NOT YOUR AVERAGE MARRIAGE SERMON

Peacemaking Love To Cover a Multitude of Sins

Couple with their backs turned to each other

I require every couple I marry to commit to six premarital counseling sessions with Jan and me. Our aim is to equip the bride and groom-to-be for a lifetime of marital delight and staying power for the long haul in their two-are-better-than-one union (Ecc. 4:9-12).

Conflict resolution skills matter immensely to that goal because every husband and wife sin against one another–a lot. In fact, it requires an earnest kind of love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8).

That takes something more than a toolkit of communication principles. It requires a supernatural source of motivation and a vision for marriage on a grander scale than most couples bring to the engagement process.

So the first homework assignment I give is for the two of them to watch this message by John Piper. It’s called “Love Her More, Love Her Less: Living for God’s Glory in Marriage.” It is NOT your average marriage sermon by any means.

In reality it contains hope for persevering love that covers a multitude of sins in every context, not just marriage. I commend the 22 minute investment of time to anyone needing more peacemaking love he/she thinks they can summon in dealing with fellow-sinners in the home, at the church, on the job, or wherever else they may be found–just about everywhere.

Question: What one thing can you do to increase your knowledge of and delight in the glory of God?

GOOD FRIDAY IRONY

If Pagan Mortal Enemies Can Make Peace, Why Can’t You?

old crosses of stone to the backlight

How many times have I read a familiar portion of Scripture only to react: “I’ve never seen that before.”?

In the final moments leading up to his passion, Jesus goes to trial before Pilate (Luke 23:1-5). Pilate, evading the hot seat temporarily, ships Jesus off to Herod, the fox (Luke 13:32).

Herod and company delight to abuse the Son of God, ultimately transferring him back to Pilate’s jurisdiction in a game of political Ping-Pong (Luke 23:6-11). What fun.

Verse 12, Luke’s editorial comment on the turn of events, stopped me dead in my tracks.

“And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other (emphasis added).”

The word for “enmity” appears in Romans 8:7 as “hostile” to characterize the dilemma of the mind set on the flesh in relationship to a holy God. These infamous characters on history’s Good Friday stage did not care for each other in the least. And still their contempt for Jesus Christ wound up reconciling them as friends. Talk about major league irony!

Octavius Winslow’s comments, in his work Morning Thoughts, brought this insight to light for me:

How striking and solemn the instruction conveyed in this incident! Pilate and Herod, standing in the attitude of the deadliest hate to each other, are now made friends! And what strange but mighty power has thus suddenly subdued their animosity, and turned their hatred into love? What mystic chain has drawn and bound together these hostile rulers? Their mutual and deep enmity against Jesus! Believers in Christ! are the enemies of our glorious Redeemer, inspired by a natural and kindred feeling of hatred, induced to forget their private quarrels, and merge their differences in one common confederation to crush the Son of God, the object of their mutual hostility; and shall not the friends of the Redeemer, constrained by that divine principle of love which dwells in the hearts of all who are born of God, quench their heart-burnings, bury their antipathies, and draw more closely together in one holy, vigorous, and determined alliance to exalt the Son of God, the glorious and precious Object of their mutual affection? Oh, if Jesus is the bond of union to those who hate Him, how much more should He be the bond of union to those who love Him! Beneath His cross how should all unholy jealousy and bitterness, and wrath and anger, and clamor and all uncharitableness, be mourned over, confessed, abhorred, and renounced by the children of the one family; and how should all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity be unhesitatingly and cordially recognized as such, thus “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“If Jesus is the bond of union to those who hate Him, how much more should He be the bond of union to those who love Him!” 

Indeed. Please allow me to challenge you this Good Friday.

Are you at enmity with some brother or sister somewhere in the body of Christ?

If Pilate and Herod can reconcile, cannot you at least take the first step (Rom. 12:18) toward your “enemy” for which Christ died and seek to be made friends?

 

 

WHEN RELATIONSHIPS RUPTURE (2)

How To Navigate Sharp Disagreements Which End in Separation

A single mountain road splits in two different directions. It's an autumnal cloudy day.

The magisterial reformer Martin Luther once offered this candid self-admission:

“I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether war-like, fighting against innumerable monsters and devils. I am born for the removing of stumps and stones, cutting away thistles and thorns, and clearing wild forests.”

Even history’s giants of the faith suffered their share of personal issues. Sometimes their difficult natures resulted in relational train wrecks. My last post zeroed in on one of the Bible’s most infamous examples in Acts 15:36-41.

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Sad but true, not all attempts at peacemaking end well. Breakups do happen among the best of us. What principles can we apply in those unfortunate circumstances to ease the pain and gain perspective?

In part one, I suggested three: accept reality, examine self, and understand interests. In part two, let’s consider four more helps for navigating sharp disagreements.

One, stay calm.

No matter who was right about John Mark, both Paul and Barnabas failed miserably in the way they conducted themselves. R. Kent Hughes notes in his commentary on Acts that the word paroxysm translated “sharp disagreement” denotes “violent action or emotion. This was not a mild gentleman’s disagreement but an intense and passionate conflict.”

Outbursts of anger shatter peace and multiply transgressions (Prov. 29:22). Determine to remain filled with the Spirit at all times (Gal. 5:22-23).

Two, seek help.

Did they? We don’t know. I want to hope these brothers attempted to climb up the slippery slope of peacemaking by enlisting mediators in the church at Antioch to work through their dispute (Phil. 4:2-3). To keep your conscience clear, make your own choices at every turn in sharp disagreements with a Four G’s ethic –no matter how the conflict ends up.

Three, trust God.

The worst of conflicts do not erase Romans 8:28 from the Bible. The Lord is always working to accomplish His purposes. Our frailties never thwart His ultimate plan (Phil. 1:12). As painful as their separation must have been, no doubt both men took comfort that one missionary team multiplied into two in God’s providence.

Four, allow time.

Let’s hope Paul and Barnabas, though parted, first reconciled with a conciliatory agree-to-disagree spirit. Always make this your goal, even if a dispute leads to dissolution of a partnership.

The sting of this breakup lessened eventually with a softening of Paul toward John Mark (2 Tim. 4:11). I imagine that put a smile on the Son of Encouragement’s face! God can and often does a lot of healing over time. Pray to that end.

Do you find yourself embroiled in a paroxysm-like conflict? These seven principles may help you survive the outcome in a First G kind of way (1 Cor. 10:31).

Question: What else has helped you do peacemaking in sharp disagreements?

WHEN RELATIONSHIPS RUPTURE (1)

How To Navigate Sharp Disagreements Which End in Separation

fight, a confrontation between two white rhino

While in Orlando last month, I heard some excellent feedback about my book. “I wish you had included a chapter on handling irreconcilable conflicts in a peaceable way.”

My friend made a good point. Even our best efforts at preserving unity and pursuing reconciliation can end in a parting of ways. I wrote of two such painful episodes in recent experience in my 2018 review.

The New Testament records an account of just such a relational collapse between two missionaries in Acts 15:36-41.

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Both men shared the same worthy aim: revisit the places and people they reached in their first missionary journey to see how things were (Acts 13 & 14). However, they butted heads fast over the choice of an assistant.

Barnabas wanted John Mark along; Paul said, “No way!” The verb forms in vv. 37 & 38 suggest the debate persisted for some time. Eventually things deteriorated into “a sharp disagreement.” It’s one word in v. 39 in the Greek text. We get our word paroxysm from it. It means to provoke to anger (Acts 17:16; 1 Cor. 13:5). Things got hot–really hot.

Luke doesn’t include much detail about the dispute given his purpose within the book of Acts. He leaves us to wonder and speculate about some things. So with that disclaimer up front, here are the first three of seven insights for navigating sharp disagreements.

One, accept reality. This kind of thing does happen. Try as we might to prevent it, some conflicts don’t end happily–even between the best of individuals. This is Paul the apostle (Rom. 1:1) and Barnabas the son of encouragement (Acts 4:36) we’ve got here!

Two, examine self. Both men may have been right–though only Paul and Silas got sent off with Antioch’s commendation (40). Barnabas would have done well to question his motives potentially on three fronts: (1) family favoritism (Col. 4:10)–cousins–(2) prideful jealousy (Acts 13:2)–Barnabas and Saul had become Paul and Barnabas–(3) people pleasing (Gal. 2:13)–gospel hypocrisy.  These giants of the faith admitted their frailty (Acts 14:15). We do well to remember and suspect ours as well.

Three, understand interests. This is a strategic part of the PAUSE Principle of biblical negotiation. Identify others’ concerns, desires, needs, limitations, or fears. The differing positions about John Mark stemmed from his abandoning ship on the previous mission (Acts 13:13). Perhaps Barnabas the encourager insisted on John Mark believing that grace warranted second chances. Paul may well have worried that it was too risky to entrust at that point such an important role to the young man (Prov. 25:19). Looking out for others’ interests (Phil. 2:3-4) goes a long way on the road to satisfactory compromise and relational rescue.

There’s a lot involved in traveling these tricky waters–too much for one article. In my next post I will cover the remaining four insights for navigating sharp disagreements which lead to a parting of ways.

Question: What questions might you have about this particular challenge? You can post your comment below.

RARE RESOLUTIONS WORTH CONSIDERING

Biblical Peacemaking Resolutions to Make in the New Year

Hands Holding a Coffee Mug With Text New Year Fresh Start

At this time of year when many of us make New Year resolutions, consider adding to the usual drop-some-weight-exercise-more kinds one of these not-so-common peacemaking types to your 2019 list:

1. I resolve with the Lord’s help to pursue the happiness of a peacemaker and be rightly called a child of God (Matt. 5:9).

2. I resolve with the Lord’s help to celebrate the good and pleasant gift of unity within my church and to pray for its ongoing reality (Psalm 133).

3. I resolve with the Lord’s help to do my best to help maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace within my church (Eph. 4:1-6).

4. I resolve with the Lord’s help if possible, so far as it depends upon me, to live peaceably with all (Rom. 12:18).

5. I resolve with the Lord’s help to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but in humility of mind to consider others more important than myself (Phil. 2:3).

6. I resolve with the Lord’s help to look out not only for my own interests but also for the interests of others and thus have the same attitude as that of the Lord Jesus (Phil. 2:4-5).

7. I resolve with the Lord’s help to put to death sinful anger by promptly initiating peacemaking conversations whenever they become necessary (Matt. 5:21-26).

8. I resolve with the Lord’s help to enlist help from within my church for assisted peacemaking mediation when efforts to do personal peacemaking fail to achieve reconciliation (Matt. 18:15-20).

9. I resolve with the Lord’s help to cultivate a welcoming spirit toward others who differ with me about preferences and choices of conscience and refuse to judge them when God can make them stand (Rom. 14:1-12).

10. I resolve with the Lord’s help to intercept relational disruptions wherever possible by deferring my rights to others (Genesis 13).

11. I resolve with the Lord’s help to honor and respect my church leaders for their hard work in the Lord and will endeavor to maintain truth-in-love communication with them at all times (1 Thess. 5:12-13).

12. I resolve with the Lord’s help to be kind and to forgive others for their offenses as God in Christ has forgiven me (Eph. 4:32).

13. I resolve with the Lord’s help whenever possible to overlook the offenses of others (Prov. 19:11) knowing that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8).

14. I resolve with the Lord’s help to avoid gossiping about others and sowing discord within the body of Christ (Prov. 6:16-19).

15. I resolve with the Lord’s help to use my tongue only to speak what is good for the building up of others for giving grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29).

16. I resolve with the Lord’s help in conflict to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31), love others (1 Cor. 13:4-8), and grow in Christ’s likeness (2 Pet. 1:3-8).

Question: Which of these resolutions do you sense matters most for you in 2019?

THE TEACHING TONGUE

How to Speak about Others Who Offend You

angry young woman with megaphone shouting at stressed scared man blown away by wave of alphabet letters

It is said of the virtuous woman that “the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (Prov. 31:26).

We are always giving instruction to others by the words we use–especially in the training of our children. A unique challenge occurs when we’ve been offended by someone.

How we talk about that person speaks volumes to others–especially the kiddos.

The apostle Paul gives us the ultimate standard for a tongue of kindness:

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such is as good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29).

I came across a powerful example of this in D. A. Carson’s book about his Dad–Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson.

It seems that at one point in his ministry, Pastor Tom Carson experienced a painful conflict with another pastor who treated him quite poorly.

As son Don relates the story, he only learned of the conflict years later. When he eventually brought the matter up, he quizzed his dad about why he never told the kids about any of it.

Tom explained that both he and his wife, Marge, wanted to protect their own souls from bitterness. So they took a vow that neither would ever say an unkind thing about the other pastor–and they kept that vow!

Daughter Joyce commented:

As I look back on life with Mom and Dad, perhaps the one thing I recall most vividly is the memory I don’t have. Try as I might, I cannot recollect one time when either of them spoke negatively about another person. Although Mom was an extremely astute judge of character, her analyses were well seasoned with grace and the latent potential for redemption (60).

What kind of talk comes out of your mouth in a conflict? Is it corrupt or kind? Does it tear down or build up? Does it give grief or grace to those who hear–especially the most impressionable?

The next time you are tempted to speak critically of someone else, choose the teaching of kindness on your tongue–void of bitterness, well seasoned with grace, and born of the latent potential for redemption.

Question: How would your children or friends describe your speech about others with which you are at odds?

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.