Embracing Conflict: 4 Things You’re Missing Without It

This morning Pastor Aaron recalled a hard conversation he had with a former church member who remarked, “If this were a biblical church, we wouldn’t be having this conflict.” Another time, Aaron was at the retirement celebration for another pastor, and one of the attendees said of the retiree (intending it as a compliment), “You were the perfect pastor–you never rocked the boat.”

The problem with these two scenarios is that conflict is a natural, and definitely biblical, part of life. And certainly life in community. Jesus didn’t avoid rocking the boat, and he even famously said “Blessed are the peacemakers.” That’s a lot different than the peace-keepers. And to be a peacemaker, we must embrace conflict.

If we could write a letter to our younger selves, we might share that conflict, while uncomfortable, is a necessary ingredient to personal and relational growth. Embracing minor, healthy moments of conflict is kind of like getting a vaccine — it actually helps us avoid letting those minor conflicts accumulate into much larger, unhealthy ones. So here are four reasons to embrace conflict.

  1. Avoiding conflict is really avoiding truth. James wrote that the quarrels among us come from the “desires that battle within us.” That internal battle leads to external battle, and in the confusion we need someone to tell us the truth! Have you ever had a huge argument only to realize…(horror!)…the other person made some good points? The greater good is to learn truth about ourselves and our relationships. Avoiding conflict is like living with our heads in the clouds.
  2. Conflict grows us. How’s this for an axiom: “People don’t grow until the pain associated with not growing is greater than the pain required to grow.” Let that settle in for a minute… This is true of physical pain (we won’t do physical therapy because it hurts, until NOT doing it hurts worse!) And it’s true of emotional and spiritual pain, too. If we want our relationships to grow and mature and become closer, we must embrace conflict. Otherwise, we’re liable to end up in pseudo-community with superficial friends.
  3. Conflict reveals what we truly value. Our values are like unrefined gemstones — raw, but with great potential. Conflict is like the process of digging, cutting, and grinding those stones to reveal the full potential of their radiance. So when you’re in the midst of a conflict, ask yourself: “What is this showing us? What values am I learning about the other person, and about myself?”
  4. Conflict, handled with maturity & care, creates trust. Sure, there are manifold ways to mishandle conflict immaturely and carelessly. Conflict handled in that way can hurt trust. But the opposite can result if we handle conflict well. Two key ways to do that are:
    – To speak well of the other person when they’re not around. Do you say things about that person you aren’t willing to tell them directly? If you have to vent about someone, consider venting to God in prayer or on a piece of paper you can promptly tear up and recycle.
    – To speak directly to people rather than about them. Sometimes a conflict begins before that initial conversation — it begins in your heart and mind. Handing the conflict well means talking directly to the other person, rather than creating triangles with other people about it.

For reflection:
– Is there a conflict in your life/relationships right now? How can you grow from it?
– What values are being revealed in the midst of your conflict?
– What can you do to create trust while you’re engaged in this conflict?
– Are you willing to believe that conflict is, in fact, necessary and good for strengthening your relationships?


When “I Do” Doesn’t Last

One of the most significant events in the life of an adult is the wedding day.

We dress in clothes we’ll never wear again.  People fly from all over to attend.  Photographers, videographers, DJs, bakers, chefs, musicians, and of course an officiant to facilitate.  Family and friends to bear witness…to witness what?  The bride and groom sharing a bite of cake?  Dancing the macarena?  No.  The entire event revolves around the wedding vows.

But if and when a couple cannot keep their vows, there’s no party.  No photographers.  Only the end of something that, when it began, was meant to last.

Divorce is one of the most painful of life’s crises, and yet it’s so common that I’d bet anyone reading this knows at least one person who’s been through divorce.  It’s not the way God intended relationships to end.  In fact, Jesus is one of the harshest critics of divorce in Matthew 19:1-10.

So it’s essential to health of any marriage to attend to some of the strongest realities that can lead to divorce: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.  And rather than giving up to these forces, to faithfully, prayerfully, and humbly address each if they’ve appeared in our marriages.

And our Lord, from whom we each receive grace beyond measure, promises to be with us always, by the power of the Holy Spirit, each step of the way.

For reflection:

  1. Which of the four forces that can wreck a marriage are the most familiar to you?
  2. What is a way to begin to actively reverse those forces in your relationship?
  3. If you are experiencing these destructive forces, what are some ways your relationship with God can help? Be as specific as possible.
  4. If you have experienced divorce, what is some wisdom you’ve learned that might help those who would like to avoid divorce?

Many blessings,


…Then We Had Kids

Psalm 127 (NLT)

We all work hard at so many things.  Health, career, home, school…and of course relationships.  There’s even a familiar axiom: “Marriage is hard work.”

And the same is true for raising children.  No matter how children are introduced into a couple’s lives (natural birth, adoption, fostering, etc.) they represent a permanent change to the marriage dynamic.  Raising children is hard work, and in each stage of their childhood, challenges that get overcome are typically met with new challenges of the next stage of growing up!

Of course, raising children is also noble work!  But sometimes that for which we work the hardest can be the most difficult for us to relinquish control of.  This tendency to forget — or refuse — to let God have the final say in our lives is what Psalm 127:1-2 is about.

Moreover, if we work our hardest at raising good children, we can sometimes neglect the needs of marriage.  This is not only hard on the marriage, but it’s also hard on the kids, who find their deepest security in the strength of their parents’ love and commitment for one another.  So when children become part of a family, parents can (and should) take intentional steps to continue to cultivate the health of their marriage.

For reflection:

  1. What is something that you work really hard at, and what do you hope to accomplish?
  2. What can you do to regularly “let the Lord build your house?”
  3. What are some of the ways the presence of children can make it difficult to “work on” a marriage?
  4. What are some of the ways the presence of children can enhance a marriage?
  5. What are some ways that parents can intentionally nurture their marriage, after they’ve brought kids into the family?

Many blessings,



Now Concerning the Unmarried

1 Corinthians 7:25-35

John 15:1-7

Being a single adult in a church culture can be … what’s the word … awkward.

For some reason, many church communities revolve around an actual, or perceived, core of nuclear families.  Despite the extremely diverse array of family systems in any community, people who are unmarried (for any number of reasons) can feel like they’re on the outside looking in, as the church appears to be designed the fit the needs of married people and families, rather than single people.

And this culture can have impact beyond church programs.  It can lead to conversations and comments that are awkward at best, and emotionally damaging at worst–especially when one of the church’s goals is to communicate the unconditional love of God.

But when the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he seemed to almost dismiss people’s marital status as relatively unimportant.  If you’re single, stay single.  If married, stay married!  Paul tries to keep the Corinthians’ focus on what mattered most — Jesus’ return and the completion of the Kingdom of God.

Verse 35 is the key: in whatever circumstances you find yourself, live in “undivided devotion to the Lord.”

For reflection:

  1. In what ways do you think marital status impacts a person’s purpose in God’s Kingdom?
  2. If Paul believes marriage is good, why does he also lift up singleness in this passage?
  3. In what ways could you not just “overlook,” but even leverage your marital status (single, married, divorced, widowed, etc.) to make the greatest impact in our community for God’s Kingdom?
  4. Jesus commands us to remain connected to himself, as branches in a vine.  And then he commands that we love each other as he loves us.  How will this impact the way you relate to people the next time you’re at church, at work, and so forth?

Many blessings,



The Myths of Marriage

Some myths die hard.

Let’s define “myth” in this case as a truism that we hear permeating our culture, but which few people ever really take the time to test.  Are there any “myths” about marriage that it’s time to put through the ringer?

The truth is that anyone who has been in a committed relationship for very long starts to realize very quickly that many of the myths they may have once believed are “busted” along the way.  Here are a few:

Myth #1: Wives should submit to their husbands.

Whoa.  This one has been abused for a looooong time.  But it’s time we read it the way Paul intended us to.  Eugene Peterson’s translation in the Message really helps.  Husbands, it’s time to get real about who is blessing whom in your marriage.

Myth #2: Love is a feeling.

Well, take a look at Ephesians 5:1-2.  See if Paul describes love as a feeling.  What you’ll find is rather a list of…you got it.  Actions.

Myth #3: If love is true, it’ll be easy.

Along with this comes the myth that there is someone “just right” for each of us, or that “you complete me.”  Rubbish.  The reality is that the hard times are what really strengthen our most intimate relationships.

Myth #4: Proximity is the same as intimacy.

Couples sometimes end up living in “parallel.”  They think they are close because of common goals, chores, etc.  But what happens when the kids are raised?  When the house is paid off and you retire from your job?  Happy couples are mindful of finding ways to intersect their lives, and not just live in parallel.

Myth #5: Your partner should meet all your needs.

Uh, well, this is just not going to happen.  The One who can meet your needs is in fact the One who created you, and your spouse.  And who brought you together.  And who is calling you to reflect His divine love and purpose.  The living God can meet our individual needs and our needs as couples and families.

For reflection:

  1. What “myths” have been busted by your real-life experience in relationship?
  2. How would you like to be married to…yourself?  What would that be like?
  3. Make a list of 3-5 “small things” you can do often (daily, weekly) to pour love out on your partner, the way God pours love out on you.

Many blessings,



The Keys to “Happily Ever After”

Marriage.  Singleness.  Dating.  Divorce.

If it has to do with intimate relationships, it can be pretty sensitive territory.  So we’re moving into this five-week series, “Happily Ever After” on marriage and relationships, with full knowledge and consideration that everyone has a unique story.  Still, it’s the very importance of the topic of marriage and relationships that makes it so important to talk openly about.

Even if you grew up around “happy marriages,” people in those marriages probably didn’t sit you down and say, “Now let me tell you why our marriage is so healthy,” and then give you a simple 3-step master plan.

In Philippians 2:1-8, Paul longs for the church to experience unity, even within the midst of their personal uniqueness.  And we can do this, he claims, if we have the same mindset as Christ, who emptied himself for our sake.

Pastor Aaron today used the image of a fuel tank.  We can fill someone’s tank, but we also have to take from it.  Any relationship is a balance of give and take.  Unfortunately, many relationships are running on fumes.  One or both parties are using up the reserves but not doing anything to fill it back up again.  What would it look like to have the mindset of Christ and pour ourselves out for the sake of the person with whom we are the closest?

For reflection:

  1. If you had to list up to five things that your partner does to “empty” your tank, what would they be?
  2. If you could list up to five things that your partner does to “fill” your tank, what would they be?
  3. What’s standing in the way of sharing these things with your spouse or significant other?
  4. If you currently don’t have a significant other, how can thinking through these questions help you if and when you do date or marry someone?