WHEN A KISS ISN’T JUST A KISS

How Greeting with a Holy Kiss Promotes Unity in the Church

holy kiss

I love how the apostle Paul closes out his second letter to the Corinthians. “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor. 13:12).

My aim in this post and others to follow is to show how taking this command seriously can serve to guard oneness in your church.

What is a holy kiss? The adjective tips us off that he means nothing sensual at all. Yet it still involves physical contact. This gesture promotes spiritual purposes, not amorous ones.

In the ancient world, among the Jews and other cultures, even in parts of the world today, people greeted each other, normally males with males and females with females, by a light touch of the lips, first on one cheek and then on the other.

The early church adopted the same, often after baptisms as a way of welcoming new converts into the church and during communion to welcome repentant folks who returned to the table.

We find this same exhortation in several other places in the New Testament (see Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Thess. 5:26; and 1 Pet. 5:14 where Peter calls it the kiss of love).

This mattered.Why does Paul close his letter on this note, other than the familiar benediction in 2 Cor. 13:14? What would possess him to direct them to make sure they engage in such an intimate, personal expression of love toward one another as a holy kiss at the close of things?

It has everything to do with the kinds of issues he addresses in this most personal letter he has just written to them. The Corinthian church experienced trouble on multiple fronts. They suffered division in their ranks (2 Cor. 12:20), corrupt teaching from false apostles (2 Cor. 11:4), grave sin that needed discipline and restoration (2 Cor. 2:5-8), among other things.

So writing both to address these things and to defend his apostleship which had come into question, Paul now wraps up the letter to put a summary recap on everything he has said.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

He reveals his pastoral heart in love. Notice he calls them brothers (all inclusive, men and women). That’s important, as a term of endearment, because the immediate context, shows Paul delivering a scorching rebuke, threatening apostolic severity (2 Cor. 13:10) when he comes, if they don’t shape up.

He doesn’t want to leave that kind of sour taste in their mouths. Note well, reproof delivered with hard words may well have longer lasting effects when followed by strong assurances of love and affection.

Never lower the boom on anyone, especially in the body of Christ, without strong reminders of your affection and commitment to that someone.

I think Paul calls for the kiss of love in the end result of his letter so that they won’t peace-fake. I suppose you can come up to somebody you would really rather not have anything to do with and fake such a thing, but don’t call it holy. And it’s really hard to do!

To engage somebody on that level of intimacy where you will go cheek to cheek, normally means you’ve got no impediments blocking your relationship. Having to do this kind of thing in a fellowship of believers can help ensure that peacemaking, not peace-faking or peace-breaking, actually does go on.

In my next post I will head into v. 11 to help us embrace the practice of greeting one another with a holy kiss in ways culturally appropriate in our day and age.

ROBOJAW 3 REPORT

Update on My Most Recent Jaw Reconstruction Procedure

Dr. Marx

Last Thursday, August 10, I underwent the third in a series of surgeries to rebuild my right-side mandible.

Radiation treatment in 2005 eventually undermined the integrity of that bone. I suffered a pathological fracture as a result in late 2015.

Tongue cancer was painful. A broken jaw was excruciating. Worse than that, one can’t chew anything. Something had to be done.

Fortunately Dr. Robert Marks, an oral surgeon in Miami, knew just what to do for me. He is one of a kind. I’ve complained about having to travel 500 miles round trip each time I see him. But then I thank God he doesn’t operate out of Seattle.

Robojaw 1 took place in February 2016. They removed half the mandible and replaced it with a titanium plate.

After six months or so of healing, Robojaw 2 occurred the day before Thanksgiving that same year. They wired my jaw shut for three weeks to keep the bone graft to rebuild the mandible fixed in place until it was hard enough for me to safely chew again.

Another six months gone by brings things to the present with step three. Dr.  Marx removed four additional teeth in the lower front of my mouth. They would have eventually died from radiation treatment as well.

He also placed four implants below the jaw line. All this acts as a prelude to getting some teeth back in my mouth so I can chew food on that side, speak better, and prevent the upper right teeth from growing down and falling out since they have nothing to bite down on.

The surgery went well. It lasted about two hours. They were so pleased with the ease that they discharged me that very day. There was no need for an overnight stay for observation. I’m sure that made the insurance company happy.

Next Tuesday I will make yet another Miami trip for my two-week post-op check up. At that point I hope to confirm the timing for Robowjaw 4, six months from now and what it will involve.

By next February the implants should have become integrated with the bone. They will affix posts to the implants. These will set above the jaw line.

After three weeks of wearing some sort of mouth guard to keep them in place, the climax will happen. I will get eight teeth where now there are none.

I’ve already got a celebration plan mapped out. We’re sitting on a wedding gift card to Ruth’s Chris. I’ve never been. Might as well take those new teeth out for a ribeye spin and see just what they will be able to do.

Thanks for all for your prayers and support!

GUARDING PEACE WITH GIVING THANKS

Preserving Unity When Your Church Struggles

Every church experiences its ups and downs.

Ours has had its share. Most have involved me as lead pastor.

Between mega-loss and poor health, it seems I’ve spent more time out of the pulpit over the last three years than in it.

It’s awfully tough for a church to maintain momentum when the point man goes down.

Those things are largely behind me now. We’re working on rebuilding. But staying positive has its challenges.

And yet remaining thankful in all things matters so very much to a church’s peace. Paul exhorts in Phi. 2:14, Do all things without grumbling or disputing.

The church at Philippi suffered its share of disunity. Paul went so far as to call out publicly two women at odds with one another within the body (Phil. 4:2-3). Yikes, that must have hurt!

A spirit of discontent cripples the peace of any congregation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered this counsel for navigating hard times in a needy congregation:

In the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts. We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good. Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious. We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things? If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

How’s your thanksgiving quotient in your church? Its peace depends in part on your faithfulness in the little things.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess. 5:18).

TWICE FAVORED

Perspective with Yet Another Grief Anniversary

For three years now January has come and gone with the pain of loss. I’ve said it many times. No one should have to bury a child.

Now I add May to my least favorite months of the year list. Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of Nancy’s–the wife of my youth–going home to be with the Lord.

I was not sure how it would pass for me, especially since last March the Lord blessed me with Jan–the wife of my later years.

Me, Nan, & Jan

This picture was taken three years ago at a new people fellowship in our home. Who could have possibly known the providence of God that would unfold so soon after?

My emotions certainly came into play last night as the exact hour of Nan’s passing 365 days ago approached. Different folks reached out to me assuring me of their prayer support. Jan and I spent the evening together remembering and processing.

A verse I have returned to repeatedly through this journey is Prov. 18:22.

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.

What can I say? I’ve been favored by God in this regard twice in one lifetime.

Nancy was a gift from God to me. Jan is a gift from God to me. Both qualify as “excellent” (morally strong) women (Prov. 12:4; Prov. 31:10). Both were/are “prudent” (wise) women (Prov. 19:14). God alone gives a man such extraordinary favor.

Charles Bridges, in his commentary on Proverbs, said well what I testify to as a man favored in marriage not just to one, but two godly women in a lifetime:

The good thing is, when he honors her, . . . as the person, whom God saw to be the best and fittest for himself in the whole world, a comfort for life, a help for heaven. Thus she becomes the one object of his undivided heart. Mutual faith is plighted in the Lord. Such a communion spiritualizes his affections, and elevates him from earth to heaven.

And so with this first May anniversary behind me, I do that very good thing.

I honor both these women–gifts from Him lifting me more heavenward than I might ever have reached without them.

Thanks be to God for double favor.

SUCCESSION PLANNING FOR PEACE

The Ten Commandments for Successful Succession Planning

The clock is ticking. At my age you have to start thinking about handing off the pastoral baton to a younger guy in God’s timing.

BXP135656

While I still hope I have a few good years in me at the helm, wise leadership requires thoughtful discussion and diligent prayer about how to plan for such a significant thing as pastoral transition in the life of the church.

Lately our elders have been pouring over Next: Pastoral Succession That Works. Too many churches suffer a disruption of their peace when pastors come and go. We want to avoid that if at all possible.

One practical assignment suggested in the book involved the current pastor drafting his own version of the Ten Commandments for successful succession planning. I found it a helpful exercise.

I offer these as a possible encouragement to any other church facing the same stewardship challenge.

  1. He shall run the race hard for the glory of God and the welfare of OGC over the rest of his course as pastor-teacher—however long the Lord determines that he remain on point.
  2. He shall consistently take initiative to keep the conversation about succession ongoing so that no one else may feel awkward about having to force the issue due to his reluctance.
  3. He shall do everything in his power to ensure that the baton handoff occurs—when it does—in a fashion that safeguards the peace and purity of Orlando Grace Church.
  4. He shall regularly pray about the succession process for wisdom and guidance from the Lord from start to finish.
  5. He shall determine to listen carefully and defer in humility as must as possible to the concerns/desires of the rest of the leadership team in executing the plan.
  6. He shall neither exit prematurely from his role nor linger past-time in the same, but seek to discern with the rest of the body the most opportune time for the transition.
  7. He shall diligently seek to determine from the Lord what next vocational assignment awaits him and his wife, whatever and wherever that may be.
  8. He shall act as the number-one cheerleader for the next pastor-teacher and do everything in his power to ensure the man’s good success and favor with the people and community.
  9. He shall tend carefully to the needs and concerns of the rest of the staff throughout the succession process such that their voices are heard and their welfare served.
  10. He shall exit when the time comes with a heart of gratitude and humility for the privilege of having pastored faithfully, albeit imperfectly, so great a church as OGC.

DIFFERENT DAYS & ASSIGNMENTS

How Ecclesiastes 7:14 Informs Choices in Plenty & Want

In recent years I have returned to this text time and again:

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

Adversity has characterized the better part of my last three years. Great loss, grief, physical sufferings and more have visited my household.

assignment

The wisdom writer calls for different responses for different days. Adversity necessitates reflection.  Consider is the assignment. God brings both plenty and want into our lives. He is sovereign over all. We ponder this truth that we may not find out anything that will be after us.

Puritan commentator Matthew Henry observed:

Day and night, summer and winter, are set the one over against the other, that in prosperity we may rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and in adversity may weep as though we wept not, for we may plainly see the one from the other and quickly exchange the one for the other; and it is to the end that man may find nothing after him, that he may not be at any certainty concerning future events or the continuance of the present scene, but may live in a dependence upon Providence and be ready for whatever happens. Or that man may find nothing in the work of God which he can pretend to amend.

I have done my fair share of considering of late. That has been true even most recently as well. It explains in part the absence of blog posts for more than a month.

I developed a post-op infection in my hip following my November 2016 jaw reconstruction surgery. A draining wound has plagued me ever since. Doctors finally determined the need to debride the hip on March 10. They feared the presence of bone infection that would necessitate continuous IV antibiotics for six to eight weeks.

This past Tuesday proved an occasion for rejoicing. Frankly, I prefer this assignment. Who doesn’t? My Miami surgeon gave me a good report about the incision. He removed the stitches. He does not think I have any lingering infection. I should be fine. Talk about a day of prosperity!

That, in conjunction with my marriage last Saturday to Lady Jan, has brought me into a season of great joy. I’ve not been this happy for a long time. Thanks be to God.

Still, I remain mindful that I don’t know what providence will bring in the future. Different days will require different responses.

May God give grace to rejoice or consider as assigned.

PEACEMAKING & “ALTAR BUILDING”

Marks of a God-Centered Lifestyle Essential for Peacemaking Excellence

I posted recently on one of my favorite Bible peacemaking passagesGen. 13. I failed to mention a critical component in the text–Abram’s pattern of altar building.

Praying in the dark

There is  a similarity between how the chapter begins and ends. In this is an insight—perhaps a secret—which explains why Abram could respond the way he did in the conflict with his nephew.

Genesis 12:10-20 recounts how Abram barely escaped a near disastrous entanglement with Pharaoh in Egypt. That background sets the stage for Abram coming out of Egypt back into Negeb.

It’s not an accident that these accounts come back-to-back. In chapter 12, Abram derails miserably with the Pharaoh debacle; here he gets back on track again with his own extended household.

The crucial difference between the two situations and their respective outcomes is revealed in v. 2-4.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.

It appears Abram learned a lesson from his failures in Egypt. He’s back seeking the Lord again at all times. He has resumed the all-important practice of altar building.

What does that look like? It means making God the center of your existence through a variety of means. You make a priority of worshiping Him. You regularly listen for His voice in His word. You keep up ongoing conversation with Him in prayer. You wait on Him to fulfill His promises to you.

These things make all the difference in the world! This is a huge turning point in how chapter twelve ends and how thirteen unfolds. But there’s more.

Verse 18 says this:  So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord. This chapter begins with altar building and it ends with altar building. Both references spell bookend emphasis for what comes in between.

It is this kind of God-centered orientation in chapter 13 which enables Abram with great grace to head off a relational train wreck with Lot.

Puritan Matthew Henry offered these practical insights about the disciplines of altar building:

Abram attended on God in his instituted ordinances. He built an altar unto the Lord who appeared to him, and called on the name of the Lord. Now consider this, (1.) As done upon a special occasion. When God appeared to him, then and there he built an altar, with an eye to the God who appeared to him. . . . Thus he acknowledged, with thankfulness, God’s kindness to him in making him that gracious visit and promise; and thus he testified his confidence in and dependence upon the word which God had spoken. . . . (2.) As his constant practice, whithersoever he removed. As soon as Abram had got to Canaan, though he was but a stranger and sojourner there, yet he set up, and kept up, the worship of God in his family; and wherever he had a tent God had an altar, and that an altar sanctified by prayer. . . .  Note, those that would approve themselves the children of faithful Abram, and would inherit the blessing of Abram, must make conscience of keeping up the solemn worship of God, particularly in their families, according to the example of Abram. The way of family worship is a good old way, is no novel invention, but the ancient usage of all the saints. Abram was very rich and had a numerous family, was now unsettled and in the midst of enemies, and yet, wherever he pitched his tent, he built an altar. Wherever we go, let us not fail to take our religion along with us.

How much altar building characterizes your life these days?

Your relational magnanimity quotient in peacemaking depends upon it.

 

THREE ARE BETTER THAN ONE

How God Comforts Abundantly in Loss through the Grief of Others

No worries. I’m not misquoting the sacred text in Ecc. 4:9-12.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Two are better than one. No doubt about it–for all the reasons Solomon lists for any number of difficult circumstances. Today I’m grateful to find my two is a three.

Man with financial or sentimental problems

My journal entry this morning began this way:

1/18/17

Not my favorite day of the year. I write this at the kitchen table. I’m looking at the very place on the tile floor where I collapsed in a flood of tears three years ago. Nancy had just uttered those horrible words, “Josh is dead.” You really never do get entirely over burying a child.

Then the phone rang. I knew he would call. He hasn’t missed a January 18 yet. He won’t ever, if he can help it. “E” is too well acquainted with grief himself to drop this ball.

That’s especially true because for years the circumstances were reversed. I used to call him every January 19. He and his bride lost their daughter years ago. I was their pastor at the time. I presided over the funeral.

It means the world to me when this brother calls. It has everything to do with another significant passage of Scripture–2 Cor. 1:3-5.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

No one comforts in loss more abundantly than someone with a shared grief. In a nutshell, here’s what my friend did as Jesus’ agent on yet another day of mourning/remembering in my life.

One, he connected. He took initiative. This is a busy man with enormous responsibilities in a major parachurch ministry. He found time to care for me.

Two, he listened. After asking me how I was doing, he listened quietly with the occasional affirming “yes” or “hmm” that assured me of his undivided attention. Just being able to express the gamut of my feelings without fear of judgment helped so much.

Three, he identified. He shared his own experience of visiting his daughter’s graveside the day before. He talked about how hard last Christmas was getting all those cards with pictures of children and grandchildren he will never have. He understands.

Four, he counseled. Not in an overt way. He used the back door approach–perhaps not even realizing what he was doing. He reminded me of some advice I had given him about sharing the hurt honestly yet humbly with the Lord.

Five, he suggested. “Curt, what do you think of this? What about you, me, and “R” getting together at some point?”

Here’s why my title has the number three in it. We both have a mutual friend who lost his daughter some years ago on January 26. I officiated that service too.

“Great idea!” I said.

Three men of sorrow acquainted with grief getting together to comfort one another with the comfort gained from the Father of mercies and God of all comfort?

I can hardly wait.

And I’m glad January 18 rolls around only one time a year.

GUARDING ONENESS

How to Deal with the Killer of Unity in Any Relationship

My mentor and friend surprised me the other day. I asked if he could recommend a go-to resource on marriage. I figured he would point to any number of more recent publications by major evangelical authors. Not so.

humility word in metal type

He suggested Larry Crabb’s 1991 publication Men & Women: Enjoying the Difference (Zondervan). It just so happens I have a copy in my library. I read it years ago. Never hurts to take another look, so I pulled it off the shelf and began reading again.

It took only twenty-eight pages before these words hammered me:

We will not move very far in our efforts to develop good marriages until we understand that repairing a damaged sense of identity and healing the wound in our hearts is not the first order of business. It is rather dealing with the subtle, pervasive, stubborn commitment to ourselves. Self-centeredness is the killer. In every bad relationship, it is the deadliest culprit . Poor communication, temper problems, unhealthy responses to dysfunctional family backgrounds, co-dependent relationships, and personal incompatibility—everything (unless medically caused) flows out of the cesspool of self-centeredness.

If Crabb overstates the case at all, then I am not sure how much. It seems he lines up perfectly with Paul’s instructions in Phil. 2:1-4.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 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.

He gives two directives for guarding oneness. The first addresses attitude–humility of mind which counts others more significant than oneself (see also Rom. 12:16; the second focuses on action–look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The Greek word for “look” is the word skopeo from where we get our English word “scope”–as in a rifle scope. We are to keep our eyes wide open for the concerns of others. He assumes we will do that for ourselves. Guardians of oneness in marriage, family, church or any relational sphere scan the horizon of needs on a broader scale for the benefit of others.

Philippians 2 finishes with four examples of his day from which to draw inspiration: Jesus (5-11), himself (12-18, Timothy (19-24), and Epaphroditus (25-30). Of course none of those matters more to our motivation to guard oneness than that of the Lord Jesus in His humiliation and exaltation.

Why? Because He not only gives us an example to follow; He supplies the power to live similarly through the transforming gospel.

As you move into 2017, where might you have to drain the cesspool of self-centeredness for the joy of growing in others-centeredness?