But, I will do my best to report the essential elements from that teaching in today’s blog. I hope it’s a blessing to you, like it has been to me.

Dealing with conflict and difficult people are part of everyone’s life, but the problem is everyone thinks in their situation or line of work that they have it the worst!

And, unless you’re a pastor, that’s just not true… did you sense the sarcasm?

Every experience in every situation is different, and the truth is that no matter where you come from or who you are dealing with conflict and conflicting people and one of the toughest things in life.

On Easter weekend we broke almost every record as a church with regard to numbers: attendance, volunteers and finances. It was awesome! And, if it doesn’t sound too prideful, I preached my booty off.

It seemed like a good message and I felt like it connected at each service. On top of that, I went all out on the energy meter at every service that weekend.

The following week was a celebration with positive comment after positive comment. It was a real feeling of victory. With one exception…

There was this one guy who said he had a problem with this one story I told in one of the points in my message.

Of all the comments I heard about our Easter services, guess which one has stuck with me.

Yep, we all have that tendency don’t we?

You know the tendency. To ignore all the good stuff, the positive and focus on the conflict and the negative. It’s a horrible trait we share with the rest of humanity.

It makes it even worse when you figure out that no matter where you go or what you do there will always be, ‘that’ guy. The one who complains, has an issue or maybe even just doesn’t like you.

You know the type, if they won the lottery they would immediately start complaining about taxes. If they fall in love, they keep one eye open just to make sure something better doesn’t come along. They don’t think about how much to tip at a restaurant, they think how much they should deduct from the tip for everything they can point out as bad customer service.

I’d rather treat them like a puppy that just tinkled on the carpet, “Bad customer, bad customer!”

Yeah, that’s right, I said tinkle. And I am more of a man for it as I sit here in my pink shirt sipping my toasted almond morning blend coffee.

Do not make me hurt you.

Okay, so it is a given. We will have conflict. How do you deal with it when it’s something that is so consuming?

The answer, we deal with it like a king.

In the book of 2 Samuel 16, there’s incredible story about King David taking some serious abuse during a difficult time in his life. Here’s the setup: David is King of the land, but one of his own extremely dysfunctional children has raised up against him. He has slaughtered those closest to David, took control of the politics and has David on the run.

Obviously, this is one of the most difficult times in his life. Enter the source of conflict, that’s where we pick up the story:

2 Samuel 16 5 As King David approached Bahurim, a man from the same clan as Saul’s family came out from there. His name was Shimei son of Gera, and he cursed as he came out. 6 He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones, though all the troops and the special guard were on David’s right and left. 7 As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel! 8 The LORD has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The LORD has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a man of blood!”

Wow, we’ve all been attacked, but this one is YouTube worthy. Shimei comes at David with both barrels, and since David is traveling with a small army, I think we can assume Shimei is serious as he is willing to enter the conflict and most likely lose his own life in the process. Literally, he’s fighting like he has nothing to lose.

Let’s see if you can identify at any level with the attack David suffered:

Cursed: Taken from either perspective this is never a relationship builder. Whether you have been attacked with curse words or a curse is called down upon you, when someone wishes you ill it’s never cool. My boys have adopted a SpongeBobism. Instead of saying foul words out of frustration they often  explode with the phrase, “Tartar sauce!” I thought it was kind of cute at first, until I told them to pick something up and I heard, “Tartar sauce!” My only thought, “Don’t you cuss me boy!” Nothing gets us riled faster than some good old-fashioned cursing.

What we do: Calling David a ‘man of blood’ he was attacking his role as a warrior king, a soldier. Often the attacks that come focus on the jobs that we do. I’ve heard it said that we are not to take it personally but I think, at least for men, this is almost impossible. We are so closely associated with what we do that when somebody attacks what we work, they might as well be attacking us. My primary calling in life is to preach. Even though I ruthlessly evaluate my presentations and content, heaven help the unwanted advisor. It may not be right, but for almost all of us attacking what we do is like pushing on a bruise. You just don’t do it if you don’t want to get smacked.

Who you are: Shimei then goes to the heart of the matter and calls David a scoundrel. It’s actually a tough phrase in the Hebrew. The English word scoundrel is actually made up of two Hebrew words. One is the word for a man, but not just any man, it is specifically for a male but made less than an actual man. So much so the word is often used for male animals. The other part of the phrase simply means worthless. Shimei simply calls David a worthless half man. Well, at least he didn’t leave any question. It’s not that he’s just upset with what David has done, he can’t stand who David is. It’s at this point in most conflicts that we feel like giving up, because there’s no issue to resolve. They just don’t like me, and that usually leads to me not liking them.

Issues of the past: Shimei brings up the whole historical mess with the previous king. It’s not that David has not replayed it in his mind a million times, but it’s very effective to hurt your opponent by bringing up their past. Ever been there? That’s why 1 Corinthians 13 says that in love there is no record of wrongs. Marriages, friendships and even halfway decent relationships should learn to… let… it… go. I’m a big fan of the 80s Christian singer Carman. And I often hear his lyrics echo in my head, like this one: “Every time the devil reminds you of your past, you just remind him of his future.” Cheesy, but cheesy awesome.

The God card: Ouch! This one is usually limited to your Christian friends and family. Sometimes they throw the God card down on you. Shimei says the current state of crisis David is in is because God is judging him. The hard part about getting the God card slapped on you is that the only defense is, “Nu Uh!” When someone does this to you it’s like saying, “Even God is on my side, neither one of us like you.” And, if you’ve read, oh I don’t know, any of the Bible you’ll realize that’s not true. Still stings though, and draws out the natural tendency to want to throw God cards back on them. Don’t do it, in fact, you should probably learn the practice of never quoting God unless you’ve seen His words in print.

Brings the family in: Now he did it! Shimei crossed that line and brought in the family. Talking about David’s wayward son was an easy target and one that dug deep into this king. By the way, whenever the conflict disintegrates into, “Your Mama’s so…” statements, I can pretty much guarantee you it’s only going to get uglier from there.

Throws rocks: Finally, don’t forget how all this started. One lone guy who either needs a serious hug or anger management classes, starts chucking rocks at David and all his bodyguards. There’s no metaphor here, he’s just throwing rocks at them. Sometimes conflict goes further than just ill wishes and finds its way to physical harm. It doesn’t have to be toward your person. It can be getting you fired, keying your car, or spray painting “Quit talking bad about my church” on the exterior wall of another church. What? It’s just an example.

Okay, we’ve all been in conflict before but of all the different things that could happen to you in conflict, David seems to suffer all of them with this one guy.

Can you identify? Have you ever been in conflict where one or more of these things has consumed you? If so, did you respond like a king?

Before we get there beware a subtle trap; well-meaning friends.

9 Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”

I wish I could tell you that when you’re in conflict you should find solace in the advice and comfort of your friends. However, most of the time our friends don’t give us good advice because they are, well, our friends. They sometimes don’t see reason or even care about facts, they just care about you. As nice as that is, ignoring reality for the relationship is an equation that equals stupid.

You can see Abishai’s response includes three things that aren’t going to help. First, he says fight back. He doesn’t sit down with David over coffee to discuss some of the valid arguments that have been lodged against the King. He just wants to kick this guy’s butt. Second, he says they should hit harder. Shimei is calling names and throwing rocks, but Abishai wants to cut off his head. This is a classic overreaction. It’s almost never good to cut someone’s head off. Almost never. Third, he simply tells David that he is on his side. It’s always good to have allies but not if it’s just to win the war. We need allies that show themselves to be real friends which means sometimes they fight with us and for us, but sometimes they fight us if it’s the right thing.

I picked on guys earlier, let me take a jab at the girls.

Travel with me in your mind’s eye to an Applebee’s in a faraway place. A gathering of women are seated at a high top table with all the attention focused on one of the guests. She’s going through a divorce, and all of her friends have gathered to offer advice like this:

  • he’s a pig
  • one phone call and I can get him fired
  • you could do so much better than him
  • it won’t be long and you’ll see this is the best thing it could happen to you
  • we should cut his head off

Hmmm. I’m not completely sure, but I don’t know if statements like that are biblical advice. There’s a more noble response; a way to actually act like a king.

10 But the king said, “What do you and I have in common, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the LORD said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’ “11 David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, who is of my own flesh, is trying to take my life. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. 12 It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.”

David’s response is amazing! And honestly, he does the hard thing that becomes the only thing that can save him from unavoidable conflict.

He listens: Instead of firing back or using the army at his disposal, he listens to the rantings and ravings of this anger-crazed man. How many times have we not even been able to have a conversation when in conflict because we just refuse to listen? The issues, the people, the circumstance and the timing all play roles in amping up our frustration and distract’o meter. But, the first kinglike response to conflict is to listen. Believe it or not, even your worst antagonist probably has some good things to say. I know, I know, I know… that’s crazy talk. But it is what David did.

He empathized: David does something even more amazing; he puts himself in the shoes of the accuser.  “My son, who is of my own flesh, is trying to take my life. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone.” In essence, David gives him credit and says I don’t agree with him, but I can see where he’s coming from. That kind of thinking probably would’ve stopped several wars, but we can’t do anything about the past. However, we have a whole lot we can do about the future.

He admitted: Yep, I  pushed this point to the end for a reason. Most of you have just stopped reading. I could say anything I want here, because I’m fairly certain nobody read past the colon after the word admitted. I listen to Michael Buble  (I’m doing it right now). I used to know every word on the Footloose soundtrack. Lean Cuisine dinners make me gassy… and, it’s bad. Well, just in case anybody did keep reading, one of the most spiritually mature things that you can do is come to the place where you listen to your critics and find the truth in what they have to say. It’s just like in couples counseling, very often one person is 95% wrong. That still leaves 5% for the other party. When we admit our faults we’re closer to fixing anything.

He trusted: He could’ve shot back a response, he could have let his friends decapitate on his behalf, he could have done anything, I mean he is the King! But, instead he trusted God. “Let him curse, for the LORD has told him to. 12 It may be that the LORD will see my distress and repay me with good for the cursing I am receiving today.” When I was in high school back in the 80s one of the tough guy T-shirts said “Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out.” Under David’s armor this King was wearing a T-shirt that said, “Go ahead and shoot, God’s got me covered.” David literally believed that he did not have to defend himself  or participate in the conflict; his God was big enough to handle it without him.

I wish I could tell you Shimei saw God’s incredible work in David’s life and fell on his knees to repent. That didn’t happen. And, I can almost promise if you follow this kingly response in your moments of conflict, you won’t get a much different response either. You see, this kingly pattern is not intended to change our circumstance, its intention is to change the only thing that’s changeable; you.

13 So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. 14 The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself.

Part of what it means to be royalty in God’s household is that we endure some rock throwing and dirt kicking and simply trust that our God sees, knows and will not fail.

It’s time we acted like a king.

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