Sunday, May 4, 2014

New Blog

Dear readers,
I moved my blog to another site. I think you will love the new, modern magazine format.

Here's the link: Encouraging Thoughts

I will no longer post here, but I hope you will journey with me on my new site for more encouraging thoughts.

Grace for your journey,
Myra Watkins

Saturday, April 26, 2014

When She Wakes, She Will Move Mountains – Thoughts on Raising Girls

More than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, age sixteen to eighteen, were abducted a few weeks ago by an al-Qaida-linked terrorist group, Boko Haram, which means "Western education is forbidden". They were taken from their school, loaded into trucks, and disappeared into the darkness of a dangerous world. Like the wonderful daughters I love, these girls were about to finish their final year of school. While none have been rescued, a few managed to escape their captors. As I read the news, I was angered and saddened by yet another assault on girls. 

At home, in school, and in our communities, girls should be protected, encouraged and celebrated instead of oppressed and abused. As I thought about how we can protect girls, my thoughts turned to raising my own daughters who are now eighteen and twenty one. I want to share a few insights into how we can encourage our girls to become confident young women who know they are deeply loved, are ready to offer their gifts to the world, and view the world through possibility rather than limitation.

First, let’s look at the example Jesus gave us. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Jesus gave women human dignity ... Prior to Jesus, women were regarded as inferior beings, religiously speaking.” During Jesus’ lifetime, women were not commonly educated and often remained indoors. When a girl was born, she was often left to die. Yet the longest conversation recorded between Jesus and another person is in John 4 when he asked the Samaritan woman at the well for a drink, upsetting his disciples.

Jesus engaged in a deeply theological and personal conversation with her, taking seriously her thoughts and questions. As John Ortberg observed in his book, Who is this Man?, “Is it any wonder she could not stop talking about this man? Jesus was doing something very subversive. He was treating a woman like someone who had her own identity.” He freely offered salvation to male and female, Jew and Samaritan, with the same potency, slaking her thirst forever. This man was worth rushing into the city to tell everyone about.

Again, Jesus treated women against the grain of the culture in the story of Mary and Martha. Often people teach this story as a lesson about avoiding busy-ness, but no one in the first century would have seen it that way. To sit at someone’s feet, as Mary does in this story, meant to be someone’s disciple. Martha did what the culture valued in women—cooking and cleaning. Yet Mary did what the culture valued in men—she became a disciple. And Jesus honored her choice.

As the early Church took root and spread, there was a marked difference in the treatment of girls: They were no longer routinely left to die or exploited sexually. They were no longer the property of the head of household, or paterfamilias under Roman law, who could decide if they would live or die. Their identity and worth began to return to God—in whose image they had been divinely created.

For those of us who have daughters, we must first keep in mind that they are created in God’s image. They belong to him and are entrusted to us as parents. If our culture does not support a Christian worldview of raising girls, then we face a greater challenge. If we grew up without the love and guidance we needed from our own parents, then we face a greater challenge. Still, this generation desperately needs for us to stand up and make a difference in the lives of girls – our own daughters and the girls who may be abused or oppressed in our cultures. We cannot stand by silently.

Insights on raising girls

1. Love them unconditionally
Because God loves us completely and unwaveringly, we can love fully – with our heart, mind, soul and strength shown through words, actions, and affirming touch (lots of snuggles, sometimes with tea and a good movie or a good book)

2. Engage their world
Listen to their questions and struggles while offering understanding and guidance. Look for teachable moments when they are open to talk, even if you have to put aside what you are doing. For us, this often seemed to happen at bedtime.

3. Play with them
Enjoy music and laugh with them. I remember many tea parties, imaginary worlds with stuffed animals, games, and fun outdoors with our girls. Then again, our girls didn’t play video games or use computers when they were little.

4. Stand up for them and believe in them
Dads, be their heroes. We chased many monsters out from under their beds and from their closets. But we also taught them that God is with them, so they do not have to be afraid.

5. Encourage their dreams and interests
Don’t force them into your mold or attempt to fulfill your dreams through them. God has a purpose for their lives.

6. Provide clear boundaries
When they are older, offer guidelines and help them make wise choices.

7. Foster a love of learning
Books and curiosity about the world were considered fun adventures in our home.

8. Don't reinforce gender stereotypes in learning
Yes, girls can be logical and excel in science and math. I taught our girls critical thinking skills and logic and when one of our girls struggled in math, my husband encouraged her that "her smartness would come out" as she kept working at it. It has. She is an A student in all her subjects, including math.

9. Teach them to: 
  • Respect their parents, others and themselves.
  • Be faithful, excellent in their work, and finish what they start.
  • Be strong and confident. Gentleness, compassion, and femininity are also strong. “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.” – Margaret Thatcher
10. Help them realize:
  • Their power comes from their purity.
  • Their sexuality and beauty are God-given. No one has a right to exploit them. 
  • Their gifts and talents are valuable, should be developed, and offered to bless the world and serve others.
  • Motherhood is honorable and valuable.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Reflections on Easter in Ukraine: Tradition and Resurrection Life

The Easter festivities of childhood carry a magical quality, and we often re-enter wonder through our children. We lived in Lviv, Ukraine when our girls were growing up. The city bloomed with Spring flowers and girls in diaphanous, floral dresses days before everyone came out with their woven Easter baskets carrying freshly-baked Paska bread covered with brightly-embroidered cloths. I searched the outdoor art bazaar where artisans sold their crafts for an Easter cloth that depicted Christ instead of pisanky (Easter eggs). I bought one with purple embroidered flowers surrounding a cross with the words “Christ is Risen” in gold. It’s one of the few items I still have from Ukraine. Through Scripture reading and worship, we kept Jesus Christ at the center of our celebrations.

Traditions, when they reiterate eternal, powerful truths, point our hearts toward God. But it’s possible to get caught up in the traditions and festivities of Easter and miss the point. In Ukraine, people beat their rugs, hose down the sidewalks, and sometimes forego pleasures during Lent in preparation for Easter, but do we prepare our hearts by meditating on who He is and what He has done for us? On Holy Friday, church bells in Europe ring a somber death knell all morning in remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross. We need to pause and look deeply into its significance.

And when we do, we need to bring the dreams that shaped our childhood. We need to bring the longings of our hearts. Our deepest longings and needs are fulfilled on the cross, though not in a way many would suspect. Also, we need to bring our fears and sorrows, our disappointment, shame of failure and rejection. The cutting words that hurt us still. The Judas who betrayed us. The sudden death of someone we loved. He conquered them all on the cross, which gives us victory and hope.

Then, turning away from our self-centered worlds, we need to bring the hopes and sorrows of others. The millions who are trafficked and enslaved, the children orphaned by sickness or war, the politicians who compromise while the world stands by and watches injustice, the grief of parents whose children died on the ferry off the coast of Korea. Think of God's dreams for his creation, and His sorrow at its ruin. As we consider the cross, look at the face of Jesus who bore our sin and suffering, yet was without sin. If the story ended at the cross, we would be without hope. Yet He was not like any other man.

The waiting on Saturday after Jesus died must have been excruciating, but who would expect the resurrection? His followers were most likely despondent rather than hopeful. He failed to become their earthly King. His followers weren’t sure what His promises meant but, if true, they were earth-shaking and would take the world apart and put it together again in an entirely new way.

In Ukraine, early on Easter morning before the break of day, the church bells start ringing in triumph as the joyful sound fills the streets. Religious people tried to keep Jesus safely dead as some people do today, but guards placed at the tomb couldn’t hold back God who conquered death and hell. “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:56-57) He is the resurrection and the life. When asked whether he was an optimist or a pessimist, the British theologian and missionary, Lesslie Newbigin, answered “I am neither an optimist, nor a pessimist. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!” This one great truth can radically reshape our thinking and living. We need to ask ourselves during this season, has it reshaped our thinking and living? Surrender to Him, and then watch Him transform everything with joy and hope. The same power that raised Him from the dead resides in us who believe.

One Good Friday in Kiev, Ukraine I visited Sophia’s Cathedral and saw a mosaic of the face of Mary covering an entire wall. As I walked closer, I realized that the mosaic was made of 15,000 colorfully painted Easter eggs. While I enjoyed the beauty of tradition, I didn’t want the focus to be taken away from Jesus. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim. 2:5) And we are strengthened when we "fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:2-3)

My favorite Ukrainian Easter tradition was the way everyone greeted one another on Easter Sunday. Everywhere we went that day, people said, “Jesus is risen!” We would respond, “He is risen indeed.”

Let us live each day joyfully trusting in the power of His resurrection.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Soliloquy on White

When my daughter and I visited the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, the exhibit of white canvases amused us. The meaning was lost on us and we wondered how anyone could call it "art". So, just for fun, I decided to consider what the artist might have had in mind, which quickly morphed into my interpretation.

Like a Degas dancer in a minimalist scape, she enters
The MoMa gallery briskly, not intending to linger
Shades of white on white canvas, white walls
Light fixtures emanating white light, like
An isolation room in an insane asylum. She thought
Art was supposed to move, provoke, offer respite, delight.
As she moves in, her head tilts, baffled by an eggshell ink-not painting
Unbroken, except by the scribbling of his name.

She ventures a guess into the artist’s mind
Maybe it’s the crisp, white sheet he drapes over his body
Before slapping off the alarm, noise breaking
Circadian rhythm and silence, stirring to wakefulness
Like a spoon in frothy cream on his coffee, hot jolt
To push him through early traffic hours. Then again,
Perhaps it’s his white button-down shirt, unadulterated
Before his black tie runs a thick line, like a Sharpie,
Down the front, or the back of a sheet of paper, fresh with possibility to day
Dream, he jots down the initial sketch of a mountain retreat.

Or it’s clouds, cumulus puffs against a blue sky as he lies on his back
Grass tickling his ear as she laughs beside him, then their fingertips
Touch, or the chef’s apron at the French restaurant where their eyes
Delight with fire as he slides the diamond on her slender finger
After she says yes, then it’s lilies, a veil, reams of pure white bridal
Beauty, then meringue on his cheek, and laughter, deep and long.
Maybe it’s her hair, long after the blonde has taken flight.
Or the cat she loved, but he hated. No, why would he paint that?
Maybe it’s snow, softly blanketing the hill on the other side of the world
As they watch it fall outside windowpane, warmed inside, but now
They are four, and two giggle and twirl in white tulle after
The Nutcracker ballet, Tchaikovsky plays, fitting musical score
For this season in life, or perhaps, thinking of a new beginning
He paints over the trials and pain of loss with white out?

Or does he seek to capture He, who was transfigured?
His face shone like the sun, His clothes white as light.
Love conquers death.
Yes, that’s it.

She loosens the red ribbon from her hair
Leaves it there, then smiles and walks away
But won’t deign to call it Art, not today.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Church and Revolution: Pray for Ukraine

As Russian troops are massed on the eastern border of Ukraine, it’s a tense situation. The reports from Crimea are grim. If there was ever a time to pray for the nation and the region, now is that time.

As my thoughts and prayers are with the people there, I want to honor their faith throughout the rapidly unfolding events of recent months since the EuroMaidan protests began. I also want to inform people of the spiritual side of the revolution in Ukraine, which I have followed in amazement. God is doing a great work, which, I believe, will continue to grow in the region. Fed up with corruption, Ukrainian society is searching for new moral authorities and reference points. And none are more open than the young generation.

Every day during the protests pastors, priests and lay Christians have been present among the people on Independence Square, known as Maidan, leading prayer and worship from the stage, speaking with people who are grappling with the situation, serving food, and caring for the wounded. Many of our Ukrainian friends have been among them, even at risk of their lives. Evangelical, Orthodox and Catholic churches set up prayer tents and provided accommodation and refuge at monasteries and churches. In an effort to prevent violence, as riot police were about to storm the camp, priests and pastors stood between the police and the protesters.

Prayer & Hope

Prayer is essential and our Every Nation churches in Ukraine have asked for fervent, ongoing prayer. Our churches, which are all led by Ukrainian pastors, have been gathering, sometimes daily, with other churches in their cities to pray. The battle for freedom and justice is a battle against corruption, but it remains, in reality, a spiritual battle.

A missionary with Reach Global, Jim Baker, wrote on a recent trip to Kiev, “There are times when the grasp that evil has – on levers of power, over schemes of humans, things which gain a juggernaut-like momentum of their own, over people who have ‘given themselves over’ to corruption – becomes a force in its own right. It is at times like this, when we truly sense the nearness of a spiritual battle, a fight which truly is not ‘against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.’ “ (Eph. 6:12, NLT)

An important role of the Church during difficult times is communicating hope to people. You know God is at work in a nation when the day after snipers killed demonstrators in the center of Kiev, these words rang out from the stage at Independence Square: "Beloved, today heaven is shining upon Ukraine. Today, amidst our great sadness, three things matter most – faith, love and hope. We must believe that God sees us even now, that He hears our prayers. We must believe that He will pour His grace upon Ukraine. Tomorrow will be a better day. We do not pray in vain. We believe. And even though we're hurting, we must hope for a new day. A new era is coming to our country. We ask for blessing and we must choose to love for God is love. Our power is not in righteous fury alone, but in love. God hears our united breath and united hearts. Let us bow our heads once more. He has the power to change everything.” (Feb. 21, 2014)

Along with prayer, Ukrainian heroes of the faith preached the Gospel openly on the streets as violence escalated. After the first casualties in February, priests and pastors made an effort to tell every man who went to the front lines about Christ and how to be reconciled with God.

Clay Quarterman, President of Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine who lived in the center of Kiev said, “We could hear the crowd chanting from our windows, singing the national anthem, and shouting not only 'Glory to Ukraine!' and 'Liberty or Death!', but also, 'Glory to Jesus Christ'! This is something new, during the past week, as the reality is setting in that this is a life or death struggle with forces of evil: misuse of power, blatant corruption, diversion of public funds, religious hypocrisy, and more. People on the square realized their lives could end in this struggle, and they said the Lord's Prayer on the hour, committing their lives to God's care.”

Refuge & Mercy

St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral and Monastery offered refuge to protestors in the early morning hours one Saturday in November after police dispersed the crowd with batons and stun grenades when protests on Kiev's Independence Square swelled to nearly 10,000 people.

Running up the hill away from the square, young protesters knocked on the gold-domed monastery’s gate and were offered refuge. "This is the only safe place we have left, and besides I have nowhere else to go," said Alexander, a seventeen-year-old student from Lviv. St. Michael’s was destroyed during the religious purges of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and rebuilt after Ukraine’s independence. As the violence escalated in early December, some of the injured were carried or driven to the monastery grounds to be treated by doctors since patients risked arrest if taken to state-run hospitals. With dried blood on his leather jacket, one young man said police knocked him unconscious and he managed to crawl away from the square. People took him to the monastery in a taxi so he would be safe.

Dozens of protesters, some wrapped in bandages, lay resting on rugs behind the monastery's sky-blue and white walls. One report stated, “Many were still in their battle garb; kneepads, gloves and ice hockey helmets. Bearded priests paced the grounds, but declined to speak to reporters. Men guarded the entrance, one holding a hammer.” 1

Community formed at St. Michael’s as people brought food and clothing. Some attended an early morning service at the cathedral on the monastery grounds after which several black-robed monks listened to the protesters and urged them not to seek revenge. "They gave us tea to warm us up, told us to keep our spirits strong and told us not to fight evil with evil," said Roman, a native of Kiev. "I don't go to church much, only to escape from the powers of evil," he said.

I was moved by Mykhailo Gavryluk's powerful example of mercy and forgiveness. He was severely tortured by police, then forced to stand naked in freezing temperatures surrounded by onlookers. A video of his assault went viral. When called to court recently to face one of his torturers, he asked the judge to pardon the guilty man.

"The Bible tells us to forgive. I was forgiven by Christ. How can I not forgiven another man even he has wronged me? I don’t want his children to grow without father while he spends eight years in prison. I withdraw my complaints against him. It’s better to let him raise his children, so that such things are never repeated again,” said Gavryluk. 2

Justice & Truth

The protesters demand justice and truth, which come from God. This presents an opportunity for the church to preach a standard that can only be reached by Christ and can only be offered by His grace. Justice and truth are central to the Gospel. As the ground shifts and Lenin statues topple, revolution can lead to reform, repentance and faith, and produce lasting change in the country and the region.

Filaret, Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, is strong when he talks about justice. He said, “The authorities must carry out their duties to protect the good and to punish evil. When it punishes the good and protects the evil, such authority does not fulfill its obligations.”

In addition, he said that the church "must be out of politics. But it has to be with the people. Moreover, when people are beaten, it must save the people, to give them shelter. It is not an accident that St. Michael’s Monastery received those who were brutally beaten.” (Jan. 7, 2014)

Finally, as Alexander Turchynov, Ukraine's acting President – a Christian who preaches on a regular basis at a Baptist church in Kiev – said, “If God is for us, no one can be against us.”

"For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You,"  2 Chronicles 20:12

God bless Ukraine.

1 Huff Post – Matt Robinson


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Year-End Review Questions & Malcolm Gladwell on Faith

Let’s be honest. In all the good we want to do, mountains we want to climb, giants we want to slay, and people we want to love, we are faced with a challenge. If we could view an accurate panorama of the last year, we might see that our God was too small.

Not in reality, but we try to solve too many conundrums on our own. Perhaps we give an obligatory nod to God while behaving as if He were distant and uninterested in the world He set into motion. So before we set our stride for 2014, let’s ignite our faith in the loving God who goes before, abides within, knows all, is unchanging in His desire for our greatest good, and has the power to execute His will.

Every day we wake up to a potentially paralyzing buffet of choices and trivial distractions. Like T.S. Eliot’s modern man who measured out his life with coffee spoons, we think we have “time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions.” We put off risk and purposeful living, thinking “there will be time to wonder ‘Do I dare? Do I dare disturb the universe?’ ”

In 2014, we need to dare. We need to dare to disturb the universe.

If we walk with God, we will do so.

At a recent Socrates in the City event in NYC, Malcolm Gladwell discussed his recent book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.” Gladwell had wandered away from his faith, but returned while writing this book. He said, “Christians have a problem understanding how powerful their faith makes them. The things we associate with power are not as powerful as we imagine. ‘The weapons of the spirit’ – determination, faith, courage, perseverance - are equal to material resources and strength. That’s the point of David and Goliath.” Some theologians portray David as a type of Christ who defeated the enemy so we, like the Israelite army, can fight from the standpoint of victory instead of cowering in fear. The story of David’s faith in a mighty, faithful God that gave him courage to defeat Goliath continues to inspire.   

After recounting a modern example of faith – the story of French Huguenots in the village of Le Chambon who offered refuge to Jews during the German occupation, Gladwell lamented that more Christians did not do the same. "If they understood the power of their faith," he said, "more would have stood up to the Nazis." The world needs to see that God is big enough to not only provide for our needs and bring joy, love and peace to our souls. It needs to see us act to stop injustice, to ease suffering and pain, to offer relief during tragedy, and to boldly tell others the great news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

What do you hope to accomplish in 2014? Are you considering the greatness of God or looking at human limitations? How might we think and act if we realized the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe? (Eph. 1:19)

I will end with a few year-end review questions:

1. What time wasters should I eliminate?

2. What needs to go? Who do I need to forgive? Let go of the past and travel lighter.

3. What themes defined 2013 for me?

4. What people, books, accomplishments, or moments held the greatest significance?

5. In the following areas, where do I need to grow in 2014? What goals should I set?  work, spiritual life, family, relationships, emotional health, finances, physical health, recreation/fun.

6. What is the main thing God is leading me to accomplish in 2014 and beyond?

7. What pursuits are life-giving and energizing for me? What am I doing that pleases both me and God? How can I make time for these pursuits?

8. How am I planning for the next five/ ten/ twenty years?

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Perspective on Thanksgiving

My friend in Beijing, China sent a greeting today and thanked me for her first and last “warming and touching” Thanksgiving celebration she experienced with my family many years ago. As she goes on “compliance leave” from work for a week, I try to imagine November without Thanksgiving, without a fresh reminder of the faithfulness of God, celebration with friends and family, and anticipation of Christmas, the advent of the Saviour into our troubled world. It seems that the whole of November culminates in turning our hearts toward God in gratitude.

Christianity is growing in China at a rapid rate, so on any given day many do give thanks to God for the eternal hope they have found. Expressing gratitude to God against the backdrop of trials causes me to think of Jewish friends as the advent of Hanukkah, the festival of lights, coincides with Thanksgiving this year and the Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving feast in 1621 in their new world. When our hope is fixed on the eternal, we hold all things lightly, and with reverence and joy. And the worries of this world loosen their grip.

Here is a glimpse into the difficulties the pilgrims encountered. Landing in New England after a treacherous journey being tossed on the ocean for more than two months, the Pilgrims carried a missionary fervor to be a “stepping stone of the light of Christ in a new land.” Around ninety members of the Wampanoag tribe joined them for the Thanksgiving feast, but among the one hundred pilgrims who boarded the Mayflower, only fifty-three remained alive.

Many died during the harsh realities of the first winter from exposure, scurvy or other diseases. They had arrived in a howling wilderness without warm inns, prepared food or anyone to greet them. William Bradford wrote: “Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weatherbeaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair too, to seek for succor. And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search and unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men? And what multitudes there might be of them they knew not. What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace? May not and ought not the children of these fathers, rightly say: ‘Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness.”

Blown off course by the storms, they had not landed upon the land of their charter, so they wrote a new charter, the Mayflower Compact, stating why they sailed to the new world.“In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland King, defender of the faith, having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic.” However, their unity was quickly challenged during difficult times.

At the first Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims may have prayed a prayer like the following Puritan prayer:

“O My God, Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects, my heart admires, adores, loves thee, for my little vessel is as full as it can be, and I would pour out all that fullness before thee in ceaseless flow. When I think upon and converse with thee ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up, ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed, ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart, crowding into every moment of happiness. I bless thee for the soul thou hast created, for adorning it, for sanctifying it, though it is fixed in barren soil; for the body thou hast given me, for preserving its strength and vigour, for providing senses to enjoy delights, for the ease and freedom of my limbs, for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding; for thy royal bounty providing my daily support, for a full table and overflowing cup, for appetite, taste, sweetness, for social joys of relatives and friends, for ability to serve others, for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities, for a mind to care for my fellow-men, for opportunities of spreading happiness around, for loved ones in the joys of heaven, for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly. I love thee above the powers of language to express, for what thou art to thy creatures. Increase my love, O my God, through time and eternity.”

During this season, let us delight in Him who created us for His pleasure.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Art of Conflict Resolution

“In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for truth and have begun striving for ourselves.” 

The longer my husband and I are involved in ministry, the more we find ourselves helping people, couples, teams, and organizations solve problems. Life and ministry are rife with problems. The moment you try to move forward and accomplish anything worth doing you will meet roadblocks, snafus and encounter people who have different viewpoints.

Sometimes a great deal is at stake when you are helping solve problems. Sometimes a marriage, a ministry or organization that impacts many lives.

Before I delve into this, let me issue a disclaimer. I am not the ideal person to write about problem solving. My husband is very good at it. He waltzes through complex problems, getting people to shake hands when they are done and feel good about the outcome. Most of the time. And he doesn’t make enemies in the process.

Me? I often view it as a chore. Hopefully I have matured, but my tendency was to cut to the chase and tell everyone involved the truth. But that can shut down communication and hinder forward movement if the person is not ready. I wanted to deal with the root issue and perform open-heart surgery,  Thankfully, I am not the Great Physician. God is and we are His minsters of reconciliation.

What if problem solving could be viewed more like an art? What if we could feel invigorated as we respond to conflict and help others through it instead of sapped of our strength? Not all stress is negative. Eustress is defined as "stress that is healthy, or gives one a feeling of fulfillment or other positive feelings. Eustress is a process of exploring potential gains." Potential gains. If we respond to conflict biblically, we and those we help can experience great gain. The central focus of conflict resolution is the Gospel. We can make peace with one another through love and forgiveness only because God has made peace with us through Jesus Christ. When we receive His forgiveness and love, we are transformed into His likeness and can break free from harmful patterns of dealing with conflict.

This week I heard a speaker from Peacemaker Ministries talk about how to respond to conflict biblically. First he outlined the common escape and attack tendencies we resort to when conflict arises. The escape responses include denial or flight. We don’t want to deal with the problem, so we stay away from the person or people who are involved. Attack responses include assault or litigation. If we lean towards this way of responding, we are more interested in controlling others and getting our way.

Then he outlined four G’s of peacemaking:

Glorify God
Instead of considering our desires and what others may do, depend on God’s forgiveness, wisdom, power and love as we obey Him in every situation.

Get the log out of your eye
Take responsibility for our own contribution to conflict and teach others to do the same. This includes owning up to our sins and seeking to repair any harm we have done.

Gently restore
We can overlook minor offenses, but it the offense is too big to overlook we should seek to restore the person or people involved rather than to condemn. We should also only talk to people about the problem if they are directly involved.

Go and be reconciled
Actively pursue genuine peace and reconciliation. Seek out just and mutually beneficial solutions to differences.

When negotiating between parties, use the PAUSE principle:
(Phil. 2:3-4, Matt. 7:2)

Affirm relationships
Understand interests
Search for creative solutions
Evaluate options objectively and reasonably

And lastly, how can we know if true forgiveness has occurred?

We stop dwelling on what happened, we do not use it against the other person, and we do not talk about it with others. (Matt. 6:12, 1 Cor. 13:5, Eph. 4:32)

For more information and resources, go to