Turning Everything Over to God

It is often difficult to let go of pain in our life. We may cling to hurt feelings, at cost of reconciling with another person. Bad words can stick with us for a long time, even after several years have passed when someone first spoke them to us.

Pain is especially prevalent in hurt relationships where you witness someone else engage in destructive behavior. We want so badly for that person to make the right decision, but they turn the other way. We eagerly want them to get better, but they often make the same mistakes over and over again. We want that brother, sister, cousin, parent, or friend to follow God. Yet we cannot make that decision for him or her.

Jesus was no stranger to pain. On one occasion, some of his family supposedly objected to his ministry. Jesus also told stories of sibling conflict. Jesus cried and felt the pain of loss. Perhaps most famously, we might recall Jesus’ crucifixion, which was definitely one of the worst possible ways to be tortured and killed.

During his ministry, Jesus also offered up touching parables and teachings about God potentially feeling pain because of wayward children. The story of the lost son probably comes to mind, where the loving father welcomes back his wayward son. Perhaps this is why this parable is one of the most famous ones Jesus taught. Many people can identify with “running away”, missing someone, or seeing another person make poor decisions. We see ourselves in the child who is lost, or we might hope to feel the healing depicted by the loving father.

I personally find comfort in many of these gospel teachings. I believe they help us realize that Jesus knows exactly what we are going through when we face pain with family or friendship. Surely we should remember Jesus can handle it if we only trust him!

Many people might not realize this, but Ruth Bell Graham dealt with pain in her own personal relationships. She was the wife of evangelist Billy Graham. Ruth and Billy’s children sometimes wandered and drifted away from the faith, especially as they entered into adulthood. In my studies a while back, I came across a poem she had written reflecting on handing things over to God, based off her own life of waiting for a phone call from a distant child…

“She waited for the call that never came”

She waited for the call

that never came;

searched every mail

for a letter,

or a note,

or card,

that bore his name;

and on her knees at night,

and on her feet

all day,

she stormed Heaven’s gate

in his behalf;

she pled for him

in Heaven’s high court.

“Be still, and wait; and see”–

the word God gave;

then she

knew that He would

do in and for and with him,

that which she never could.

So doubts ignored

she went about her chores

with joy–

knowing, though spurned,

His word was true.

The prodigal had not returned,

but God was God,

and there was work to do.

We all have “prodigals” in our life–people we may deeply care about, yet we see them make bad decisions. Prodigals are not limited to children (in fact, I’ve met quite a few folks who have prodigal parents!). In all these cases of frustration, hopelessness, and pain it is so important to turn these cares over to God. Or as Ruth Graham once put it: “The prodigal had not returned, but God was God… and there was work to do.”

Biblical Conflict Resolution

Matthew 18:15-20 provides a unique model for handling conflict within the church. Christians throughout the ages have adapted this teaching of Jesus to fit all different kinds of circumstances and issues. The Methodist church actually has a “Matthew 18” sort of method for conflict resolution. Churches are required to have a pastor (or staff) relations committee, with lay leaders handling concerns with a pastor. If the issue develops into a more substantial conflict, then the district and conference often step in to resolve the matter. With a hypothetical conflict with a pastor, you can see how the conflict resolution circle gets “bigger.” First, a small part of the congregation handles a personnel issue. If it isn’t resolved (or if the pastor continues misbehaving), then more people with more authority step in. In the worst offenses and serious violations, conferences may even vote to remove someone from credentialed ministry!

Overall, I believe Matthew 18 provides several general guidelines for Christians to follow. I think Christians sometimes get themselves into a pickle if they take these words literally without thinking about their own personal, unique context. Do you literally have to always bring a couple friends to “call out” someone? Do you have to have a “church trial” if someone doesn’t repent? If you ask me, it depends on the situation. I think Jesus provides a great outline of conflict resolution values, but we must always discern what is appropriate to do.

For instance, if someone who has wronged you is not a Christian, chances are that talking about the bible and the “Matthew 18 way” will do little good. They simply do not value what you might value and speak a completely different language than that of the kingdom God. Seek resolution in another sort of way, instead of bringing them to church to be confronted!

If someone is in an abusive relationship, I do not recommend bringing “one or two” other people along, much less the entire church to that family’s house. Many times, abusers will be able to manipulate their way out of a dicey situation. They might appear repentant on the outside or even minimize the wrong done. Then they often go back to harming the victim afterwards. The “spirit” of the Matthew 18 law, I would argue, would be that if you are suffering abuse, you need to remove yourself from that situation entirely. Hopefully through professional help (for both abused and abuser), then that relationship will mend. Matthew 18 does not teach that you should get yourself hurt time and time again. It teaches that we ought to have resolution to our personal problems and woes. For abuse victims, a positive resolution means no more abuse.

Sometimes people also use the idea of forgiveness as a weapon against those they have wronged. We know we are to forgive other people, but sometimes we are guilted into doing so. We may feel bad if we still feel hurt by someone’s actions. I’ve noticed this issue every once in a while, where the offender will insist that the victim ignore past wrongdoings. This is likely an issue where the offender truly has not repented of sin. The offender might claim that everything is perfectly OK after handling the conflict the “Matthew 18 way.” Even worse, a church community might gang up on one particular person, confronting them in their supposed sin while feeling self-righteous about themselves. Matthew 18 should never be weaponized.

To truly resolve conflict, all parties need to eagerly seek Jesus. There’s no room for faking it or pretending. If everyone is not on the same page of following Christ, then the brokenness will never fully heal.

Conflict is tough work. It takes a lot of courage to examine your own feelings of hurt and pain. It takes even more courage to take action to make things better. The main points I glean from Matthew 18 is that we ought to think creatively when facing conflict in relationships. Many times it helps to have someone as a witness by our side when we confront a wrongdoer. Other times we need the support of more people. But we should be mindful to never use forgiveness or reconciliation as an excuse to feel better than someone else. Hopefully our true goal is that we turn over our conflict to God. It is telling that this teaching of Jesus ends this way with verse 20: “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Hopefully when you “gather” with other people, you do so in God’s name. You deal with others in such a way to glorify God. You build relationships on a biblical foundation. You behave as a Christ follower in all your interactions. Only when we do that will we realize God is moving in our relationships, as well as our conflict moments.

Jesus Can Fix You

Sunday’s sermon on our emotional toolbox really focused on the importance of setting a good example for others. We have the opportunity to shape “younger” Christians by our actions, whether that be children in our own family or even new Christians in a church family.

Likewise, it is also worth considering our own skillset we inherited from our upbringing. Mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, a neighbor, or an older sibling certainly shaped us. We picked up on behaviors and actions and incorporated them into our personal life. If someone lacked the influence of close family during youth, chances are they will “pick up” and follow the example set forth by TV shows, music, celebrities, schoolmates, local leaders, and so on.

I briefly touched on how our “toolboxes” are frequently missing items or are outright broken. Here are just a few examples of severely broken upbringings and fortunate outcomes…

A missionary to Ukraine once shared a story with me about how he ministered to a young boy who had witnessed his mother kill his abusive father. The mother abandoned the boy afterwards. The boy was incredibly traumatized by what had happened and ran away to live inside a sewer. The missionary was able to bring the young boy to a shelter and receive much-needed counseling and healthcare.

A young man in the prison ministry I help out with shared that his “toolbox” for fatherhood was incredibly broken. Growing up, his father would come home from work, drink an entire pack of beer, and make the young boy and his brother fist fight for his entertainment until one of them passed out unconscious. Fortunately, this young man saw how his upbringing scarred him, and eagerly sought the healing of God.

Another young man in the prison ministry was raised by a white supremacist cult in rural Arkansas. They claimed to be Christian, but in addition to intense racism were also extensively involved in trafficking drugs and guns. He even had a relative who was imprisoned for murdering a hispanic man. “I feel like my mind is so messed up,” he told me one, “Everything I do, I keep thinking about the past and how my family was so hateful. I don’t know what to do.” Fortunately, this young man was actively involved in the program and realized he needed to overcome the continual hate and violence he experienced as a child.

I share these stories to emphasize this simple truth of faith: If you are broken, you need to look to Christ for the fix. Jesus provides a way to overcome victimhood and claim your identity in God’s kingdom. Terrible pasts can certainly weigh on us. But Jesus offers a way out. As the graphic above notes from Hebrews, we need to have our eyes fixed on Jesus.

It doesn’t matter what you past consisted of. If you had a horrendous childhood, Jesus offers you healing right now. If a parent or relative has ever abused you, Jesus offers you comfort right now. If anyone has ever let you down in your past and it negatively affected your future, Jesus offers you hope right now.

Jesus can fix you, regardless of how broken you feel, whatever you struggle with, or even your past. Our “toolboxes” may be broken or lacking in certain areas, but Jesus offers the incredible opportunity to be repaired, mended, and made whole.