Courage to Work Through Conflict

I’m amused at the humorous translation glitches that some major corporations had while trying to globalize their brand.    Here are a few of my favorites:  Coors translated its slogan, “Turn It Loose,” into Spanish, where it is a colloquial term for having diarrhea. Colgate launched toothpaste in France named “Cue” without realizing that it’s also the name of a French pornographic magazine. Pepsi’s slogan “Pepsi Brings You Back to Life” was debuted in China as “Pepsi Brings You Back from the Grave.”  The American Dairy Association replicated its “Got Milk?” campaign in Spanish-speaking countries where it was translated into “Are You Lactating?”[i]

Such good intentions, so horribly received.  It’s funny when it’s a corporate story, but much less funny when it us and our relationships. How many relationships and even entire churches are decimated by a simple misunderstanding?

In the early days of the Israelites in the Promised Land a simple misunderstanding threatened to start a civil war.   As the enemies of Israel were finally dealt with, they weren’t prepared for what happened in Joshua 22 . They had peace on the outside but now they had disunity within the Promised Land. Thankfully, clear communication won the day and civil war did not happen.  We must acknowledge that misunderstandings happen and we do well to give a gracious ear to both parties.

Here’s a summary of what happened:  The tribe of Reuben and Gad wanted to set up a memorial to show their solidarity with the people of Israel. But this was seen as an idolatrous act by the other tribes. Thankfully, no blood was shed because everyone explained their story and moved on from this conflict. In doing so they give us a good path to travel when we find our own conflicts.  Here are three steps to handle conflict.

  1. When in conflict the offended party should lovingly confront.  Joshua 22:11-19

 Though I don’t believe they quite modeled “lovingly confront” the people of Israel did have the guts to actually confront the ones who had offended them instead of cutting their heads off!   The biblical response would have been for them to assume the best of their brothers and to have perhaps taken a listening ear instead of a sharpened spear. Yet, they did have the grace to hear out their brothers before engaging in civil war.

As a pastor I’ve had to mediate between fighting couples and fighting friends. Almost without exception the problem comes down to a lack of communication. Rather than actually talk about what has offended them the offended party simply sulks and/or wages war. When things get out in the open there is usually a simple misunderstanding and things are resolved. This same thing happens in churches. Leaders might be guilty of assuming they understand what is going on, but in reality there is much more to a story. Likewise, those being led might assume some nefarious plans on the part of the leader. Much of this could be dealt with if believers would do as the people of Israel here and confront those who have offended them.

 Are there relationships that are broken in our lives because of a lack of communication? Are there people who have offended us and do not know it? Perhaps we should do the hard thing and clear the air?

 2. When in conflict the offended party should graciously listen.   Joshua 22:21-28

 Can you imagine the people of Israel in a counseling session, explaining their beef with the two offending tribes? Their story seemed so right. They had every right to be angry at the idolatry and treacherous act of their brothers. How could they do such a thing? An inexperienced leader would have maybe even counseled them to take up arms against their brothers.

But if we really wisely pause and realize there is usually another side to the story. In the case presented in Joshua 22 there was a legitimate explanation for this altar. It wasn’t for idolatry it was a sign of peace and unity between all the tribes of Israel. How terrible that what was intended to be a sign of peace became a source of division.

Thankfully the Israelites graciously listened to the explanation of their brothers. We would do well as leaders to listen to both sides of every story. And even as individual believers we should always remember there are probably two sides to every story—even if we are the ones in conflict.

Are there ways that we can be more intentional in listening to someone else’s story? How we respond to an explanation is often telling of our hearts. If we respond in anger and distrust that is telling us that something is lopsided. But if we are quick to forgive and quick to listen to an explanation it tells us that we’ve likely experienced grace.

 3. When in conflict work through it in a way that honors the Lord.   Joshua 22:29-34

All of the tribes involved in this conflict wanted the same thing—to honor the Lord and to live in peace. Even today if warring parties share this desire then you can feel confident that a conflict will be resolved. That does not mean that both parties (or either) will get their way. But what it does mean is that they’ll be able to live in unity. In the story in Joshua 22 both parties were satisfied and both worshipped God. This is what happens when conflict is brought out into the open and biblically dealt with—it ends in praise to God.

 Ultimately our peace and unity with one another has already been purchased by Christ. Because He has drawn us to Himself, He has also drawn us to one another. We are united with one another because we are united to Him. But we must be “eager to maintain” this unity. We do this, not by being focused on unity but by being focused on Christ. Ultimately, our display of unity is a display of how much we value Christ. Someday every conflict will be over and everything will be out in the open.  No more misunderstandings. No more fractured relationships. Instead we will live in perfect peace with one another. This is what Christ has purchased for us. And we are invited to live this out even today.



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Our Worst Enemy is Ourself

Our worst enemy is our self.  Occupying the same skin that we occupy, using same brain that we use, and using the same hands that we use. This enemy can do more harm to us than anyone else.

There are several challenges that make dealing with this enemy difficult. First is that we are quick to deny defend, make excuses for or even believe that this enemy could lead to our downfall. Second we are reluctant to recognize and identify this enemy because most of us like him/her too much.  Nations, cities, churches, and individuals have been destroyed by the enemy within.

You may have heard of the old story of how the city of Troy held off the Greeks for ten long, weary years. Finally the Greeks sailed away leaving a wooden horse. The Trojans took that wooden horse within their gates, and that was the undoing and destruction of Troy.

In a similar way churches are wrecked from within, not from forces without. “Jesus Christ in his letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor gave them certain warnings; yet not one of these churches received warning as to the enemy on the outside,” commentator J. Vernon McGee reminds us.  Christ said to these churches (in effect), “You have something within that is bringing about your own destruction.” Disloyalty and unfaithfulness in the church today is hurting God’s cause more than any enemy that is on the outside.

Individuals are destroyed from the inside too. Alexander the Great was probably the greatest military genius who ever moved armies across the known world in victory after victory.  Before the age of thirty he had conquered the world, but historians report that he struggled with drinking and lost that battle at age 32.  He had conquered the world, but he could not conquer Alexander the Great.

The only battle that Joshua and Israel lost in taking the Promised Land was a battle in which the defeat came, not from without, but from within.

One guy named Achan caused the defeat of his fellow soldiers and countrymen; one guy was responsible for 36 men losing their lives.

Joshua and the elders had to go through this long procedure in order to find the guilty party. It was difficult for them to distinguish evil in the camp. For us, also, it seems to be difficult to distinguish evil in the church. Church members seem to be the most blind to evil in their own communities. They can see evil in a night club downtown or in the adult film store or in some politician, but they cannot see sin in their family or church. How tragic that is.

As I wrote in the last post, God could have just told Joshua who the guilty party was, but He didn’t. And I think the reason He didn’t was to give Achan time to confess. God was giving him a chance to admit his wrong and show that he realized what he had done to his people. In fact, I think if he had come forth earlier, perhaps the night before when Joshua said they would draw lots or the next morning or even at the beginning of the lottery process. I think if he came forward then that God would have forgiven Him but he didn’t. Achan hid his deed until the very end.

His stubborn behavior reminds me of something I learned as a child-it is always better to admit your sin to your parents rather than have them discover it. You still get punished, but not as severely.  As someone has put it, “The pain of exposure is better than the pain of concealment.”

Achan’s name literally means “trouble” and Joshua played on this in verses 23-25 as he confronted Achan and said, “Why have you troubled us? Why have you lived up to your name Achan?”  Achan finally confesses.

Before justice could be carried out, Joshua had to present the evidence that substantiated Achan’s confession. The messengers dug under Achan’s tent and found the stolen items that had brought defeat to Israel. The stolen goods were spread out before the Lord so He could see that all Israel was renouncing their hold on this stolen treasure. The confession and the evidence were enough to convict the accused man.  (Joshua 7:22-23)

Since a law in Israel prohibited innocent family members from being punished for the sins of their relatives (Deut. 24:16), Achan’s family must have been guilty of assisting him in this crime.

He and the guilty members of his family were executed. (Joshua 7:24-26)

Achan’s experience shows that there really is no such thing as hidden sin, secret sin. As Numbers 32:23 says, “You can be sure that your sin will find you out.”

As Matthew 6:18 says our God, “…sees what is done in secret.” Psalm 139 goes so far as to say that God knows literally everything about us. He knows, “…when we sit and when we rise….He perceives even our thoughts…He is familiar with all our ways.” There is no where that we can go that He does not see what we do for, “…even the darkness is not dark to Him…” Psalm 90:8 says, “[Oh God] You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence.” As Psalm 10:13 says, “Why does the wicked man say, ‘God won’t call me into account?’” He will. Romans 2:16 says that a day will come when God will, “…judge men’s secrets.” The clear teaching of Scripture is that there is no such thing as a secret sin. Sooner or later our sins will find us out.

One night a drunk husband snuck up the stairs quietly. He looked in the bathroom mirror and carefully bandaged the cuts and scrapes he had received in a fight earlier that night. In his befuddled mind he reasoned that the next morning he would tell his wife the bandages were the result of his cutting himself shaving or something like that. Then he proceeded to climb into bed, smiling at the thought that he had pulled one over on his wife. When morning came, he opened his eyes and there she stood looking down at him. She said, “You were drunk last night weren’t you.” “No, honey.” he replied. She said, “Well, if you weren’t then who put all the band-aids on the bathroom mirror?”

Like this deceptive drunk a time will come when our sins will be revealed. In Achan’s case it took only a few days. Achan had plenty of opportunity to repent but he stubbornly, selfishly refused to do so. He continued to hide his sin and in my mind this is why his punishment was capital. Peter Wagner is right on the money when he writes, “The Bible says, ‘Humble yourself.’ Go ahead and humble yourself because if God has to humble you, it’s too late.”

The apostle Paul said, “For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.”  1 Corinthians 11:31 If we don’t judge ourselves, God has to step in and judge us, and His judgment is sometimes pretty serious.

But what are we to do? “IF we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” 1 John 1:9

Pray to God and tell Him exactly what you did. That is confession. There can be no joy in our lives; there can be no power in our lives; there can be no victory in our lives until there is confession.

I want to keep a short account with God, will you?


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Avoiding Destructive Failure

Failure is a process. “Nobody plans to fail, but fails to plan.”   I don’t meet people that say, “Today I’m going to have an affair!”  “Today, I’m going to destroy my family.”  It’s a slow process of steps that if we understand them we can begin to avoid them before we get too far down the path of destruction.

Achan didn’t just walk into that Jericho home and steal those things. No. If you examine what happened closely you can see that there was a discernable process in his failure, a downward spiral to sin.

Here’s what happened,

20  Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: 21  When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.” Joshua 7:20-21 (NIV)

Notice the pattern: “I saw…I coveted…I took.. I hid.”  The same pattern is often repeated. Eve did the same thing when she listened to the devil in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:6-7), and so did David when he committed adultery with Bathsheba.  (2 Sam. 11:2-15).

We will break each of these down to learn from them.

Achan’s first mistake was to look at these treasures a second time. He probably couldn’t help seeing them the first time, but he should never have looked again and considered taking them. A man’s first glance at a woman may say to him, “She’s attractive!” But it’s that second glance that gets the imagination working and leads to sin Matt. 5:28).

His second mistake was to reclassify those treasures and call them “plunder.”  As if they belonged to him from his hard work in battle! They were not “his plunder”; they were a part of the Lord’s treasury and wholly dedicated to Him. They didn’t belong to Achan, or even to Israel; they belonged to God. When God identifies something in a special way, we have no right to change it.

Achan’s third mistake was to covet.  He should have been of singing praises in his heart for the great victory God had given! Instead Achan was imagining in his heart what it would be like to own all that treasure

His stealing from God began with him being dissatisfied.

Like all of the Hebrews, I’m sure Achan knew that God had promised to lead them into a new land of great wealth and opportunity, a country in which each family was to possess its own land and own its own house.

As he explored his assigned part of Jericho he probably entertained thoughts like this: “God has not treated us very well in these years of wandering. Sure-He gave us manna and quail to eat and He has kept our clothes from wearing out all these decades but I don’t like wearing the same outfit every single day. I’m tired of the same food day after day, week after week, month after month. I’m sick of having no money for the future. The first chance I get I’m going to improve my situation.”

Think about it Achan didn’t need any of the things he stole.

In fact, if he had waited one more battle Achan would have had all the gold he could carry, because in that battle God told them they could have all the spoils.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:33 where He said, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, [put God’s will first] and all these things will be given to you as well.” But Achan didn’t think this way. He wanted the other things first. The will of God could wait. He wasn’t satisfied with God’s provision and this mindset led him to justify his stealing.

Dissatisfaction gives birth to us taking what is not ours. Satan rebelled against God because of his dissatisfaction with his position in God’s world. He was the creature. God was the Creator and he wanted more. He wanted to be like God. It was the same with Adam and Eve. They ate the forbidden fruit because they were not happy with what God had given them. Their desire for more led them to disobedience and sin. We would do well to remember this and learn as Paul did “…the secret of being content in every situation…” (Philippians 4:12) by learning to trust God to provide for our needs.

Achan’s stealing (and ours too) becomes even more disturbing when you stop to realize all that God had done for him. God had cared for him and his family in the wilderness. He had brought them safely across the Jordan and given the army victory at Jericho. The Lord had accepted Achan as a son of the covenant at Gilgal. Yet in spite of all these wonderful experiences, Achan disobeyed God just to possess some wealth that he couldn’t even enjoy. Had he waited just a day or two, he could have gathered all the spoils he wanted from the victory at Ai!

What about all the blessing God has giving you? Is it not enough?

Achan forgot that even though he was a soldier he had no right to take any of the bounty because God, not Achan, had conquered Jericho. As God told Joshua, Achan had, “…taken some of the devoted things…” He had, “…stolen, lied, and put them with his own possessions.” He probably justified his actions by thinking, “My family and I have been deprived of many good things during our years of wilderness living. Here is this beautiful, new, stylish garment-just my size, a little bit of silver, and a handful of gold. Think of what it could buy! After this long journey I deserve a little finery. This is no big deal. God will never miss this in light of all the treasury that we’ll haul back from Jericho. After all, I marched for seven days! I’m entitled to a few nice things in life.” So, dissatisfaction led to coveting…

And then Achan acted.

He stole and then tried to hide his sin. This is the way sin always works. Sinful thoughts lead to sinful rationalizations, which lead to sinful actions. The fact is sinful speculations will inevitably break out into the open. As James 1:13-15 says, “Each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” So Achan’s deed was not a single act. No, it was a downward spiral to sin, a series of stumbles. He saw, coveted, took, and hid.

Think how much happier we would be in life if we could learn to nip failure in the bud by controlling our thoughts and desires. This is what Paul was talking about when he said, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5) The more we make Jesus Lord of our thought life, the less we will fall captive to sin because sin is a process.

In the next post we will see the danger of trying to hide our mistakes.


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What will your Failure Cost your Family?

Are you watching the Winter Olympics?  Niki, the kids and I have been excited to watch the ice skating, snow skiing and snowboarding!  I was disappointed to hear how the poor behavior of a few of our American athletes in past Winter Olympics that affected the rest of the athletes.  An article by the Associated Press told of one skier who bragged to the media that he often competed drunk, and of a free-style skier who was sent home after punching a friend in the mouth so hard he lost a tooth. It described a major feud between two speed skaters.   USOC Chief Executive Jim Scherr noted that these incidents “affect how the world views our country.” The majority of the over 200 member US team had no problems, but, Jim Scherr summed it all up by saying, “a few color the rest of the delegation.”

The “moral” of this true story is this: the actions of a few can have negative consequences for hundreds. Our verses from Joshua provide a tragic illustration of this principle.

Jericho had been a major and miraculous victory, but it was God’s victory. Normally, the spoils of war were considered a soldier’s pay, their reward for victory. But not this time, because the soldiers didn’t win this battle. God did!  And as a way of making sure they understood this fact, God had them give all the valuables to Him. He also told them that if this law was broken, the entire nation would suffer. The vast majority of the Hebrews understood and obeyed this clear instruction from the Lord. Everyone listened to God’s command and obeyed. Everyone that is but one man, a man named Achan from the tribe of Judah.

Joshua 7:1 says,   But the Israelites acted unfaithfully in regard to the devoted things; Achan …of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the LORD’s anger burned against Israel.  (NIV)

This verse tells us that Israel acted unfaithfully when in reality it was one man Achan and his family who did so.  “Achan” means trouble in Hebrew and I’m not sure if that’s his real name or a nick-name.  Have you ever called your children trouble?  Either way he lived up to his name!

While the smoke was still rising from Jericho, Joshua (who, like everyone else, was ignorant of Achan’s sin) began to make plans for the next city of conquest. And following his usual custom he sent spies to scope it out, a little city called Ai, which was an outpost east of Bethel, located up in the hill country about 15 miles from Jericho. The spies came back and assured Joshua that only a few thousand warriors were needed to take care of this puny little opponent. Their report is in Josh. 7:3, “Not all the people will have to go Up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.”

“It will be a piece of cake,” the spy’s could say. It was a piece of cake for Ai! The 3000 Hebrews marched confidently up there to attack but were soundly defeated and ran in terror back down leaving 36 dead soldiers behind them. And please understand, this is the only defeat of the invading Hebrew forces recorded in Joshua and the only report of Jews actually being slain in combat.

Joshua and the elders are beside themselves, they hit the ground in prayer, sprinkling dust on their heads which was a sign of humility. (Joshua 7:6)

Then Joshua starts singing the blues. (Joshua 7:8-9) We’ve heard this song before. He learned the lyrics in the wilderness with the children of Israel. Joshua did not sing this song in the wilderness, but he is singing now. He cannot understand why he lost the battle.

God told Joshua to get up off the ground and then He said the reason for their defeat was the fact that God had been robbed!  Someone had taken what belonged to God and lied about it.  (Joshua 7:10-12)

Now, God could have just told Joshua who the guilty party was, but He didn’t.  He had Joshua and the people go through a long two day one night process. (Joshua 7:13-16)  And I think the reason He didn’t was to give Joshua, the leaders and the people time to pray and reflect.  And it gave Achan time to repent. God was giving him a chance to admit his wrong and show that he realized what he had done to his people. In fact, I think if he had come forth earlier, perhaps the night before when Joshua said they would draw lots or the next morning or even at the beginning of the lottery process. I think if he came forward then that God would have forgiven Him but he didn’t. Achan was rebellious until the very end which is very sad.

Have you separated yourself from God due to some sinful stash of your own? Have you stolen from God?  Have you taken what belongs to God? Has some hidden sin taken the joy out of your life?  Is a hidden sin keeping you from victory?  It’s time to confess and make it right before it’s too late!

We’ll look at what happens to Achan and what caused him to do what he did in a future post, but here’s a few more truths to apply…

Because of one man’s poor choice there were 36 wives and children who would never see their husband and daddies again.

How many families suffer because one member struggles with alcohol, gambling, greed, an addiction or an affair?

As a nation we have seen more than one president’s “private” sin corrupt an administration. And, how many churches and even entire ministries have we seen become powerless and ineffective because of the sins of a few people? How many kids grow up to be bitter, selfish, greedy, unforgiving, or dishonest because that’s the example their parents set for them? How many third world nations go hungry because of the greed and opulence of the dictator that rules them with an iron fist? How many hundreds of thousands are suffering from AIDS because of the sin of others? How many children are born with illness because of the indiscretion of their parents? How many people don’t have retirement because of the greedy actions of a few executives?

We are living in an age of hyper-individualism in which we think, “What I do is my business. What you do is your business. Let’s just mind our own business.” But that is impossible to do because our lives are intricately intertwined. We can either bring strength to one another or we can bring weakness.

This is why God said, “Israel has sinned.” instead of singling out Achan. He did it to remind us that we all pay a price when one of us sins. I am not an island, you are not an island, let’s not lie to ourselves. Our life can give other people strength and confidence and courage and the ability to be much more successful in life. Or, our life can weaken them and cause them to fail. We make an impact everywhere we are. We’re connected with other people. We are not just individuals. If we make bad decisions individually then we create weakness in those around us.

So when a brother or sister sins we could accurately ask him, “How much is your sin going to cost me?” In fact we all need to ask ourselves, “What are the shortcomings, failings and the seeds of disobedience in my heart that may grow into actions that embarrass or hurt my kids, my spouse, my church?

In the next post we’ll look at how to stop our patterns of failure.


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