THE GOAL OF THE KISS OF LOVE

How Aiming for Restoration Fuels the Kiss of Love

goals

Does your church have goals? The apostle Paul prescribed an important peacemaking one for the church at Corinth in 2 Cor. 13:11. Aim for restoration.

Recently I’ve been writing about the kiss of love (1 Pet. 5:14) as a gospel grace for guarding unity in the church.

In the first post I explained how the gospel shapes our community with oneness when we engage one another intentionally by greeting with the holy kiss of love.

In the second post I emphasized how rejoicing in the Lord is the first of four things Paul proposes for motivating the practice of greeting one another with a holy kiss.

Another factor in guarding unity through practicing gospel greeting is setting our church sights high for what Paul calls “restoration.” This matters a great deal for all churches but especially for those marred by a history of conflict.

Aim for restoration. He used a form of the same word back in v. 9. Your restoration is what we pray for.

The idea behind the word is to be made complete, whole, perfect in the sense of mature, put thoroughly in order. It’s used in the gospels for the mending of nets and in the culture for setting a fractured bone.

The same root appears in Eph. 4:11-12 concerning the role of gifted people in the church to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry so that the body can be made whole and mature.

See also Gal. 6:1-2 where it applies to helping restore spiritually someone trapped in sin. We might translate it mend your ways.

The Corinthian community lacked in so many ways. Paul exhorts them to set their aim high at cleaning up their act. Make right the wrongs. Get their ducks in a row. For just one example, consider 2 Cor. 12:20.

For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.

Now there was a church with a lot of work to do in cultivating a culture of peace! Paul exhorts them not to settle for such a distorted form of community but to aim for something far superior.

In my next post I will share a number of concrete ways a church can aim at the perfect in this all important virtue in our gospel-shaped community.

You won’t likely offer the holy kiss of love to some member of the body you’re fighting with. You’re more likely to hide from them in the cave so as not to even make eye contact.

God help us to aim higher!

 

JOY & THE KISS OF LOVE

How Rejoicing in God Fuels Greeting with Love

hugs

I married a hugger.

Jan loves to greet folks she knows with a warm embrace. She’s just about the best example I know of someone who takes seriously the Bible’s command to greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Cor. 13:12). She’s turned me into more of a hugger!

In my last post I wrote about the kiss of love (1 Pet. 5:14) as a gospel grace for guarding unity in the church. The gospel shapes our community with oneness when we engage one another intentionally by greeting with the holy kiss of love.

The way I see Paul’s flow in the argument makes me think we most likely will embrace his command in 12, or some modern-day, culturally appropriate version thereof, IF we take seriously and obey all five of his rapid-fire, staccato, summary-of-the-book imperatives in 2 Cor. 13:11.

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

I call them five virtues which must be operative in a gospel-shaped community if it’s going to show genuine, holy intimacy in relationships: rejoicing in the Lord, aiming at the perfect, submitting to the leadership, agreeing on the truth, and striving for the peace.

The first is rejoicing in the Lord. Finally, brothers, rejoice. Some translations have farewell. And it can mean that. The Greek word became a familiar form of greeting and parting in the New Testament world.

But the word literally is, as rendered by the ESV, the word for rejoice. Paul ends the same way in Phil 3:1 – Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord and Phil. 4:4 – Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Paul made it very clear in the opening of the letter, 2 Cor. 1:24, of his priority agenda in this regard – we work with you for your joy.

This way of saying hello and/or goodbye doesn’t differ all that much from the Jewish salutation shalom. Peace be to you. It conveys a certain sentiment, blessing, and hope for the party given the greeting.

It is decidedly vertical in its trajectory, for the object of rejoicing isn’t in one’s circumstances which vary substantially, but in God who always remains the same and always works all things together for a believer (Rom. 8:28).

People grounded in the bedrock theology of God’s sovereignty that contributes a deep running current of joy in His control of everything best fight against anxiety and more often than not bear the fruit of the Spirit that is joy (Gal. 5:22-23).

And because they keep their eyes on Jesus on the throne and the certainty of His love in the gospel, they possess a power to rejoice even in suffering and touch others with tangible, holy forms of intimacy rather than drown in a sea of self-pity that ignores the needs of others.

What greater need do we have than to be loved by others?

Consider giving more attention to your greeting ways in the church fueled by your rejoicing ways in God.

How To Be the Church When the Pastor Can’t Be the Pastor

 

Just Jawful

Ever since my jaw fracture forced me to the pastoral sidelines, I’ve given some thought to this question. How can a pastor’s extended absence from his church result in their greater good? In hopes the saints at OGC might actually thrive, not just survive, my health hiatus, I offer these Scripture verses as essential principles for being the church when the pastor can’t be the pastor:

  1. Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3). Stay anchored in the sovereignty of God. My mandible misery is no accident. His plan for His church to soldier on for the time being without me is precisely that–His plan.
  2. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28). This season–8 hour surgery, week-long hospital stay, and all the rest of it–abounds with good in it for me, my bride, as well as my church. For example, some things God can only do in his servant by laying him out. He can get your attention on the bench in ways you never realize in the game. The benefits of the trial accumulate by the day for me. Keep your eyes open similarly for yourself.
  3. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Pet. 2:25). Just like I remind everybody on day one of each Discover OGC membership class–I am NOT the senior pastor; Jesus is. Only one pastor holds the title “Chief Shepherd.” And He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. Church, you always have Jesus.
  4. So I exhort the elders among you (1 Pet. 5:1a, emphasis added). This balances number 3. God does give to His church pastors and teachers to shepherd them (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Sometimes we need Jesus with skin on. But in wisdom He rests the pastoral load on a plurality of elders. You almost always find the word in the plural form in the New Testament. No church benefits by relying excessively on one leader. God has plans through my leave both to grow our other elders in their ministries and increase your legitimate reliance on their pastoral role in your life.
  5. And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-12). This piggybacks on number 4. Pastors don’t exist just to tend the saints’ spiritual needs; they have a calling to equip the saints for spiritual ministry. Church, the body of OGC needs every single one of you more than ever! Are you in the game or riding the pines on the sideline (assuming you have a choice)? Where are you bringing your spiritual gift(s) to bear on others in community (1 Pet. 4:10-11)? When you see a need in the body, are you asking the Lord how you possibly might be the one to meet it?
  6. For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance (Phil. 1:19). I can think of no better place to end. My circumstances differ from Paul’s to be sure. But my need for your prayers and Jesus’ help doesn’t. May our heightened sense of need in this hard providence at the outset of 2016 cause us to seek His face like never before.

Lord willing, Jesus plans to restore me to the work at Orlando Grace before too long.

I look forward to coming back with a better-than-ever jaw and church to go with it. And that largely because you have been the church when this pastor could not be your pastor.

Ownership

ownership

That’s my word for 2015, at least in terms of my pastoral role.

I hope to pray about ownership.

I hope to model ownership (the cancer battle notwithstanding).

I hope to preach on ownership.

I hope to exhort about ownership.

I hope to counsel about ownership.

I hope to rebuke (in love, of course) when I encounter lack of ownership.

I hope to disciple in ownership.

I hope to teach about ownership.

In short, I hope to eat, drink, and sleep ownership as a covenant member of a local church  AND challenge others do the same.

Why wave the banner of OWNERSHIP over Orlando Grace in the New Year? Does a text like Acts 2:42-47 suggest we should do anything less?

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

I doubt the church of Jesus Christ has seen since any greater demonstration of ownership to her mission than it did in those early New Testament days. Notice the word “devoted.” Literally it means “to be strong toward.” These folks had a passion for certain things that drew them together. Teaching, fellowship, worship, hospitality, generosity. They constantly flexed their spiritual muscles in these virtues of community. The impact in the city of Jerusalem was so profound  that God did the adding of souls to His church through their what? Ownership.

Tomorrow begins another year of ministry at Orlando Grace Church. Will we as covenant members “own” our community like never before? I pray we will. We can start by those who are able joining the prayer team at 8:30 AM in the conference room. We can continue by jamming the three new equipping hour electives (spiritual disciplines, resolving everyday conflict, and systematic theology I) at 9:30 AM. And we can peak with spirit and truth worship and praise at 10:45. We can overflow by taking lunch together, including invitations to new people God brings our way.

Let 2015 be a year of ownership like never before for our joy and His glory.

The 10:45 AM Sunday Challenge

Clocks

Let me own up front that I am a punctuality freak. I hate to be late for anything.

So I am trying to check my idolatry/control issues up front in raising this question: could more of us church folk strive to be seated for worship at the very latest by the appointed starting time?

I get how hard this is. In our case, fifteen minutes is too little time between hours. Fellowship goes on in the lobby. Community takes place. There are no easy solutions.

But I want to suggest that the values gained by making the transition into the service in a punctual fashion outweigh those lost by doing so.

First, the missional value. Most new people will go right to a seat rather than linger in the lobby. Scanning the room for unfamiliar faces and greeting them has a powerful impact for the gospel.

Second, the community value. I know it’s tempting to think so, but announcements aren’t throw away time in a worship service. Important details about how we engage as members and do mission in our city get covered then.

Third, the worship value. Getting the heart in the right place before corporate worship takes at least a little focus time. Once the service is over, we can go hard after people. Before the service, going hard after God in preparation is a must. One reason why we do a call to worship song at 10:45 is to help with this challenge. Next time you hear that cue, please consider it a nudge to shift gears toward the welfare of the whole not just the individual. Better yet, be mindful of the time and take a seat before that cue.

We pastors everywhere thank you church goers for giving this some prayerful thought.

Ten Reasons NOT to Become a Church Member

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Sometimes I feel woefully inadequate persuading good-for-nothing-brick types to join a local church through positive arguments. For this post I decided to try the reverse psychology approach with ten good reasons why someone would NOT want to join a local church.

One, you should not become a church member if you do not want your profession of faith in Jesus to be evaluated and deemed credible or not by a body of believers charged with determining, with God’s help, who really does belong to the King as opposed to who might just be fooling himself (Matt. 7:21-23).

Two, you should not become a church member if want to avoid any of the inevitable “one another” commitments of the New Testament that find their fullest and best expression in covenant community (John 13:14).

Three, you should not become a church member if you think participation in the ordinary means of grace – the preached word and the sacraments – are somehow optional in the Christian life (Heb. 10:24-25).

Four, you should not become a church member if you want to maintain complete control over your finances such that you feel no obligation to support the local ministry from which you receive ministry and experience community (Gal. 6:6).

Five, you should not become a church member if any of the idols of your heart have such a grasp upon you that you fear exposure by rubbing shoulders more intimately with other members of the body of Christ (Heb. 3:12-13).

Six, you should not become a church member if the idea of submitting to anyone’s authority gives you the willies and that you might be held accountable to the commitments covenant members make as a part of church membership (Matt. 18:15-20).

Seven, you should not become a church member if you prefer to sit on the sidelines of the church and bury your gifts in the ground for fear of the what the Lord might require of you in terms of ministering to others (1 Pet. 4:10-11).

Eight, you should not become a church member if the tyranny of busyness so controls you that you can’t imagine fitting another thing, no matter how important, into your schedule (Eph. 5:16).

Nine, you should not become a church member if the only world that concerns you is within your own four walls and that obeying a commission to take the gospel to the unreached people groups of the world and/or the folks where you live, work, and play don’t register on the radar screen of your life (Matt. 28:18-20).

Ten, you should not become a church member if you don’t want to belong to the one entity God has ordained to put His glorious plan and purposes on display before all things invisible (Eph. 3:10).

The Church & Infertility

infertility11

I don’t pretend to get this. Nancy and I never suffered the trial of infertility. We have known and know even now dear brothers and sisters humbling themselves under the mighty hand in this journey (1 Peter 5:6-7). We see the hurt. We feel the pain. We ache with the longings that go unfulfilled. Still, without walking a mile in those shoes, it makes it tough to identify as well as one might wish.

Jeff Cavanaugh has written a helpful blog post on this subject for the Gospel Coalition. He speaks from his own agonizing experience. It opened my eyes as to how the church can powerfully comfort but also unwittingly afflict folks bearing up under their inability to conceive. He explains:

I’m painting a bleak picture of infertility here, I know. There is no way to ignore how painful it is. It’s certainly the biggest trial my wife and I have ever faced, individually or together. But God has used this trial to grow us spiritually and demonstrate his love for us in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. And the church—that network of loving, supportive, prayerful relationships we have in Christ’s body—has been used by God to comfort and sustain us and others like us.

That’s not to say relationships in the church are easy when you’re struggling with infertility. Those aforementioned feelings of isolation and alienation are real. Friends in the church have seemed thoughtless at times, not considering how things they say might be hurtful; at other times they’ve been awkward, aware of our struggles but at a loss for what to say. Often the strain has been entirely our own fault—we’ve promised in our church covenant to “rejoice at each other’s happiness and endeavor with tenderness and sympathy to bear each other’s burdens and sorrows,” but sometimes jealousy and bitterness sap our motivation to do any rejoicing or accept any comfort.

Naturally I long for my church and all gospel-grounded ministries to act like the comforting network described in paragraph one. However, I realize too readily how easily we can miss the boat messing up as in paragraph two.

I encourage an entire reading of “How the Church Makes the Trial of Infertility Better (Or Worse).”

May Jesus and His gospel enlarge our hearts to enter the struggles of saints battling this hard providence as well as a host of others as we have opportunity.

To Retreat or Not To Retreat?

MensRetreat

That is indeed the question for this weekend. Another men’s retreat is upon us. The answer to the question for me is a no brainer. Retreat, of course. And not just because my role as pastor requires it. I would like to think I would make our men’s retreat a priority for a variety of reasons.

However, one stands out to me more than others. Proverbs 27:17 – Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Why invest twenty-four hours with a bunch of brothers from my church? Because isolation makes PC a dull blade. Before I skin a deer in Idaho, I sharpen my knife with a whetstone. Why? The tool works a whole lot better in an otherwise tedious process. The Bible says brothers hanging with brothers doing gospel life and talking gospel things makes men sharp for life. I’m dull enough without skipping a main means God employs for my sharpening.

Charles Bridges, in his classic commentary on the book of Proverbs explains:

ironsharpensiron“Man was framed not for solitude, but for society (Gen. 2:18). It is only as a social being, that his powers and affections are fully expanded. . . . Steel, whetted against a knife, sharpens the edge. So the collision of different minds whets each the edge of the other. . . . In the sympathies of friendship, when the mind is dull, and the countenance overcast, a word from a friend puts an edge upon the blunted energy, and exhilarates the countenance. . . . Gladly let us take up the bond of brotherhood.”

To retreat or not to retreat? How do you answer the question? Say yes this weekend and gladly take up the bond of brotherhood.

Moved by a “Moving Church”

minivan

One of my favorite ministries is Voice of the Martyrs. They offer a free subscription to their monthly newsletter describing the plight of the persecuted church of Jesus around the globe. You can subscribe here. I encourage you to do so. The perspective God will give your own suffering is something you will not regret. And you will know better how to remember your brothers and sisters in chains (Heb. 13:3).

This month’s issue contains a brief article entitled, A “Moving Church” in Central Asia.” It gives an account of a city in one of the most religiously restrictive nations in that part of the world where the Christian population shrank to just 70 people after many fled relentless government persecution. It then explains how believers there found a creative way to practice their faith.

One pastor who had been under intense scrutiny from authorities thought of an inventive way to provide for his congregation. They couldn’t hold meetings in a set location, and many believers were afraid to be seen attending a meeting. With assistance from VOM, Pastor “Ramil” purchased a minivan that soon became known as the Moving Church.

On Meeting day, Ramil picks up four to six believers in the van. They sing, pray, read Scriptures and listen to teaching by Ramil or one of his elders as they drive around the city. After two hours, he drops the group off and picks up another small group of Christians. He does this throughout the week so all the believers under his care receive spiritual nourishment, fellowship and encouragement.

This account of ingenuity under duress moves me on multiple levels. Among other things it inspires me to want to serve my own people with greater zeal and devotion. Pastor Ramil clearly understands what it means to shepherd well the flock entrusted to his care.

Additionally it makes me want to find some way better to help those living under freedom to give up a nonchalant attitude about meeting in community for worship and fellowship. More often than I care to admit I confront a take-it-or-leave-it mentality when it comes to church attendance. The Scripture exhorts us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:24-25). With texts like that it makes me wonder how professing believers can treat the Word and the Table as optional.

Are you reading this and must admit that you are AWOL on your covenant member commitments at your local church? Worse yet, that you don’t belong to any gospel-treasuring community of believers? May I encourage you to let the “Moving Church” of Central Asia spur you on to love and good deeds such that you get a move on toward joining/rejoining a body of believers? If not, you might as well take a knife and cut Hebrews 10:24-25 out of your Bible.

The Killing Disease Among Men

That’s what Stu Weber in his book The Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart (Multnomah, 1997, 286 pages) calls isolation.

He writes: The tendency toward rock-ribbed, self-sufficient isolation is a killing disease among men. It’s as common as prostate cancer and every bit as destructive to life (p. 225).

Overstatement? I’m not sure. More than one man has shipwrecked on the shores of independence and loneliness. The verdict of Scripture is plain. It is not good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil (Ecc. 4:9). Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another (Prov. 27:17). Every man needs an armor bearer – at least one (1 Sam. 14:1ff).

Men, do you want to ward off this killing disease? There are all sorts of ways to prevent it. May I suggest than one is coming to our annual retreat on Nov. 16 & 17? Dr. Richard Parker will bring substantive, biblically-saturated messages on running the race well to the finish line. We will have opportunity to connect, deepen relationships, and initiate friendships. Scholarship funds are available if a lack of funds stands in your way.

Go to the Recharge website and register today! The price goes up this Monday, please be advised.