OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #200 The Irony of Internal Conflict
I spent a few days this week on a retreat with other youth and associate pastors in St. Andrews NB. I surprised Jan by sending her a card. I knew I would arrive home before it did, but Jan’s only mail is usually bills, and we all know bills are not real mail. She liked that. I’m not usually that romantic, but once in a while a good thought hits me.
Our Japanese student, Taka, turned 17 yesterday. We celebrated with pizza and cheese cake (his request) and some friends dropped in. He seemed very pleased, especially with the Jackie Chan movie set we gave him. He was especially pleased to receive a package from home.
This is OnFire #200. Its hard to believe that I have written 200 letters. Thanks for being kind and sending comments and thoughts. A lot of the time I write them and forget about them, moving on to the other things I do. So it is always a surprise, and truly humbling, to find out how God uses them. God is cool - He allows me to be part of something bigger He is doing in your lives.
Yesterday I spent about two hours sweeping back and forth over my lawn with a specially designed powerful magnet on wheels. We did our roof almost two weeks ago, but I just got around to picking up the nails. I was amazed at how many there were, especially close to the house. We picked up a lot on the day we reshingled, but there were more lurking in the grass waiting to puncture a tire or pierce a foot. How ironic it would be to have a safe day climbing ladders and walking on the roof, only to face blood poisoning from a dirty old nail on the ground.
This is the kind of irony we see as we turn to Acts 6:1-7. The church was surviving external persecution only to find itself threatened by internal conflict. In Acts 4 and 5, the apostles were arrested and beaten for preaching about Jesus. This did not stop them, however, and they even rejoiced that they were worthy to suffer in the same way as Jesus.
So it was strange that conflict threatened them in the opening verses of chapter 6. As the church grew, a ministry of feeding widows developed. One way or another, some were overlooked, creating offense and tension. As the problem unfolded, it developed racial overtones as the Greek Jews complained against the Hebrew Jews. It is not hard to imagine how much damage could have been done to the early church if this problem got of out of hand.
Thankfully the story has a happy ending. The apostles needed to keep on teaching and praying because they were they only eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus. They therefore proposed to appoint seven men who were "full of the Spirit and wisdom" to oversee the ministry. This proposal, Luke tells us, pleased the group. The crisis was averted and the church continued to add great numbers to the fold daily.
The solution they came up with gives us some principles for handling conflict. First of all, we see how holiness and integrity created an atmosphere of trust. There was no doubt about the character of the seven men, and this quickly reduced the tension and suspicion. We need to be people of honesty and integrity. If people know they can trust us absolutely, we will experience less conflict.
They were full of the Holy Spirit. Last Sunday I preached on this passage and used a glass of water to illustrate what this means. While it appeared empty, it was actually full of air. A vacuum might remove the air, but to get every molecule would probably implode the sides. Instead, we could displace the air by pouring water in.
Its the same with us. As we allow God to fill us by the Holy Spirit, the bad parts of our character, like selfishness and ungodly character and behaviour, are displaced. As we allow God to fill us, we will experience less conflict. True, we can’t control what other people do or say to fuel problems, but we can do something about our own character so that, at least, we do not do anything to make it worse.
They were full of wisdom. In the Bible, to be wise is to prove it with our actions. Too often, we want to be people who know for the sake of knowing. We love to study the Bible and we love to give advice. Bible knowledge is good, but only if we actually apply the lessons we learn. It is easier to preach and teach than it is to live it out. But biblical wisdom, true wisdom, is about living out what we know.
The lesson here ought to be obvious. We see the results of people who were filled with the Spirit and lived godly lives. They had the respect of the people and the ability to administer the food distribution wisely. These traits headed off the conflict and the church, it says, increased rapidly.
The lawn magnet I rented had a handle on top. When I pulled the handle, all the stuff stuck on the bottom dropped off. I didn’t discover this handy feature until it was too late. I could have saved myself some work. We can be a magnet for problems, attracting conflict because of the way we handle ourselves, or we can let the Holy Spirit do a work in our character so that conflict does not have to stick to us.
I hope this helps. Be On Fire.
OnFire is a weekly letter on faith and character by Troy Dennis. Troy is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. This letter published Oct 1, 2009. *Scripture taken from the New International Version. To subscribe or reply, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Archives are located at www.onfireletter.com Blog located at http://onfireletter.blogspot.com/