APPEALING & THE PEACEMAKER

How Appealing to Others, Not Demanding of Them, Enhances Peacemaking

Greeting and congrats

It has been some time since I introduced a series of post entitled The Ways of a Peacemaker. I want to return to developing this theme from the book of Philemon.

Affirmation and prayer play huge rolls as peacemaking virtues. Making appeals matters greatly as a peacemaking skill as well.

Philemon reveals Paul’s heart in brokering reconciliation between Onesimus, a runaway slave, and his owner.

Having affirmed his friend and prayed for him, Paul next broaches his appeal to him.

Don’t miss the choice he makes here in terms of the approach. He could have pulled apostolic rank and simply told Philemon what to do.

He admits as much in v. 8. And he has the moxie (bold enough in Christ) to do it too!

But no. I prefer to appeal to you. He says it differently in greater detail in v. 14.

But I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.

He says it even more simply at the top of v. 9—yet for love’s sake.

Paul so wants Philemon to profit spiritually in every way through this relational transaction.

“Dig deep, man, in the depth of your heart and let your choices flow from the reservoir of gospel love contained within.”

How much more God-honoring and glorious a way to resolve things than a begrudging, externally constrained, kiss-and-make-up superficial affair!

If the greatest is love (1 Cor. 13:13), then aim for that in your peacemaking.

Set the bar that high and entreat, appeal, beg, plead for hard hearts to melt into grace-laced loving ones.

Alfred Poirier, in The Peacemaking Pastor, writes:

Mediation is when parties in conflict call upon a third party to assist them in reaching a mutually agreed upon settlement of their dispute. The key word here is assist. . . .  Mediators do not decide for the disputants what their agreement will be. The decision is left to the disputants to mutually determine. However, Christian mediators do help shape the final agreement by giving wise biblical counsel (210).

And they shape it by how they call for response to that counsel—sincere, passionate, appeal.

Effective peacemakers go out of their way to broker reconciliation between estranged parties—leading with specific affirmation, praying with singular aim, and engaging with sincere appeal.

How does your approach as a peacemaker compare with these three virtues?

Please note: I will be traveling outside the country for the next two weeks and unable to post. See you in November!

 

HOW TO STOP DISCORD IN ITS TRACKS

Three Steps for Preserving Peace When Your Feelings Get Hurt

beauty girl cry

They inevitably do, don’t they? We all stumble in many ways (James 3:2) and quite often we and people we care about in the body of Christ get hurt in the process.

Anticipating this challenge for His church, Jesus prescribed just what to do when offenses threaten unity between brothers and sisters.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matt. 18:15).

In the rest of the context (Matt. 18:16-20), the Lord explains how to proceed if your brother fails to listen, but that’s another post or two for another time.

In this post I want to camp out on the all-important starting place for stopping discord in its tracks as spelled out in v. 15. I see three simple steps in this one verse.

First, go to the person. If your brother sins against you, go. Take initiative. If you can’t overlook the offense (Prov. 19:11), assume responsibility for your feelings and reach out.

Too often we stuff or brood over hurt feelings to our own emotional detriment and the detriment of relationships. Paul fleshed out the law of love in such cases this way: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18).

Two, speak with the person. Tell him his fault. Sit down (face-to-face is best) and get honest about what has happened–or what you think has happened.

More times than not offenses boil down to misunderstandings. Never underestimate the possibility for communication to break down.

I try to always lead with questions at the outset of a peacemaking confrontation. They will sound something like this: “You know that situation/conversation/email/etc. a while back? What was going on there? I might be missing something–can you help me understand?”

Just before I stepped down from my church last summer, a misunderstanding with one of our elders reinforced for me the wisdom of this kind of approach. I took offense at him hijacking the leadership of my last Sunday AM prayer meeting with our intercessory team.

Turns out he didn’t hijack anything. After I cooled off and remembered the importance of practicing what I preach, I went to him after the service in just the manner described above.

He explained that he had done what he thought that week’s office email requested of him. It made perfect sense! I laughed and we went away reconciled. But I could have made a nightmare mess of our relationship had I failed to engage him for clarification or confronted him in anger.

Three, care for the person. Between you and him alone. Guard confidentiality. Refuse gossip. Blabbing about your pain from another’s words or actions may likely slander them and sow discord among brothers–an abomination among the things God hates (Prov. 6:16-19).

Deidra Riggs, in her book One: Unity in a Divided World, calls confrontation a gift God extends to us:

God desires oneness and unity for us. When we hold grudges and add people to our unappealing short lists, we invite division and disunity. One way to stop discord in its tracks is to bring it out into the open, set it down on the table between you and the other person, and talk about it face-to-face. … We can take courses, read books, and listen to podcasts, which give us specific techniques for dealing with confrontation, but I’ve found the very best instruction right in the pages of God’s word” (14).

Well said, sister, and thanks for the insight and exhortation.

PURSUING PEACE FROM THE PACIFIC NW

A Personal Update after a Relocation Marathon

Idaho View

This post marks my first blogging effort from the famous potato state. While Jan and I miss our families, church, neighbors, and friends back home, we thank God for bringing us to this gorgeous place on our latest adventure.

I last posted on August 15. You can read about peacemaking lessons gleaned from my fifteen years at Orlando Grace Church here.

The challenges of moving from the tropics of Central Florida to the wilds of North Central Idaho put any writing assignments on hold longer than anticipated. Time to blow the dust off the blog again.

“Move” is a four-letter word.

The image above shows the view to the west from our new street address. Just to the right, a 1/4 mile gravel road leads down to our doublewide home.

Talk about a whirlwind change!

In forty-five days, Jan and I left OGC, visited my Pennsylvania roots, held an estate sale, closed on our home, flew to Boise, bought a vehicle, and turned a vacation house into a permanent residence.

Where do we go from here? Three things:

One, rest. We plan to make no decisions about the next season of ministry until the end of the year. The succession push took its toll. We welcome some quality downtime.

Two, wait on the Lord. He knows what the future holds in terms of my employment. Proverbs 3:5-6 defines our agenda on a daily basis.

A small church plant in the area has expressed interest in me as a part-time pastor. I will preach there for the first time this Sunday. The need there played a significant role in influencing Jan and me in the decision to move to Idaho.

Three, strengthen the platform for my book.

FBheader

Baker Publishing Group has confirmed that TPC will hit the shelves on November 20. They produced this Facebook header for me along with a similar version for Twitter.

All that to say, the emphasis for now involves resuming my online presence and other means for getting the word out about the book. Prayers are appreciated.

Jan and I don’t know how the Lord might work to guide our future through the book’s release, but we are asking Him to use it to help believers to eagerly preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in their churches (Eph. 4:1-3).

His will be done!

Soli Deo Gloria

 

 

PEACEMAKING PERSPECTIVE AFTER 15 YEARS OF SHEPHERDING

Twelve Lessons for Cultivating a Culture of Peace in a Church

Farewell Cake

Only minutes remain on my watch as lead pastor of Orlando Grace Church. One learns a lot over the course of fifteen years in the ministry trenches.

It seemed fitting that my last blog post in this role would focus on some of the biggest takeaways I have gained about cultivating a culture of peace in the local church.

Here are twelve.

One, preserving unity must top the list of priorities for every member (Eph. 4:1-3).

Two, how we think about God determines much of how eager we are to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:4-6).

Three, overlooking offenses (Prov. 19:11) whenever possible manifests the love of Christ and serves the cause of charitable judgments (1 Cor. 13:7) among a deeply flawed people.

Four, the Four G’s are worth their weight in gold for equipping God’s people with a rubric for doing peacemaking (Matt. 7:1-6).

Five, unchecked anger (James 1:19-20) poses perhaps the most formidable obstacle in doing the work of peacemaking that earns the Lord’s blessing (Matt. 5:9). Deal with it.

Six, legalistic judging of others over matters of conscience poses yet another significant obstacle to doing peacemaking (Rom. 15:1-7). Stay off the throne and let God be the judge.

Seven, asking a question like “Can you help me understand?” or “What was going on there?” rather than making a judgment often reveals breakdowns in communication vs. malicious intentions (Prov. 20:5). Ask before drawing conclusions.

Eight, pastors must model the virtues of peacemaking trusting in God’s sovereignty and power alone to work in the hearts of those with whom he must engage in conflict (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

Nine, magnanimity as a character strength intercepts relational disasters before they ever happen by refusing to press rights and deferring to others trusting in God’s care (Gen. 13:1-18).

Ten, followers in the church have a serious responsibility to esteem and respect their leaders given the nature of the strategic pastoral care work they do in their lives (1 Thess. 5:12-13).

Eleven, prolonged unity within a church is such an extraordinary gift it is worth preaching and singing about when enjoyed by God’s people (Psalm 133).

Twelve, sometimes no matter how hard you try, every effort at peacemaking can fall short of restoration of ministry partnership even if it results in personal reconciliation (Acts 15:36-41).

On a personal note, this 12th reality constitutes some of my greatest regrets as a flawed pastor. I have failed some folks terribly. It grieves me so. God have mercy.

I could say more. I’m no expert. I’m just trying to get it right as I move on to the next phase of my journey.

I love the people of OGC. I will miss them. They are in GOOD HANDS–Jesus first and foremost–and Jim and our fellow elders (not perfect but good) second.

I am a happy man and signing off as lead pastor at OGC–but not done with my race just yet, Lord willing.

SDG–PCBO

(Cake artistry by the incredibly gifted Michele Richert!)

SWEET, SWEET SUCCESSION

Seven Tips for a Peaceful Pastoral Transition

Retirement Dinner Photo

On Tuesday of this week our elders blessed Jan and me with a farewell dinner. After fifteen years of ministry, this Sunday will mark my final service as OGC’s lead pastor.

I can only describe our time with the elders and their wives as the sweetest of fellowship experiences. I love these folks and they love us.

We started talking about a succession process over two years ago. Throughout this process to pass the baton to Jim Davis, OGC’s fourth lead pastor, I have learned a lot.

I determined at the outset of my tenure at our church that I would seek to ensure, with God’s help, a peaceful transition that would guard our unity (Eph. 4:1-3).

Here are seven lessons for others who may profit–either now or in the future. After all, every pastor is an interim pastor.

One, get honest. I have never wanted to hang on to my position too long. I’ve wanted to finish with some force still in my stride.

Eventually I sensed a growing, prolonged angst within. It kept affecting my spirit and performance.

Integrity demanded owning that.

Two, do homework. I knew little to nothing about pastoral succession. Two books helped: Next: Pastoral Succession That Works and Passing the Leadership Baton.

Our elders spent the better part of a year reading/discussing the former. It fostered helpful dialogue about our approach to the process.

Three, take initiative. I started the conversation. I emphasized this fact over and over again.

No one pressured me to step down. Dismissing any doubts about that made things so much easier for everyone.

Four, stay humble. So important, yet so difficult. Preparation for a new pastor required a hard look at our situation.

Candid talk about our weaknesses humbled me. I struggled not to take constructive criticisms as personal indictments on my body of work.

Pride needing repentance reared its ugly head more often than I care to admit.

Five, be decisive. Initially we framed the timetable for succession as a two-to-five year window. Before long we realized the need for setting a hard target.

Once the succession cat escapes the bag, fixing a date matters–experts who’ve done it suggest no longer than two years.

Jan and I took initiative once again aiming for a finish line of September 2019.

A caveat. Decisiveness doesn’t preclude flexibility. God brought us the man of His choosing according to His timetable.

Be prepared to adjust readily and graciously.

Six, talk often. I am so proud of our congregation. Changing lead pastors can create anxiety. Our people embraced the challenge beautifully.

But a peaceful transition does not occur without adequate communication between leaders and followers.

I say to both–you cannot over communicate!

Seven, trust always. I clarify for folks, when they logically assume I’m retiring, that I’m actually rehiring.

At my age, I will no longer serve in a demanding context like that of OGC. However, I intend to continue working for a variety of reasons.

The kicker is this: I don’t know in what capacity.

We are waiting on the Lord for His direction and provision (Isa. 40:27-31). Walking with Jesus means walking by faith (2 Cor. 5:7).

This reality never ends until we finish the race (Heb. 12:1-2)–the text of my farewell message this Sunday.

Question: What lessons have you learned about pastoral succession?

OPERATION ROBOJAW COMPLETE

A Survey of My Unimaginable Journey

New Teeth

I’ve waited a long time to log this post. It required an image of my nine-teeth-brand-new-bridge in place before writing.

What a beauty!

The sheer joy of biting down on a sandwich again. The exquisite pleasure of chewing on the right side of my mouth again for the first time in years.

It has been three years to be precise.

My jaw started to fail in May of 2015. An implant inserted to replace a failed root canal dislodged over breakfast one morning. Little did I know what dominoes would fall from there.

My PCP, fearing a recurrence of oral cancer, sent me to a local oral surgeon. He hit me with a diagnosis I never heard of before–osteoradionecrosis–bone death by radiation.

They fried my jaw back in 2005 to save my life. I’ll live with the tradeoff. Pun intended.

After hospitalization for excruciating pain in December of 2015, a CT scan revealed a pathological fracture of the right mandible. I would need a jaw transplant. Gulp.

Fortunately for me the main man for this kind of herculean undertaking works for UHealth in Miami–Dr. Robert Marx. What a gifted, skillful healer.

We got to be buds over the next two years. Talk about someone who knows you inside and out.

February 2016. Eight hours on the table to remove half my jaw and insert a titanium implant. No fun at all.

A total of 45 hyperbaric dives before and after that procedure ensured needed wound care. No fun at all.

November 2016. Six hours on the table for bone graft surgery to rebuild the mandible in preparation for teeth. They wired my jaw shut for three weeks while the graft hardened. No fun at all.

March 2017. Two plus hours on the table for a hip debridement procedure. Inflammation caused the wound from the last surgery to open. Nothing else could close the incision.

That procedure occurred two weeks before my wedding to Jan Leslie. No fun at all. Not the wedding and honeymoon, of course–sutures in the hip notwithstanding.

August 2017. Another couple of hours on the table at Jackson South to sink four implants in the rebuilt jaw. Four more teeth were extracted. No fun at all.

February 2018. Two more hours in surgery at my Miami home away from home to expose jaw tissue for placing healing abutments on the implants. A nightmare splint held them in place for three miserable weeks. No fun at all.

March through July 2018. Several trips to team Tiralossi/Pileggi dental reached the finish line of this marathon.

After wearing a temporary bridge for several weeks, the final product pictured above got screwed in place. No fun at all–except that it is finished.

Lessons I’ve been learning? Among them . . .

One, life in Jesus is a perpetual test of faith (Heb.11:6). God’s promises sustain through trials from start to finish (2 Pet. 1:3-4).

Two, suffering of any kind promotes humility and dependence upon God’s care for persevering over time and awaited outcomes (1 Pet. 5:6-7).

Three, the help of others at strategic points along the way eases the burden and lifts the spirit (1 Sam. 14:7-14).

Nancy, Jan, Chuck, Rob, Ryan, Ross, Dan, OGC, my family, my doctors, dentists, surgeons, nurses, et al carried my armor up the mountain to slay my personal Philistine.

I am forever grateful.

Four, I am learning–always learning–to run with endurance the race set before me looking to Jesus who alone sustains and empowers us to the finish line (Heb. 12:2).

Question: What lessons has God taught you through a challenging season of life?

PRAYER & THE PEACEMAKER

Virtue #2 in the Ways of a Peacemaker

prayer-1308663_960_720

Helping others resolving conflict requires a number of skills and responsibilities. None matters more than intercessory prayer.

The bigger the conflict, the greater the need for intercession.

Recently I introduced a series of posts called The Ways of a Peacemaker: Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers who Excel at Mending Relationships.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon, the apostle prepares to return run-away-slave-turned-Christian Onesimus to his owner. Here we see a biblical model of assisted peacemaking worthy of imitation.

My last post focused on the first of five practices skillful peacemakers employ in helping repair broken relationships–leading with specific affirmation.

This post explores the second–praying with singular aim.

Not only does Paul praise God for Philemon (v. 4-5); he also prays strategically for him (v. 6).

And I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

I’ve scratched my head a good bit about this verse. It’s tough to interpret.

When he talks about the sharing of your faith, I don’t think we should take it evangelistically like we often use the phrase.

I think he means sharing (koinoinia) as in generosity or liberality—the kind of lovingkindess and big-heartedness Paul himself has greatly profited by, even refreshed to use his word in v. 7.

In this whole deal, Paul aims to challenge Philemon to kick up a notch his reputation for being loving.

He wants it to become effective—see that word in v. 6―in the way he responds to Paul’s agenda later in the letter.

Effective in what respect? Full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

Paul prays that Philemon’s stretching in love in dealing with Onesimus when he eventually shows up at the front door will deepen his understanding and heighten his treasuring of all the blessings we have in Christ Jesus.

Man, what a way to pray as a mediator attempting to help others with their relational meltdowns!

Paul believed in the efficacy of prayer—not just in peacemaking. Watch how he comes back to the priority of prayer at the end in v. 22. I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you (emphasis added).

There is no effective peacemaking without prayer—lots of prayer—with the singularly strategic aim of growth in love.

Question: What texts of Scripture help you to remember to pray for others to grow in love as they relate to others–especially in conflict?

AFFIRMATION & THE PEACEMAKER

Virtue #1 in the Ways of a Peacemaker

Bridge of Spies

Based upon true events during the Cold War, the gripping film Bridge of Spies stars Tom Hanks as attorney James Donovan.

The CIA hires Donovan to act as a mediator in a prisoner exchange between the US and Soviet Union in East Berlin.

Hanks’ character displays much of the relational wisdom skills necessary for effective assisted peacemaking between opposing parties.

For an excellent post exploring these concepts click here.

Recently I introduced a series of posts called The Ways of a Peacemaker: Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers who Excel at Mending Relationships.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon, the apostle prepares to return run-away-slave-turned-Christian Onesimus to his owner. Here we see a biblical model of assisted peacemaking worthy of imitation.

This post explores the first of five practices skillful peacemakers employ in helping repair broken relationships–leading with specific affirmation.

After the customary greetings of an epistle in verses 1-3, Paul does what he so often does in his New Testament letters in verses 4-5. He expresses his gratitude to God for this man.

This “thanks” saturates his regular praying for Philemon. And he goes way beyond a mere generalized appreciation of this brother.

He gets quite specific as to the reasons for his thanks in v. 5—because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

Do you see what Paul values and how he reinforces it with praise? Love for all the saints and faith in the Lord.

Normally Paul would put faith first and love second, but not here.

He reverses them knowing that he will call on that love and more from Philemon with the peacemaking requests he will make of him.

Ken Sande writes:

A conflict generally involves two basic ingredients: people and a problem. All too often, we ignore the feelings and concerns of the people and focus all our attention on the problems that separate us. This approach often causes further offense and alienation, which only makes conflicts more difficult to resolve. One way to avoid these unnecessary complications is to affirm respect and concern for your opponent throughout the negotiation process (The Peacemaker, 231).

The same goes for all-in mediators trying to broker reconciliation—they lead with specific affirmation.

For a helpful rubric for biblical negotiation which leads with affirmation please see The PAUSE Principle.

One word of caution. Lead with sincere, legitimate affirmation. Avoid the temptation to manipulate with ingenuine words. That’s bound to backfire and doesn’t honor the Lord.

Affirmation communicates your value of persons made in God’s image. The way of a peacemaker never forgets using the tongue to bless others rather than curse them (James 3:6-10).

Virtue #2 in the ways of a peacemaker–praying with singular aim–will be the focus of my next post.

Question: What kinds of things can we readily affirm in others when engaged in conflict?

 

THE WAYS OF A PEACEMAKER

Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers Who Excel at Mending Relationships

reconciliation

Alfred Poirier says this about pastoral ministry in his book The Peacemaking Pastor:

Pastoring is peacemaking. . .. Pastors are waiters serving the Lamb to sworn enemies. Pastors are busboys washing the dirty dishes of our hatreds, anger, lusts, deceits, malice, and filthy words in the purifying stream of Christ’s blood. It is tiring work. It is battle work. It is Messiah work. But we are compelled to persevere, because serving this way is at the heart of our calling as pastors, as mediators (188).

I’ve come to agree with all of that more than ever over the last fifteen years of pastoral ministry.

As a result, I read the Scriptures regularly with an eye for what will help churches guard unity and pursue peace.

In the next few posts, I want to focus on Paul’s letter to Philemon for its emphasis on forgiveness. So much of peacemaking involves both asking forgiveness and granting forgiveness.

And the book does involve that.

Onesimus, the thieving runaway slave become a Christian with Paul’s help (v. 10) in a Roman prison, needs forgiveness; Philemon, himself a convert of Paul (v. 19) and Onesimus’ owner, needs to forgive the wrongs done to him.

But the more I drilled down in my study of this shortest and most personal of Paul’s letters, I gained a different perspective on the thrust of Philemon.

What unfolds beautifully and powerfully in these twenty-five verses is the stunning ministry of the apostle Paul laboring busboy-like as a peacemaking mediator to bring the two estranged men together in reconciliation!

It appears Paul took Jesus quite seriously in Matthew 5:9 when He said, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Philemon presents a text-book example of how to act out the virtue Jesus longs to see embraced by each and every one of His followers.

The gist of things reads like this: Effective peacemakers go out of their way to broker reconciliation between estranged parties.

Paul became quite attached to Onesimus after his spiritual birth. He calls him my very heart (v. 12). He describes him as useful (v. 11). He even felt tempted to keep Onesimus with him for his services while still imprisoned (v. 13).

But he knew at the very least that would constitute a breach of faith with his brother, Philemon. So he rightly chose to send him back.

But how to do that knowing so much damage remained unresolved?

Paul’s strategy in this masterful letter gives us five practices of effective peacemakers who excel in helping mend broken relationships.

They lead with specific affirmation. They pray with singular aim. They engage with sincere appeal. They mediate with skillful aplomb. They invest with sacrificial action.

These will be the focus of my next posts.

Question: When has someone helped you mend a broken relationship and what did that look like?