PEACEMAKING PERSPECTIVE AFTER 15 YEARS OF SHEPHERDING

Twelve Lessons for Cultivating a Culture of Peace in a Church

Farewell Cake

Only minutes remain on my watch as lead pastor of Orlando Grace Church. One learns a lot over the course of fifteen years in the ministry trenches.

It seemed fitting that my last blog post in this role would focus on some of the biggest takeaways I have gained about cultivating a culture of peace in the local church.

Here are twelve.

One, preserving unity must top the list of priorities for every member (Eph. 4:1-3).

Two, how we think about God determines much of how eager we are to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:4-6).

Three, overlooking offenses (Prov. 19:11) whenever possible manifests the love of Christ and serves the cause of charitable judgments (1 Cor. 13:7) among a deeply flawed people.

Four, the Four G’s are worth their weight in gold for equipping God’s people with a rubric for doing peacemaking (Matt. 7:1-6).

Five, unchecked anger (James 1:19-20) poses perhaps the most formidable obstacle in doing the work of peacemaking that earns the Lord’s blessing (Matt. 5:9). Deal with it.

Six, legalistic judging of others over matters of conscience poses yet another significant obstacle to doing peacemaking (Rom. 15:1-7). Stay off the throne and let God be the judge.

Seven, asking a question like “Can you help me understand?” or “What was going on there?” rather than making a judgment often reveals breakdowns in communication vs. malicious intentions (Prov. 20:5). Ask before drawing conclusions.

Eight, pastors must model the virtues of peacemaking trusting in God’s sovereignty and power alone to work in the hearts of those with whom he must engage in conflict (2 Tim. 2:24-26).

Nine, magnanimity as a character strength intercepts relational disasters before they ever happen by refusing to press rights and deferring to others trusting in God’s care (Gen. 13:1-18).

Ten, followers in the church have a serious responsibility to esteem and respect their leaders given the nature of the strategic pastoral care work they do in their lives (1 Thess. 5:12-13).

Eleven, prolonged unity within a church is such an extraordinary gift it is worth preaching and singing about when enjoyed by God’s people (Psalm 133).

Twelve, sometimes no matter how hard you try, every effort at peacemaking can fall short of restoration of ministry partnership even if it results in personal reconciliation (Acts 15:36-41).

On a personal note, this 12th reality constitutes some of my greatest regrets as a flawed pastor. I have failed some folks terribly. It grieves me so. God have mercy.

I could say more. I’m no expert. I’m just trying to get it right as I move on to the next phase of my journey.

I love the people of OGC. I will miss them. They are in GOOD HANDS–Jesus first and foremost–and Jim and our fellow elders (not perfect but good) second.

I am a happy man and signing off as lead pastor at OGC–but not done with my race just yet, Lord willing.

SDG–PCBO

(Cake artistry by the incredibly gifted Michele Richert!)

PRAYER & THE PEACEMAKER

Virtue #2 in the Ways of a Peacemaker

prayer-1308663_960_720

Helping others resolving conflict requires a number of skills and responsibilities. None matters more than intercessory prayer.

The bigger the conflict, the greater the need for intercession.

Recently I introduced a series of posts called The Ways of a Peacemaker: Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers who Excel at Mending Relationships.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon, the apostle prepares to return run-away-slave-turned-Christian Onesimus to his owner. Here we see a biblical model of assisted peacemaking worthy of imitation.

My last post focused on the first of five practices skillful peacemakers employ in helping repair broken relationships–leading with specific affirmation.

This post explores the second–praying with singular aim.

Not only does Paul praise God for Philemon (v. 4-5); he also prays strategically for him (v. 6).

And I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

I’ve scratched my head a good bit about this verse. It’s tough to interpret.

When he talks about the sharing of your faith, I don’t think we should take it evangelistically like we often use the phrase.

I think he means sharing (koinoinia) as in generosity or liberality—the kind of lovingkindess and big-heartedness Paul himself has greatly profited by, even refreshed to use his word in v. 7.

In this whole deal, Paul aims to challenge Philemon to kick up a notch his reputation for being loving.

He wants it to become effective—see that word in v. 6―in the way he responds to Paul’s agenda later in the letter.

Effective in what respect? Full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

Paul prays that Philemon’s stretching in love in dealing with Onesimus when he eventually shows up at the front door will deepen his understanding and heighten his treasuring of all the blessings we have in Christ Jesus.

Man, what a way to pray as a mediator attempting to help others with their relational meltdowns!

Paul believed in the efficacy of prayer—not just in peacemaking. Watch how he comes back to the priority of prayer at the end in v. 22. I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you (emphasis added).

There is no effective peacemaking without prayer—lots of prayer—with the singularly strategic aim of growth in love.

Question: What texts of Scripture help you to remember to pray for others to grow in love as they relate to others–especially in conflict?

AFFIRMATION & THE PEACEMAKER

Virtue #1 in the Ways of a Peacemaker

Bridge of Spies

Based upon true events during the Cold War, the gripping film Bridge of Spies stars Tom Hanks as attorney James Donovan.

The CIA hires Donovan to act as a mediator in a prisoner exchange between the US and Soviet Union in East Berlin.

Hanks’ character displays much of the relational wisdom skills necessary for effective assisted peacemaking between opposing parties.

For an excellent post exploring these concepts click here.

Recently I introduced a series of posts called The Ways of a Peacemaker: Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers who Excel at Mending Relationships.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon, the apostle prepares to return run-away-slave-turned-Christian Onesimus to his owner. Here we see a biblical model of assisted peacemaking worthy of imitation.

This post explores the first of five practices skillful peacemakers employ in helping repair broken relationships–leading with specific affirmation.

After the customary greetings of an epistle in verses 1-3, Paul does what he so often does in his New Testament letters in verses 4-5. He expresses his gratitude to God for this man.

This “thanks” saturates his regular praying for Philemon. And he goes way beyond a mere generalized appreciation of this brother.

He gets quite specific as to the reasons for his thanks in v. 5—because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

Do you see what Paul values and how he reinforces it with praise? Love for all the saints and faith in the Lord.

Normally Paul would put faith first and love second, but not here.

He reverses them knowing that he will call on that love and more from Philemon with the peacemaking requests he will make of him.

Ken Sande writes:

A conflict generally involves two basic ingredients: people and a problem. All too often, we ignore the feelings and concerns of the people and focus all our attention on the problems that separate us. This approach often causes further offense and alienation, which only makes conflicts more difficult to resolve. One way to avoid these unnecessary complications is to affirm respect and concern for your opponent throughout the negotiation process (The Peacemaker, 231).

The same goes for all-in mediators trying to broker reconciliation—they lead with specific affirmation.

For a helpful rubric for biblical negotiation which leads with affirmation please see The PAUSE Principle.

One word of caution. Lead with sincere, legitimate affirmation. Avoid the temptation to manipulate with ingenuine words. That’s bound to backfire and doesn’t honor the Lord.

Affirmation communicates your value of persons made in God’s image. The way of a peacemaker never forgets using the tongue to bless others rather than curse them (James 3:6-10).

Virtue #2 in the ways of a peacemaker–praying with singular aim–will be the focus of my next post.

Question: What kinds of things can we readily affirm in others when engaged in conflict?

 

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?

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.

AVOIDING ABORTIVE APOLOGIES

How NOT to Make Confession of Your Faults to Others

Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas, two NBA Hall of Famers, recently reconciled after a long-standing feud.

Their dispute dated back to the late 1980s when the LA Lakers and Detroit Pistons played each other in two consecutive NBA finals.

Johnson further admitted in a book co-authored with Larry Bird–another Hall of Famer who played for the Boston Celtics–that he helped keep Thomas off the 1992 US Olympic Dream Team.

Who takes issue with a such a moving scene? What’s the deal? On the one hand, I hope this emotional exchange results in genuine, lasting reconciliation. It certainly appears sincere.

On the other hand, it contains a flaw that often mars effective apology making–what a lawyer friend of mine refers to as an “abortive confession.” It fails to deliver because of one tiny word.

Did you catch it in the video? Johnson started well for sure. “You are my brother. Let me apologize . . . (so far so good, but then) IF I hurt you.”

One little word at the very least tainted the efficacy of Johnson’s confession.

Other words can have the same effect–like “but” and “maybe.” Ken Sande, in his book The Peacemaker, explains:

The best way to ruin a confession is to use words that shift the blame to others or that appear to minimize or excuse your guilt. The most common way to do this is to say, “I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you.” The word if ruins this confession, because it implies that you do not know whether or not you did wrong. … Clearly, that is no confession at all. It is a superficial statement designed to get someone to stop bothering you or to transfer fault for breaking a relationship. Small wonder that genuine forgiveness rarely follows such words (127).

Perhaps that last statement overstates the case somewhat. God can heal wounds between estranged parties through flawed means. We wish the best for these two men, of course.

But Sande’s point keeps in step with Jesus’s emphasis in Matthew 7:5: 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.

Abortive confessions fail to remove adequately the logs of our own offenses. Removing specks from the eyes of others with impaired vision is a dangerous procedure.

For additional help in making an effective apology see The Seven A’s of Confession.

Question: When have you been on the receiving end of an effective apology? What made it contribute to lasting reconciliation?

 

RESOLVING EVERYDAY CONFLICT

New Equipping Hour Class Starting January 7, 2018

This Sunday at Orlando Grace Church we begin this video curriculum study.

Peacemaker Ministries describes it like this:

We all have conflict. Think about the people you know. They may not be in the middle of a big blow up, but they certainly have tense conversations around the breakfast table or difficulties with an overbearing boss. Or more seriously, perhaps their marriage is on the verge of falling apart. Regardless, they are looking for answers.

Resolving Everyday Conflict is an eight-lesson study that unpacks the amazing things the Bible has to say about conflict and relationships. As you go through this study, you’ll find the powerful and practical answers you are looking for to forever change how conflict looks in your life.

Join us for group discussion and video instruction on this strategic subject starting at 9:30 AM in Room F5.

Watch the video promo below!

BLESSING & THE GOOD LIFE

How Peacemaking Commitments Make for the Good Life

 

grace

In The Grace of Giving,  Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed the friendship of George Washington.

In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Michael Wittman was arrested for treason and sentenced to die.

Peter Miller traveled seventy miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.

“No, Peter,” General Washington said. “I cannot grant you the life of your friend.”

“My friend!” exclaimed the old preacher. “He’s the bitterest enemy I have.”

“What?” cried Washington. “You’ve walked seventy miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in different light. I’ll grant your pardon.” And he did.

Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata–no longer an enemy but a friend.

Peter Miller lived the good life as 1 Peter 3:8-12 prescribes it.

The text explains how to love life and see good days in spite of evil and reviling that at times can threaten us and our churches. It takes showing grace and refusing revenge and giving blessing.

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless! Really? This is radical. It is counter intuitive. It’s the essence of unconditional, Christ-following/imitating love.

Can you hear the echoes of Jesus’ teaching from Luke 6:27-29?

But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.

It resonates with Paul’s example in 1 Cor. 4:12–when reviled, we bless–and his teaching in 1 Thessalonians 5:15–See that no one repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.

Perhaps Rom. 12:21 says it best: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

In the rest of this passage, Peter makes his case for why this kind of radical way of relating should govern our reactions even to our worst persecutors.

The first has to do with the nature of our calling. For to this you were called. In 1 Peter 2:20-21, Peter explained the first of two callings given to believers in the face of persecution in particular.

But here he gives an additional grace-shaped, love-never-fails calling when persecuted and reviled–-returning blessing for evil.

The second reason for committing to this kind of radical way of relating has to do with the nature of our reward. See the motivation at the end of v. 9?–-that you may obtain a blessing.

I think Peter means for us to look at this in terms of the present life and not the next. Consider how he defends his point in verses 10-12. He quotes Psalm 34:12-16, a psalm of David, when he came under attack by Abimelech and the Philistines.

Look at v. 10. For–-there’s his reason–He who would love life and see good days. That’s not talking about eternity; that’s talking about here and now.

This holds out a promise for a quality of life on earth, even for the believer enduring terrible persecution and conflict of all kinds.

As you head into 2018, do you need to adjust your expectations about the good life you desire?

Be sure to leave room for blessing an enemy.

REVENGE & THE GOOD LIFE

How Peacemaking Commitments Make for the Good Life

revenge

Marcus Aurelius once said that the best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury. The apostle Peter recommended something similar in 1 Peter 3:8-12.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For

“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Here is a strategy for the good life for a suffering people. The main idea from the passage is this: Our extraordinary identity as God’s people calls for radical peacemaking commitments in the church. 

A suffering church must be a unified church. That takes three different peacemaking commitments embedded in the text.  The first of these commitments in verse 8 is showing grace.

The second is refusing revenge (verse 9b). Peter gets painfully specific in this verse about a particular aspect of showing grace in our relationships—not getting even. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling.

If you and your church are going to stay out of conflict city, then you have to determine not to play the payback game. You don’t do revenge.

Whether it’s someone does you wrong or reads you the riot act, you don’t return in kind. You refuse to go toe-to-toe in a war of evil works or reviling words.

Now that’s radical. Someone does you wrong, someone slanders you behind your back, and you don’t respond in kind. How in the world is that possible?

It starts with taking our cue from Jesus example in this regard. Look at 1 Pet. 2:20-23:

For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

When you resist the temptation to get even, when you bite your tongue in the face of someone’s gossip, you stand in excellent company. Jesus is truly your closest friend in such hard things.

Charles Spurgeon likened dealing with evil and reviling as a fight to the death:

You cannot let evil alone and evil will not let you alone. You must fight. And in the battle you must either conquer or be conquered. The words before us remind me of the saying of the Scot officer of the Highland regiment when he brought them up in front of the enemy and said, “Lads, there they are: if you dinna kill them they’ll kill you”. . . . “Overcome, or be overcome.” There is no avoiding the conflict, no making truce or holding parley, no suspension of hostilities after a brief skirmish. The battle must be fought through to the end and can only close with a decided victory to one or the other side.

In the rest of these verses, Peter shows us how to win. More on that in subsequent posts.

In the meantime, where might you need to ask the Lord to help you overcome the temptation to get even?