Unending Conflict, Unending Forgiveness

There are many ways to practice unhealthy conflict resolution.  

Sometimes, we run away from the person that hurt us, cutting off the relationship before we get hurt again. Sometimes, we bury the hurt, trying to maintain peace in the relationship, fearing turmoil in our own hearts. Sometimes, we talk to others about someone that hurt us, looking for an outlet or people to take our side.


If we are honest, we have probably done each of these things at one time or another.


Jesus calls us to something different.


“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.” – Luke 17:3b


The Greek word for rebuke is connected to the word for honor, and I don’t think that is a coincidence.


When we speak to people directly about how they have sinned against us, we honor them. We treat them as a reasonable person who will be able to listen to our side of the story. We give them the benefit of the doubt that they may not realize how their actions affected us unless we tell them.


I have been on the receiving end of some difficult conversations. And though they have stung, they have helped me grow as a person. Often, I didn’t even realize what I was doing until someone told me. The conversation gave me a chance to apologize, and to think more deeply about how my actions affect others.


I have also been on the giving end of some difficult conversations. And though the anticipation of them has made me want to throw up, these honest dialogues have helped me maintain healthy relationships and a healthy heart.


It seems that Jesus is giving wise and kind advice.


Until He says the next sentence.


There’s often a next sentence with Jesus. The sentence we like to leave out when we quote Him.


“Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” – Luke 17:4


This reminds me of marriage. Our spouse is the person we love most in the world, but also the person we tend to hurt most often. We cannot put a cap on how many times we talk about how we have been offended or forgive the other person for offending us. Our commitment to the relationship compels us to have difficult conversations over and over and over again.


commitmentWhen Jesus sets up this call to rebuke, repent, and forgive, Jesus uses the word that at other times signifies “fellow believers,” our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to have the same kind of commitment to our family in Christ as we have to our family at home.


We are to be so committed to healthy relationships with fellow Christians that we are willing to have difficult conversations over and over and over again. We are to honor each other enough to tell each other when our behavior does not line up with how Christ called us to live, and to forgive each other when we repent of those behaviors.


This is an extraordinarily difficult teaching.


And to be honest, I don’t know how it applies to all circumstances. I don’t know how this applies people in power who seem to be abusing their privilege. (Perhaps true repentance on their part would mean stepping down or changing behavior?) I don’t know how this applies to a relationship in which a boundary must be set for the health of one or both parties. (Perhaps forgiving people doesn’t mean we have to continue spending time with them?)


What I do know is that this discourse is set up by the importance of not hurting those who are most vulnerable. So, Jesus is not willy-nilly throwing around commands that He knows will end up hurting people.


He wants us to understand that the forgiveness we receive from Christ should become a wellspring within us, which we can liberally and generously pour out on others.


We are called to forgive in the same way we have been forgiven. Without limit.


Jesus Said Lent Series ButtonA series to honor the Lenten season by reflecting on various teachings of Christ. Let’s think about who He was and what He came to do by talking about the words that came straight from His mouth.

a symphony of unity in diversity

How would you describe the Church? That can be a dangerous question. The Church has made many mistakes through the years. Many people have been hurt from the decisions its leaders have made or from the people within its walls. But how would you describe the Church as it was meant to be? What is its potential?

I saw a beautiful video that, to me, is the perfect picture of what the church could be.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WhWDCw3Mng?rel=0]

Eric Whitacre had an amazing vision. He invited people from all over the world to participate in his choir. They didn’t have to have credentials. They didn’t have to look a certain way, or be a certain age, or speak a certain language. They didn’t even have to travel from where they were. All they had to do was submit a video. And that video was put together into something beautiful and moving; something far beyond what any of the people participating in it could have done on their own. This choir is an ambassador of beautiful music composed by a brilliant conductor.

But this choral symphony was not made without effort. It took a lot of work to scrub out background noise, so that all the tracks would work together in perfect harmony. I’m sure there were many mistakes made along the way. But now we can see that the hard work was worth it. I cannot imagine that a single person who participated in this choir regrets his or her decision to do so. They were able to participate in something much bigger than themselves, something that inspired and moved people.

I believe God looks out into the world and sees potential. He sees the potential within each one of us to do something beautiful with our lives. And He sees the potential of what we can do when we work together. That’s what the Church is meant to be.

As this choir was unified through singing the same song, the church is unified through the gospel message of Jesus Christ. But this does not make us a boring and static group. The Gospel message brings beauty, as the Church becomes the embodiment of unity in diversity. Each singer is still an individual: unique and with important part to play.

The key is keeping our eyes on the conductor. He is guiding us in how to use our gifts to bring beauty to the world. But, we have to watch for his signs. We can’t get sidetracked by the noise in the other rooms of our house. He can help us scrub out noise, but He needs us to stay in the room. Each of us has to participate.

I have a history of stretching analogies farther than they should go, so I should probably stop here. I may have gone too far already. However, I hope that this analogy brings you the same sense of wonder as it brought to me. This is an opportunity to marvel about what the church could be. What would happen to the world if the Church kept its eyes on what it was called here to do? What would happen to the world if each of us put time and effort into the part we were called to play?

We will make mistakes. It will take effort. But it is worth it. The church should bring beauty, peace, and hope to the world. The church is meant to be an ambassador of beautiful music.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. -Ephesians 3:20-21

(Eric Whitacre did a great TED video describing how this choir came into existence. You can watch it by clicking here.)