Christian Confrontation

Sunday’s sermon was on Jesus “reinstating” Peter. This touching story was a powerful resolution to a difficult chapter in Peter’s life. He had abandoned and denied Jesus a short time before.

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As I read this passage, I notice that John 21 reminds us of a very practical method to address the human conflict we often face. We obviously don’t always get along with family or friends. And to make matters worse, we usually struggle with truly resolving problems.

So what can Jesus teach us as he confronted his disciple Peter? Here’s one unique interpretation…

  1. Don’t sweep the problem under the rug!

Too often Christians think that concepts like “forgiveness” and “grace” mean we overlook past wrongdoings entirely. Perhaps you’ve felt pressured to move along without addressing a problem! When it comes to sorting out our issues with a fellow brother or sister, we should never sweep something under the rug.

Jesus clearly did not do this with Peter. He did not pretend like Peter had done nothing wrong. Instead, by asking him three times “Do you love me?” Jesus sought to address that original “problem” of denial! Likewise, when you are dealing with some kind of confrontation in your own life, don’t make the mistake of pretending like everything is fine when it is not. Be honest about the problem at hand!

  1. Focus on behavior, rather than judging other people.

When arguing with someone, how easy is it to rush to name-calling! This is a form of judgment, where we pretend to know what is in someone’s heart, and think that we are qualified to label and condemn.

Jesus, being the son of God, had every right to cast judgment on Peter. Yet I think Jesus modeled a powerful approach to conflict resolution for his followers. Instead of shaming Peter or telling him he was an awful disciple, Jesus sought to highlight actions. If you are confronting someone, try to focus on someone’s behavior instead of judging the person him or herself. The conversation turns to a dark place once either person feels as though they are being judged.

  1. Move forward with action.

This final point is rooted in the idea of being constructive, as opposed to destructive. Destruction tears something down or apart. Construction builds up. Jesus exemplified this in John 21 with practical commandments for Peter to follow. He instructed this once-wayward disciple to care for and feed God’s sheep.

As you deal with confrontation in your own life, work to move forward with some kind of better future. Too often we hold onto the past and criticize, which leaves both offender and offended stuck in the past. Work to improve actions, behavior, and words with the person you are confronting. Be constructive rather than destructive.

There are many ways to interpret Jesus reinstating Peter. This story obviously speaks to God’s radical grace and the second chances we can receive in life. Additionally, I think Jesus shows us a helpful way to handle confrontation. Follow the example of Christ the next time you encounter conflict!

Old Tape Messages

One of the most insightful bible studies I’ve ever heard was on John 14 and Jesus speaking about orphans. With this being our scripture yesterday, I figured I would share this interesting interpretation for our blog today!

While in South Africa on a mission internship in college, we took various classes taught by missionaries and staff. These ranged from learning about Basotho culture, mission studies, to even biblical interpretation. One of our group leaders, Charlene, spoke on Jesus and orphans. This topic has so many unique applications, from Jesus literally welcoming the little children, to even a more figurative concept of being an “orphan” with no place to belong.

Charlene pointed out that parents and caregivers ideally give children the emotional support to grow into healthy adults. Mom or dad reminds the child of his or her meaning and self-worth. Loving parents provide comfort during painful moments. They kiss boo-boos and make them feel better. They set the child on a trajectory for success. Think of the “positive messages” a child hopefully hears:

  • We love you more than you know
  • God created you to be so special and unique
  • We are proud of you
  • Jesus loves you

So obviously, when children grow up in broken homes, there are problems. Sometimes young people can overcome this, through the support of friends, extended family, or a church community. Other times this causes lifelong issues. Think of the “negative messages” a child in this situation might hear either said out loud or implicitly:

  • Nobody loves you
  • You are broken/worthless
  • You’ll be alone
  • God doesn’t care about you

These kinds of negative messages really do a lot of damage. The fancy psychological words for these are internalization and externalization. Internalization is when we take our troubled thoughts and direct them inwardly upon ourselves (i.e. anxiety, depression). Externalization is when we take those troublesome things and project them outward onto others (i.e. bullying, vandalism).

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Our mission leader talked about how these messages are like old cassette tapes. You remember that “old” technology, right? The tape plays on one side, and often there would be more audio on the other side. Charlene talked about how we all have these old tape messages running over and over again in the back of our mind.

For the young teenager struggling with an eating disorder, those “tapes” spread the message of “You are ugly, you will never be beautiful.” For the perfectionist, “Your best will never be good enough.” For the elderly man fighting depression, “No one truly cares about you, you will always be alone.” The list goes on and on.

Sometimes, these messages we literally heard in our past. Think of the abused child who heard all sorts of nasty things from a parent. Insults, foul language, and verbal abuse can hurt long after they’ve been spoken. They can cause major psychological issues well into adulthood.

Other times, these old tape messages are ones that we develop ourselves based off our circumstances. Think of the child in the foster care system who thinks nobody would ever want them, and that they don’t deserve a “forever home.” Silence and lack of support can lead us to a very poor view of ourselves. If we do not hear affirming words regularly, then that can lead us to believe twisted falsehoods.

What are the old tape messages you have playing over and over again in your mind? Some of them might be subtle and infrequent. Others might be loud and deafening. Yet we all still have some kind of message we struggle with.

The incredible news of the gospel is that Christ will never leave us alone. All those old tape messages you struggle with are downright lies. Christ tells us who we truly are. He invites you into fellowship and a sense of belonging. We are worth so much in God’s eyes.

Regardless of whatever “message” is playing in your mind, Christ invites us to hear the truth. Take out those old, broken cassette tapes and throw them away. Hear the good news of the gospel.

We are redeemed and loved. We are God’s children. Now that’s worth repeating over and over again!

Pastor’s Bookshelf: Salvation by Allegiance Alone

What do you think of when you hear the word faith? More often than not, Matthew Bates argues, we tend to think of an abstract idea. We have “faith” things will get better. We have a detached sense of hope. In this definition, faith is something very passive and somewhat aimless. To complicate matters further, many Christians also have a poor understanding of something like good works. We somehow view spiritual fruit (“good works”) as the enemy, instead clinging to the belief that faith alone saves, while works just get in the way. The key question is how we define faith. Is it something wishful? Or is there another alternative?

I believe Bates makes a compelling argument in Salvation by Allegiance Alone that we need to rethink this idea of faith by looking at what faith meant in the ancient world. Faith was not a blind act, but rather an action one did towards someone. It had the connotation of not only trusting and hoping, but giving one’s allegiance to an authority. Soldiers showed allegiance to their general. Citizens pledged allegiance to an emperor. Bates’ rethinking of faith falls in line with non-biblical sources from the ancient world. His argument is that our English word faith might be better understood as allegiance, given the history of the ancient world. Consider the following example from Galatians 2:20:

It is no longer I who live, but the Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the allegiance of the son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

If you ask me, this reading definitely gives a lot of “meat on the bones” for a seemingly confusing and abstract word like faith!

The central shift Bates advocates for is rather than viewing Jesus as some theoretical ticket to heaven, we must stick to the gospel message of recognizing Jesus Christ as king. Our faith in him amounts to nothing if we do not view him as one would swear allegiance to a king. Jesus must have our devotion, praise, and work as believers.

This is noted in the Christian tradition and our creeds. Jesus lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven. We tend to overlook that final part! Bates’ concluding illustration is quite insightful. When Christians say the Apostles’ Creed in a Sunday worship service, we must think of it as our guiding “Pledge of Allegiance.”

Hopefully when we confess Jesus as Lord, we truly mean it. We don’t just think it in our minds, but embrace true allegiance. We don’t look to worldly systems or powers for our hope. Politicians, economies, savings accounts, or personal property tempt us with idolatry all the time. To be saved means we reject these idols and seek Christ alone.

Words can be funny things. They often have slightly different definitions and can actually change over time. According to this insightful book, such is the case with our word for faith. When we follow Christ, we are to view him as king over all.