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Conflicted Systems: Initial Concepts
Dr. Amanda W. Ragland
Conflict in the Body of Christ is devastating with the power to undermine the very identity of the Church and destroy the mission. The presence of God is known through the Holy Spirit that knits us together so that we resemble Christ, and through this joining together we carry the love and grace of Christ into the world. Ephesians 2:21-22 reads: “21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit”. But, what happens when conflict tears us apart? What happens when the conflict becomes more important than experiencing and carrying the love and grace of Christ? The actions we take together as a Body resemble Christ less and less. As the Church, we are the flawed bride of Christ. There is hope for us because there is no wound to deep, no sin to great and no experience so damaging that can take us beyond God’s reach. (Consider Romans 8). As the Church, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (consider Philippians 4:13). The work of turning around an unhealthy system is difficult and takes time, but if we choose this path, God will be on our side.
Denial is pretending that nothing has happened, minimizing the damage that is done and pretending as if the unhealthy interactions among us are because of one or two people. This is the process of “sweeping it under the rug”. Denial involves cutting off the emotions and keeping hurts hidden and more and more isolated. Psalm 25:5 reads, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long”. John 8:32 reads, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Blaming develops in an unhealthy system when individuals are experiencing so much pain that they cannot see past this pain to see the perspective of the other. In blaming, individuals lose sight of their own shortcomings and this becomes a block to the presence and action of grace in the system. (Consider the story of the women caught in adultery that those gathered wanted to stone). Blaming springs up in systems when there is a lack of connection and accountability so that wrong actions are named and addressed for the greater good. Admonishing in the Spirit of Christ is a concept we need to study. (Consider Colossians 3:16).
Unhealthy systems made up of unhealthy individuals:
What are the areas that make for health? Luke 10:27 reads, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself”.
To be unhealthy with emotions:
This means suppressed emotions that become walled off and grow toxic; building anger that causes lashing out and explosions and being out of control of our words and actions; vulnerabilities that cause divisiveness. The need to express emotions never overrides scripture.
To be unhealthy in soul:
This means harboring unforgiveness and taking up the life of the flesh over the life of the Spirit. Spiritual lack of health happens when sins fester and separate us from fellowship with God. Self-justification is often the first stepping stone that leads us on a path where what we think we want and need becomes more important that God’s ultimate plan for us where God is God and we are sinful humans in need of God’s redemption.
To be unhealthy of mind:
This means accepting lies and truth and defining situation in terms of our conceptions that take us further and further away from reconciliation and living peaceably with each other.
To be unhealthy of strength:
This means gathering our strength from the ways of the flesh instead of the ways of the Spirit (Romans 8:1-17). Drawing our energy from the ways of the flesh will always end in us being tired, worn out, beaten down, perplexed and hopeless.
Secrets versus Confidences:
Distinguishing between what are secrets and what are confidences requires evaluating the end goal of the communication. Does this communication cause destruction and lead to harm and woundedness, further isolation and conflict? If so, then this is a secret. Does the communication lead to safety and cause trust, edification, hope, healing and restoration of the body? If so, then this is a confidence.
When you are facing difficulty, what do you do? Reach out to a friend or a pastor. Who hasn’t done this? Consider Proverbs 1:5: “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance”. James 5 tells us that is anyone is sick, call the elders to pray and to anoint with oil. In most circumstances, there are pockets of health within a system. Name these and seek counsel. Do all in your ability to help the health be promoted. With God’s help, play towards the strengths and gifts of the system. Also there are times when a person from outside a system can work beyond walls and divisions to bring the love and grace of Christ is a fresh new way.
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
This you know, my beloved brethren but everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.
1 Peter 3:8-11
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For, “The one who desires life, to love and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. He must turn away from evil and do god; he must seek peace and pursue it.”
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.
bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled;
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
2 Corinthians 12:9
My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
1 John 1:8-10
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us form all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
“Thaw” Click to Listen
by Amanda Ragland
After a snow, when all is covered and lays still, there is an ethereal peace that pulls your soul to a new place with a new longing. Peace…….peace……..peace…. to an awareness of God and all that is good. It is a wide open space to ponder, to settle deep within. Life at such a hectic pace pulls us away from that center, and we live somewhere out on the edge of ourselves moving from one task to another. We need to be brought back to that place where we just adore, where the peace and the awareness melts us deep within so that our hearts can flow in adoration and praise of the love and mercy of the LORD. ………I praise you, LORD Jesus. ……. I love you. ……….I praise you. ……….I love you. ……….. I praise you. ……….I love you. My prayer for you is that “Thaw” will be a meditation that will allow your own settling deep within, as it did for me the first time I played it, so that your heart will flow and your voice will join with mine at the end: I praise you. I love you. I praise you. I love you. I praise you. My LORD, my God, my Savior. I praise you.
Lord, you are most holy and wonderful! You desire for us to live in wholeness and health. You establish families and bless us with love. I lift this precious couple into the warmth and light of your love. Bless them LORD, God. Bless them. In the places where they have hurt each other, give them an abundant supply of grace so that they can heal. Let them be found again and again saying “I am sorry” and “I forgive”. Ease their tension; soften their pain. Open their eyes to a depth of understanding and truth that will become a bond of knowledge; let this bond be a foundational stone. I pray that your mighty protection surround them in such a concrete way that they can feel and experience so that it will be easy for them to internalize the height, depth, width and breadth of your love for them. Protect them Lord, God, from all evil that would seek to destroy. Bless each one with the fulfillment of being the one to say the words that sets the heart of the other free. In the storm, may they find in each other a place to rest. Make your plan for their future shine brightly, and bring them to it, LORD, with all the fruits of your Holy Spirit. Bless them, LORD God, I pray with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. You are the author of all health and well-being, worthy of all our praise and honor. Let it be so, LORD, let it be so.
(Stained glass from First Presbyterian, Athens, supporting church of The Vine).
Gracious Lord, it is difficult to have a heart of gratitude when things hurt,
yet you would have us trust in you no matter the circumstance.
I pray for couples who are in great hurt and pain today
because of hurt and pain that happened years, decades ago.
Lord help us to sort the old from the new
so that we can deal realistically in the here and now.
Help us to confront old hurts so that we don’t replicate them again and again.
Heal the old so that the present can also be healed. Help us to trust and have gratitude
for your hand on our every step. For your children who hurt in this way we pray. Amen.
By Jack Ragland
Click Here to Listen: Earth to Heaven (Description of music below).
Here I am. See me and know me. My mind, heart and soul are focused and consumed by so many earthly things that do not satisfy. My focus does not give life and life is what I need. Forgive me and transform me. I release my grip and let go. I lift my gaze again to heaven. What does it mean, LORD, that as I walk this earth I walk as a citizen of heaven? A most mysterious gift. Let heaven be my focus today. I need a Savior. Come, LORD Jesus, Come. I seek you. You will find a welcome place in my heart, a place only you can fill. You alone have the power to bring everything under your control. Be LORD of all my heart. Into every concern, into every thought and every unsettled place, I welcome you. I let go. Transform my earthly focus again and again so that I may know the radiance of heaven so that your glory shine through me even as you transform every aspect of my life. Come, LORD Jesus, Come. Based on Philippians 3:19-21
Musical Meditation: After an introductory phrase, “Here I am” 4 times, then 3 longer cycles of ‘focus on earthly things’ or ‘earthly angst’ released and focus shifting to heaven represented by notes in the higher register. Then at 5:20, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come” 3 times followed by “Come, Lord Jesus” 3 times; ending with peace in His presence. My prayer is that you find release from your own earthly focus and know your citizenship in heaven. By Amanda W. Ragland
Please show me the truth of who You are because I am afraid that deep wounds in my life have shaped how I see You. You say that You are compassionate, kind, slow to anger, and rich in love. You speak of Your tender mercy and gentle heart. Those things are hard for me to see; they are hard for me to believe…but I want to. Would You help me to know, both in my heart and in my head, that those things are true of You? Would You drive out the distorted pictures, birthed in places of hurt, that keep me from coming close to You? I want to be able to come close to You…I really do. Amen
by Kim Brown
Gracious God, grant us open minds and open hearts to receive your grace and wisdom. Through the power of our Holy Spirit dwelling in us, may we have the courage to face life’s challenges and the resilience to remain faithful. Give us eyes to see your vision for how we might love one another and have reverence for all your creation. All this we pray in the name of the one who calls us to follow him, Jesus the Christ. Amen.
By Jim Norris, Director of Clergy Care Ministry for The Vine