A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL (4)

How the Gospel Stuns Us into Lowliness

servanthood

In this latest series of posts, I’ve argued from Philippians 2:1-11 that a life worthy of the gospel treasures and fosters unity in Christ’s church as a non-negotiable priority. 

So far we’ve considered the why and the how of such a life. Lastly, let’s examine what unity takes (vv. 5-11).

Likely an early hymn of the church, this section of Philippians 2 spans the humiliation and exaltation of our Lord Jesus.

Zero in on v. 5. Have this mind (there’s that word again—the way we think matters so much in a church desiring unity) among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus.

What does it take–this unity, humility, concern thing in Christ’s church? It requires the mind of Christ.

It takes Christ’s way of thinking, acting, humbling, emptying, serving, even dying—all so beautifully modeled in His incarnation, laying aside His divine prerogatives, taking the form of a bondservant and dying for our sins.

This Jesus template must govern our thinking at every turn. It involves three things.

One, you must be joined to Christ to even have the mind of Christ. It takes doing what the Bible calls repentance–turning away from your selfish ways and trusting in Jesus’ death on the cross.

Faith joins you to Christ such that you can die to self and live for Him by caring for others.

Two, you must abide continually in Christ (John 15:1-8). Steep yourself in the Word of Jesus and meditate on His love. Pray He gives you His mind, particularly in dealing with those you like least in His church.

Three, trust in Christ that He will reward you as you choose humility and concern for others. He will guard your rights as you lay them down for others.

It takes faith to act on the mind of Christ as a selfless, giving, servant-minded person. God exalts those who humble themselves even as Jesus did, but He humbles those who exalt themselves.

John Piper asks:

Why do Christians walk through life feeling a humble sense that we owe service to people, rather than them owing us? The answer is that Christ loved us and died for us and forgave us and accepted us and justified us and gave us eternal life and made us heirs of the world when he owed us nothing. He treated us as worthy of his service, when we were not worthy of his service. He took thought not only for his own interests but for ours. He counted us as greater than himself: “Who is the greater,” he said, “one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). That is where our humility comes from. We feel overwhelmed by God’s grace: bygone grace in the cross and moment-by-moment arriving grace promised for our everlasting future. Christians are stunned into lowliness. Freely you have been served, freely serve. Emphasis added.

Lives worthy of the gospel treasure and foster unity as a non-negotiable priority.

We know why it matters, how it works, and what it takes.

May we be stunned into lowliness while we wait for the exaltation to come.

Question: What gospel passages in the Scripture most help shape your thinking toward lowliness?

 

A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL (3)

Two Ways a Well-Lived Gospel Life Contributes to Church Unity

seeking humility

The apostle Paul gets painfully practical in Philippians 2:3-4 in describing how we go hard after the having the same love being in full accord unity of Philippians 2:2.

He comes at it from two directions.

First, with respect to self, humility (v. 3).

This was a tough sell in the day. No Greek viewed positively the word Paul uses in v. 3.

It was only ever associated with slaves and lower-class citizens. It was never a compliment to say you were humble.

But Christianity turns culture on its head. For the saints of God, it is a supreme virtue.

Look how emphatic Paul gets in v. 3. Do nothing. How much? Nothing. The negative stands first in the Greek sentence for emphasis.

He’s talking motives here. Selfish ambition and conceit have got to go.

Rather, in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

That same word is translated elsewhere as surpassing (Phil. 3:8) describing the surpassing worth of knowing Christ.

This kind of humility of self keeps conceit and ambition in check at the expense of others by seeing others of greater value than oneself.

It’s what Peter prescribes for the unity of his churches in 1 Pet. 5:5b:

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Second, with respect to others, concern (v. 4).

Paul assumes we will look out for our own interests. He doesn’t need to exhort on that score.

But unity has another facet beside the attitude of humility that counts others more significant. It looks out for their interests as well.

The word for “look” is skopeo from where we get the word “scope.” Go out of your way take notice–scope out–the concerns of others in your community and act accordingly.

Here’s a way to test what degree Trinitarian realities and apostolic priorities motivate your “how” in preserving unity.

Think of the person in your church that you like the least. That’s right. Let’s face it, we all have favorites and most, if not all of us, have just the opposite.

Perhaps you even downright dislike this person. He or she just rubs you the wrong way.

That’s just the individual by which you can measure the worthiness quotient of your life in the gospel.

If you look down at all on him/her, if you can’t remember the last time you took note of one of their concerns, may I suggest you can do better through the transforming power of the gospel?

Let that be the standard by which you measure a life worthy of the gospel.

Question: What are some ways you have found helpful for looking out for the concerns of others?

A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL (2)

Two Reasons Why Church Unity Matters to a Well-Lived Gospel Life

unity

In my last post, I argued from the book of Philippians that a life worthy of the gospel treasures and fosters unity in Christ’s church as a non-negotiable priority.

In Philippians 2:1-11, Paul explains three components of this truth: why unity matters, how it works, and what it takes.

In this post, I want to suggest two reasons why guarding church unity matters to a well-lived gospel life.

Reason number one: Trinitarian realities (v. 1).

Paul poses a sequence of conditional “if” statements. He assumes a “yes” answer to each.

One could translate it, since there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy.

This verse resembles the structure of 2 Corinthians 13:14—The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

In Philippians 2:1, Paul has God the Father’s comforting love in mind. When the apostle contemplates the persons of the Trinity, he glories in mercy aspects of all three persons of the Godhead.

He savors Jesus’ massive encouragement, God’s comforting love, and the Spirit’s intimate fellowship—all of which he adds to and piles on the synonyms of “affection” and “sympathy.”

That last word is the same word translated in Romans 12:1 as “mercies”—I urge you brothers, by the mercies of God—capturing the beauties of the gospel covered in chapters 1-11.

If all this is true about God—and it is—how can we be anything but a loving, caring, unity-prizing church full of people?

Reason number two: apostolic priorities (v. 2).

In light of all these stunning Godhead realities so terribly important to his way of thinking, Paul adds further motivation to them by begging this: make my joy complete by being of the same mind.

Imagine this. You’re wasting away in prison, wondering where the next gift to keep you alive will come from, and the thing above all things that will drive your joy over the top is to hear that one of your churches is getting along well? Remarkable!

The unity of his churches mattered that much to Paul. He threw his apostolic authority behind the appeal for unity to motivate the Philippians to guard the oneness of their church.

Both the apostle’s joy priorities and Trinitarian love realities more than answer the question why treasuring and fostering unity should matter to us as a non-negotiable priority.

In their book, Peacemaking Women, Tara Klena Barthel and Judy Dabler emphasize the importance of the connection between beliefs and behavior:

As we learn to walk through life firmly rooted in God’s grace, living for his glory, we constantly identify and evaluate our thoughts and convictions in light of the truth of Scripture. Instead of only addressing our behavior, we ask, “What are the deeply held beliefs that influence my emotions, thoughts, and actions?” and “How do my beliefs line up with Scripture?” We then reject any beliefs that are false, affirm those that are true, and take practical steps to live out our faith in a loving Christian community (21).

The more we affirm true beliefs about the mercies of the Godhead and the apostolic priority of unity, the more practical steps we will take to live out a life worthy of the gospel.

Question: What extra-biblical resources help shape your beliefs in conformity to the Scripture?

A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL

How Treasuring Unity Matters to a Well-Lived Gospel Life

Live_a_Life_Worthy_of_the_Calling

I remember the day this headline in the Orlando Sentinel (8.26.15, p. B4) caught my eye:

In faith and politics, angry division often eclipses joy and service.

Scott Maxwell wrote:

When Fred Hawkins Jr. looked out over the Osceola County Commission chambers last week — and saw a room full of religious leaders and activists — he was slightly depressed. That might sound strange for a man such as Hawkins: a devout, conservative Christian who begins each morning with a daily devotion. So please understand that Hawkins wasn’t bothered that religious advocates had shown up this day to protest an equal-rights ordinance that says employers and landlords can’t discriminate against gays. He was bothered that this was virtually the only time they showed up. “I’ve been on the board seven years,” Hawkins said, noting that his board discusses and debates all manner of things that Christians should care about: poverty, homelessness, education and the environment. “And they just don’t come out.” This is one of the main problems of modern-day Christianity: Religious activists make more headlines for division and anger than unity and joy. . . . Organized religion has a PR problem. . . . We could do better. . . . Boy, would that be living the Gospel—and probably attracting followers to boot.

Of course, the problem doesn’t exist just in politics outside the church; it often plagues God’s people inside the church.

It seems the church at Philippi had its own PR problem when it came to conflict in the church.

Paul even calls out by name two women apparently out of sorts with one another in Philippians 4:2.

He wrote the letter for other reasons as well, but we piece together this important occasion for writing from his multiple references to unity.

Consider the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2. He could hardly write more strongly with greater emphasis.

Let’s start with Philippians 1:27. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. How?

Jump down to the end of the verse: Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.

And then just in case we missed it, he hammers the same idea again in 2:2—complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Notice the repetition of the word mind—three times.

Get on the same page. Have the same values. Be thinking the same God-honoring, Christ-glorifying, Spirit-inspired truths designed to renew your minds and make you one (Rom. 12:2).

That he calls a life worthy of the gospel—living in unity as God’s people in His church.

A life worthy of the gospel treasures and fosters unity in Christ’s church as a non-negotiable priority.

In the next few posts, I want to answer three questions related to the priority of cultivating a culture of peace in your church—why it matters, how it works, and what it takes.

Question: What are some other Scripture passages which show the connection between the power of the gospel and striving for unity in the church?

SCREWTAPE’S SCHEME FOR DISUNITY

How Satan Plots Against Church Oneness

Screwtape

The apostle Paul advises donning the full armor of God as the only adequate defense against the schemes of the devil (Eph. 6:10-12).

Satan hates unity in Christ’s church. We must not be ignorant of this scheme (2 Cor. 2:5-11)!

C. S. Lewis focused on this plot in one of his masterfully imagined correspondences between Uncle Screwtape and demon nephew Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters:

I think I warned you before that if your patient can’t be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it.  I don’t mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is the better.  And it isn’t the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice.  The real fun is working up hatred between those who say “mass” and those who say “holy communion”. . . .  And all the purely indifferent things—candles and clothes and what not—are an admirable ground for our activities.  We have quite removed from men’s minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials— namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples.  You would think they could not fail to see the application.  You would expect to find the “low” churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his “high” brother should be moved to irreverence, and the “high” one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his “low” brother into idolatry.  And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour.  Without that the variety of usage within the Christian Church might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility.

The reference to Paul comes from Romans 14:1-15:7.

There the apostle prescribes welcoming–embracing, accepting, not judging one another–as the antidote for the kind of critical spirit which divides believers over matters of conscience.

How charitable are your judgments of others regarding nonessentials? Where do you see a temptation to prideful criticism which disrupts unity within a church?

Refusing judgment and deferring to others does make the church a positive hotbed of charity and humility.

Few things contribute more to preserving congregational unity.

Question: What helps make a church a positive hotbed of charity and humility?

JUST SAY NO TO “E-MAULING”

Three Steps to Avoid Making Conflict Worse by E-mail

Difficult Conversations

Jan laughed out loud while texting on her phone.

She went to input the word “e-mail” only for her finger to slip from the “i” to the “u.”

It came out “e-maul.” I had to laugh too.

Then it hit me. It happens. We get “emauled” by someone upset with us or vice versa.

Know what I mean? Not so funny, is it?

Criticism, judgment, blame–just to name a few of my favorite things–can come packaged in blistering digital correspondence.

The temptation is all too familiar as well. Fire back a well-deserved “e-maul” in return!

Before long a conflict grows.

Practicing three guidelines when reading an “e-maul” can help prevent an escalation of tensions.

These come from Stone, Patton, and Heen’s bestselling book Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most (pp. 274-75).

One, question your attributions. E-mail as a form of serial monologue works great for information and affirmation.

It rarely, if ever, contributes to effective confrontation.

It lacks the non-verbal cues necessary to help size up a sender’s intentions–tough enough to read in face-to-face dialogue–behind what’s written.

The authors suggest a first step:

Remind yourself that you don’t actually know their intentions. Your initial reading is likely to be off-target as on. The sender may have mixed or even positive intentions, or, most often, no particular intention about you at all.

Two, hit pause. If an “e-maul” hijacks you with strong negative emotions, take a timeout.

Walk away long enough to allow for a more rational balanced response. More from the experts:

Often you’ll have the strange sensation of wondering why you felt so bent out of shape. But if, after taking some time, you’re still revved up, move to step three.

Three, pick up the phone or talk in person. I can’t improve on this counsel:

Bottom line: You can’t resolve an e-mail conflict with e-mail. For all practical purposes there are no exceptions to this rule. Once any sort of emotion enters the arena — annoyance, confusion, hurt, anxiety — it’s time to switch your mode of communication. “But I’m a good, clear writer,” you think. “I’ll be extra careful and thoughtful, and I’ll even take the high road.” Don’t get suckered in. Anything you write during a conflict can be taken the wrong way. … So save yourself a heap of trouble and pick up the phone or talk in person.

The ancient wisdom writer warns, A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Prov. 15:1).

What goes for dialogue goes double for e-mail monologue–or should I say “e-maulologue?”

Just say no to “e-mauling.”

Question: What other tips do you have for a peacemaking ethic when it comes to using e-mail?

A PEACEMAKER’S PRAYER

Ken Sande’s Help for Praying Like a Peacemaker

Ken Sande & Me

Last week I was privileged to reconnect with my good friend and peacemaking mentor, Ken Sande.

He spoke for the opening plenary session at a conference hosted by Ambassadors of Reconciliation.

RW360, Ken’s ministry championing a biblical approach to emotional intelligence, distributed copies of the following: A Peacemaker’s Prayer (used by permission).

Oh Lord God,
today I am called to be a peacemaker,
but I am unfit for the task.

By nature I am a peace-faker
and a peace-breaker,
so I myself need help.

Others ask me to understand and guide them,
but my ears are dull, my eyes are dim,
and I lack the wisdom they need.

But you, Lord, have all they need,
so I come to you for supply.

Make me fit for your purposes,
so I might serve them
and honor you.

Cleanse me from my own sin,
so I will not add to their problems;
take the logs from my eyes
so I can remove the specks from theirs.

Fill me with your Spirit,
so they may benefit from your fruit:
love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Give me wisdom from above,
so I might be pure and peace-loving,
considerate and submissive,
full of mercy and good fruit,
impartial and sincere.

Open your Word to my eyes
and to my heart,
so I will have a steady lamp
to light our path.

Strip me of my own agenda and desires,
so I might look only to others’ good
and be absolutely worthy of their trust.

Help me to model everything I teach,
so others can see the way.

Give me humility to admit my weaknesses
and confess my wrongs,
so others might do the same.

Draw me again and again into prayer,
where you can strengthen and correct me.

Make me submissive — help me to show
that I myself am under authority.

Help me to treat others
as I want to be treated,
so they may see
the essence of your Law.

Make me creative, versatile, and adaptable,
so I can adjust to the surprises ahead.

Help me to accept others
as you have accepted me,
and thus bring praise to your name.

Give me faith and perseverance,
so I will not doubt your provision
or abandon your principles,
even when others fight against them.

Grant me the gift of encouragement,
to give others hope
and help them believe
that our labor is not in vain.

Help me to model your forgiveness,
so relationships are healed
and your Gospel is revealed.

Grant me discernment so that I may read
the deep waters of others’ hearts,
sort fiction from fact,
and know when it’s time to act.

Give me boldness and courage,
tempered with kindness,
to confront others in love,
so they might see their errors
and find their way back to you.

Help me to prepare thoroughly
and not presume upon your grace.

Make me just and fair,
so that even if people disagree
with my counsel they will believe
that I treated them well.

In short, Father,
please give me the Spirit of Christ,
so that I might walk in his steps
and guide your people
into the path of your peace.

My prayer is that you will make this prayer a regular part of meditative reflection.

May it help shape you as a peacemaking force in every situation.

PEACE IN MARRIAGE

How Two Made One Stay One
Anniversary
Jan and I recently observed our first anniversary. We celebrated the many ways God has been good to us—not the least of which is the unity we enjoy as husband and wife.

How does a couple made one in marriage stay one over time? Consider these keys for maintaining marital harmony.

One, make oneness a priority (Eph. 4:3). Gospel-shaped people do their best to preserve unity in relationships.

Before Jan and I make any significant decision, we ask one another how it will impact our relationship’s oneness. We decide together.

Two, count oneness a gift (Psalm 133). Don’t take it for granted. Recognize it as a blessing from God. Thank him often for it!

Three, consider oneness a stewardship (1 Cor. 4:2). I use the term “stewardship” often. As a concept, it helps orient me to my various responsibilities. A steward protects and manages the affairs and possessions of another.

In marriage, that involves several things.

First, I pray for our oneness. Jesus modeled this in the way he interceded for his people (John 17:21).

Second, I work for our oneness. Nothing matters more here than watching out for Jan’s interests, not just my own. Philippians 2:3-4 constrains me:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Let me tell a story on myself (with my wife’s permission of course).

Last Christmas Jan shared with me her desire to have two of her kids and their children over to decorate our tree. It happened to fall on a Saturday—down time for me.

Rather than welcoming the idea, I pushed back. Given the sometimes-exhausting demands of pastoral ministry, I described even extended family involvement as “debit time,” not “credit time.”

In the middle of the conversation, my dear wife suddenly burst into tears, her hand-clasped head collapsing into her lap.

Please understand—Jan gets my need to back off periodically from people-time to refuel. She is dialed in to my interests and needs.

But at that moment last December, God convicted me of a dismal lack of concern for her interests.

She cares deeply about stewarding effectively her relationships with extended family. God has used her to show me some of my deficiencies in this area.

I pledged to regard any further opportunities with both sides of the family as credit-time only. In fact, we plan on coloring eggs this Saturday with one of our grandsons.

How does change like this happen? How can an inherently selfish man like me pray and work for oneness in marriage?

I believe for our oneness.

Believe what? Knowing that only God can transform my patterns in marriage, I trust anew in his power working in me through the gospel of Jesus (Phil. 2:5-11).

The gospel alone empowers two made one to remain one, anniversary after anniversary.

Question: What means do you employ to promote marital oneness?

THE PEACEMAKING CHURCH

An Update on a Book Long in Coming

Heffelfinger_ThePeacemakingChurch.indd

I submitted to Baker Publishing Group a proposal for writing a book way back at the end of 2014.

Much to my delight they accepted and fixed a date for submission.

Then the wheels came off with Nancy’s cancer fight and my jaw surgeries.

My editor graciously granted one delay after another.

In September of last year, I finally turned in a draft manuscript.

After Baker ran me through the editorial meat grinder (thankfully), I labored over a revision. It passed muster with the publisher in December 2017.

Today I learned from the marketing department that Baker posted a page on their website about the book with links to Amazon and other vendors. You can access it here.

I love the cover they designed. Ken Sande of RW360 wrote me a more-favorable-than-I-dared-imagine foreword. Thank you, brother!

The subtitle differs from my suggested version: The Best Fight Is the One Your Church Never Has. But what do I know? When you’re a rookie, you gladly defer to the pros.

The process begins now for seeking endorsements. That’s a big deal, since I’m a small potatoes pastor in Florida. But God knows how He may use the effort.

Baker tells me they plan to publish this November. Watch for further updates, if you are at all interested. I’ll keep you posted.

I am so grateful for God’s grace to get this done. Thanks to so many who have cheered me along the road to publication.

LEADING FROM LOSS

When God Scripts a Different Plan

As I suffered through the post-op discomfort of a fifth and final jaw reconstruction surgery in February, it dawned on me.

God’s designs for my last years as my church’s lead pastor differed greatly from my deepest desires.

Who longs for a stewardship of loss, suffering, and pain? Nobody in his right mind.

Ernie Johnson didn’t. A friend of mine sent me his video story suggesting we share a lot in common. He was right. See for yourself.

For a more detailed version, watch here.

My hope for the end game was to lead from growth, gain, and mission. Instead providence scripted the opposite.

I’ve buried a son and a wife.

I’ve endured a pathological fracture of the right mandible due to osteonecrosis from radiation for head and neck cancer.

Jaw reconstruction has involved a total of five surgeries in Miami, a bout with osteomyelitis (bone infection), speech therapy, loss of all my bottom front and right side teeth, chronic drooling, impaired swallowing, and thousands of dollars of medical and travel bills not covered by insurance.

I’ve been in and out of the pulpit so often and so fast I’ve got chronic whiplash.

While recovering from the latest surgery, something else hit me. This year likely brings yet another loss–the end of nearly a two-decade investment in ministry at my church.

It’s time to pass the baton to a younger man. I have no doubt. It’s my idea and God may well have a successor on the immediate horizon.

Talking about succession the last couple of years didn’t faze me much. Theory is like that; reality is not.

I didn’t feel the loss coming. But now I do. I hope to navigate this loss like the others–with the help of God’s grace–as I have often blogged about in the past.

A few days after news of the transition went public, I received an email from a relative newcomer to our church. These words encouraged my perspective greatly:

I read about the big succession announcement in the E-news and heard about it last night at community group. Woah! I am selfishly so sad that you all are phasing out, but I feel like I can resonate on some level . . . and that I should be unselfish and rejoice with what God seems to be doing. Praying for you guys as this next year sounds like it will be filled with many changes and mixed emotions. Last night in community group, and the last few times, people have mentioned in conversation how much your sufferings have impacted their spiritual walks and worship of Jesus as they have watched the grace of God as you have walked through such hard providences. It makes me wonder if your lives as a living sermon illustration are the most powerful, though the most painful, sermon you could give. I have heard it said in community group multiple times how much power of the Spirit has come in your preaching over the past few very hard years. I think it all has been and is doing more than we could ever know this side of eternity. Praying that God encourages your hearts in this season.

That note goes in my “Why I Became a Pastor File.” A great reminder to say “yes” to the unscripted.

SDG

Question: How has God used the unscripted in your life to advance His purposes and grow you spiritually?