HOW KING DAVID WOULD LEAD IN A PANDEMIC

Three Musts for Guiding Others in Crisis

 

In contemplating a blog post somehow helpful in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, my thoughts turned to Psalm 131.

There may be no other text I use more frequently in pastoral care for people making war on worry. Charles Spurgeon rightly called it “a short ladder rising to a great height.”

King David, the shepherd/leader of Israel, authored it. It has much to offer for leaders and followers alike suffering through a pandemic.

Psalm 78:72 says this of David: With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand. That hand is all over Psalm 131.

And it is Godward in every way.

I see here three aspects of Godward aim in leadership through a crisis.

A Mindset of Learned Humility before God (1a).

My heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high.

He makes a genuine confession about the condition of his heart. It’s lowly, humble. He has just the right perspective before the Lord.

David entertains no delusions of grandeur about himself. He suffers no illusions of over-inflated self-importance, even though God anointed him as Israel’s shepherd king.

Notice the way that translates into a word picture in the next line.

My eyes are not raised too high.

The trajectory of one’s eyes reveals the condition of one’s heart. He won’t permit what Prov. 6:16-17 calls haughty eyes.

That begs the question—how might we self-diagnose pride? Read on.

A Manner of Composed Rest on God (1b-2).

Whatever historical vantage point of hard providences from which David learned this, he eventually grew in his spiritual maturity to a point where in the face of the most difficult circumstances he made a consistent choice.

I do not occupy myself with things too marvelous for me.

The Hebrew word for occupy comes from a root which means to walk.

When David bumped up against challenges too marvelous, he refused to walk in them. He wouldn’t go down that road obsessing over what he couldn’t control.

He refused an arrogance that wigged out over stuff above his pay grade. That’s how I unpack the word marvelous.

Proverbs 30:18 is enormously helpful in getting at the meaning here: Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand.

Perhaps the best translation is the word difficult. I do not trouble myself with things too great and difficult for me.

John Calvin favored things too high for me.

Jim Boice captured the thrust this way:

What David seems to be concerned about in this verse is . . . peering into the hidden purposes of God. . . . He is saying he had learned that he did not have to understand everything God was doing in his life or know when he would do it. All he really had to do was trust God.

So what might that look like if we embraced the same humility and resolve? Verse 2. I have calmed and quieted my soul.

The word for calmed gives us another visual image to help with its meaning. Literally, I have smoothed and quieted by soul.

David testifies to making a choice that likens his composure to a smooth-as-glass-lake at dawn’s first light. But he wants to focus our attention on a more vivid, emphatic word picture to drive home the point here.

Like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.

This is such a powerful image!

A post-weaning child acts very differently around its mother’s breast than a famished pre-weaning child. It is almost comical to watch infants go berserk anticipating latching on to mom’s milk.

But once weaned, it’s a whole different matter. When it comes time for snuggling―nothing but restfulness and contentment.

David testifies that his learned humility works its way out in his life by a consistent choice of weaned-childlike composure, a manner which rests calmly at every turn on the bedrock sovereignty of God’s providence in all things.

This is an Isa. 26:3-4 calm.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

It’s a John 14:1 Jesus’ perspective/resolve. Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

Leaders must learn this. Followers need this example played out consistently, not perfectly—no one does that—but as a rule regularly demonstrated even in the most troubling of circumstances.

Few of Oswald Chamber’s devotional writings have hit me harder than this one:

Fussing always ends in sin. We imagine that a little anxiety and worry are an indication of how really wise we are; it is much more an indication of how really wicked we are. Fretting springs from a determination to get our own way. . . . Have you been bolstering up that stupid soul of yours with the idea that your circumstances are too much for God? Put all “supposing” on one side and dwell in the shadow of the Almighty. Deliberately tell God that you will not fret about that thing. All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God.

A Message of Sustained Hope in God.

Don’t miss the shift in David’s focus here.

He moves from talking directly with I AM in vv. 1-2 to exhorting God’s people here in v. 3.

His message?

O Israel, hope in the Lord.

Do as your shepherd/king does.

Bow before God. Rest on God. Hope in God.

When? ALWAYS.

From this time for the and forevermore.

Never, ever give up on Him.

We really should read Psalm 131 and Psalm 130 in tandem. David repeats the plea of the psalmist in verse 7.

O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, with him is plentiful redemption.

Pastors, if we have anything at all to say to our people caring for aging/ailing parents, waiting for prodigals on the run, agonizing over conflicted relationships, working through difficult diagnoses, fighting against cunning and baffling addictions, grieving over heart-breaking loss, worrying about the next election cycle, bemoaning the Dow Jones in freefall, freaking out over a rampaging novel virus, and countless other too great, marvelous, difficult, and high providences, let our message ever be this:

O dear ones, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore!

Take your people again and again to texts like Rom. 5:3-5.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Point them relentlessly to the counsel with massive promise found in Phil. 4:6-7.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Help them—to borrow from Pastor John Piper’s words—to know contentment of soul that is based not on their circumstances, but on their unshakable restfulness in God.

Whether you’re a leader or not, you may be thinking, I want this, but I struggle so with anxiety. By default, I’m a fear-based person.

What should you do?

Respond to Jesus’ standing invitation in Matt. 11:28-30.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Take your cue from and live in the strength of the One who agonized in Gethsemane at the prospect of the cross, but chose not to occupy himself with its degree difficulty by choosing the calm of “Not my will but yours be done.”

He died for every last strand of yours and my wicked fussing and sent His Spirit to live in our hearts with His supernatural peace.

Repent, believe the gospel, and trust and obey once again.

Humble, composed, hopeful—indispensable qualifications all, fit for shepherd/kings, presidents, pastors and their followers.

HOW TO SPOIL YOUR PASTORS

Ten Ways to Treat Shepherds That Safeguards Peace

Spoil them? Really? I never imagined writing such a post. It seems rather self-serving for a pastor like me to post an article like this. But my experience last week changed things.

Along with several other men from our church, I attended this year’s Shepherds’ Conference in LA. I gotta tell ya. Those guys pampered this pastor from start to finish.

They paid my way, made me ride shotgun in the vehicles, waited in line to save a primo seat in sessions for me, got me some coffee and food, sprang for some books, and even bought me a gorgeous all-leather messenger bag! They insisted the economy canvas version I had purchased wouldn’t do.

If all that didn’t blow me away, they then catered to my request to leave the venue early on the last night to livestream the final message back at the hotel. That meant I/we could get to bed at a decent hour for the marathon travel day ahead.

Good grief, I felt loved!

OK, so “spoiled” may be a bit over the top, but I can make a biblical case for contributing significantly to your pastors’ joy.

After all, they are God’s gift to your church (Eph. 4:11-12). You are commanded to follow in a way that serves their leadership happiness (Heb. 13:17). And they exist to work with you for your joy (2 Cor. 1:24).

Here are ten ways you can “spoil” your pastors in the interest of eagerly preserving church unity (Eph. 4:1-3).

One, pray for them (2 Thess. 3:1). If you do anything on this list, do this. A family in Orlando still prays for me DAILY, even though I stopped shepherding them over a year ago!

Two, obey and submit to them (1 Cor. 16:16; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:5). Or to put it as the Greek imperatives suggest, cultivate an easily led disposition.

Three, respect, honor, and esteem them very highly in love (1 Thess. 5:12-13). Their work demands this–see chapter 9 in The Peacemaking Church.

Four, pay them well (Rom. 16:1-2; Gal. 6:6; 1 Tim. 5:17-18). Give toward your vocational elders’ adequate financial support. No ox-muzzling please!

Five, protect them from false accusations (1 Tim. 5:19). When someone takes aim, refuse to entertain charges without sufficient witnesses.

Six, when necessary, practice biblical peacemaking with them (1 Tim. 5:20). Tough love–that’s what that is.

Seven, refresh and encourage them (1 Cor. 16:18; 2 Tim. 1:16-17). Think of the myriad of ways to do this from writing a note of appreciation (aim for ten affirmations per one constructive criticism) to treating them to a meal and more.

Eight, imitate their godly example (1 Cor. 11:1; Heb. 13:7). What shepherd doesn’t do cartwheels of joy when that happens?

Nine, partner with them in the ministry (Phil. 4:2-3). Don’t sit on the bench! Get in the game by using your spiritual gift (1 Pet. 4:10-11).

Ten, look out for their interests (Phil. 2:3-4). They are attending to yours. Return the gospel favor.

If God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor. 9:7)–and surely he does–then God loves a cheerful pastor too.

You can make a difference in your pastors’ joy and not just during Pastoral Appreciation Month every October.

Spoil on, sheep!

Question: What’s an idea you have for “spoiling” pastors?

TAKE HEED OF A PRIVATE SPIRIT

A Puritan’s Exhortation to War Together for Church Unity

Afraid of the dark

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a word, Christian.

Your enemy hunts you and your army.

You are safest in a body.

Keep your rank and file.

We ARE our brother’s keeper.

Take heed of a private spirit!

 

88 YEARS & FOUR MORE THANKS

Doing the 5th Commandment on Dad’s Birthday

Dad Motorcycle

 

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

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

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

84 Years and 84 Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CHURCH CONFLICT 101 A

All or Nothing or Both/And Wrong in Conflict?

I blame you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BROTHER’S KEEPER

A Peacemaking Tune by Rich Mullins

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS

A Message at Crosswalk Church in Daytona Beach, Florida

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

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

Fair warning–the video above is relatively long.

My friend begins with a gracious and very kind introduction.

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

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

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

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

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

HEADED BACK EAST

Info About a Peacemaking Speaking Engagement

Biblical phrase from matthew gospel, blessed are the peacemakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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