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Archive for Reconciliation

Oct
10

How to Handle Criticism

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“You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right” (1 Peter 2:18-24, NLT).

I spent some time today meditating and reflecting on Peter’s words concerning Christ’s response to criticism and insults. Set in its proper context, Peter is addressing those who were slaves. It might be helpful to know that during the first century in the Roman Empire, approximately one half of the world was enslaved to the other half. Peter was not writing to an obscure group, rather he addressed a common and significant problem in culture. In his attempt to bring some measure of comfort to those who were suffering at the hands of their cruel task masters, Peter pointed the readers to Christ and his example. As I reflected on this passage, I penciled out four simple words of advice that we can use when we face criticism or insults.

1. Begin with a Self Check
Peter’s premise is built upon the innocence of Christ. I won’t spend anytime here arguing human depravity or the sinlessness of Christ. But I do think that our first response to criticism is to pause and look inward for the shred of truth that may lie within. We’re not innocent in the sense that Jesus was innocent. However, sometimes we receive criticism that is inaccurate, unfair, and undeserved. We can use some simple diagnostic questions to evaluate the criticism or the insult, such as…
…Is the criticism accurate?
…Is the criticism fair?
…Is there a possibility of misunderstanding or miscommunication?
…Can I see the issue from the critic’s point of view?
To live authentically and effectively in today’s society requires a high degree of honest self evaluation.

That being said, I think this is a good place to evaluate the criticism or insult as to whether it is “truth” or mere “opinion.” We live in a day that does not know how to deliver the news without commentary and editorial opinion. Our addiction to cable news has changed our value system to the degree that we no longer can easily distinguish truth from opinion. Unfortunately, many people place equal value on opinions as they give truth. All of the editorial license, I believe, has escalated criticism and insults in our homes, schools, places of employment, and even our churches. When criticism comes, we have to own our own stuff. But be sure to winnow out the opinions and get to the truth. There is a difference!

2. Resist the Temptation to Retaliate

Even though Jesus was completely innocent, Peter pointed out that He did not retaliate or seek revenge. Jesus withstood the criticism and insults (and far worse, for that matter) without taking matters into His own hands. It’s hard enough for us to restrain ourselves when the criticism we receive is accurate. There’s something about our fallen state that desires to save face and have the last word. But it’s even harder to restrain ourselves when the criticism is inaccurate or unjust! The example Jesus set for us was to not retaliate or seek revenge when we suffer unjustly at the lips of others.

3. Trust God, Who is the Righteous Judge

I believe Jesus was a man of unparalleled self control. It would be easy to excuse our behaviors of retaliation and revenge by citing our lack of self control. But I don’t think self control or will power is the issue. Jesus was able to restrain himself in the face of criticism because his deep trust in God’s justice. Peter wrote that Jesus was able to leave all of it in the hands of God as an act of faith that God would settle all accounts at the end of the day. He did not retaliate because he did not need to. So the question is this: do you want to settle the score? Or would you prefer God settle it?

4. Be Redemptive in your Behavior

Jesus left the matter in the hands of God, the righteous Judge, and continued to behave in a redemptive fashion. He did not give his critics power over his life or his purpose. Undeterred, Jesus moved on, expressing grace and mercy, regardless of how others responded. Because Jesus chose to live in a redemptive manner, he empowers us to be redemptive in the face of those who insult and criticize unfairly or inaccurately.

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Yesterday I posted the first three steps Joseph modeled in restoring a broken relationship. They were and are to:
• Create privacy
• Make the goal of all confrontation reconciliation
• Stay focused on the big picture

Today I want to follow up with the final three steps from Genesis 45:1-15. Step four is to seek restoration (Genesis 45:9). Reconciliation is the work of righting the relationship. Restoration seeks to bring the relationship back together and in working order. Thomas Jefferson once said, “When the heart is right, the feet are swift.” Throughout this passage you can sense Joseph’s urgency. He wasn’t looking to simply appease his conscience. He wanted to have his family in close proximity so they could be a family again. Which leads me to an important question: Can we really say “I forgive you” and “I never want to see you again” in the same breath?

Preparing and teaching this passage last weekend gave me the opportunity to reflect on some common wrong approaches to restoration. Allow me a moment to share them with you and see if you can see yourself in any of them.

The first is “I will forgive but I will never forget!” This is conditional forgiveness that really isn’t forgiveness at all. When I moved to Texas many years ago I quickly learned an adage that you may be familiar with. It said, “Hurt me once, shame on you. Hurt me twice, shame on me for giving you the second chance.” Forgiveness is more than saying words. Forgiveness reorders the offense, choosing to consider it no longer and refusing to hold the offender captive to their error.

The second wrong approach says, “I will forgive and I will do my best to forget.” As though it is possible, this person forgives and then suppresses the offense, living in denial. Generous doses of shopping, narcotics, alcohol, or food will aid the denial process as the person stuffs it deeper and deeper. Acting like nothing ever happened in some ways is the opposite end of the spectrum of refusing to forget.

The third wrong attempt is, “I’ll just let it go, after all, time heals all wounds.” Really? Break a #2 school pencil into two pieces and set a timer. How long will it take for the pencil to heal itself? Impossible, you say? How is that any different than the offense your carrying in your life? Time may dull the senses, but time will never heal a wound properly.

I think the realistic approach is to say, “I will forgive, knowing that I will never forget, but I will allow God to heal that wound. It will leave a scar, but every scar is a reminder of a wound that has healed.” When we can get to that level of thinking, we’re on our way to restoration.

Step five is to speak a word of blessing (Genesis 45:10-13, 18-20). Joseph wanted his family to be close to him in Egypt and offered them the best that the land had to offer. I think one of the clearest indicators that we have forgiven is that we genuinely want the best for the person who has offended us. We want them to be close, and we wish nothing but blessings on their life.

The final step is to enjoy the relationship (Genesis 45:14-15). The story concludes by telling us that Joseph and his brothers talked freely, maybe for the very first time. It’s tragic that it took nearly their entire adulthood to come to the point that they could deal with the past and enjoy what was intended from the beginning.

So there you have it. Six steps modeled by Joseph on how to restore a broken relationship. But that leaves us with one final question. Why is God so insistent that we forgive one another? I think the reason is simply this: God wants you and me to be free. When we don’t walk through the steps of reconciliation and carry those offenses, we carry a tremendous weight. God insists that we forgive so we can be free.

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Genesis 45 gives us a text book model for how to restore a broken relationship. These principles were true then, were later affirmed by Jesus during his earthly ministry, and are still effective today.

First, Joseph created privacy (Genesis 45:1-4). After he cleared the room of his attendants, Joseph revealed his true identity to his brothers. I believe one of the greatest mistakes we make in restoring broken relationships is missing this vital step. Jesus affirmed this step in the counsel he gave his disciples in Matthew 18:15-19. Many situations are unnecessarily escalated because we miss this vital piece of biblical counsel. As a rule of thumb, the circle of conversation should never be greater than the circle of the offense.

Step two is to make the goal reconciliation (Genesis 45:5). If you read this verse aloud, you can hear the tone and the spirit of Joseph’s words. He used words of acceptance and understanding versus words of manipulation and guilt. The brothers were at his absolute mercy, yet his goal was not revenge. His goal was reconciliation. He spoke with words and a spirit of forgiveness before these brothers even had a chance to respond.

There are a couple of things that are important to share at this point. So allow me to pull over to a parking space for a moment. First of all, we have to remember that forgiveness is an act of the will.
It’s a choice. Forgiveness in its purest form is releasing someone from a debt to consider the matter no longer. If you wait for the “feelings of forgiveness ” to wash over you, you’ll waffle back and forth. It is a decision. In God’s economy, feelings follow choices.

The second thing I want to suggest while the meter is running is that the purpose of confrontation must be redemptive in its purpose. If your goal is not redemptive and you are not seeking reconciliation, you are not ready. You’re merely looking for revenge. Don’t use your wound as a weapon. That’s not going to be helpful.

Step three is to remain focused on the big picture (Genesis 45:6-8).
Look at how Joseph has been able to see God at work in this process:
• 45:5 God sent me…
• 45:7 God sent me…
• 45:8 Not you, but God…
• 45:9 God has made me…
• 50:20 God intended for good…
Joseph got a raw deal from his family. There’s no question about that. But one of the things that made him who he was is that he never lost sight of God during his years of adversity! Remember, its not what happens to me that matters, its what happens in me that counts!

Create privacy. Make the goal reconciliation. Stay focused on the big picture. Those are the first three steps. Tomorrow I’ll finish up this week’s series with the final three steps on how to restore a broken relationship.

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Conventional wisdom said it couldn’t be done, until Roger Bannister of England did it. Bannister was the very first person to run the mile in a time under 4 minutes. In the first 12 weeks after he did accomplished this milestone, 37 others did it. In the first 12 months after he did it, over 300 did it. From a human perspective, Joseph’s family was broken beyond repair. The relational problems they had experienced for the past 25 years have made this situation challenging beyond belief. But what we call impossible is always possible with God!

Jacob’s sons went to Egypt the second time to buy food. In their possession they carried double the money, gifts from Jacob, and most importantly, Joseph’s brother Benjamin. At this point we see the fulfillment of Joseph’s first dream as the 11 brothers bow down before Joseph. Simeon was released from prison and returned. The sight of Benjamin was overwhelming to Joseph. He excused himself to pull himself together. To their utter amazement, a meal was prepared and the brothers were seated according to their ages from the oldest to youngest. Benjamin was served a portion of food five times greater than the rest. Why? Perhaps Joseph was looking for change. Would they show jealousy when Benjamin was given preferential treatment?

After the meal Joseph’s brothers prepared to return to Canaan. Joseph instructed that Benjamin’s money and personal silver cup be stowed in the saddle bag. Once they were on the road, Joseph ordered a squadron of soldiers to pursue them. With boldness and confidence the brothers denied any wrongdoing and committed that if any of the “stolen” possessions be found among them, the thief be put to death and the rest return as slaves for life. Imagine how they must have felt when the cup was found in Ben’s bag! Once again, they returned to Egypt to stand before Joseph. Judah made good on his pledge to his father. He offered his own life in exchange for the life of Benjamin. At that precise moment, they were ready for the truth and what Joseph was about to disclose.

This week I want to post some thoughts that I shared last weekend about how to restore broken relationships. Stay tuned!

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Joseph’s family has been through the wringer. Little do they know what is yet to be unveiled! This week I’ve been posting principles for turning the corner from regret to resolution. To date my observations from Genesis and the story of Joseph include remembering that God is always at work, even in undetectable ways; the importance of facing reality (not unlike Jim Collins’ confront the brutal facts); and remembering that God is for (and with) His children.

The fourth element is to Accept Responsibility (Genesis 42:37-43:10). Aware that they cannot return to Egypt without Benjamin, Reuben made a generous offer. He told Jacob that he would be responsible for Benjamin and that if anything happened to him he could avenge the loss by taking the lives of his two sons. Jacob immediately refused this offer, primarily, I think, because Reuben had slept with his father’s wife Bilhah back in an earlier chapter. “I don’t trust you.”

As the clock ticks the food supplies diminish and the children get hungrier. It is at that point that Judah stepped up to the plate. Judah told Jacob that he would personally accept responsibility for his brother’s welfare. Period. Judah, you may recall, was the one who had the bright idea to sell Joseph to the slave traders to begin with. In short, Judah accepted responsibility for his action. It’s amazing what can happen when we are willing to accept responsibility for what we’ve done. Jacob permitted Benjamin to go.

The final piece to the puzzle is evidenced in Jacob resting in the strength of his God (Genesis 43:11-15). Jacob commended his sons, including Benjamin, to “El-Shaddai,” the mighty God. He finally came full circle and chose to place his trust in God. Martin Luther once wrote, “I know not the way he leads me, but well I know my guide.” Put another way, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”

Have you noticed what is happening? The conversation has become elevated. This family is now thinking about God, looking to God, and talking about God. Sometimes the most important step we can take is not a step forward, it’s a step upward. Elevating the conversation from the physical, temporal plane to a spiritual plane will help you discover that God is indeed real and relevant. After all, God is all about conflict resolution.

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The third step we must make if we’re going to turn the corner from regret to resolution is to Remember that God is for His Children (Genesis 42:36). Upon hearing the news from the brothers, Jacob made four false statements:
1. Joseph is no more!
2. Simeon is no more!
3. Benjamin will be no more!
4. Everything is against me!
The truth is that everything is for Jacob. His problem was that he had forgotten the promise of God, found in Genesis 28:13-15. In that passage, God clarified to Jacob what he was going to do. God relayed it this way: “I am the Lord…The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions…And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you” (NLT).

In my reading last week I came across a statement about love. The writer stated that love involves a commitment to be with someone and a commitment to be for someone. I see that claim verified in God’s promise to Jacob. God wasn’t against Jacob and his family. Nothing could have been further from the truth. God is for his children. When all things appear to be against you, remember that the Father’s hand has sent it and the Father’s love has measured it to exactly fit your need.

Each morning as we bench press the blankets from our bodies and slide our feet out of bed and onto the floor we have to make a decision about how we’re going to face that day. The direction choice we make with each sunrise is whether we will live that day by faith or by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Faith determines to live life based on the person and the promises of God. On the other hand, sight determines to live life governed by the senses, the emotions, and the prevailing circumstances we will face. There was a day when Jacob lived by faith, but by this stage of the storyline, he is purely running on sight. If Jacob could be susceptible to “sight living,” so can we. The choice to live by faith is one of the most important daily decisions we can make.

Tomorrow I’ll conclude this week’s series with the final two steps on how to Turn the Corner from Regret to Resolution.

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Last weekend I outlined five steps that one needs to take to turn the corner from regret to resolution. The first of which was to Recognize that God is Always at Work (Genesis 42:25-28). Joseph’s brothers had sold him for a mere 20 pieces of silver. But when they found that their money had been mysteriously returned, they became upset. The very thing they once desired was now detestable in their sight. As far as I can tell, Joseph returned the money as an act of grace. There were no soldiers in pursuit. Joseph would never mention it again. Later, when the brothers confessed it to Joseph’s servant, he shrugged it off (43:23). The brothers were so far from God they couldn’t even comprehend simple grace. Because they were not right with God, they feared even his goodness.

In the story, the brothers exclaim, “What is God doing to us?” They are doing more than asking a question. They’re making a statement. It might be of interest to you that this is their first mention of God in the entire narrative. For the first time they are acknowledging that God is controlling a specific and important circumstance in their lives. God is always at work, even when we cannot perceive it. Just because we are not aware of God’s activity does not mean he isn’t actively working!

Second, Face Reality (Genesis 42:29-35). When the brothers returned from Egypt they were honest with Jacob about the fate of Simeon. They hadn’t been honest with Jacob about Joseph, and still haven’t for that matter. But at least we can see they are beginning to come to terms with what is real. Last year I read a helpful book by Dr. Henry Cloud titled Integrity. Cloud defines integrity as “the courage to meet the demands of reality.” His supposition is that we can only advance in life and live in wholeness when we are grounded in the truth of what is real. When we are aware of what is real, then we can work constructively to deal with issues past, present, and for that matter, future.

Tomorrow I’ll continue this series with the third step on how to turn the corner from regret to resolution.

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In 1636, Roger Williams, who had been exiled from Massachusetts, went to what is now called Rhode Island and established its very first settlement. He called the settlement Providence, stating that “divine guidance has led me here.”

Providence is defined simply by Chuck Swindoll as “The belief that the events of our lives are not ruled by fate of chance, but by our sovereign God and loving Lord who works out his plan and purpose in the lives of his children.”

In the lives of Joseph’s family, we can see God at work to bring resolution to the unaddressed and unhealed issues of the past. Twenty five long years have passed since Joseph was pitched in the pit and sold off to the slave traders. Living the daily grind must have felt like fate, but God was at work. Like this biblical family, we may feel like we’re on the treadmill of life, going through the motions, totally subjected to the winds of fate. But the providence of God would indicate otherwise. This week I’m going to post some reflections from Genesis 42-43 on how this family turned the corner from regret to resolution.

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