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?

THE JEWELRY OF GRACE & CHURCH UNITY

Three Jewels of Grace to Promote Peace in the Church

jewelry

Jewelry. I don’t wear much of it. My wedding ring, of course. Does a watch count? If so, that does it for me. Two pieces total.

I lost my high school ring ages ago. Never bought a college ring.

Had a fellow-elder poke fun at me once with jewelry. He gave me a shell necklace as a gift. Thought it would help me fit in better with the trendy Acts 29 crowd.

I’ve worn it once or twice, but really, I feel way too old for that kind of thing, although I do have one button down pocket shirt in my wardrobe and I am known to wear sandals quite often.

So, I’m not much into bling.

But I can tell you one ornament I definitely want around my neck at all times.

It is a three-fold ornament of grace in First Thessalonians 5:16-18—always joyful, always prayerful, always thankful.

Why? This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (v. 18).

Make no mistake about these three staccato imperatives contained within a long list of other exhortations from Paul for community life in the church at Thessalonica.

They weave together in making for fitting jewelry to adorn God’s people.

Charles Spurgeon said it well:

When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude. When we joy in God for what we have, and believingly pray to him for more, then our souls thank him both in the enjoyment of what we have, and in the prospect of what is yet to come. Those three texts are three companion pictures, representing the life of a true Christian, the central sketch is the connecting link between those on either side. These three precepts are an ornament of grace to every believer’s neck, wear them every one of you, for glory and for beauty; “Rejoice evermore;” “Pray without ceasing;” “in everything give thanks.”

I boil things down to this: God requires His people in a peacemaking community to manifest consistently distinct gospel graces.

They are three—the grace of joyfulness, the grace of prayerfulness, and the grace of thankfulness.

Are you adorning in your church the jewelry of grace by the power of the gospel?

Question: What one step might you take this week to grow in one of these graces with God’s help?

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.