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8 ways to deal with difficult people

Copyright 2017 by Bob Rogers.

Your child is wronged by another child, and when you try to talk to her parents, they tell you off. A friend gets angry with you and refuses to talk to you. A fellow worker never shows you respect, always going over your head. How do you deal with difficult people? My grandfather loved to answer this dilemma with Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

This verse recognizes two important facts about dealing with difficult people: 1) we should live at peace with people, and 2) it’s not always possible. In fact, Romans 12 gives us four ways to deal with difficult people when peace is possible, and four ways to deal with them when peace is not possible.

When peace is possible

Romans 12:14-16 gives us some practical ways to live at peace with difficult people.

1. Be a blessing (v. 14)

Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” This statement, like several others here, refer back to Jesus’ word in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told us, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Paul must have remembered his own past with this statement, for many years before, Paul was the young Pharisee named Saul who held the coats of those who stoned to death the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Acts 7:60 records that as he died, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

2. Be empathetic (v. 15)

In verse 15 he adds, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” This is more than sympathy; it is empathy. It is identifying with those who hurt.  This is a critical response to a difficult person, because when we can identify with them and understand why they act the way they do, then we will be much better at relating to them.

3. Be agreeable (v. 16a)

Verse 16 begins, “Live in harmony with one another.” Literally, the Greek means to “have the same mind toward one another.” We can disagree in substance and still be agreeable in spirit.

4. Be humble (v. 16b)

Sometimes the reason that the other person is so difficult to deal with us because the problem is within ourselves! Thus Paul reminds us, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” As Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes.”

When peace is impossible

Paul said in verse 18 to live at peace “if it is possible” and if “it depends on you.” He was recognizing that there are times when it is impossible for us to bring about peace in our own power. So what do you do when there is no peace? What do you do when it’s out of your hands?

1. Do not seek personal revenge (v. 17a, 19a)

Although I have listed this under the category of “when peace is impossible,” it probably fits under both categories. This is a principle that goes both ways.

Verse 17 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…” Verse 19 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends…” Jesus also taught the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39, 41). Jesus was not talking about social injustice; He was making reference to personal insults. As Proverbs 12:16 says, it is wise to ignore an insult.

2. Do what is right (v. 17b)

We do not need to let the meanness of another person drag us down to their level. Thus verse 17 continues, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” We must decide that even when the other person refuses to do what is right, that we will do what is right. Even when we cannot keep the peace, we can keep our integrity.

3. Let God avenge (v. 19b)

Verse 19 begins by saying, “Do not take revenge” but the verse goes on to say, “leave room for God’s wrath.” That is, we do not take revenge for personal insults and injuries, but we do make room for God to work his vengeance, particularly against social injustice.

When the Hebrews fled across the Red Sea and Pharaoh chased them, God allowed the Egyptians to drown in the sea, and Exodus 15 records the song of rejoicing that Moses sang at their defeat. Proverbs 11:10 says that “when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.” While it is a virtue to overlook a personal insult, it is not a virtue to overlook a social injustice. The former is gracious; the latter is gross negligence.

4. Overcome evil with good (v. 20-21)

Paul says, “’If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ [A quotation of Proverbs 25:21-22.] Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

We can read Romans 12:20-21 on two levels: On a personal level, “kill him with kindness.” If your enemy is hungry, feed him. Let his evil be in such contrast to your goodness, that evil will be conquered by good. You may change his heart. On a social level, God will bring about the vengeance, often by using the judicial system, law enforcement and the military to bring about justice. In this way, you are leaving room for God’s wrath.

To sum up, how do you deal with difficult people? If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with them. If possible, be a blessing, be empathetic, be agreeable, be humble. Respond to their personal insults with personal kindness. And if none of those things are possible, you may just need to walk away and let God deal with them.

How does God want you to deal with your difficult person?

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What makes a happy Father’s Day

Copyright 2016 by Bob Rogers

FatherChildBike

A man came home late from work, exhausted, and went to his son’s room to tell him goodnight. His son sat up in bed and asked, “Daddy, how much money do you make?” Irritated by such a question, he said, “Enough!” But the boy wasn’t satisfied and asked, “I mean how much do you make an hour?” He grumbled, “They pay me $25 an hour.” The boy then asked, “Can I borrow $10?” The father gruffly replied, “No! Now go to sleep!”
The following morning, the overworked dad apologized to his son and handed him a $10 bill. The little guy excitedly ran to his room, and soon returned with his piggy bank. He spilled all of his pennies, dimes and nickels on the breakfast table in front of his father. He said, “I’ve got $15 in my piggy bank.” Then he added the $10 bill to the pile and said, “Here’s $25, Daddy. Can I buy an hour of your time?”
This Father’s Day, let’s remember that our families want a relationship with us more than they want our money. And the greatest example is the relationship that Jesus, Son of God, has with God the Father. This is beautifully expressed by Jesus’ words in John 5:19-23. There we read that Jesus and the Father worked in perfect harmony, as Jesus said, “For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way” (John 5:19). Too often, families are like a choir whose members are all are singing a different tune in a different key and rhythm. The result is a discordant chaos. The Father-Son relationship puts harmony to sheet music for the rest of us. Their relationship also proved its love by showing honor. Jesus said, “For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing…So that all people will honor the Son just as they honor the Father…” (John 5:20, 23). Too often for us, the very mention of “family” causes a person to get a knot in his or her stomach, because of painful memories, hurtful words, and feelings of rejection. However, the Father-Son relationship is a picture of what love feels like. When Jesus was baptized, the Father proudly proclaimed, “This is My Beloved Son!” (Matthew 3:17). If God had a refrigerator, Jesus’ photos would be all over it.
Jesus said, “whatever the Father does, the Son does these things in the same way.” His way is a relationship path all of us should follow. That’s what makes for a happy Father’s Day!

Question about divorce

Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers

I received the following question by email from someone from another church who has granted permission for me to post the question and my reply:
“I have consulted my pastor and other pastors concerning our Baptist teachings about divorce and remain confused. I am divorced. I made an oath at my wedding of “til death do us part” and finished with “so help me God.” Even though adultery entered my spouse’s life, do I remain bound by my oath? Did you do a blog on this topic? Or, better yet … will you do one and let me know.”

Dear Friend,
I understand that you are already divorced, apparently because of your spouse’s adultery, and your question is, “do I remain bound by my oath?”
It appears there are two parts to your question. First, the question of whether your divorce was permissable, and second, the question of whether you are free to remarry. So let’s take the two issues separately:
1. The question of permissable divorce. According to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 5:32, adultery is a permissable reason for divorce. Thus if your spouse committed adultery, you did have biblical grounds for divorce. The other biblical ground for divorce is found in 1 Corinthians 7:15, when one spouse is an unbeliever and leaves.
(I would caution readers, however, that just because your spouse commits adultery or leaves you for a time does not mean that you should rush into a divorce. If at all possible, you should seek a counselor and seek restoration in your marriage. I have known couples who suffered adultery and other problems in their relationship who were able to experience repentance, forgiveness and restoration.
The second caution I would give to readers is that if you are suffering physical abuse or severe verbal abuse, you may need to remove yourself from your home to an undisclosed location for your own safety.)

2. The question of remarriage after divorce. You mentioned “our Baptist teachings about divorce.” While I am glad to be a Baptist, we must make certain that our teachings come from the Bible, not Baptist tradition or any other tradition that contradicts scripture.
Jesus recognized the fact that the woman at the well had five husbands, although she was cohabitating with the man she was with at the time she met Jesus, and that man was not her husband (John 4:17-18). By this statement, Jesus recognized each of these five marriages as true marriages.
A common “Baptist teaching” about Matthew 5:32 is that it bans remarriage after divorce, because it says that anyone who divorces his wife causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
However, the New Testament Greek verb used in the original text used the passive voice, which means the subject receives the action, rather than causing the action. In other words, divorce is a stigma that the husband puts on his wife by divorcing her. It is something the first husband does to the woman and the man she remarries. The stigma is being divorced and being married to a divorced person. Notice in the verse that the stigma occurs whether or not there is ever a remarriage, because it says “anyone who divorces his wife… causes her to become an adulteress.” Notice he causes the adultery before any remarriage. It could be translated, that he adulterizes her. This is referring to the stigma of divorce. It is interesting that the 2011 revision of the New International Version translates Matthew 5:32, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery…”
I recognize that this is a controversial passage, and there are differences of opinion about it, but I do not think the scripture teaches that remarriage after divorce is automatically a sin.

How to Deal with Difficult People

Copyright 2012 by Bob Rogers

Your child is wronged by another child, and when you try to talk to her parents, they tell you off.
A fellow church member gets angry with you and refuses to talk to you.
A friend always interrupts you, and you want to be friends but you always get frustrated with the conversation.
A fellow worker never shows you respect, always going over your head.
How do you deal with difficult people?

Whenever there was a disagreement in church business meetings or family squabbles, my Grandfather Rogers loved to quote Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

This verse is the pivotal verse in the passage, Romans 12:14-21. It recognizes two important facts about dealing with difficult people: 1) we should live at peace with people, and 2) it’s not always possible. In fact, the passage leading up to verse 18 talk about when it is possible, and then with verse 18, the subject switches to what to do when it is not possible to live at peace with others. So let’s look at it this way.

I. When peace is possible

Most of the time, we can live at peace with others. Whenever it is possible, we should. But how? Verses 14-16 gives us some practical ways to live at peace with difficult people.

A. Be a blessing (v. 14)

We’ve all heard of family members who refuse to speak to one another for years. How sad! Most of the time, peace is possible between two people, if you are willing to make the first move toward reconciliation. So choose to be a blessing.

Paul says, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” This statement, like several others here, refer back to Jesus’ word in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus told us, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Paul must have remembered his own past with this statement, for many years before, Paul was the young Pharisee named Saul who held the coats of those who stoned to death the first Christian martyr, Stephen. Acts 7:60 records that as he died, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Perhaps it was the impact of Stephen’s refusal to curse his persecutors that caused Saul to be so troubled in spirit and respond to the call of God on the road to Damascus, as is recorded two chapters later, in Acts 9.

B. Be empathetic (v. 15)

In verse 15 he adds, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” This is more than sympathy; it is empathy. It is identifying with those who hurt. It’s like the little 8-year-old boy who went over to see an elderly man next door whose wife had just died. When he came back, the boy’s mother asked, “What did you say?” The boy said, “Oh, nothing, we just sat on the porch and I helped him cry.” This is an extremely important response to a difficult person, because when we can identify with them and understand why they act the way they do, then we will be much better at relating to them.

C. Be agreeable (v. 16a)

Verse 16 begins, “Live in harmony with one another.” Literally, the Greek means to “have the same mind toward one another.” We can disagree in substance and still be agreeable in spirit.

D. Be humble (v. 16b)

Sometimes the reason that the other person is so difficult to deal with us because the problem is within ourselves! Thus Paul reminds us, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position (this can be translated, ‘be willing to do menial work.’) Do not be conceited.” As Proverbs 3:7 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes.”

You never know how if you would just be kind to people in low position, how you may benefit from your kindness one day.

II. When peace is impossible

Paul said in verse 18 to live at peace “if it is possible” and if “it depends on you.” He was recognizing that there are times when it is impossible for us to bring about peace in our own power. So what do you do when there is no peace? What do you do when it’s out of your hands?

A. Do not seek personal revenge (v. 17a, 19a)

Although I have listed this under the category of “when peace is impossible,” it probably fits under both categories. This is a principle that goes both ways.

Verse 17 says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil…” Verse 19 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends…” Jesus also taught the same thing in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39, 41). Jesus was not talking about social injustice; He was making reference to personal insults. This sounds strange to Americans who are used to demanding our rights, but the Christian is to be willing to give up his or her rights for the greater good of bringing peace.

However, even if peace is impossible, it is still the right response to the evil person. As Proverbs 12:16 says, it is wise to ignore an insult.

B. Do what is right (v. 17b)

You see, we do not need to let the meanness of another person drag us down to their level. Thus verse 17 continues, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” It would be very easy respond to the ugly text message with an ugly reply. It would be easy when a person blesses you out in front of others, to let them have it with a few choice words of your own. It would be easy when the competition cheats to get ahead, for you to cut corners and cheat, as well. We must decide that even when the other person refuses to do what is right, that we will do what is right. Even when we cannot keep the peace, we can keep our integrity.

C. Let God avenge (v. 19b)

What about a terrorist like Osama bin Laden? Is it wrong to seek revenge against somebody like that?

Verse 19 begins by saying, “Do not take revenge” but the verse goes on to say, “leave room for God’s wrath.” That is, we do not take revenge for personal insults and injuries, but we do make room for God to work his vengeance, particularly against social injustice like a terrorist.

There was a great German pastor in World War II named Dietrich Bonhoeffer who opposed Hitler. Bonhoeffer even participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler, and he was a Christian pastor! Why would he do that? Bonhoeffer did it because he knew that it would stop a greater evil. In the Old Testament, Moses was sent to Pharaoh and told to demand justice for the Hebrew slaves. God even sent a “death angel” as a final plague upon the Egyptians to set the people free. When the Hebrews fled across the Red Sea and Pharaoh chased them, God allowed the Egyptians to drown in the sea, and Exodus 15 records the song of rejoicing that Moses sang at their defeat.

How do we reconcile this with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek and loving our enemies? We need to make a distinction between personal offenses and social justice. Proverbs 24:17 says, “Do not gloat when your enemy falls.” Yet Proverbs 11:10 says that “when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.” Both of these statements are in the same book of the Bible, and both are true. While it is a virtue to overlook a personal insult, it is not a virtue to overlook a social injustice. The former is gracious; the latter is gross negligence.

D. Overcome evil with good (v. 20-21)

Finally, we deal with the most difficult of people, the evil person, by overcoming evil with good. The statement in verse 20 has an application both ways, like verse 17, to personal insults and difficult people with whom we might reconcile, but it also applies to the more difficult and devilish people and situations from which we can expect no reconciliation.

Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22, saying, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

This can be interpreted two different ways. The popular way to understand it, is to mean “Kill them with kindness” and thus shame them into repentance. It reminds me of the church sign that said, “Love your enemies—it messes with their heads.” It is true many times that we overcome evil by refusing to respond with evil. By showing kindness, we can often change a heart.

Most Christians are familiar with this statement, “heap burning coals on their head,” and we’ve come to use it in the sense of shaming them by killing them with kindness. But there is a second way to understand this—a way that applies to times when it is not possible to find peace. In ancient times, Egyptians had a ritual of punishment for those who repented, where they had to walk on fiery hot coals, and in scripture, fire and hot coals were often used of punishment. Psalm 140:10 says, “Let burning coals fall upon them; may they be thrown into the fire.” How is this overcoming evil with good? Well, in the next chapter of Romans, chapter 13, Paul talks about how God has placed the government over us for our good. He says in Romans 13:4 that the government is God’s servant for God, the avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. President Barack Obama and former president George W. Bush are opposites in their political views, but one thing they both agree on was the government action is removing the terrorist, Osama bin Laden. They both said that while they took no personal pleasure in the death of Osama bin Laden, nevertheless, “Justice was done.”

Thus we could read verses 20-21 this way: On a personal level, respond to evil with kindness. If your enemy is hungry, feed him. Let his evil thus be so obvious and so exposed, in such contrast to your goodness, that evil will be conquered by good. God will bring about the vengeance, often by using the government law enforcement and military to bring about justice. In this way, you will heap burning coals of punishment on his head, but leaving room for God’s wrath. We need to be like the preacher who said, “I’m not going to get even. I’m going to tell God on you!” (Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, p. 495.)

How do you deal with difficult people? If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with them. If possible, be a blessing, be empathetic, be agreeable, be humble. And if none of those things are possible, you may just need to walk away and “tell God on them.”

How does God want you to deal with your difficult person?