Run the Race of the Christian Life to Win the Prize

Dan Jansen was always close with his sister – in fact it was she who suggested he become a speed skater. In 1988 his dream came true when he made it to the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. With just hours to go to his first race he informed his sister had died.

Of course, the news of his sister’s death stunned and devastated Jansen, but he decided to compete anyways. His sister had encouraged him to be a speed skater and supported him along the way to his Olympic dreams. It is what she would have wanted.

As he raced across the ice that day, grief proved to be too much. He feel in both races, dashing his hopes of winning the gold.

Although he was grieved and defeated, Jansen decided he couldn’t quit. He continued to chase the gold. In 1992, he came back to the Winter Olympics hoping to win, but the gold eluded him once again. Still undeterred he set to train for the next Olympic games.  Finally, in 1994, all his effort paid off. He not only won the gold in the 1,000 meter but he also set a new world record.

Jansen succeeded because he didn’t give up. Despite all the set backs he kept pressing forward toward the prize.

Likewise, as Christians we must not give up. We must keep pressing forward. Despite set backs, road blocks, and distractions, we must, as Paul tells us, run the race of the Christian life to win the prize (1 Cor 9:24).

Run the Race of the Christian Life to Win the Prize

Paul, using an image from the Isthmian Games held in Corinth, says in 1 Corinthians 9:24

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one received the prize? So run that you may obtain it.”(1 Cor. 9:24)

Now when Paul says this, he doesn’t mean to imply only one of us will win the prize, that is pressing Paul’s image too far. Instead what Paul wants us to do is run the race of the Christian life in such a way that we will win the prize.

When I was in elementary school, I was one of the fastest kids in the school — it was a small school. I remember one year I was cocky. I knew I was faster than everyone else, so on the first race of the heat I held back; I didn’t give it my all. I still came in first, but when I went to brag to my teacher about how I had just won he said, “You didn’t win by much. You better step it up, or you won’t make it to the finals.”

My teacher taught me something in that moment. He taught me that I didn’t have it in the bag and that I had to give it my all, I had to run so as to obtain the prize.

Christians must do the same. We have to run so as to win the prize. We can’t give a half effort. We can’t be lackadaisical about our Christian walk. If we are, we may not cross the finish line and win the prize.

Not Works Based

In saying we have to run in such a way so as to obtain the prize, Paul is not advocating a works based salvation. Paul is holding a tension between Christ’s work and our work. Yes, those who are Christ’s will finish the race, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to work to finish it.

The encouraging part of running the Christian race is that we don’t have to run it in our own power. At salvation, not only is our heart created anew, which causes us to desire to run for Christ, but we are also empowered by God to run. In Philippians 2:12b-13, Paul tells us to:

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12b-13)

Do you see what Paul is saying? We are to work out our own salvation – run with all our might, striving for the finish line – but we don’t run in our own power or alone. God runs with us, empowering us by changing our will, causing us to want to work to please Him, and giving us the strength to press on. What a glorious truth!

What is the Prize?

“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Cor 9:25)

Once again using an image from the Isthmian Games, Paul tells us our prize is greater than any earthly prize because: It is not perishable, but imperishable. It’s not temporary, but eternal. It’s not a laurel wreath, but a crown. Our prize, the prize we run the race to receive, is eternal life.

Since our prize is so great, we should give it our all. We shouldn’t run the race at half-speed, but full steam ahead until we cross the finish line.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you running the race to win the prize?

Resources

Post adapted from the sermon Run the Race to Win the Prize which you can listen to in its entirety here.

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If Paul has not arrived…

If Paul has not arrived, then neither have we. The apostle Paul, arguable the greatest Christian to walk on the face of this earth, tells us in Philippians 3:11-16 that he has not arrived. He has not attained the prize. He is still running the race and pressing forward. He says,

that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”

Why does Paul not believe he has attained the prize?

Paul has not attained the prize because he is not yet in heaven with his Savior. Nor has he received his glorified body at the second resurrection. Since he is neither in heaven, nor clothed in his resurrected body, he has not yet finished the race.

Paul believes only those who persevere in the Christian life will be raised to be with Christ for all eternity.

A one time confession of faith is not enough for Paul. Yes, he believes the phrase “once saved always saved.” But there is more to that phrase than most people want to include. Along with a confession of faith, there must be growth in Christlikeness and endurance until the end. A one time confession of faith. A trip down the aisle. A faith that has no growth will not do.

That is not to say we muster up Christlike character and endurance on our own. No, it is God who empowers us to live the Christian life and endure to the end (Phil. 2:13; 3:3). He is the One who predestines, saves, sanctifies, and glorifies (Rom. 8:29-30).

We still must endure

Even though God has promised that those who are His will be glorified, we still must endure. We cannot become complacent, prideful, and apathetic, thinking we have attained the prize, when we have not. This thought is what leads Paul to say,

that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Phil. 3:11)

An objection

Some of you may be thinking:

“Hold on a minute. Are you telling me that Paul, the greatest Christian to ever live, is not sure if he will be with Christ in heaven?”

Yes, in one sense I am saying that, because Paul is saying that. Paul believes he is saved and as one who is saved he believes he will endure to the end. However, since the end has not yet come, he holds this assurance in tension with what he knows of his own sinful heart and what he doesn’t know about the future. He will only know that he has “arrived” when he crosses the finish line at the end of his life.

You see, Paul knows those who have professed faith in Christ and lived like Christians, only to have walked off the track never to return and cross the finish line. You all know people like that as well. People you thought were solid Christians, who denounced their faith, lived the rest of their lives like atheists, and died, having never returned to the race. At one time, you may have thought they were a shoe in for the finish line, but it turns out they were not. Since they did not finish the race, they will not attain to the resurrection from the dead to eternal life when Christ returns.

Hope and a Challenge

For good measure, may I also add that those who never finish the race prove they were never in the race to begin with, even though they thought they were, because those who are in the race will finish the race.

While we know that those who are in the race will finish, we cannot become complacent, we cannot stop running, we cannot take our eye off the prize. If we lose focus, if we are attracted by the lures of the world, we may run off the track and never finish. We must keep pressing on, using every means possible to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

No matter if you have been a Christian for 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 10 years, or 50 years, you have to keep pressing on. You have to keep running the race, using any means possible to attain to your prize, Jesus Christ.

Again, this does not mean we run in our own power. God is the One who is ultimately working in us to cause us to endure, changing our desires and empowering us through the Holy Spirit. Even so, we must still run.

So then, Christian, hope in Christ. Trust God will glorify those whom He has saved, but don’t become complacent and apathetic. Use any means necessarily by the power of God to attain to your prize. Keep running! Keep pushing! The finish line is in sight!

Questions

  1. How does Paul’s view of finishing the race change your view of salvation?
  2. Have you ever thought of the Christian life as a race that must be finished in order to attain Christ?
  3. Do you know that God is the one empowering you and causing you to endure in the race? How does knowing that change the way you run the race?

Resources

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How the Gospel Deals with Conflict | Part 4

This last week, I have been discussing conflict. I have dealt with where conflict occurs (Part 1), why we need to get rid of conflict (Part 2), and I gave 8 ways to get rid of conflict (Part 3). In this last post, I want to provide you with encouragement.

Conflict Doesn’t Mean We Will Lose Our Salvation

We know that conflict is going to happen. We are sinners, who will disagree and argue with each other. Just because conflict is going to happen doesn’t mean that we should not deal with it. We have already seen that we should. Even though conflict is going to occur, it’s occurrence doesn’t mean we will lose our salvation.

In other words, we don’t have to be perfect. Notice at the end of in verse 3 Paul tells us that these two women’s names are in the book of life.

Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

What is the book of life, how do we get our names in it, and what does the existence of the book tell us?

First, what is the book of life?

You all have seen the cartoons where Peter is standing at the Pearly Gates as people come to enter heaven. What is normally before him is a book. In the cartoon, the book acts like a guest list to a party. If your name is on the list, then you are in. If it is not, well, you are excluded. While the cartoon’s depiction of Peter standing at the Pearly Gates checking to see if your name is in the book of life is probably not how it happens, the book of life is a reality.

Revelation 20:11-15 says,

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

From this text we learn that the book of life is a list of all those who will experience eternal life. If your name is in it, you will experience eternal life. If it is not, you will experience eternal damnation.

Second, how do we get our names in the book?

There are criteria that need to be met. We must believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

We must understand why Jesus came to die.

The reason He had to die is because we are all sinners. We all have rebelled against God. We have all turned our back on Him. None of us are righteous, not one of us. We can’t earn that righteousness. There are no amount of works that we can do to make ourselves righteous. The only way that we can be made righteous is through our belief in Jesus Christ.

We have to admit we are sinners, repent of our sins, and trust in Jesus Christ.

All those who believe that they are sinners and repent of that sin. All those who believe that Jesus by His sacrifice on the cross paid the price for our sins, and all those who confess that Jesus is their Savior, trusting that His sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to pay the price for their sins will be saved, their relationship with God will be restored, and they will experience eternal life.

All those who understand why Jesus came to die, admit they are sinners, repenting of that sin, and trust in Jesus Christ will have their names written in the book of life.

Third, what does the existence of the book tell us?

It tells us that once our name are written in the book of life, they are not removed. They are just as permanent as the words on the page in the Bible sitting on your shelf at home.

The permanence of our names is important to remember as we experience conflict with others, because conflict, or any other sin that we may commit as Christians, doesn’t remove our names from the Book of Life. God doesn’t have a cosmic eraser He takes to the page every time we mess up. In Christ our relationship is secure.

There are several reasons it is important for us to remember our names are permanently written in the book of life:

  1. It is important to remember so we don’t fall into a works based righteousness, thinking we have to do something to keep our names in the book.
  2. It is also important to remember so that we will not try to hide our conflict with others.
  3. Lastly, it is important to remember because this knowledge should free us up to admit our sin because we know that Christ has paid the price for our sins, and we know that our sins will not remove our names from the Book of Life.

So then the existence of the book creates a sense of permanence, which should keep us from acting self-righteously, and it should free us up to deal with our conflict head on.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you believe your name is written in ink in the Book of Life and cannot be removed?
  2. Have you ever thought conflict or other sins would remove your name from the book of life?
  3. Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior?
  4. Do you understand why He had to die in your place?

Resources

A helpful resource to consult would be: Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Conflicts by Robert Jones

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How the Gospel Deals with Conflict | Part 3

In part two of this series, I gave 5 reasons we need to rid conflict from among ourselves. Today I want to give you 8 ways to rid conflict from among us.

8 Ways to Rid Conflict from Among Us

Here is where the gospel comes to bare on our everyday lives. Up to this point in our letter, Paul has been explaining and expanding on the gospel. So let’s take some of what Paul has taught us in Philippians and apply it to this situation because that is exactly what Paul wants the Philippians to do.

In Chapter 2 Paul gives us the means by which we can be unified with one another. There he grounds his exhortation in the example of Christ, and in verses 5-11, he essentially gives us a gospel outline. Let’s look at the gospel outline before we dive into the 8 ways to rid conflict from among us.

The Gospel Outline:

INCARNATION – Jesus left heaven, came to earth, where He was a servant and lived a perfect life as a man. The king took up residence with those in His kingdom.

THE CROSS  But not only did the king take up residence with the people in His kingdom. He also went to the cross for them. So we have the second part of our gospel outline, which is: Jesus’ death on the cross

THE RESURRECTION/EXALTATION/REIGN – But things did not end there. Jesus was resurrected after three days, after which He was exalted by the Father to reign over His people. So we have the third component to our gospel outline: Jesus’ resurrection, exaltation, and reign.

As we look at this outline, and the text there in chapter 2 we learn a number of things about how to handle conflict and be unified with one another:

(1) We are to humbly count others to be more significant than ourselves

Jesus counted us to be more significant than Himself. So much so that He left His heavenly abode, took up the body of a man with all its sufferings, hardships, diseases, heartaches, and death. Then He willingly went to the cross to pay the price for mankind’s sins when He could have skipped out on it. But you remember what He said to the Father in the garden,

Not my will, but yours.”

And with that, He subjected Himself to beatings, ridicule, and death.

So then, because Jesus counted others to be more significant than Himself. We are to do the same. When we do, we remind ourselves that everything is not about us, which is often why there is conflict in the first place. You see, counting others more significant than ourselves kills our pride and shows us that others do matter.

(2) We are to do nothing from selfish-ambition

Jesus’ ambitions were not for Himself. He went to the cross for us. He told His disciples that the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve. We too are to be about the business of serving others, which means everything we do should not be for our own benefit.

Selflessness is important to practice because conflict occurs or continues when we seek our own benefit.

Occurs – It occurs because we want things our way. When someone hinders us from getting our own way, we feel offended and conflict ensues.

Continues – Conflict continues because we are not willing to concede our desires and wants. As well as it continues when we are not willing to confront the person who has offended us because we don’t like how uncomfortable it makes us.

When we do those things, we are allowing our own selfishness to take over. But that is not what the gospel models for us. Jesus died to Himself, so that we might live. We are to do the same. We are to die to our own wants and desires and feelings of uncomfortableness.

So, if we want to rid conflict from among ourselves, we have to kill our selfishness.

(3) We are to be humble not seeking to puff ourselves up

The gospel should humble us. Especially, when we think about salvation, because we did not save ourselves. When we are humble, we can admit our wrong, because we are not worried about our pride or our appearance.

Why?

Because we know that we are saved through the gospel and not through our own self-righteousness. We know that we are accepted in Jesus as sinners through faith alone. As sinners, we can admit our wrong. We can admit we have sinned against another and ask for forgiveness.

(4) We are to look out for the interests of others

Jesus looked out for our interests when He went to the cross to pay the price for our sins. He was not thinking about Himself. Rather, He was thinking about others and how He could benefit them. We are to do the same.

However, when there is conflict, we are not looking out for the interest of the other party we are in conflict with, nor are we looking out for the interest of those who need the gospel. We are only thinking of our own interests.

When conflict occurs or continues because we are only thinking of our own interests, accountability and growth in the church body will decrease, and we end up being a hindrance to the spread of the gospel.

All this means that if we want to remove conflict from among us, we must look out for the interests of others.

(5) We are to keep our gaze on heavenly things, not earthly things

In Philippians 2:10-11, Paul tells us that one day every knee will bow to Jesus when He returns. As well in Philippians 3:20 he tells us that our citizenship is in heaven and we are to focus on that citizenship.

When our focus is on heavenly things, we see this world for what it really is:

(1) Sinful – By realizing this world is sinful, we know that others will sin against us. This knowledge doesn’t make their sin any less hurtful, but it does mean that we don’t expect perfection. And when others do sin against us, we can forgive them knowing that they are not perfect just like we are not perfect.

(2) Temporary – By realizing this world is temporary, we know that a greater hope awaits in the future – a life everlasting. Those things that we put all our hope in on this earth are revealed for what they really are – temporary! So why argue and fight over temporary things? Our citizenship is in heaven. Our hope is there.

(6) We are to pray for one another

Paul is always praying for the Philippians. He opens his letter with a prayer for them. He tells them that he prays for them every time he remembers them.

We should use Paul’s example of prayer as a model. When conflict arises, we are to pray for the other person and ourselves. We are to pray that God would reveal our sins to us, and that God would reveal their sins to them.

(7) We are to include a third-party to help us mediate the conflict

In verse 3, Paul tells another person in the church, presumable an elder, to assist in the matter. This is important because when it comes to conflict, we often think that we are right and the other person is wrong. We don’t see our fault. We only see theirs. So we need a third party to help mediate the conflict, further the conversation, as well as provide scriptural counsel.

(8) Lastly, we are to preach the gospel to ourselves

By reminding ourselves of the gospel:

  • We remind ourselves of numbers 1-6.
  • We remind ourselves of Christ’s actions, which we should follow.
  • We remind ourselves that this world is not all there is.
  • We remind ourselves that God forgave us, so we should forgive others.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Can you think of another gospel-centered way to deal with conflict?
  2. Have you experienced conflict in your church? If so, which one of these points relates to your experience?
  3. How might you counsel someone who is currently dealing with conflict?

Resources

A helpful resource to consult would be: Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Conflicts by Robert Jones

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How the Gospel Deals with Conflict | Part 2

In part one of this series, I brought out the fact that conflict can and does happen in the church, even among solid believers, who are laboring for the gospel.

Today I want to give you five reasons we need to rid conflict from among ourselves.

5 Reasons We Need to Rid Conflict from Among Ourselves

In verse 2 of Philippians 4, Paul strongly appeals to Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mindset in the Lord. Then in verse 3, he asks the person he calls a “true companion” to help these women work out their differences. The fact that Paul includes this specific situation in the letter, appeals to these women publicly to work on their disagreement, and asks the church’s elder to help, tells us it is important for us to rid conflict from among ourselves.

So let’s ask and answer the question: Why is it so important for us to deal with conflict when it arises?

(1) Conflict hinders family unity

Those who are in the Lord should be united because they are family. The same Lord has died for all of us. The same Lord has called us to Himself. The same Lord will return for us, and it is this same Lord that we will be united to and live forever with in the new creation.

So then, we all experience the same thing because we are all in the same family, and those in a family should not be in conflict with one another.

(2) Conflict hinders our care for one another 

As family, we are to take care of each other, looking out for one another’s well being. When there is conflict, we cannot and do not properly care for one another. Nor do we hold each other accountable, or minister to one another’s needs, whether they be physical or spiritual.

So then, we need to rid conflict from among us so we can properly care for one another.

(3) Conflict hinders our working together to spread and advance the gospel 

In verse 3, Paul reminds these two women that they have labored with him to advance the gospel, giving them a reason they should settle their differences. You see, those who are in conflict don’t have a desire to work with each other. When that occurs, gospel ministry is hindered.

So then, we need to rid conflict from among us so we can work together to spread and advance the gospel.

(4) Conflict hinders our witness to the community

In Philippians 2:14-15, Paul writes:

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

Conflict hinders our ability to work together, as well as it hinders our appearance to the world. The gospel is supposed to change us. It is supposed to create a community of believers who love and care for one another. If there is conflict, and we allow it to stew, there will be no evidence of love and care for one another. This means that nothing positive comes out of extended conflict in the church. It just gives the world an excuse to write the church off.

Recently, I read an article in a European publication about a church that had major internal conflict. Their conflict was so bad that they had actually hired two preachers.

But that is not the half of it. These two groups still met in the same building at the same time. They constructed two different pulpits. One in front of each of the two aisles in the church.What was supposed to be a time for the church to be fed from the Word of God turned out to be nothing more than a shouting match as these two preachers took the pulpit at the same time.

Of course, the article did not have kind words to say about the two groups. The churches conflict became more of a media spectacle than anything, ruining their gospel influence in the community. While that is an extreme case, it shows that conflict in a the church does real damage to our witness.

So then, if we want to shine as lights in the world, we need to quickly rid conflict from our midst.

(5) Conflict hinders our ability to glorify Christ

As Christians, our purpose in this life is to glorify Christ. If we are in conflict with one another, relationships are hindered, the gospel is not spread, accountability and growth does not occur, and we are not a light to the world. All this means that we are not glorifying Christ.

So then, we need to rid conflict from among us so we will not hinder our ability to glorify Christ, which is our God-given purpose.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Can you think of another reason we should rid conflict from among us?
  2. Have you experienced conflict in your church? If so, which one of these points relates to your experience?

Resources

A helpful resource to consult would be: Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Conflicts by Robert Jones

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How the Gospel Deals with Conflict | Part 1

How do you handle conflict? 

  1. You might be like one guy I know who quickly and rashly confronts everyone who offends him, so much so that his nickname is lightning rod because he attracts so much conflict.
  2. You might be like another one of my friends who stuffs any offense against him, never confronting the person, just letting it stew.
  3. You might be the one who blows up on anyone who offends you. Yelling and screaming is second nature to you. As a result, your house is complete with holes in the wall and broken vases.

While we should and must deal with conflict, we should not deal with it in these ways.

So, how should we deal with conflict?

In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul uses the gospel to deal with conflict between Euodia and Syntyche. Apparently, they were in a disagreement. We are not told what that disagreement was over, or even who offended who. All we know is there is conflict that Paul seeks to rectify. In doing so, Paul does not tell these women to duke it out. Instead, he brings the gospel to bear on their situation. His gospel-centered counsel is exactly what I hope to bring out in this series.

Before we actually deal with how to handle conflict in a gospel-centered way, there are several things I want you to see first, and that is:

(1) Where conflict can occur.
(2) Why we need to rid conflict from among us.

After we look at both of those, we will then focus in on the how by looking at:

(3) How we can rid conflict from among us.

Before we leave the subject of conflict, I want to finish by taking up the subject of the Book of Life. From that discussion I want us to see that:

(4) Even though there is conflict, we are secure in our faith.

Now that you have the roadmap for this series, let’s begin today by seeing where conflict can occur.

Where Conflict Can Occur

First, conflict can and does occur in the church among believers.

It is apparent from the text that Euodia and Syntyche are believers. In verse 2 Paul implores them to be of the same mind “in the Lord.” Then in verse 3, Paul says that they have their “names in the book of life”. These statements by Paul shows us that these two ladies were believers. The fact that they were believers informs us that conflict can and does occurs among believers.

But you already knew that. I am sure you have experienced conflict in your church in the past. Whether it was small squabbles or large church splitting fights. Conflict is nothing new and it certainly is not unheard of.

But conflict not only occurs in the church among believers, conflict also can occur:

Second, among solid believers who are laboring for the gospel. 

Paul tells us in verse 3 that these two women

have labored side by side with him for the gospel”.

You see, Euodia and Syntyche were not your average back row Baptist quietly slipping in and out of church. They were involved. They worked side by side with Paul for the advancement of the gospel. They were in the trenches. Out proclaiming the gospel to their neighbors. They were probably persecuted, and maybe even jailed. And some commentators even considered them to hold places of leadership in the church.

All this tells us that conflict between Christians not only happens in the church, but it also happens among those who are working and laboring to advance the gospel to the community.

Conclusion

So then, we see that no matter our position, we must not think ourselves to be above conflict. It can happen to everyone. No matter how committed of a Christian.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How do you handle conflict? Do you resonant with any of the three scenarios in the introduction?
  2. Do you recognize that conflict does happen in the church?
  3. Have you ever thought that conflict doesn’t occur among committed Christians? Could that thinking be a form of denial?

Resources

A helpful resource to consult would be: Pursuing Peace: A Christian Guide to Handling Conflicts by Robert Jones

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