BROTHER’S KEEPER

A Peacemaking Tune by Rich Mullins

While preparing a killer beef stew yesterday, Jan dialed up a Rich Mullins’ playlist to enhance the cooking experience.

I pitched in as sous chef, chopping up a variety of veggies. Both of us love this artist’s contribution to contemporary Christian music, but I had never heard this tune before.

The lyrics come right out of Romans 14 and 15 about the peril’s of judging others in the body of Christ.

The threat a critical spirit poses to church unity is so destructive I included an entire chapter in my book about “welcoming” others who differ with us on matters of conscience.

Mullins spins it with a Genesis 4 positive emphasis about determining to be our brother’s keeper, not his judge.

I commend a quick view/listen and a diligent application of the truth sung.

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS

A Message at Crosswalk Church in Daytona Beach, Florida

It was my great joy and privilege this past Sunday as a guest preacher to bring a sermon about my passion for preserving church unity.

Many thanks to Pastor Mitch Pridgen and the Crosswalk family for the warm welcome and enthusiastic reception.

Fair warning–the video above is relatively long.

My friend begins with a gracious and very kind introduction.

He then has me introduce Jan, who proceeds to play and sing her original song, “Welcome Back to the Throne of Grace.”

If you check out any of this, watch her minister so very well. You will be blessed!

Given the length, the very end of my message does not appear online, but that was about my book and the copies I made available to the church.

Please pray that the Lord uses them in the lives of these precious saints.

I remain incredibly grateful for this new season in my life and ministry where I get to spread a passion for the God of peace and the unity of the church for which the Prince of Peace died and made into one body.

HEADED BACK EAST

Info About a Peacemaking Speaking Engagement

Biblical phrase from matthew gospel, blessed are the peacemakers

On October 17, next Thursday, Jan and I fly to Orlando for a two-week visit to the southeast, Lord willing.

We have a number of family, dentist, and ministry commitments on the books for which we are excited. It is shaping up to be a jam-packed itinerary!

I am particularly grateful for the invitation from my friend and fellow FIRE pastor, Mitch Pridgen, to preach at his church on Sunday, October 20. Jan also will sing and play one of her original songs.

I last met Mitch at the FIRE international conference in May. It gave me great pleasure to gift him a copy of my book, The Peacemaking Church.

He immediately extended the invitation to come and bring a message on preserving church unity on my next visit to Central Florida. Title and text are pictured in the graphic above.

I have been encouraged to bring copies of the book and will sign copies following the service. This both thrills and humbles me for the opportunity to spread my passion for biblical conflict resolution.

This passion was formed over my years as pastor at Orlando Grace Church and reaffirmed most recently as an ever-present need in the church as we’ve lived this past year in Idaho.

Crosswalk Church is located in Daytona Beach. Their worship service starts at 10 AM on Sunday mornings.

I would be most grateful for your prayers for this event and the possibility to see anyone who might make their way there that day!

MAKE EVERY EFFORT

Peacemaking 101 for Eagerly Preserving Church Unity

Average Customer Service Evaluation Form

What is something at which you very much want to excel? Some passion, skill, or gift you pursue where you won’t settle for average?

There are many things believers should do based upon who we are in Christ. Some of them get a do-your-best emphasis.

Consider Ephesians 4:3:  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Do you care enough about peacemaking in your church that you strive to excel at it (Heb. 12:14)?

After three chapters of unpacking the gospel—who we are in Christ and what He has done for us in reconciling us to Himself and bringing peace in one body—Paul pivots in Ephesians 4:1 with “therefore”—walk in a manner worthy of your calling.

What does that look like? Make every effort to guard the oneness of the fellowship.

Here are three of the most important ways you can excel in this regard.

Whenever you Pray, Ask a lot for Others for Peace

James 4:2 says, You do not have because you do not ask. Prayerlessness lies at the root of many church ills, including disunity.

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:7-11), Jesus taught on prayer—ask, seek, knock.

Those words in the context come right after Jesus’s instructions about peacemaking (7:1-6). Don’t judge. Get the log out of your own eye. Don’t cast your pearls before swine.

Good grief! No wonder the Lord taught about prayer right after that. If we are going to excel at peacemaking and preserving unity in our churches, we are going to need God’s help and plenty of it. So pray specifically for peacemaking challenges in your church. 

Whenever You Can, Overlook a lot in Others for Peace

Proverbs 19:11 counsels, Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

Put another way, do not be easily offended. Overlooking offenses—forgiving them summarily without confrontation whenever you possibly can—that’s peacemaking wisdom.

Solomon calls it a glory, a beautiful thing, an honor. Why? Because that’s when we most resemble the Lord (Col. 3:13).

You can put up with a whole lot more from others than you give Jesus credit for in you!

Whenever You Must, Talk a lot to Others for Peace

We can’t always overlook. Sometimes confronting is necessary. What must we do?

Talk to the person. Jesus taught, If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone (Matt. 18:15) . I am amazed how often we duck this responsibility altogether or put it off indefinitely. 

Oh, we’ll talk to others for sure, but way too often someone other than the brother or sister who has ticked us off—and we call that what? GOSSIP. And God hates it when we sow discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:19 calls it ‘an abomination’).

Make every effort. Pray a lot. Overlook a lot. Talk a lot.

Do these things in the power of the Spirit motivated by forgiving gospel grace and you will excel at preserving the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace!

Question: What else has helped you excel at peacemaking in your church?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JLH!

Why I Praise God for Each Day of Your Births

Jan at Glacier

Some occasions require a blogger to get personal. This is one of them. My bride of thirty months, Jan Leslie Heffelfinger, observes another birthday today–her physical birth.

Thanks be to God she is twice born–by his grace having been born again from above (John 3:3) in her youth.

Today I, her HOHCIL husband, celebrate both epic events for the avalanche of benefits she imparts to me and countless others.

Here are some, but by no means all.

Jan, thank you for loving Jesus more than you love me/anyone. Your God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-dependent commitment makes you the fountain of overwhelming blessing that you are to all who know you. That’s all about your second birth.

Jan, thank you for taking the risk, after years of contented singleness, of “putting your hand to the plow” (your words) of marriage to me. I was, am, and will always be your pastor–caring for the wellbeing that matters most in your life–the spiritual, but without neglecting the rest of my responsibilities for covering you with my wings (Ruth 2:12).

Jan, thank you for partnering with me in the demands, challenges, delights, and privileges of pastoral ministry in this surprising late-stage season of service to Jesus and his church in my running of the race (Heb. 12:1-2).

Babe, I don’t know for certain, but I have my doubts, that I would be shepherding God’s people anywhere at age 67, let alone in rural Idaho, without your persevering prayer, relentless encouragement, tireless relational ethic, and gifted-in-so-many-ways service.

Good grief! I so appreciate the countless ways you enhance the ministry of our church.

Jan, bless you–woman of faith and sacrifice–for leaving home, family, and all things Florida-familiar to follow me into the unknown in a state famous for its potatoes. You certainly did mean all that you promised and conveyed in this tune you chose for our wedding.

 

Jan, thank you for modeling peacemaking virtue in our marriage.

When I fall short of God’s ideal in our communication, your consistency in speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) and engaging me in the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), call me back to practice the very things I pursue in my writing.

God has taught you so much over the years!

That I am the beneficiary of your maturity and wisdom-from-above faith (James 3:17-18) blows me away with God’s goodness to me. You make me want to be a better husband and pastor.

Jan, thank you for teaching me that family commitments and relationships are no “debit” but great “credit” to be stewarded and enjoyed along the way of sacrificial ministry and church service.

I’ve been so short-sighted and selfish at times. And yet in addressing these shortcomings and blind spots in my slow-to-learn journey, you have never lost patience with me. You have never punished me. You have always sought to understand me better and work things through with me.

For these gifts and countless more, I celebrate each day of your births and ask as always, “Who am I?” (2 Sam. 7:18) to have been brought thus far by grace so amazing to be your husband.

Happy Birthday, BG!

I love you . . . (what I whisper every night to you before lights out).

COUNT TO EIGHT FIRST

A Listening Strategy for Keeping Your Cool and Loving Others Well

Blonde woman having tongue in clothespin

One night last week, Jan and I welcomed new friends into our home. We shared a meal with a couple who have served locally as missionaries for twenty-six years among First Nation peoples, especially the Nez Perce Tribe.

As newcomers to the area, we were eager to gain insights from their experience for understanding this special part of rural Idaho’s population.

We quickly learned that a number of complexities accompany building relational bridges with Native Americans. Their painful history and challenging circumstances present significant hurdles.

At one point in the conversation, I heard the most important takeaway for me:

“We’ve learned to count to eight first.”

Before saying anything, especially in more stressful conversations, they’ve discovered that mentally counting to eight before offering any verbal response communicates empathy and a desire to understand, not just be understood.

I then recalled this biblical admonition: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).”

I also felt convicted. Not only do I not use this particular strategy, I typically find myself mentally framing my responses to others before they finish speaking!

The Scriptures counsel repeatedly about this dynamic.

“When words are many transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19).

“Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27).

“Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29).

“Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city (Proverbs 16:32).

The Count-to-8-First Strategy benefits relationships in another way.

It loves others well by showing empathy through listening–the deepest form of understanding another person.

The authors of Difficult Conversations explain:

As an empathetic listener, you are on a journey with a direction but no destination. You will never “arrive.” You will never be able to say, “I truly understand you.” We are all too complex for that, and our skills to imagine ourselves into other people’s lives too limited. But in a sense this is good news. Psychologists have found that we are each more interested in knowing that the other person is trying to empathize with us – that they are willing to struggle to understand how we feel and see how we see – than we are in believing that they have actually accomplished that goal. Good listening . . . is profoundly communicative. And struggling to understand communicates the most positive message of all (184).

Next time you find yourself in a tough conversation, keep your cool and try listening empathetically by counting to eight before opening your mouth.

But skip the clothespin!

Question: When have you felt understood well by someone? What did they do?

OH, HOW GOOD IT IS!

A Worship Song I Wish Every Church Would Sing

One cannot overstate the blessing from God of prolonged peace and unity within a congregation.

So says the inspired song writer in Psalm 133:

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,
    life forevermore.

The Gettys have given us an easy-to-sing, biblically-credible version of the text with which to bless our churches.

We owe them our thanks. We sing it at Trinity.

I commend it to pastors and worship leaders everywhere.

A HELPFUL WEAPON FOR WAGING PEACE

A Review of “The Path of a Peacemaker”

Our age abounds with peace-breaking tension.

Internationally, the streets of Hong Kong and the Strait of Hormuz–just to name two–know life-threatening tension.

Nationally, our nation’s capitol reverberates with rancor and division over immigration policy and a host of other clashing views.

Evangelically, the Reformed camp struggles with sharp disagreement such as I have never seen in my pastoral lifetime over issues of ethnic diversity, social justice, and racial reconciliation.

And these say nothing of the other forms of conflict and disunity that affect our communities, churches, homes, and relationships of all kinds.

path of a peacemakerThankfully, Brian Noble of Peacemaker Ministries has contributed another helpful weapon to the peacemaking arsenal for fighting the good fight of peace in any context. The Path of a Peacemaker: Your Biblical Guide to Healthy Relationships, Conflict Resolution, and a Life of Peace (Baker, 2019, 238 pages) turns the tables on tension early on in its pages. Noble relates his own tension-filled upbringing story and how God used it as a positive force in his journey.

He then proceeds to develop in detail a four-part rubric for navigating tension born of conflict to positive, peacemaking ends.

He guides the reader through one, story–tell our stories together; two, ascend–pray and read Scripture together; three, reflect–take personal responsibility; and connect–ask, confess, seek, and forgive. He encourages the reader:

A path of a peacemaker conversation is not about perfection. It’s about being willing. It’s about being vulnerable. It’s about being sincere in seeking peace. It’s about caring enough to involve yourself in something that—let’s face it—could be uncomfortable (194).

I particularly appreciated Noble’s repeated emphasis on the importance of humility (I’ve suffered my share of failure with my prideful nature) at every point on the peacemaking path.

Citing Jesus’s example in John 8:1-11 he writes: “Humility has the power to change everything. It is one of the most important lessons we can learn from Jesus. Jesus changed the world with humility” (101).

Brian Noble writes well. He relates stories effectively to bring home his points. He excels in the practical. The questions he suggests asking for connecting in the chapter on forgiveness could be worth the price of the book!

Noble includes plenty of biblical references pertinent to a sound peacemaking theology. He does not make it his purpose to delve deeply in exegetical study. But he writes on solid theological ground–including his appeal to the gospel as the means and power for putting the path of a peacemaker into process.

traveler at the edge of a cliff with amazing view behind him

You have to love where he lands the plane:

Even though this book is based on a set of steps to help you find peace with someone you’ve been warring with, it’s not about the process. The process is just a means to an end. What really matters is action. When you invite someone to sit and talk about something that has hurt you, that’s taking action. When you forgive someone who’s hurt you, that’s taking action. When you make amends for some offense, that’s taking action.

Buy the book. Master the process. Walk the path.

Question: What area of relational tension would you hope this blog might address in future posts?

WHEN YOU CAN’T OVERLOOK

How to Have a Difficult Conversation without It Blowing Up in Your Face

My post The Beauty of Overlooking stressed fighting anger with magnanimous forgiveness.

The follow-up post When Overlooking Is No Glory unpacked diagnostic questions to determine the difference between active overlooking and passive denial.

Soldier in full combat ammunition pulls a check from a grenade.

Now, how do we proceed with a difficult conversation with someone who offends without escalating conflict?

Douglas Stone and company, in their book Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most, nailed the challenge at hand:

Delivering a difficult message is like throwing a hand grenade. Coated with sugar, thrown hard or soft, a hand grenade is still going to do damage. Try as you may, there’s no way to throw a hand grenade with tact or to outrun the consequences. And keeping it to yourself is no better. Choosing not to deliver a difficult message is like hanging on to the hand grenade once you’ve pulled the pin. So we feel stuck. We need advice that is more powerful than “Be diplomatic” or “Try to stay positive.” The problems run deeper than that; so must the answers.

Galatians 6:1 gives us four deep answers.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

Remember Your Goal 

If you think someone has sinned against you, then they’ve gotten caught in a transgression. Your goal is not to vent; it’s to restore.

Don’t just look out for your own interest in repairing the harm done to you. Aim for his best interest in escaping the trap which has ensnared him (Phil. 2:3-4).

Walk in the Spirit

Offenses often trigger fleshly reactions–especially fits of anger (Gal. 5:20). Work them through BEFORE the difficult conversation. That might take some time.

Ask the Lord to fill you with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and to keep you in step with the Spirit all the way through the difficult conversation (Gal. 5:25).

Be Gentle

Paul stresses this aspect of the fruit of the Spirit for these assignments. Gentleness tempers an approach, lessening hand grenade impact.

Ask questions way more than making judgments. I love to lead such conversations with something like: “Remember that thing you said/did that time? What was going on there? Can you help me understand what that was about?”

Strive not to put others on the defensive; make them a partner in solving the matter.

Inventory your Contribution

You may have sinned, however slightly, so as to affect the situation. Heed Jesus’s instruction to remove any logs from your own eye (Matt. 7:3-5).

A preemptive, legitimate confession goes a long way to deffusing bomb threats to the conversation. You may only be 20% responsible for the conflict, but you are 100% responsible for your 20%.

It shocks me how often folks tell me how they’ve been hurt by others but never talked to the offender about it.

When you can’t overlook an offense, the best advice is TALK TO THE PERSON (Matt. 18:15)!

Just take care how you do it. Leave the hand grenades behind.

Question: What is something that has helped you navigate difficult conversations?

WHEN OVERLOOKING IS NO GLORY

How To Avoid Denial When Someone Offends You

My last post urged fighting anger by choosing magnanimous forgiveness whenever possible when someone sins against you.

Proverbs 19:11 applauds that kind of covering-a-multitude-of-sins love.

“Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

Choosing to graciously forgive an offense with no need to confront the offender is a beautiful thing–a glory. And the gospel compels us to do so often.

There is, however, a danger worth noting inherent with this virtue.

Toy forklift hold letter block d to complete word avoid on wood background

In the name of overlooking we can actually shut down in silence and even file the offense away for later use.

Ken Sande rightly labeled that “a form of denial that can easily lead to brooding over the offense and building up an internal bitterness and resentment that will eventually explode in anger.”

I get this form of “peacefaking” all too well. My inherent loathing of conflict can deceive me into a faux-overlooking that is no glory at all.

Pastor Alfred Porier, in his excellent book The Peacemaking Pastor, prescribes two helpful diagnostic questions to help avoid this mistake.

Question #1: Is the Offense a Persistent Sin?

Galatians 6:1-2 speaks to this: 

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens , and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Paul pictures someone sinning habitually as trapped like an animal in the wild. The law of Christ’s love demands a spiritual process of restoration for that person’s welfare to help free him from sin’s grip.

When you encounter an offense that is an ongoing, spiritual problem, it is no glory to overlook; it’s a lack of love.

Question #2: Is the Offense Hindering My Relationship?

If the matter keeps invading your thoughts and alters the way you interact with the offender, you likely need to address the situation in love.

Poirier gives himself a two-day test:

If I find myself frequently reflecting upon my brother’s or sister’s sin for more than two days, if it is there when I rise and when I go to sleep, if I think about it while I am showering and when I am driving, and if I am reticent to greet this fellow believer at church, then I cannot overlook the offense. I must address the matter with the person (139).

Either way–overlooking with magnanimous forgiveness or confronting with truth in love (Eph. 4:15)–fighting anger in the face of offenses is a matter of wisdom, choosing one or the other with God’s help.

Question: What’s another sign which helps you know when you cannot overlook an offense?

You can leave your comment below.