Sunday, May 3, 2009

The good and bad of conflict

Fasten your seat belts, this entry goes all over the place...

This has been a rough week for my son. It started when he got hit by a pitch from a flamethrowing pitcher in a little league game, making him terrified of the baseball. To that stress he added a problem with a bully at school, and having to learn how to stand up for himself and face having no friends. This second element is what I am going to focus on before talking theology...

My son is a wonderful kid who makes friends easily. There is a kid at school, we'll call him Bob, who wants to be his friend even though he is probably not a kid that my son would hang out with much. Another of his friends, we'll call him Steve, doesn't like Bob and is trying to make sure that Bob has no friends. We told our son that he doesn't have to be best friends, but he has to be nice to everyone and cannot shun Bob simply because Steve does not like him. With me so far?

This week Steve found out that our son had Bob over to play, and freaked out and told our son that he hated him etc. He didn't want to go to school the next day in order to avoid the conflict, and it provided a great opportunity to parent him through this, teaching him not to fight back (Steve hit him the second day) but to turn the other cheek, and to face the conflict in front of him. The end result was that our son told Steve that he was not willing to be his puppet, and Steve was more interested in being our son's friend than ruining Bob's life.

The good and bad is easy to see here, because on the plus side our son learned to face conflict, and on the down side, he had a rather miserable week. But how much worse would his life be if he had allowed himself to be bullied into behavior he knew was wrong? How much worse would his life be if he allowed himself to be ruled by fear, trying to avoid the conflict rather than face it? Instead he did what was right. I am praying that these lessons will carry with him to later in life when he has friends who try to convince him to do other things he knows is wrong. The ability to stand up and say no is a powerful skill.

I've been reading through the book of Acts lately. Acts is an amazing and often overlooked book on the beginnings of the church. Specifically, I was dwelling on the story of Paul and Barnabas. In Acts 11 Barnabas comes to Tarsus to meet Saul, and then spent a year in ministry with him. Chapters 13 & 14 tell of the amazing ministry these two apostles did together throughout the world. These guys were the "dream team" of early church evangelism. But something happens at the end of chapter 15. Conflict over John Mark, Barnabas' relative, comes between them:

“And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.”
(Acts 15:39-41 ESV)

It's astonishing to think that two apostles could have such a sharp disagreement that they would break up the dream team over it, but there it is. I have often heard this passage cited as one of how God can use everything for His glory. By breaking up this powerful pair, the gospel was spread to more places because they could cover twice as much ground apart. That is the upside, but is there a downside? Yes.

The record of what Barnabas did effectively ends in Acts 15. There is a touch more in Galatians and 1 Corinthians, but compared to the record of Paul's work, we are left to wonder at the effectiveness of Barnabas and John Mark whereas we can read in great detail on the journeys and preaching of Paul.

I find myself wondering what kind of ministry Barnabas had after he and Paul split. It's interesting that we have no commentary on the effectiveness of Barnabas in Cyprus, but we know that Paul and Silas strengthened the churches on their travels. We don't know what their ministry was like or what they did, but we do know two results of this split: (1) Barnabas and Paul clearly reconciled as they did ministry again in later years and (2) Paul's distrust of John Mark was alleviated because they did ministry together after this event as well.

So once again, there is good and bad in conflict. The good side is that ministry was accomplished by both teams, and the better side is that John Mark and Silas both had the opportunity to minister side by side with great evangelists and be mentored by them. The downside is that we have lost the record of the work that Barnabas did and we are only left to wonder how effective the duo of Paul and Barnabas could have been if they had continued together.

God is sovereign, and only He knows why He allowed this to happen. If God believed that we needed to know what Barnabas and Mark did, I have no question in my mind that it would be recorded and preserved for us. But I still can't help but be a little saddened that the dream team had to be split up due to a conflict.

No great conclusion, just musings...


1 comment:

Armor and Sword said...

You know, one of the greatest pleasures I can remember in High School was having friends in all the "clicks".

I could care less if one person was in the stage crew, or the chess club. If I enjoyed who they were as human beings then I counted them as friends.

It didn't go over so well with every group, but I have found that as some of those friends are reconnecting that they, and I, are finding those different people have matured and become friends.

So, tell your son that some day "Steve" and "Bob" may become good friends.