Today, I am honored to share a guest post by Pastor and author Chris Brauns. Chris is the Pastor at The Red Brick Church in Stillman Valley, IL and the author of Unpacking Forgiveness: Biblical Answers for Complex Questions and Deep Wounds and When the Word Leads Your Pastoral Search: Biblical Principles and Practices to Guide Your Search. I am grateful to Chris for taking time out of his busy schedule to offer guidance on a subject that so many Christians long to unpack but don’t know how. If you carry heart pain over broken and unreconciled relationships in the body, then the following post is for you.
Chris has also graciously provided 2 signed copies of Unpacking Forgiveness for a giveaway contest. If you are interested in participating, please leave a comment. To increase your chances, share this post on your FB and/or blog and let me know you have done so. I will add your name for each share. The drawing will close Monday, June 11th @ 8pm EST. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, June 12th. International entries welcome!
Another Point Of Encouragement For Christians Who Cannot Agree
Three years after Unpacking Forgiveness came out, there is another point I would add to my counsel for believers who find themselves at an impasse: Spend time vividly meditating on the return of Christ and eternity on a New Earth.
By way of review and/or background, in Unpacking Forgiveness, I pointed out:
In a perfect world, Christians would resolve all conflicts. If we all followed God’s Word completely, then we would resolve our differences and move forward together.
The reality is it does not always work that way. There are times when trying to achieve resolution seems only to make matters worse. People remember what has already taken place differently. And, they disagree about how to move forward. It is an impasse, a hopelessly-complicated knot. Despite prayer, despite efforts, despite meeting after meeting, reconciliation seems impossible.
These impasses can begin calmly enough. But when lines are drawn and people align on one side or the thing takes on a life of its own. E-mails fly. If it is in a church setting, out-of-town ministry authorities may be contacted “for advice.” Some people, often those who have not read the Bible for years, begin to search for relevant verses. Others organize “prayer” meetings. Laymen are tempted to gossip or to accuse leadership of being overly controlling. Leaders are tempted to issue accusations of gossip and mutiny. Some talk about holding high a banner of “truth.” Others dismiss doctrinal issues to major on “love.”
Almost always, there is more to a conflict than the obvious issues. Soon enough, these other matters are dredged up and the knot is tied tighter still. Well-intentioned attempts to defuse the situation are taken the wrong way.
The damage from these interpersonal cycles of violence is horrific. Sometimes local churches never recover. Young believers are hurt. Pastors are burned out. Joy is taken away. God is not glorified by his people.
So, how do we move beyond an impasse? What do we do when people simply cannot reconcile with one another or agree on a solution? In such cases, it seldom works to simply walk through the steps of Matthew 18:15-17. This is not because there is any deficiency in God’s Word. It is because we are fallen people who do not always think alike. And sometimes we do not know how to come to resolution.
Before I go further, I want to stress again, that Christians must humbly, do everything possibly to resolve conflicts. So don’t use this chapter as an excuse to go your separate ways apart from sustained effort to work things out. For a one-page overview of what to do in the face of conflict, see this post.
Still there are impasses. So I wrote what must be done in light of them. Much of that chapter in Unpacking Forgiveness was spent reflecting on Paul and Barnabas parting ways. Distilling the whole chapter into a few points, I said that Christians who cannot agree should (an expanded version of these points can be found here):
- Accept that impasses happen. If Paul and Barnabas came to one, then we may, as well.
- Fix our eyes on Jesus and continue on. We must not quit.
- Say less. Without gossip a quarrel dies down.
- Submit. We must respect God-ordained authority.
- Wait. Time heals wounds that emotions and reason cannot.
Now that Unpacking Forgiveness has been out for three years, I still think this list is good counsel to Christians who are absolutely at an impasse – – – But I have another point to add. If you are at an impasse with other believers, such that you have a “bad taste” in your mouth about the local church, spend sustained time meditating on the hope of the eschatological (final redemptive work of Christ) future.
Over and over again, the way that Scripture encourages tired people is to point them to eternity. Here are just a few examples:
- Peter tells elders to keep going because when the Chief Shepherd appears they will receive a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:1-4).
- The author of Hebrews lists those who were sustained by the picture of a city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11).
- Paul vividly outlines the hope of the resurrection before telling the Corinthians to be steadfast and immoveable in the hope of the Lord knowing that their labor is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58).
- The Psalmist says that the was totally overwhelmed mentally (thinking in circles) until he thought about judgment and glory (Psalm 73:16-17). You can listen to a Psalm 73 sermon I preached here. – — and see these exercises to stop thinking about how you have been wounded.
Before you tell me that this seems awfully basic, and that it is of no help to you, let me stress that this is something you really must work at. Honestly, for those who have had a broken relationship, have you spent more time meditating on eternity with Christ? Or have you spent more time rehearsing the injustices of the situation?
A few years ago, my family and I went through a very painful time that included the loss of my brother-in-law in a snowmobile accident and my father in law in a car accident. Our children were quite young at the time, and we realized that if we were to lead our family forward in Christian hope, we needed to vividly look to eternity with Christ. So we decided specifically where our family is going to meet “on the other side.” We are going to meet at the 5th tree on the right side of the river as we face the throne of Christ.
The value of planning our meeting at the 5th Tree (and you are invited to come by) was that it made us stop and meditate on the beauty of what it will be like to be with our brothers and sisters together in the presence of Jesus. There is not a Christian I know, not even ones who have done something awful to me that I would not invite. Indeed, it is the ones who have hurt me the most that I long to see when we get to the other side and forgiveness is completely unpacked. It is good for my soul to long for the time when the impasse is completely behind us, and it will be in Christ.
So pick out a tree where you are going to meet when we get to the other side. Please choose one another than the 5th tree on the right side of the river as you face the throne. It might get crowded there. But take the time to meditate on what it will be like. Read Revelation 22 aloud several times. Memorize Scripture in order to be moved emotionally. Write out a prayer. Ask Christ to come back soon (Revelation 22:20). Spend less time rehearsing the details of the injury in your mind — don’t allow an impasse to define your life – – – think about those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy (Phil 4:8-9) and what could be more lovely than being together in the presence of Christ?