WHO’S ON THE HOOK?

Two Priority Reasons for Timely Transferring of Church Membership

Crane hook

Last Sunday Jan and I joined our new church home in Idaho.

After years of partnership and ownership of the mission, community, and family at Orlando Grace, we now have covenanted for the same with Trinity Reformed Baptist.

And it mattered greatly to us for the transfer from one treasured fellowship to another to be intentional, official, and public.

I say that for numerous reasons, but will cite only a single biblical one—perhaps the most important—for the purposes of this post. Consider Hebrews 13:17.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The first reason Jan and I made a priority of a timely—not too fast but not too slow—transition in church membership was for our own souls’ sake.

The writer of Hebrews commands a recognition of and submission to the servant authority entrusted to a local church’s leadership so that earthly shepherds know just whom they are responsible for in keeping watch over their spiritual condition. More on that in a moment.

As for me and my house, I know my heart. As the hymn writer put it, I am “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

I require spiritual care. I need loving accountability. I want someone fighting for my soul by praying, teaching, exhorting, and confronting me when necessary to guard against the ever-present threat of spiritual drift (Heb. 2:1).

Failure to so identify and grant informed consent to a specific and particular body of shepherds in a local church of some kind puts you and me as sheep at risk. Have none of it!

The second reason Jan and I made a priority of a timely transition was for our churches’ sake—both of them.

This is true for their congregations and leaders alike, but this post concerns the leaderships’ demands first and foremost. Back to Hebrews 13:17.

Elders of a local church “keep watch over souls.” As such, they will give an account to the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) one day for how well they executed their charge.

Our transfer of membership now takes the elders of OGC off the hook for the Heffelfinger household’s spiritual care AND puts the elders of TRBC on the hook for that care.

Love demands that we serve both churches this way. Alfred Poirer notes:

The New Testament writers assume that Christians can identify their leaders to whom they have voluntarily submitted themselves. . . . And conversely, they expect the leaders of a church to be able to identify those members for whom they must give an account. . . . Yet God will not hold a pastor liable for failing to discharge his duties as shepherd over sheep that he cannot determine are his own.

Membership matters for both the sheep and the shepherd. Who’s on the hook for your soul?

Question: What other reasons can you cite for the importance of a timely transfer of church membership?

BREAD, BATH, & BEYOND

How Prayer Meets Our Needs in Navigating Peacemaking Challenges

Hospital building sign closeup, with sky reflecting in the glass.

At the beginning and end of each day, Jan and I pause for spiritual reflection with the help of C. H. Spurgeon’s classic devotional Morning and Evening.

Commenting on Matthew 7:7— “Ask, and it shall be given you.” —every believer’s grand privilege to pray, he writes:

We know of a place in England still existing, where a dole of bread is served to every passerby who chooses to ask for it. Whoever the traveller may be, he has but to knock at the door of St. Cross Hospital, and there is the dole of bread for him. Jesus Christ so loveth sinners that he has built a St. Cross Hospital, so that whenever a sinner is hungry, he has but to knock and have his wants supplied. Nay, he has done better; he has attached to this Hospital of the Cross a bath; and whenever a soul is . . . filthy, it has but to go there and be washed. . . . As if this were not enough, there is attached to this Hospital of the Cross a wardrobe, and a sinner making application simply as a sinner, may be clothed from head to foot; and if he wishes to be a soldier, he may not merely have a garment for ordinary wear, but armour which shall cover him from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. If he asks for a sword, he shall have that given to him, and a shield too. Nothing that is good for him shall be denied him.

Allow me to add one more “beyond” from the preceding context to Matthew 7:7.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you (Matt. 7:1-6).

Please don’t miss the connection between paragraphs.

Matthew follows a classic peacemaking passage about judgments and conflicts with a classic spiritual life passage about prayers and intercession.

Do you need insight and wisdom for navigating some interpersonal conflict?

Ask, seek, and knock at St. Cross Hospital and you will receive, find, and have the door opened to you!

Question: What other provisions are promised in God’s word for meeting our needs through prayer?

 

BOOK LAUNCH BLAST

Giving Thanks for Results Far Beyond My Expectations

book signing

On Sunday evening, November 25, I experienced my first-ever book signing event. I had no idea what to expect. Talk about new territory for this rookie author!

I wondered how many folks would possibly venture out on a holiday weekend for such a reason. We didn’t count heads, but the numbers and the outcome far exceeded my expectations.

My successor at OGC, Pastor Jim, texted me the next day saying he was blown away—and I quote: “Book signings in the 21st century are almost extinct. You officially had more people than Hillary Clinton’s last book signing!”

I seriously doubt that, but I appreciated the comment as his way of congratulating me on a surprising success. Back now at home in Idaho, I just had to post my thanksgiving for the following things:

One, the gracious hospitality of Orlando Grace Church in opening the fellowship hall for the evening and for making the atmosphere so utterly attractive and warm.

Two, for Kathy H. and a host of other servants who bent over backwards to make Jan and me feel welcomed and to serve our guests with top-shelf refreshments and care.

Three, for family, OGC folks, previous church folks, La Floresta neighbors, and even people I’d never met before waiting patiently in the long line for signing and pictures.

Four, for my neuropathy-impaired right hand holding up through two-plus hours of signing and contributing reasonably legible notes and signatures.

Five, for how many folks purchased multiple copies informing me of their intention to gift their pastors with one. Jan and I repeatedly pray that the Lord will put The Peacemaking Church in the hands of whomever He will for the good of their souls and the peace of their churches.

Six, for getting out nearly every single copy of the six cases we had Baker ship to Orlando. I took only three copies back home in my carry on.

Seven, for a deacon who took twenty-five copies to give to family and friends as Christmas gifts. Thankfully he required me to sign just the one for him!

Eight, for everyone who supported the launch with a purchase of the book.

And nine—if I may be so bold to give thanks in advance for this praise—for everyone who will read the book they bought and post a fair and honest review on Amazon as soon as possible.

The presence of numerous reviews makes a big difference in getting a book out into the world and Amazon is the place to do it. You can post your review here.

Again, my thanks to all who contributed to a book launch beyond my wildest dreams. Please pray with me that the Lord will use The Peacemaking Church to His glory and the church’s good!

Question: What quote or idea from the book thus far has impacted you?

ESSENTIAL EVIDENCE OF FAMILY RESEMBLANCE

How to Know You Belong to the “Many Brethren”

Collage Of A Smiling People

The apostle Paul calls Jesus “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29). How many? That’s a number no man can count (Rev.7:9).

Octavius Winslow poses a far more important question related to our familial resemblance to Jesus in his classic devotional Morning Thoughts.

Be sure to read through to his practical illustration (bold below):

The one family of God is composed of “many brethren.” They are not all of the same judgment in all matters, but they are all of the same spirit. The unity of the family of God is not ecclesiastical nor geographical, it is spiritual and essential. It is the “unity of the Spirit.” Begotten of one Father, in the nature of the Elder Brother, and through the regenerating grace of the one Spirit, all the saints of God constitute one church, one family, one brotherhood—essentially and indivisibly one. Nor is this relationship difficult to recognize. Take an illustration. Two brethren in the Lord of widely different sections of the Church, and of much dissonance of sentiment on some points of truth, meet and converse together. Each wonders that, with the Word of God in his hand, the other should not read it as he reads it, and interpret it as he interprets it. But they drop the points of difference, and take up the points of agreement. They speak of Christ—the Christ who loves them both, and whom they both love. They talk of the one Master whom they serve; of their common labors and infirmities, trials and temptations, discouragements, failures, and success; they talk of the heaven where they are journeying; of their Father’s house, in which they will dwell together for ever; they kneel in prayer; they cast themselves before the cross; the oil of gladness anoints them; their hearts are broken, their spirits are humbled, their souls are blended; they rise, and feel more deeply and more strongly than ever, that they both belong to the same family, are both of the “many brethren,” of whom the Son of God is the “Firstborn,” the Elder Brother. Oh, blessed unity! What perfect harmony of creed, what strict conformity of ritual, what sameness of denominational relation, is for a moment to be compared with this? Have you, my reader, this evidence that you belong to the “many brethren”?

Be eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).

That’s how you know you belong to the many brethren who treasure our Elder Brother.

WHY ANOTHER BOOK

Three Reasons I Wrote “The Peacemaking Church”

Bookstore. Public Old Library. Creativity Concept

The wisdom writer warns: “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecc. 12:12). As it was in Solomon’s day, so it remains today.

According to one source, publishers around the globe have produced nearly 2.3 million books this year. On November 20 my book will join the collection. Why add to this endless making?

I wrote The Peacemaking Church for three primary reasons.

One, there is a story to tell. Not just mine, though I describe my share of personal examples–mostly a number of painful blunders along the way. This is an entire church’s journey.

I explain in the introduction that Orlando Grace Church suffered traumatic conflict twice in its history. The painful details bear no repeating. No need to reopen old wounds.

Our story begins with a fierce campaign to cultivate a culture of peace to prevent a third meltdown—if we could possibly help it.

Thus far, hiccups notwithstanding, we have managed to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3). That story needs telling.

Two, there is a need to meet. In his foreword to the book, Ken Sande opens with a redacted version of Matthew 18:20. “Where two or three come together in Jesus’s name . . . there will soon be conflict.”

The New Testament reflects that reality. Just observe the sheer volume of texts which address some form of conflict therein! 

Anyone hanging around church for any length of time will likely confirm the same. It doesn’t matter where you go.

It was true in metro Orlando for me. I saw it on a recent trip overseas. It exists right here in my new home in rural Idaho.

And it doesn’t take much to set off a firestorm of trouble. In the introduction to my book, I cite Twenty-Five Silly Things Church Members Fight Over to make the point–like the length of the worship leader’s beard!

I wrote The Peacemaking Church to add a proactive, stay-out-of-trouble resource to the Baker suite of books currently addressing reactive strategies for dealing with conflict.

I ask this question right up front: What if the best fight your church ever has is the one it never gets into in the first place? This approach needed addressing in a book like this.

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Three, there is now a tool to help. I appreciated every endorsement commending The Peacemaking Church, but Pastor Alfred Poirier, author of The Peacemaking Pastor, well distilled what I hoped would come across in the pages.

Out of the pain of church conflict comes a refreshingly biblical and practical guide for building peace, resolving conflict, and preserving unity in the body of Christ. 

Biblical and practical sum up my hopes for The Peacemaking Church. I wrote it to root church leaders and followers alike in the Scriptures and to equip them with tools which will help make them heavyweight champions of peace and unity in their churches.

Copies are available for preorder here and for bulk discounts for ministries here. Thanks for helping me get the word out by sharing with others as led!

BOOK LAUNCH OPEN HOUSE

A Celebration for the Release of “The Peacemaking Church”

Businessman With Rocket Strapped To His Back

It gives me enormous pleasure to announce that Orlando Grace Church will host an evening of giving thanks for launching the availability of my book.

I dedicated The Peacemaking Church: 8 Biblical Keys to Resolve Conflict and Preserve Unity to the covenant members of OGC. Without their story such a work would have never come into existence.

It only makes sense to travel back to Central Florida for a book launch party!

Please join Jan and me on November 25, 2018 for a night of savoring what the Lord has done through his people. Come and stay or visit for even just a few minutes in the OGC fellowship hall from 6:00 to 8:00 PM.

For this special event copies of the book will be available for purchase for the one-time-only cost of $10 ($15.99 retail). I will be signing copies throughout the evening. Finger desserts, a coffee bar, and punch will be served.

Bring a friend and pick up a copy of The Peacemaking Church for yourself and perhaps a few more for gifts this holiday season.

We look forward to seeing you soon!

 

HOW TO RESOLVE CONFLICT AND PRESERVE UNITY IN YOUR CHURCH

Now Live: TGC Podcast About “The Peacemaking Church” 

315091_PeacemakingChurchHeffelfinger_posts4

“Surreal” was the word Jan used when I informed her this morning that my interview with Collin Hansen was now available for listening at the Gospel Coalition website.

True enough. It continues to strike me as surreal that only fourteen days remain before the release of The Peacemaking Church.

If you would like to learn more about the story behind and the tools contained in the book, you can listen to the thirty-six minute podcast here.

Many thanks for your interest and valuable time.

 

INSTRUMENTS OF PEACE

How the Gospel Compels a Peaceable Spirit 

On a recent flight from East Asia back to the US, I passed some of the twelve-hour trip time watching The 15:17 to Paris.

The film remains largely true to the events of August 21, 2015 when three childhood friends from Sacramento thwarted a terrorist attack aboard a French passenger train.

Director Clint Eastwood employed the heroes themselves to portray the main characters in the film. Central to the story is Spencer Stone. Eastwood tracks his life leading up to his extraordinary intervention along with his buddies.

Stone attended Christian school as a youth, somewhere along the line picking up St. Francis of Assisi’s famous prayer Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace. At one point the film shows Stone kneeling beside his bed praying the prayer.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

 
The film’s emphasis reminded me of Paul’s words in Titus 3:1-2:
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men (NIV).
The book of Titus champions devotion to good works (Titus 3:8) as a demonstration of the gospel’s grip on our lives in the church (chapter one), in the home (chapter two), and in the world (chapter three).

After prescribing appropriate behavior towards governing officials in 3:1, Paul then piles up a series of descriptors in v. 2 best characterized by a spirit of perfect courtesy.

The word for “peaceable” is the Greek word “amacho.” Look familiar? We get our English word “macho” from it. “Amacho” means “not macho.” Humility, courtesy, gentleness, meekness–the opposite of machismo–should characterize the believer’s social discourse.

I had opportunity to apply this truth while making a connecting flight in San Francisco. Following the marathon trans-Pacific crossing, Jan and I waited several hours before boarding the next leg of our trip back to Boise.

When it came time for zone one to board, the Delta attendant skipped us, inviting zone two to enter the jetway. Trying to hide my irritation I protested with my preacher voice: “What happened to zone one?!”

She paused and immediately apologized for the mistake, even thanking me for pointing out the error.

As I approached the podium, I sensed her disappointment with herself. It showed on her countenance. Time to put Titus 3:2 into play.

“Not bad for your first mistake of 2018,” I offered with as big a smile my tired self could muster.

You should have seen her face brighten.  “I’ll go with that!” she beamed.

Then Jan suggested we offer to check our carryon bags to ease the full-flight burden and aid her job performance. She thanked us profusely.

Heroic action in the face of terrorist extremism? No, just a small opportunity to manifest the gospel as an instrument of peace.

Perhaps we can all take a page from Spencer Stone’s playbook and pray regularly, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”

 

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 roles 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.