Contentious Conversations

Above: What NOT to do!

Here’s another question asked by a reader who kindly took the time to give me writing suggestions. (Thanks, Joe!) How do we handle the unwritten rule to cease from talking about sex, religion, or politics with family and friends? How do we have civil discourse on contentions topics?

Since, right or wrong, I’ve nearly always avoided contentions conversations, let me begin by recommending an article by Scott Rae and Tim Muehloff, How to Disagree Without Dividing – Biola Magazine – Biola University. (Biola is the alma mater of three of my four kids.) The whole article is worth your time, but here are the highlights.

  • Our aim should be respectful disagreement, communicating in ways that preserve one another’s dignity, even when we disagree.
  • When the relational aspect of a conversation is broken, no one cares about the content. If I don’t feel respected by you, if I feel like you don’t acknowledge my position, then I don’t care about your argument.
  • Paul told us to speak the truth in love. We love our friends. We love our enemies. We ought to be able to convey those things in our conversations, even the contentious ones.
  • We live in an argument-prone culture where we tend to demonize each other. Finding common ground with those “on the other side” is seen as compromise and weakness. This is wrong. If we value relationships, why not start our conversations with common ground, then move toward areas of disagreement, keeping our convictions while still valuing our relationships?
  • For example, we might start a conversation with, “I know we disagree about this issue, but I’m not sure I understand all of the reasons why you feel that way. Could you talk to me a bit about your conviction on this issue?” Aim to understand both what another person is thinking, and the reasons behind that stance.
  • When the conversation begins to heat up too much, try saying something like, “Hey, we’re not having a good conversation right now. What could we do to make it just a little bit better?”

A letter to the editor in a recent issue of Christianity Today summarized those same points by saying, in essence, “Keep your focus on explaining your position and listening to why the other person or people believe and act as they do. The conversation will always go bad if the focus is on why I am right and why you are wrong.”

Now that I’ve shared the wisdom of some very learned men with you, I’ll give you my take on the matter next week…

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Looking Loopy

Evan Almighty may not have been perfect in its theology, but it sure got one thing right. Noah looked like a hair-brained fool for building that boat. (‘Good thing he did it anyway.) Plenty of Bible heroes had to take on courageous challenges that didn’t make any sense at the time. Abraham (take a hike with your son and a knife) and Joshua (take a lot of hikes with torches and clay jars) come to mind first off. But were there any “little guys” who found themselves facing a crisis of obedience? I think so. Look at this passage from Mark 14. Jesus’ disciples have just asked where they should prepare what we’ve come to call The Last Supper.

“Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.”

That homeowner had already prepared his room. Then he went for water at just the right time, and it mattered very much that he did.

Then there’s this passage from Luke 5. While Simon Peter became a hero of our faith, at the time of this story, he’s just a regular guy, a tired fisherman facing a failure. “When he (Jesus) had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’

Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.”

Simon had already started cleaning and repairing his empty nets. How did it look to the guys in the other boats when he headed back out?

These people looked loopy because God had a plan, and they trusted him even when they didn’t know what that plan was.

In today’s conflicted world, perhaps the nuttiest think you can do is look peaceful and happy. But, really, why not? As Charles Stanley said, “Christians ought to be the happiest people in the world, because we’ve got more to be grateful for.” We’ve also got More to trust.

So this week I’m asking you to not only embrace the peace and joy God offers you, but also to let it show! When you’re stuck in a conversation of doom and gloom, be the voice of hope. Let people hear of your trust in God’s plan. So what if it make you look a little loopy?

And for more of Dr. Charles Stanley, check out this link: “How to Stay Young and Useful All Your Life.”

Photo by Greg Reese via

Just the Facts

I’m a big fan of moleskin notebooks. I’ve used them as journals for years. Last week, I came to the last page of my current edition and decided to flip through it for a few moments before shelving it and unwrapping a fresh volume. Those scribbled pages reminded me of old challenges, answered prayers, new discoveries, and fun times of weeks gone by. I also found five Bible passages copied into the front cover. ‘Can’t remember when I did that, but I’ll be copying them into my new journal. I hope you’ll find them encouraging as well. While I’m sharing them without commentary—just the facts as God has given them to us—I’d love to hear how they strike you.

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15a).

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” (Isaiah 30:18).

“Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12).

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side. Arise, Lord! Deliver me, my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.From the Lord comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people” (Psalm 3:3-8).

“But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield” (Psalm 5:11-12).

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Slow to Learn

January 2021.

  • Weather: Changing by the hour.
  • Quarantine: Still in place for my parents.
  • Schedule: Grandchildren here from 8-4.
  • My agenda: Have my grandchildren in the car to go visit their great-grandparents by 3 pm. (By visit, I mean stand in the parking lot and dance and wave while Meemee and Deedah lower treats down from their balcony by a rope and bag contraption.)

Before I go on with this story, here’s a quote from the Brenda of 2005, found in an old journal. “There is only panic when I set my own agenda.” That’s right, folks, I’ve been working on letting God be in control for a long, long time. And, as I’m about to show you, I am not there yet.

Those of you with small children know that an agenda like I described above can require hours of planning and preparation. (If you don’t get it, borrow a three-year-old for a couple of days.) Play time, lunchtime, and an early naptime must all align if one wants to be out of the door by 3. At about noon, things were looking pretty good. But then…

I asked Steve to play with Nick for a few minutes while I settled Kate in her bedroom. They wrestled and then built a fort for him to “take his nap in.” This is a gender thing folks, but for those of you who just don’t get it (meaning about half of the population), it’s a whole lot easier to get a kid to sleep if you do something calm and quiet right before the moment of naptime comes. See Steve having a great time doing nothing wrong, but see Brenda’s silent fuming.

I was frustrated and a bit too terse with Kate (who, of course, heard the wrestling and wouldn’t stay in bed.) Eventually she fell asleep, adorable with a big stuffed tiger as her pillow. Nick finally fell asleep about an hour later than I had planned, buried under that fort. Of course, most of the cuteness was lost on me, because my agenda had been ruined. It would be far too late to go anywhere by the time they reached full consciousness. I would have to settle for plan B, and I did not like plan B.

Halfway through rest time, I managed to let go of my agenda and my frustration, praying for a return to my usual delight in these “NanaPop Days.”  Guess what, plan B was great! They slept. I rested. Then we read books and ate snacks for a few short moments until their parents arrived to take them home. I visited my parents alone later in the day, only to discover that the weather was too cold for Mom and Dad to spend much time on their balcony anyway. The whole day would have been so much better if I’d stayed flexible instead of trying so hard to get my way.

We are still in a very uncertain time. But, really, every time is an uncertain time. We won’t always get what we expect or what we plan for. Relax. Trust. And smile. God has a way of improving on your plans. 

Why Do We Give Chocolate to Children?

Photo by cottonbro on Please note that this is not a photo of my grandson!

As you’ve gathered from earlier posts, I have grandchildren now. I also have a generous supply of chocolate chips—white, dark, milk, and caramel. While Steve and I certainly get into my stash from time to time, I keep those chip jars full primarily for the sake of the little ones in my life. Today they sprinkled them on top of pans of pumpkin muffins. They’ve insisted on adding them to our quarts of homemade frozen yogurt. Sometimes, though, I just dole out small piles of chips into each of their eager hands.

But why? Why do any of us give chocolate (or sprinkles, or ice cream or…) to children? We all know it’s not particularly healthy. I think we do it because we take pleasure in delighting those we love. I enjoy the broad smiles and pure excitement a few chocolate chips can evoke in my grandchildren. I like giving them what they like. It makes me happy.

I think God takes pleasure in delighting those he loves—that’s us. Of course, every blessing he gives us is 100% good. The questions I want to ask you today, though, are these:

  • How good are you at delight?
  • Do you keep your eyes open for God’s blessings and please him by enjoying what he gives you?
  • Do you take good things for granted or, worse yet, deny yourself the pleasure of His gifts because you know you don’t deserve them?

My grandchildren often say, “I’m so excited…” When I hear that, I’m challenged to rekindle my own excitement, to renew my recognition of the pleasant things in life, all of which are gifts from God. I want to urge you today to up your level of delight in the Lord, not just in who he is, but also in all he provides.

And won’t you please take a moment to tell me about it here?

And one more thing: Last week’s blog was written by my mom, Beth Smith. Some of you received it by email before it was properly credited. ‘Just want to set the record straight!

Refreshed by Beth Smith

The York Candy company once ran a series of commercials, each beginning with the words, “When I bite into a York Peppermint Pattie, I feel…” followed by images of extreme refreshment—like falling into a pristine pool on a hot summer day. While I love Peppermint Patties, the refreshment I get from God is even better.

Refreshment can mean relief, and God gives us relief from sin. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).

Sometimes when we say we need refreshment, we mean we’re desperate for renewed strength. The Bible promises us that as well. “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

Maybe the refreshment you’re looking for stems from some other need. Still covered! Philippians 4:19 promises that, “my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

The help, the refreshment we need, often comes from God’s Word. Once I was very nervous about flying to Europe. I prayed about it, but I was still really scared. Here’s the Bible verse that freed me from fear. “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:10). God helped me with his Word, and I was refreshed! He’ll do the same for you. Tell him what you need, and the expect him to come through.

Part of the refreshment God gives us comes from a renewing of our minds and bodies as we submit to him. Paul wrote, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 NLT). Note, please, that our part is to submit to God. His part is to change us, to refresh us, to supply our needs.

Next time you are refreshed, whether by a mint, or a cool drink of water, or even a nice long nap, think about the ways God refreshes you. Praise him. And keep on going to him—reading his Word, spending time in prayer, submitting to his ways, choosing to trust—for refreshment every day.