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?

A PEACEMAKING WIFE

How Nancy Excelled at Safeguarding Oneness in Our Marriage

Today would have marked our 42nd wedding anniversary. Ever since Nan went home to Jesus last May 31, I’ve wondered how this final major historical marker would unfold for me.

cananda-trip

As I paged through our wedding album this morning, tears fell again. I have so many great memories of life with the wife my youth. We enjoyed uncommon oneness by and large throughout the years.

In this personal post, I want to pay tribute to Nan the peacemaker. She took Eph. 4:1-3 seriously in the church and in our marriage. She eagerly preserved the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. She embraced the blessedness Jesus promises in Matt. 5:9.

I offer these ten practices for the benefit of any marriage desiring to know abiding peace in the home.

One, she loved Jesus  more than she loved me (Matt. 10:37-39). From the day of her conversion, Nan counted the costs of discipleship. Jesus was first in her affections. She knew it was not wise to pursue her satisfaction in me. God never made any spouse fit for that.

Two, she chose not to allow me to control her joy (1 Thess. 5:16-18). She had to learn this over time, but she got there. She came to distinguish the difference between what was about me and what was about her. And when it was about me–and it often was, she released and rested in Jesus.

Three, she perfected the art of asking me questions (Prov. 20:5). Nancy got me big time on this. She knew if she challenged me outright about something I thought, said, or did, I could so easily get defensive (again–that’s on me).

So she kept respect for me high while making her point by posing thoughtful questions to draw out my heart. I loved this about her! She engaged my heart; she didn’t stomp all over it.

Four, she refused worrisome nagging, choosing rather to wait on God for change in me (Prov. 21:19). It’s not that Nancy wouldn’t say hard things to me. I assure you, she knew how to do that well (see number six below). But once she made her case with me, she let it rest–asking the Lord to do in my heart what only He could do.

Five, she didn’t peacebreak (Prov. 15:18). Some will question my memory on this. It is true just the same. Nan lost her cool with me only one time in all our years together. Frankly, I deserved it. Outbursts of anger crush oneness; we simply refused to go there by God’s grace.

Six, she didn’t peacefake (Eph. 4:25-27). Sorry to say, I specialized in stuffing my anger and punishing Nan with the cold shoulder treatment. I got better over time, but Nan never struggled with fear of conflict issues like I did. She consistently told it like it was in love.

Seven, she overlooked my sin–a lot (Prov. 19:11). Nan outright forgave me for my offenses over and over again without saying a word. SHE WAS NOT EASILY OFFENDED. This matters so much to marital oneness.

Eight, she consistently forgave me for my sins (Eph. 4:32). Nancy lived out the gospel of grace by showing her chief-of-sinners husband forgiving grace. She practiced the four promises of forgiveness–especially never using my past as a weapon against me. Good grief, I was a fortunate man! If you only knew.

Nine, she embraced assisted peacemaking with me when necessary (Phil. 4:2-3). We visited a fair number of Christian counselors over the years. We never regretted the investment. If we got stuck with maintaining oneness, we got help restoring oneness.

Ten, she never wavered on her covenant commitments (Matt. 5:37). On December 21, 1974 Nancy Masologites spoke vows to me, Curtis Heffelfinger, promising to love and to cherish, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, until death did us part.

Death did us part this year, but Nancy’s legacy lives on in so many ways–including in my aim to be a better peacemaking man and pastor for the rest of my days.

Thanks, babe, you were the best.

BARS, CHAINS, & BIRTHDAYS

More Reflections Along the Jaw Rebuilding Road

Last Tuesday took me to yet another doctor appointment in Miami. Never have I looked forward to the 500 mile, day-long marathon trip as I did for this particular visit.

Time to remove the Erector Set pile of metal bars and chains holding my reconstructed jaw shut for the last 21 days.

crocodiles_resting_together

What a war! Two surgical residents. Pliers. Wire cutters. Suction. It started easy enough. But before long the yanking, twisting, pulling, and tugging increased. I stiffened in the chair like a 2×6 piece of red fir. My kingdom for some nitrous oxide–PLEASE!

Once the nurse turned the gas on high I settled in for the duration. Bloodied and sore after it all, the word “Armageddon” kept running through my head for some reason.

It felt SO GOOD to open my mouth again. No more practicing the ventriloquist act for this preacher. Never I have enjoyed so much like I did that night flossing and brushing both sides of my teeth!

Rarely have I anticipated solid food again with more delight. The first bite of fish (soft and sauce remain my culinary mandates for the duration) melted in my mouth. I moaned at the savory taste with pleasure. But then came a moan of a different kind.

Chewing brought pain–again. There simply was no opening my jaw wide enough to bite down on the food. Both sockets hurt with each movement. I could hardly manipulate the food with my tongue so as to position it where teeth remain for mastication.

Sigh. This will take longer than I think. Double sigh.

But–my chains are gone! I’ve been set free! Slowly my range of motion improves. Each day it hurts a bit less to get solid food down. RoboJaw 2 gets further in the rear view mirror with each passing day. I am so thankful.

The next day, Wednesday, I turned 44, spiritually speaking. I celebrated yet another spiritual birthday. For some reason I happen to be one of those Christians who knows just when the Spirit of God blew with power resulting in his spiritual birth (John 3:1-8).

I don’t know that it matters all that much or not whether one knows the time and date specifics of his regeneration–although a special friend of mine admitted she envies that for me.

What matters a great deal more is the assurance that one has been born again. You know the Lord has changed your heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). You enjoy the  assurance of hope in eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).

You fear no condemnation because Jesus’ propitiating sacrifice has satisfied the wrath of God most holy justly upon you for your sin (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1; 8:1). Your sins are forgiven. Those chains are gone. You’ve been set free and are free indeed (John 8:31-32)!

You trust that the blood of Jesus covers all your sins. J. C. Ryle expressed the inexpressible joy of this particular assurance so well:

This wondrous blood of Christ, applied to your conscience, can cleanse you from all sin. It matters nothing what your sins may have been, “Though they be as scarlet they may be made like snow. Though they be red like crimson they can be made like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18.) From sins of youth and sins of age, from sins of ignorance and sins of knowledge—from sins of open profligacy and sins of secret vice—from sins against law and sins against Gospel—from sins of head, and heart, and tongue, and thought, and imagination—from sins against each and all of the ten commandments—from all these the blood of Christ can set us free. To this end was it appointed; for this cause was it shed; for this purpose it is still a fountain open to all mankind. That thing which you cannot do for yourself can be done in a moment by this precious fountain. YOU CAN HAVE ALL YOUR SINS CLEANSED AWAY.

Have you been born again?

SAVORING THE BETTER FOOD

When Fighting To Consume Enough Calories Teaches a Spiritual Lesson

Day 20. Operation RoboJaw 2 is nearly three weeks in my rear view mirror. Lord willing, tomorrow in Miami, the wires come off this jaw!

Muir Woods, California, USA

The Lord has taught me so many things through this latest trial. One particularly important lesson came soon after surgery. I visited my PCP for a post-op follow up. He took one look at my weight and read me the riot act. “You’ve lost nine pounds in a week. You have to eat more!”

Easy for him to say. But I did and have. The scale stabilized right around 170 lbs. I look forward to getting back on the eat-anything-you-want diet until I can pack on another ten or so pounds.

Clearly taking in enough nutrients and calories matters greatly to one’s physical health. The wake up call in the doc’s office that day got me to thinking about the principle on a spiritual level.

The Scriptures refer to God’s word as our necessary spiritual food of a superior kind. Job put it this way: I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread (23:12). Jesus, after 40 days of fasting, said this: Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4).

The Psalmist describes the truly happy man with a vivid metaphor in Psalm 1:1-3.

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Are you taking in enough spiritual nutrition? How’s your daily feeding on God’s word? Does 1 Peter 2:2-3 describe your experience–Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

2017 is fast upon us. Might this be the time you can fortify your spiritual health habits with a regular diet of  feasting on God’s word? Here are some nutritional plan suggestions to help.

One, read five chapters of the Psalms and one of Proverbs a day. For extra strength read a chapter in both the Old and New Testaments as well.

Two, purchase a subscription to Table Talk Magazine. In addition to the excellent articles and devotions in each publication, they include a reading plan for working your way through the Bible in a year. I have used this resource for years. It’s a treasure!

Three, get a one year plan for reading through the Bible like you can find here. Don’t get discouraged if you miss a day. Most of us do. Get started again as soon as you can.

But don’t go days without feasting. You’ll lose too much weight!

Rather read and meditate daily on God’s word and grow into a flourishing fruit-yielding tree!

SUPERIOR SATISFYING TASTE

Experiencing a Taste Better Than 10,000 Kinds of Food

Yesterday in Miami Dr. Marx examined the scan of my jaw now two weeks post Operation Robojaw Two. “Everything looks great,” he pronounced. And then, turning back to look me in the eye, added, “Only one more week to go.”

wires

My heart sank. I had nursed a slim home he might release the Miami Vice Grip inside my mouth a week early. Not a chance. “The bone graft is about the consistency of cardboard,” he explained. “Still needs to harden some.” Doc knows best. I kept my mouth shut. What else could I do anyway?

Honestly, the jaw wired shut thing has proven less problematic than I imagined. I could do without the sharp edges digging into my cheeks, but I quickly discovered orthodontic wax to help on that score.

The biggest deprivation? Food and its taste, of course. I posted about this from the get go. I have another week to drill down deeper on the spiritual satisfaction level through this latest episode of cancer and its dramatic impact in my life.

It’s not that I don’t get to taste anything. The choices on a liquid diet, however, are quite limited. I suspect I won’t make another smoothie for months once I can chew again.

I was reminded recently with Gordon Meier’s help, in his book Taste: My New Life Without Food, how the Bible uses the concept of taste with respect to our spiritual lives. Psalm 34:8 provides a perfect example: Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

The Hebrew word translated “taste” occurs eleven times in the Old Testament. In all but two instances it refers to literal tasting of food and drink. But two times it carries this figurative sense of experiencing something to discern its pleasantness.

Proverbs 31:18–referring to the virtuous wife–helps get the meaning of the poet in Psalm 34:8. She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night (emphasis mine).

The Psalmist invites us–actually commands us–to sample the Lord, like a sommelier sips a fine wine, to discern/perceive His surpassing excellence to our soul’s palate. Those who do, he declares, find great blessing having taken refuge in Him.

So I have another week to go without the heavenly taste of stuffed omelets, fried potatoes, grilled salmon, chocolate chip cookies, just to name a few. How does a certified foodie like me do that? He has to focus daily, by God’s grace, on the superior satisfaction of Jesus and His ultimate goodness.

Have you responded to the invitation to taste and see that the Lord is good? Why not see for yourself? Sample some of His fare from the Bible where the words are counted sweeter than honey to the mouth (Psalm 119:103). The Psalms make a great place to start tasting!

Are you experiencing some deprivation of God’s good gifts leaving you hungry and empty? Choose moving toward Him for your soul’s satisfaction for the taste so superior in every way. You’ll be blessed in the refuge He provides.

Taste and see that God is not only good; He is enough.