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Posted By Nan

Luke 1:5-17
I am pausing in the series on Sermon on the Mount to spend today looking at Christmas.
Today I am looking at John the Baptist, the baby sent to a couple who were well past childbearing age. This happened just as Isaac was sent to Abraham and Sarah when they were well past child bearing age. It happened in the way that Samuel was sent to his barren mother to serve God. As Isaac was sent to found the nation that would bless all people on earth, John was sent to announce the arrival of that blessing. He came in the footsteps of Elijah to announce the coming of the long anticipated Messiah.
You may have been spending the past few weeks preparing for the celebration of Jesus’ birth through observing Advent. Maybe you haven’t been doing that. Whatever you have been doing, it is a good time now to stop and think about what Christmas means. For all its commercialism, and for all the efforts to write Christmas stories that leave out the baby born in squalor in Bethlehem, that baby is exactly what Christmas is all about.
Matthew Henry’s commentary on Luke speaks of John’s ministry starting only six months before that of Jesus. If that is so, then in that short time he drew a multitude of people back to God. He was the voice of one calling in the wilderness, calling mightily in service to God. As you prepare over the next few days for the acknowledgement of God’s great gift in sending His son to earth, don’t forget about John, preparing the way for the Lord and readying people to receive the Lord and His message when he came. As this year draws to a close spend some time thinking about how you can be a voice of one calling in the wilderness to all those in the world who are stumbling in darkness.
This will be my last blog for the year as I am taking some time off to be with my family. May God bless you with a deep understanding of His great gift of Jesus. May God bless you with a Christmas full of joy and delight in our Saviour’s birth. May He guide your footsteps into 2013.
The blog will recommence on 2 January.

 
Posted By Nan

After finishing my last blog, I was instructed by God to continue in this blog to talk about conflict resolution, so that is what I will be writing about today.
The issue of conflict resolution is one that often destroys Christian relationships and renders many Christian communities unable to fulfil God’s plan for them, because they cannot deal effectively with conflict. For many people in churches, there is great pressure to not even attempt to resolve conflict. The pressure comes from people who misguidedly believe that good conflict resolution means to never discuss the conflict but instead to “forget” about it. Of course forgetting never happens and resentment builds up. There must be transparency and openness around conflict in order for it to be successfully resolved.
The best place to look for examples of healthy conflict resolution is the Bible. First, I will look at how Jesus’ dealt with conflict. In Matthew 12 we see several examples of Jesus appropriately responding to conflict. The first example is in verses 1-14 where He is approached by the Pharisees because His disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath. Many Christians would believe they must rush to comply with the criticisers or say nothing, but this is not what Jesus did here. He responded to them by speaking assertively. He did not yell, or become aggressive; He just calmly responded to them then healed a man with a shrivelled hand. Later in that chapter, Jesus is accused of healing people by satan. Again, he calmly and assertively responds to them. This is conflict resolution.
In John 2:12-16, we see Jesus approaching conflict differently. This is where he finds the money changers and other merchants selling their goods in the temple. Jesus’ response was to overturn their tables and chase them out. He expressed anger to them that they were using His father’s house as a market. Here he used righteous anger. Remember in Ephesians 4:26 we are told “in your anger do not sin”. It is not wrong to be angry. It is wrong to behave badly in expressing your anger.
In Galatians 2:11-21 we see Paul taking Peter to task about his return to following food laws and believing in circumcision. Paul speaks openly, in full hearing of other people. He uses loving words that do not put Peter down.
In dealing with conflict, the best way to approach it is with respect for yourself and respect for the person you are in conflict with. This is often referred to as an I’m OK, you’re OK approach. It is the meeting of two equals who do not need to use angry words, “power over” tactics or any other faulty behaviour. Jesus never hesitated to approach conflict and He never sinned. Paul, likewise, was not afraid to talk to others about the things that he was bothered about. He is remembered for his knowledge of the faith and his love for Jesus, not for being an angry person. Conflict is not wrong and the Bible clearly demonstrates that.
If you want to find out more about healthy conflict resolution, the book “Everyone Can Win: responding to conflict constructively” by Helena Cornelius and Shoshana Faire is a really good, easy to understand book.
May God bless you and may you deal with conflict in an assertive, loving way in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

 
Posted By Nan

Matthew 5:21-26 (Continued)
Today I am looking specifically at verses 25 and 26. These are also verses which people have a lot of difficulty understanding. Given the wide variety of interpretations of these verses it is hardly surprising people feel confused.
My feeling about these verses has always been that conflict resolution is important. When I read these verses in The Message, the interpretation there agrees with my feeling. Barclay also concurs, stating that Jesus is giving practical advice on dealing with conflict.
I have frequently observed in Churches a great reluctance to deal with conflict. There appears to be a stronger desire in many churches to maintain the status quo, no matter who gets hurt, than to adequately resolve conflict. Yet here in Matthew (and again in Luke 12:58-59) Jesus is telling those who wish to be His disciples that they must resolve conflict. Resolving conflict does not mean pretending it doesn’t exist. It means the two parties getting together and resolving their differences. The reference to court is because the most obvious example for people was of two men on the way to court over an unpaid debt. For many of us, as well as the churches, our culture encourages the non-resolution of conflict. Sadly this approach leads to many hurt people and broken relationships. Conflict that is not resolved escalates. It moves very quickly from bitterness to rumour-mongering, gossip, non-cooperation, theft and sabotage up to nagging, whining, complaining, anger, blaming, arguments, incidents that polarise opinions, selective perception so that conflict becomes difficult to resolve, involvement of others which spreads the poison and upwards through threats and retaliation to all out violence or violent, angry words. In Christian organisations, this can lead to rifts or the collapse of an organisation. Not good discipleship and definitely not good salt of the earth or light in the darkness behaviour. We are supposed to be different to those who are dying or what distinguishes us as Christians?
What Jesus is saying is to resolve the conflict before it builds into a massive event which includes other people and involves a lot of horrible words and the taking of sides and irreparable harm.
Jesus may also have had another application for these words here. Anyone who has seen someone affected by the death of a loved one with whom there was unfinished business or has suffered this him/herself, will know the pain unresolved issues cause. We do not know when we will die. Do you want to risk dying and leaving unresolved conflicts to eat away at someone you love?
Remember, the one with the most to gain by unresolved conflict is satan. Do you really want that?
I leave the final word to Ephesians 5:26b and 27.
“… do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” NIV

 
Posted By Nan

Matthew 5:21-25 (continued)
Today I am looking specifically at verses 23 and 24. They have always puzzled me because I have wondered exactly what they mean. So I have read many commentaries and prayerfully considered these verses to try to understand them. This is what I have discovered.
There was a principle the Jews were supposed to observe regarding the purpose of sacrifices before God. If a person did the wrong thing, this created a barrier between that person and God. To restore the relationship, the person needed to offer a sacrifice.
There were two extra conditions that applied to sacrifices. The first was that a sacrifice did not work for deliberate sin, because that was generally not repented of. The second is that sacrifice had to include confession of the sin and true repentance. This included doing what was required to rectify any consequences of the sin. It was well known that even the Day of Atonement where sacrifices were offered for the sin of the entire nation would not cover a person who had not been reconciled to their neighbour.
What this is saying is that our relationship with God is damaged by unconfessed and unrepented sin. I think the biggest one here is that of unforgiveness. We cannot stand before God honestly if we have failed to forgive someone. I know that often that is difficult. Many years ago I read a book by Joyce Meyer about forgiving. In it she described forgiveness as a choice. She expressed that choice as praying “I choose to forgive this person” and trusting that at the right time God would supply the feeling. In this I am reminded of a story told by Corrie ten Boom in her book “The Hiding Place” about preaching the forgiveness of God to the hurting citizens of Germany. After one such service, a guard from the concentration camp where she and her sister had been prisoners approached her. He told of how he had accepted Jesus into his life and had begged forgiveness of his sins. He wondered if Corrie could forgive him and shake his hand as a sign of that forgiveness. She related how she wanted nothing to do with him. She did not want to shake his hand. She did not want to forgive him. Yet she also realised that she had to forgive him. Jesus required it. She also realised that she would undo all the good done by her preaching if she failed to practice what she preached. So she asked God for help. She offered Him her willingness and asked Him to do the rest. Suddenly she felt a great warmth in her arm and it moved forward to shake the hand of the man. As she did this she felt a great surge of love and forgiveness for this man. She had made a choice to forgive and had trusted God. He had delivered, accepted her choice and the Holy Spirit had given her the power to forgive.
So when we come before God with unforgiveness in our hearts, or an unresolved argument with a friend, or with an apology waiting to be given, then we cannot come to Him. We need to confess and repent. Then the door will be opened for us to come before God.

 
Posted By Nan

Matthew 5:21-25
Just a little note before I start. In the last entry, I quoted the verse as John, it should of course have read Matthew.
This section looks at the Commandment “Do not murder”. Barclay comments that up to the teaching of Jesus, no one had ever deviated from the law as laid down by Moses. No-one ever taught with absolute authority. The Rabbi would say “it is written” and would end with “thus saith the Lord”. Yet Jesus spoke about the Law, without giving any qualification for His adherence to the law. Jesus came to fulfil the Law, he didn’t need to qualify it. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus repeatedly mentions the Law and then contradicts it. He has come to explain what it means, not what man has interpreted it to mean.
In the verses 21 and 22, Jesus deals with the derivations of murder. Here he is saying that anger has long term consequences. If you are angry with something and have not resolved it, you are to resolve it before going to the altar to make your sacrifice before God. Do not allow anger to fester and become long-term. Being angry is inevitable, but it must be dealt with quickly. Good conflict resolution leads to the dissipation of anger and the prevention of grudges. Extending this, Jesus speaks of contempt as a worse outpouring of anger. After that He lists what He continues is the worse form of anger, that which involves character assassination. To destroy another person’s name and reputation is described by Jesus as rendering the perpetrator fit for hell. Gossip and the telling of stories are the usual ways a person’s reputation is ruined.
So murder involves more than just taking a person’s life. According to Jesus there are many ways to kill a man that do not involve physical killing.
There is much more to Jesus’ discussion on murder but I do not want to cover all of it today. I encourage you to read 21 and 22 and think them through. Ask God for insights. Think about the implications of what Jesus has said and make sure your life is free of these negative aspects of anger.

 


 
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Nan
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