TAKE HEED OF A PRIVATE SPIRIT

A Puritan’s Exhortation to War Together for Church Unity

Afraid of the dark

In 2020, I’ve left Octavius Winslow behind–much good he has done me.

This year’s godly dead-guy reading turns to William Gurnall and his treatise The Christian in Complete Armor.

I’ve read some of this tome in the past. Time to finish the task.

It seems I previously missed this connection he makes between spiritual warfare and church unity:

Be sure you stand in close order amongst your selves; these times give us too many sad examples of such, who first fell from communion with their brethren, and then into the devourers hand; stragglers are soon snapped; you will find you are safest in a body. Take heed of a private spirit; let not only your particular safety, but of the whole army of saints be in your eye and care, especially that company (congregation I mean) in which you march. That soldier who can see an enemy in fight with his brethren, and not help them, he makes it but the more easy for the enemy to slay himself at last. Say not therefore, Am I my brothers keeper? God would not keep him that cared not to keep his brother. Watch over one another, not to play the critics on your brothers failings, and triumph when he halts, but to help him up if he falls, or if possible, to keep him from falling by a timely rescue. … Keep your rank and file.

There’s a word, Christian.

Your enemy hunts you and your army.

You are safest in a body.

Keep your rank and file.

We ARE our brother’s keeper.

Take heed of a private spirit!

 

88 YEARS & FOUR MORE THANKS

Doing the 5th Commandment on Dad’s Birthday

Dad Motorcycle

 

Richard Howard Heffelfinger turns 88 today. FYI, the image above was taken a few years ago.

Happy Birthday, Pop! Wish Jan and I could be there to celebrate with you and the family.

Four years ago for Dad’s 84th birthday,  I posted a similar, but tad longer blog:

84 Years and 84 Thanks

Recalling and rereading that special post today brought to my mind additional things which require an update to the record about the man I call “Dad.”

85. Supporting me through the loss of Nancy and my two-year jaw reconstruction process.

86. Welcoming with open arms and a loving heart, Jan Leslie, the extraordinary gift of a second rock star wife in my lifetime.

87. Releasing me to yet another cross country relocation decision to do what I believed the Lord would have me do in this stage of semi-retirement. You have never tried to live my life for me or try to control me.

88. Doing what it takes to care for Mom as she progresses through this horrible Alzheimer’s which robs so many of a more peaceful and delightful final season of life.

Honor your father and mother–the 5th Commandment (Exodus 20:12).

And so I do. Thanks, Pop, for adding to the list as the Lord continues to give you length of days.

Hey, here’s an idea. How about we shoot for 90!

 

CHURCH CONFLICT 101 A

All or Nothing or Both/And Wrong in Conflict?

I blame you!

Knowing my passion for all things peacemaking, a friend recently shared this TGC post, Church Conflict 101, with me. I read it. My text reply was succinct: “Helpful distinction. Thanks.”

And I stand by that. An assertion like, “In every conflict there is always wrong on both sides.” is a dangerous overstatement.

Beware all-or-nothing words like “never” and “always.” Exceptions always exist. Arrgh–I just violated the rule!

Seriously, I appreciate what Pastor Ray–for whom I have much respect–labors to protect in this piece.

I take his underlying concern to be a 1 Timothy 5:19 one. “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.”

He explains: “My appeal to all church leaders is that you will not be caught off-guard. Expect false accusations to surface, inconsolable hysteria, church crazy in various forms, targeting your pastor.”

He cautions wisely. At times church conflict is entirely one-sided. It can be on occasion more Cain and Abel-like or Saul and David-like or Ahab and Naboth-like or the Pharisees and Jesus-like or even the whole world and the apostles-like than not.

But if I may push back some from experience and the Scriptures with a 101 A addendum to his redemptive post, that kind of all-or-nothing lopsidedness in church conflict seems more the exception than the rule to me.

My forays into the battlegrounds of fights between believers have been more Paul and Barnabas-like (Acts 15:36-41), more Euodia and Syntyche-like (Phil. 4:2-3), and more Philemon and Onesimus-like (Philemon 8-20) than not.

Church Conflict 101 as a rule seems more about genuinely godly people hashing out disagreements over preferences, positions, and passions than plain good vs. evil guilt or innocence.

When confronted with a blatant all-or-nothing fight like Cain and Abel (1 John 3:11-12), by all means we must take categorical stances that unapologetically call out one-sided wickedness.

But caution is advised. The safest way to draw such unilateral conclusions without bypassing one’s own or others’ faults in the mix is to heed Jesus’s charge in Matthew 7:3-5. Take care to extract any logs out of your own eye before trying to remove any specks from your brother’s.

Wise is the pastor or any believer faced with conflict to conduct a James 4:1-3 self-check before proceeding into conversation with an opponent.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

In fairness, Pastor Ray offers a constructive alternative to the unhelpful always posed at the outset of his post.

It would be better to say, “In every conflict there are always sinners on both sides. But whether there is wrong on both sides is the very question that demands a careful, thorough, responsible answer. Is there sin on both sides contributing to this conflict? Or could there be godliness on one side contributing to this conflict?” The Bible leads us into these categories of consideration, and they are profound.

Granted. Careful, thorough, responsible answers to the question of wrong on both sides must occur, but wise are the parties and any who mediate disputes to work both sides of the street thoroughly, lest any idol of the heart go unchecked and unnecessarily perpetuate a conflict.

John Calvin said it well: “Man’s nature is a perpetual factory of idols.”

We do well to remain mindful of that threat to all parties in our practice of Peacemaking 101.

BROTHER’S KEEPER

A Peacemaking Tune by Rich Mullins

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS

A Message at Crosswalk Church in Daytona Beach, Florida

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

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

Fair warning–the video above is relatively long.

My friend begins with a gracious and very kind introduction.

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

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

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

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

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

HEADED BACK EAST

Info About a Peacemaking Speaking Engagement

Biblical phrase from matthew gospel, blessed are the peacemakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAKE EVERY EFFORT

Peacemaking 101 for Eagerly Preserving Church Unity

Average Customer Service Evaluation Form

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whenever you Pray, Ask a lot for Others for Peace

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

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

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

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

Whenever You Can, Overlook a lot in Others for Peace

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

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

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

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

Whenever You Must, Talk a lot to Others for Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JLH!

Why I Praise God for Each Day of Your Births

Jan at Glacier

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

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

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

Here are some, but by no means all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

God has taught you so much over the years!

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday, BG!

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

COUNT TO EIGHT FIRST

A Listening Strategy for Keeping Your Cool and Loving Others Well

Blonde woman having tongue in clothespin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Scriptures counsel repeatedly about this dynamic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The authors of Difficult Conversations explain:

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

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

But skip the clothespin!

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