Saturday, March 13, 2010

Friction Happens

My dear friend Mark Buckley asked me to present the Sunday morning sermon at Haney's Chapel, where I was Pastor several years ago. They are a wonderful group of people and I'm looking forward to the visit. Here is the message I will be delivering to them:

I had a really nice, warm, fuzzy Easter sermon prepared (Thursday) when God convicted me with a thought. "You are going to claim to speak for me, yet you have not asked me what to say. How dare you?" That happens to preachers from time to time when we get too full of ourselves. So, I prayed for a message.

God told me what to say Saturday morning. Do not, please do not, blame Mark Buckley for this. If it bothers you, speak to me. If you do not speak to me, I will know that you completely tuned out the message.

When Mark asked me to speak, he mentioned that you have a new Pastor coming next Sunday. My message to you today is about how to relate to him. I believe Romans 8:28 is true, and that God works in all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. God meant for me to be here today. Me, because not another soul on earth can deliver to you today the message that I am bringing.

I'd like for you all to put your palms together like this. Now, rub them together. What happens? They're heating up, aren't they? We call the source of that friction. Now, when nothing is moving or happening, there's no heat, no friction. But as soon as things start moving in the system, and work starts happening, we have friction. It is law of the Universe, created by God himself, that work is resisted by friction. So how can we drive a car? How are all those parts able to move so quickly without a meltdown?

Oil. This is why we're able to drive a car despite all the friction that could happen between the pistons and cylinders. This happens even in the most well-oiled machine, but when we handle it correctly, the machine keeps running.

Right now I'm helping a younger Pastor plant a new Church in Boaz. As his mentor, I'm having to guide him through a lot of conflicts -not only with the community, but most especially with other Christians.  The Church is a body. The parts should be moving. Friction is inevitable in that case. How do you resolve friction with another Church member? With your Pastor?

I submit to you that there are three ways that people normally handle this sort of friction. Any ideas what they might be? If you'll rub your hands together long enough the first one will come to you.

1)Do nothing -check out, quit working, build resentment.


3)Force the other person to leave.

We choose these paths because of self. We choose these paths because they are the easy way. We choose these paths because of the work of sin in our lives. I challenge you today to consider instead the teachings of the Prince of Peace, who was nailed to a cross. He knows friction and conflict. When we treat one another, his children, in the same way he was treated, we nail him once more to the cross.

The first option, do nothing, is by far the most popular. It requires the least work. Since the average tenure of a Pastor these days is two years, people figure they can just wait the joker out, and sooner or later he'll leave.

Yet, Jesus said:

Mat 5:23 So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.

Jesus is laying out the principle here that unresolved conflict hampers our relationship with God. If we wish to have a right and peaceful relationship with God, we must work to have a right and peaceful relationship with our brothers. Which one of you, if your children were fighting and full of resentment to one another, would be able to be at peace with them? You'd want them to work it out and make peace. Then you could also be at peace with them.

The second option, leaving, is a lot like the first. Instead of checking out and leaving our body in a pew, we make the break complete. We move on to another Church, not realizing that we're carrying at least half the problem with us. As we are planning out the new Church plant in Boaz, one thing I want to avoid is encouraging transfers from other Churches. Most people who are disgruntled members in one Church will be just as disgruntled after they've been in the second one a while. They haven't learned to resolve conflict.

Then there's the third path -make the other person leave. This is definitely the most viscerally satisfying, because we get to guard our turf, and enjoy a smug sense of victory. It's the same thrill I get from killing another player in a video game, only we try to hang spiritual trappings on it.

The greatest obstacle to the Gospel in Marshall County Alabama is not atheists, agnostics, scientists, or homosexuals. The greatest obstacle to the Gospel in Marshall County Alabama is not the devil. The greatest obstacle to the Gospel in Marshall County Alabama is not any of the things that preachers like to rant against so hard you can see the veins about to pop out of their necks while they launch spit all the way to the back pews. No, the Greatest obstacle to the Gospel in Marshall County Alabama is Churchgoing people who want to use their claws and fangs to win.

Jesus laid out a different path. If we want to follow Jesus, we must not follow any of the three paths that our flesh commands us to travel. We must lay our bodies at the foot of the cross and follow his path. He laid out three very different steps for us to follow.

Mat 18:15 If one of my followers sins against you, go and point out what was wrong. But do it in private, just between the two of you. If that person listens, you have won back a follower.

But if that one refuses to listen, take along one or two others. The Scriptures teach that every complaint must be proven true by two or more witnesses.

If the follower refuses to listen to them, report the matter to the church. Anyone who refuses to listen to the church must be treated like an unbeliever or a tax collector.

It seems so simple. Go yourself. Go with another. Go to the Church. One, two, three. Why don't we do it? As a Pastor, I've constantly had people asking me to handle their disputes for them, to settle their fights. My question is always “Have you tried yourself?” How can I disobey God in this?

“Well, I just can't speak to that person.” “She wouldn't listen if I did.” “He's already made up his mind.” “They don't care what I have to say.”

Do you think for one minute that Jesus never had to deal with people like that? He lived in a world of people that he knew would hate him, and his followers. He knew they were going to crucify him. Jesus knew all about unreasonable people. We don't get to disobey Jesus just because we think our case is special, that this one is different.

Go to that person yourself. If you're married and that person is of the opposite sex, do it in a public place, even if it's just out in the Church yard. Maybe the two of you can talk it through and save a world of hurt.

If that doesn't work, take someone along to talk to that person again. This doesn't mean take someone who will help you coerce them. Take a fair-minded person that you know will be trusted by both of you.

If that person still won't listen, take it to the Church. That probably doesn't mean standing up in service and complaining about it. Go to the leadership. Let them know that you've tried step 1 and step 2. Let them handle it. Be willing to submit to their decision and consider that you might actually be wrong.

You have a new pastor coming. He's going to bring new ideas and hopefully new energy. Each of you will eventually find something about him, or his ideas, that you don't like. Don't check out. Don't leave. Please don't run him off. Jesus says to go talk to him. Go back with a peacemaker if you must. The future of this Church, and of your relationship with God, depends on it. There are two paths before this Church, one leads to death, and another to life. I call on heaven and earth as witnesses today that I have offered you life or death, blessings or curses. Choose life.