A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL

How Treasuring Unity Matters to a Well-Lived Gospel Life

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I remember the day this headline in the Orlando Sentinel (8.26.15, p. B4) caught my eye:

In faith and politics, angry division often eclipses joy and service.

Scott Maxwell wrote:

When Fred Hawkins Jr. looked out over the Osceola County Commission chambers last week — and saw a room full of religious leaders and activists — he was slightly depressed. That might sound strange for a man such as Hawkins: a devout, conservative Christian who begins each morning with a daily devotion. So please understand that Hawkins wasn’t bothered that religious advocates had shown up this day to protest an equal-rights ordinance that says employers and landlords can’t discriminate against gays. He was bothered that this was virtually the only time they showed up. “I’ve been on the board seven years,” Hawkins said, noting that his board discusses and debates all manner of things that Christians should care about: poverty, homelessness, education and the environment. “And they just don’t come out.” This is one of the main problems of modern-day Christianity: Religious activists make more headlines for division and anger than unity and joy. . . . Organized religion has a PR problem. . . . We could do better. . . . Boy, would that be living the Gospel—and probably attracting followers to boot.

Of course, the problem doesn’t exist just in politics outside the church; it often plagues God’s people inside the church.

It seems the church at Philippi had its own PR problem when it came to conflict in the church.

Paul even calls out by name two women apparently out of sorts with one another in Philippians 4:2.

He wrote the letter for other reasons as well, but we piece together this important occasion for writing from his multiple references to unity.

Consider the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2. He could hardly write more strongly with greater emphasis.

Let’s start with Philippians 1:27. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. How?

Jump down to the end of the verse: Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.

And then just in case we missed it, he hammers the same idea again in 2:2—complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Notice the repetition of the word mind—three times.

Get on the same page. Have the same values. Be thinking the same God-honoring, Christ-glorifying, Spirit-inspired truths designed to renew your minds and make you one (Rom. 12:2).

That he calls a life worthy of the gospel—living in unity as God’s people in His church.

A life worthy of the gospel treasures and fosters unity in Christ’s church as a non-negotiable priority.

In the next few posts, I want to answer three questions related to the priority of cultivating a culture of peace in your church—why it matters, how it works, and what it takes.

Question: What are some other Scripture passages which show the connection between the power of the gospel and striving for unity in the church?

GREAT CHURCH FIGHTS

Review of a Peacemaking Resource for Preserving Church Unity

Leslie B. Flynn’s book, Great Church Fights: What the Bible Says about Controversy and How to Resolve Ithas been on the bookshelf for some time now–Victor Books, 1976, 118 pages.

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A short read, profitable for group study as well as individual reflection, its aim gets stated early on:

All conflict in ecclesiastical life is not healthy per se. Disagreements, with their accompanying misunderstanding, hurt feelings, and competitiveness do carry the potential of destructive bitterness, but if they are properly handled through peaceable wisdom from above, they can be a constructive force for uniting the body of Christ (James 3:13-18).

The chapters following will deal with significant conflicts in the New Testament, generally in the order in which they appear in the sacred record. Consideration of the principles should help our 20th-century churches. Out of friction can arise new love and strength in the family of God (11).

Each chapter which follows deals with in turn:

  • The Acts 6 growing church dilemma where the Grecian widows went unfed.
  • The Acts 15 Jerusalem council regarding salvation by grace.
  • The Acts 15 sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark.
  • The Romans 14 instruction about disagreement over matters of conscience.
  • The 1 Corinthians 1 rebuke concerning the building of factions around personalities.
  • The 1 Corinthians 5 (other texts as well) teaching about church discipline.
  • The Galatians 2 clash between Paul and Peter about Jew/Gentile relationships.
  • The Matthew 5:23-24 call to be our brother’s keeper for peace even if it interrupts corporate worship.
  • The Philippians 4 mediation between two at odds women in the church.
  • The 3 John 9-10 counsel for dealing with leaders who think far too much of themselves.

The book rightly closes on a positive note to act as more than conquerors when conflict erupts. The way to win those inevitable church fights is to give in–to the Holy Spiritand watch Him restore unity and power to the Church (118).

Flynn writes in a most readable style. The book contains considerable biblical references as well some illustrative content which made me laugh and wince at the same time.

Given the brevity of the book, the chapters don’t go all that deep in their analysis of such important content. Why the author chose to ignore entirely Old Testament accounts of conflict–Abram and Lot (Gen. 13) or Abigail and David (1 Sam. 25)–I suppose will have to remain a secret.

Still, Flynn has given a gift to Jesus’s church. It’s worth adding to your church library or personal bookshelf. I got my used but in perfectly good shape copy for just $4 plus shipping off Amazon.

Question: What text of Scripture has helped you in the area of conflict resolution? You can leave your comment here

WHY NOT A UNITY CHARTER?

A Proposed Document for Churches Serious about Preserving Peace

Ephesians 4:3 remains the anchor verse for my blog site–eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Nothing short of our very best efforts in safeguarding unity in our congregations will suffice, if we seriously embrace the thrust behind that word eager. I plan on devoting an entire chapter to the idea in my book, The Peacemaking Church.

woman is filling document on glass table, shallow depth of field
The thought occurred to me recently, Why not fashion a church charter to foster unity’s preservation? Plenty of organizations use charters of one kind or another to shape a desired culture. Surely the church can do the same on something this crucial to her well being.

I crafted mine by making an acronym out of the word unity. Imagine posting something like this around your facility, incorporating its content in your bylaws, and/or teaching through it as part of the membership class.

OUR CHURCH’S UNITY CHARTER

We Use Means Big and Small to Maintain Unity–from potentially hosting a RW360 weekend conference to simply stocking our resource center with copies of Resolving Everyday Conflict, we put into play multiple options designed to help us keep our congregation’s culture of peace strong.

We Need Love First and Last to Maintain Unity–of all the virtues generated by the gospel’s power in our lives, we acknowledge none matters more than what Paul calls in 1 Cor. 13 the greatest–love. We measure every value, word, and action in terms of its conformity or lack thereof to the question: Is it loving?

We Imitate Models Divine and Human to Maintain Unity–as Paul appealed to the selfless example of Jesus in Phil. 2:5-11 for a mindset that looks out not only for our own interests, but also for the interest of others, we meditate often on our Lord’s incarnation for motivation in safeguarding unity. We resist objecting to such a standard as impossibly high realizing that Phil. 2:19-30 present two other “normal” individuals–Timothy and Epaphroditus–who excelled at meeting the challenge.

We Train Servants Clergy and Lay to Maintain Unity–so as to equip the saints for peacemaking excellence, we arrange for offering regular teaching on the subject using the various models provided by Peacemakers Ministries. Every pastor undergoes conflict coaching and mediation training to provide the necessary tools for handling disturbances which threaten unity in the church.

We Yield Preferences Left and Right to Maintain Unity–whether pertaining to styles of worship music or matters of conscience over which only Jesus should judge (Rom. 14:1-12) and everything in between, we rely on the gospel’s power to defer to others wherever and whenever  we possibly can. It is our joy to lay down rights with the Spirit’s help in the name of safeguarding our treasured unity.

Now I ask you: what difference might it make if your church and mine adopted such a charter for preserving unity? Your church might word things differently. Who cares?

As long as our commitments come from the Scriptures and ultimately serve the endgame–eagerly preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace–spelling out our high value of unity and the ends to which we will go to protect it can only enhance our prospects for heading off conflict before it ever happens.

Question: How might you tweak a charter of unity for your church, if you had opportunity to participate in such a stewardship? You can leave a comment here.

THE POWER OF QUESTIONS IN PEACEMAKING

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This morning I shared with Nancy, my wife, my struggle over choosing a killer title for a prospective post.  After a brief pause, she said to me, “Babe, do you think it’s safe to go there?”

I’ve learned the hard way to listen up when my bride ventures her opinion. That writing idea went home to be with Jesus in a hurry.

However, our exchange got me thinking. My wife’s approach reminded me of one of the most effective strategies do-your-best peacemakers can employ for preserving unity at home, work, church, or anywhere for that matter.

I’m talking about the power of asking questions. King Solomon wrote, The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out (Prov. 20:5).

In all my years of doing peacemaking, I’ve never known any tool more effective for drawing out someone’s heart than that of asking skillful questions. When I wade into a conflict, inevitably I ask a ton of them.

Here are five categories of peacemaking power questions to make you a better guardian of oneness in all your relationships:

Category #1 EXAMINATION QUESTIONS

Many thanks to David Powlison at CCEF for his effective word picture for examining ourselves. In any peacemaking encounter you must start first with assessing your own motives. He lists a number of these in X-Ray Questions: Discerning Functional Gods.

My favorite? What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for? Effective peacemakers remove any logs from their own eye before they ever attempt surgery on specks elsewhere (Matt. 7:3-5).

Category #2 COMMUNICATION QUESTIONS

We could cover a bunch of these. Let me give you my favorite. What did I miss? Around Orlando Grace Church our members hear me say this rather often: Never underestimate the capacity for communication to break down.

Humility dresses itself in the assumption that I may have somehow failed to get the right message (1 Pet. 5:5). Give that benefit of the doubt up front and watch peacemaking barriers fall.

Category #3 SUGGESTION QUESTIONS

These can take any number of forms depending upon the issue. The point is simple: instead of declaring a judgment, ask a question. My wife has mastered this art over the years. This morning she could have hammered me with, That’s a terrible idea!

But she would have accomplished only one thing—the opposite response she desired. Nancy ventured a question to engage me rather than put me on the defensive. Man, does it pay to marry a Matt. 10:16 woman!

Category #4 PERSUASION QUESTIONS

This may count as the money question for the peacemaking toolkit. I use it all the time. Help me understand your greatest concern about _____ ?

Just the other day it came in handy with my mom. We had locked horns over an issue for a while. After broaching the subject another time, I asked this very question with all the 5th commandment respect I could muster. I drilled down to the interest driving her position. She admitted it to me and we were off and running to a solution.

I have blogged about this essential aspect of peacemaking elsewhere. I cannot overstate the importance of its efficacy in reaching agreement with others when positions clash. Scuba dive beneath someone’s stance to discern their major interests.

Category #5 MEDIATION QUESTIONS

As with the other categories, questions helpful in assisted peacemaking take on many forms. One of my favorites resembles my persuasion question. In mediation I tweak it like this: What’s the worst thing that could happen if this deal doesn’t turn out in your favor?

James targets passions at war within us as the source of conflicts and quarrels (James 4:1). Wise mediators labor to dig deep into opponents to root out the heart idols stoking their passions.

Do you desire to excel as a preserver of peace in your relationships? Master the art of asking questions and watch your skills rise to a whole new level.

Question: What other questions have you discovered make you a better peacemaker? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

THE DILIGENT COMMITMENTS OF PEACEMAKING

StriveI use and choose the word diligent carefully. It’s all about those first three words, make every effort in Heb. 12:14. The ESV translates the Greek, strive. It means to run after something or follow someone. Luke 17:23 uses it literally where Jesus warns His disciples about the danger of following after false teachers. The commentator Matthew Poole cast it as a fierce, unwearied, constant pursuit.

It makes for a fitting synonym for a huge word in Eph. 4:3—eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In Hebrews 12:14 it functions as the main verb, a present tense command—continually, keep on striving—and, as such, colors three commitments the writer prescribes as necessary for us to run the race with endurance (Heb. 12:1-2). The three commitments are—peace with all, holiness before God, and care of believers. In this post, I want to address just the first.

Commitment #1: Peace with all (14a). Make every effort to live in peace with everyone. Remember that this letter was written to persecuted believers in the first century. They were largely Jewish people who had left behind their Old Covenant ways. They had decided to follow Jesus as members of the New Covenant inaugurated by His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Dr. Donald Barnhouse used to say: Hebrews was written to the Hebrews to tell the Hebrews they were no longer to be Hebrews.

The writer sent the letter to exhort them to go the distance—make the finish line as followers of Jesus, their great High Priest (Heb. 8:1). Persecution, even of the most extreme kind, does not take the church and her people off the hook from pursuing the blessedness of the peacemaker (Matt. 5:9).

What’s striking in my mind in this verse is the scope of the call to peacemaking—with everyone. What does he have in mind? I think everyone means just that, everyone, even our persecutors! Why do I say that? For one thing, the way Jesus taught in Matt. 5:44-45.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Consider as well the way Paul taught in generalities in Gal. 6:10: So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (emphasis added). But note also how Paul exhorted in specifics related to peacemaking as a way of doing good in Rom. 12:18: If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all (emphasis added). He simply allowed for no exceptions in calling us to peacemaking.

Richard Phillips, in his commentary on Hebrews, cites a story related by Watchman Nee in order to illustrate this point:

A Christian who had a rice field on a hill had to hand-work a pump to bring water up from the irrigation stream that ran at the base of the hill. Beneath him was a neighbor who made a hole in the dividing wall so that when the Christian tried to pump water into his field it drained down into the neighbor’s. The Christian became understandably frustrated at this repeated theft. Consulting his Christian friends he asked, “What shall I do? I have tried to be patient and not retaliate. Isn’t it right for me to confront him?” The Christians prayed, and then one of them noted that as Christians they surely had a duty to seek more than justice for themselves, but to live in such a way as to be a blessing to others. Armed with this advice, the Christian pursued a different strategy. The next day he went out and first pumped water into his neighbor’s fields and then went on to do the additional labor for watering his own fields. Before long, this procedure brought the neighbor out to ask why the Christian would act in this way, and as a result of the relationship that ensued the neighbor became a Christian himself (p. 556).

Even the persecuted church has peacemaking commitments incumbent upon it as it runs the race set before it, nothing short of peace with all. How much more do the diligent commitments to peacemaking apply to us who enjoy so little in the way of costs for our faith here in the west?

Have you omitted someone from your peacemaking agenda for whatever reason? You may want to reconsider their oversight in light of the all/everyone scope so painfully clear in a passage like this.

After all, if you are a Christian, even when you were His enemy, Jesus made very effort to make peace with you (Rom. 5:10).

THE CHURCH IS NO CRUISE SHIP

THE CHURCH IS NO CRUISE SHIP

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Cruising.

Never imagined I would do it. Then a buddy of mine who loves me more than I deserve made me an offer I simply could not refuse. “I’ll pay your fare for a weekender; you buy Nancy’s.” What’s a pastor to do? After all, the brother attends my church. No way I wanted to give offense.

It only took that one time. Sold American. We’ve cruised two other wonderful times in the past. The last-minute deals made for a terribly cost-effective vacation. Talk about the pampering treatment. From the moment you board to the day you disembark, the staff waits on you hand and foot. Your every need gets met 24/7.

So why go on about vacationing on a boat in a pastor’s blog? Blame it on Tara Klena Barthel and Judy Dabler. For researching my book-in-progress, The Peacemaking Church: the Best Church Fight Is the One Yours Never Has, I’m reading through those ladies’ book, Peacemaking Women: Biblical Hope for Resolving Conflict (Baker, 2005). Spot on stuff. Would love for the women of my church to get their hands on this valuable resource.

In their chapter on the church, the authors use the analogy of the cruising experience to describe how some folks view church. They frame it as looking to the church to meet our felt needs. Do that, they argue, and expect trouble for sure in the fellowship:

Church conflict escalates when we look to the church to meet our felt needs and something happens to disappoint us. For example, a common cause of conflict in the Peacemakingwomenchurch involves the mind-set many people have that church is like a cruise ship. When we have this view of the body of Christ, we expect everything in the church to be conveniently tailored to our wants and desires. Our expectation is that we will be served, cared for, and entertained by professionals whose sole focus is our happiness. Of course, this misguided mind-set leads us to view people in the church as resources for our comfort rather than valuable members of one body who both need us and are needed by us. As a result, we neither love nor serve them well. In fact, when our expectations are disappointed, we engage in destructive gossip, criticism, and bickering. Instead of keeping careful confidences and protecting members, we often speak ill of others. Church conflict–a terrible witness to the watching world–is the frequent result (209-210).

If you’re looking for a great vacation and can catch just the right deal, then you may well want to consider taking a cruise.

If you’re looking to do church in a way that eagerly preserves the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3), then lose the cruise mind-set fast. Arm yourself rather with a body-mindset where members have the same care for one another  (1 Cor. 12:25b).

A Dead Guy’s Take on Idol Smashing

expulsive powerIn our Resolving Everyday Conflict class last Sunday, the video lesson made mention of a helpful resource for ridding ourselves of the idols that often lie at the root of our conflicts.

I promised I would post a link to the sermon manuscript by Thomas Chalmers entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” A bit long and dense, perhaps requiring more than one reading, it is well worth the time and effort.

Here is how Amazon summarizes the treatise:

Dr. Chalmers states that “It is seldom that any of our tastes are made to disappear by a mere process of natural extinction,” and “the heart must have something to cling to—and never, by its own voluntary consent, will it so denude itself of all its attachments.” Therefore the superior affection for God through the free Gospel of Christ is necessary to displace worldly affections. This sermon, written by one of the foremost minds of his day, has become seminal for modern thought.

Check it out and happy idol smashing.

The ABCs of REC

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So no doubt you get the idea behind the ABCs. The basics. The starting place. The fundamentals. To quote Coach Lombardi of Green Bay Packer’s fame on opening day of summer camp: “Gentleman, this is a football.”

What in the world is REC? Resolving Everyday Conflict.

RECLast Sunday we began a journey at OGC of working through this study by Peacemaker Ministries. It aims to help us navigate the troubled waters of inevitable conflict in relationships in a redemptive way. If you missed session one, you are more than welcome to join us this Sunday at 9:30 AM for part two.

In session one I did my peacemaking version of “this is a football.” I covered the ABCs of REC. Ready?

A – awareness of one’s heart. Two key texts anchored our study. James 4:1-3 gives us this building block of the ABCs.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 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. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

To deal with the symptom you have to know the cause. James makes it plain. Passions, cravings, idols of the hearts, often good things that become god things and end up bad things more than not turn disagreements into relational war. So stand guard over your heart from the get go. Be suspicious of your own desires-turned-demands that throw gasoline on the disagreement fire.

B – burdened for others’ interests. Philippians 2:3-4 shape this fundamental.

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.

Paul assumes we will do the self-interest part of the equation. What he pleads is that we will give the same level of concern to what drives others in our conflicts. It’s not an either/or proposition; it’s a both/and one.

C – consumed with Jesus’ mindset. Paul tells the rest of the story in Philippians 2:5-11.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Imagine that. He points us to the gospel – Jesus sacrificially humbled on the cross, then gloriously exalted in the heavens. Jesus sets the pace for us. He puts the bar high by His own example. But that alone will never get us to a place of concerned deferral to others even sacrificially. Please note. A mind like this, one that looks out for interests of others to such a sacrificial degree, is yours in Christ Jesus. That’s what he wrote. It’s our very own possession. Because we are in Christ we have the supernatural strength to elude the grip of selfishness and travel the way of others-interests. That’s terribly good news.

These are the ABCs of REC. How’s your grade lately in the school of conflict resolution? Maybe you could use some remedial tutoring? Hope to see you Sunday.

Keys to Counseling Success

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Over the years I’ve logged my share of hours on the therapist’s couch. At different seasons, biblical counseling has played a huge role in my life. Lord knows I’ve needed it.

But not every counseling experience was created equal in terms of its profit and degree of change. I suspect that had more to do with me than with the various counselors.

peacemaking for familiesI wish I had been armed, during those peel-back-the-layers-of-the-onion days, with five principles I just read about this evening. They come from one of my favorite authors and friend, Ken Sande. He wrote a book in cooperation with Tom Raabe called Peacemaking for Families: A Biblical Guide for Managing Conflict in Your Home (Tyndale, 2002, 224 pages).

In it, he particularly focuses on marital conflict (though he includes chapters on conflict with children as well) and ways to ensure getting the most benefit from pursuing marriage counseling, assuming you find a solid biblical counselor, of course. Here they are:

  1. Focus on your own responsibilities (Matt. 7:3-5). Among the many drums Ken beats, none sounds louder than the call to get the log out of your own eye. Don’t go into counseling assuming your spouse has the corner on the sinful market. Sincerely pray with each session, “God, please improve my marriage, starting with me.”
  2. Go to the heart of your problems (James 4:1-3). Don’t just focus on surface issues; scuba dive for the heart idols (desires-turned-into-demands) that ultimately control the heart and undermine a marriage. Sinful patterns will give way far more likely with that strategy than they ever will with mere behavior modification.
  3. Third, remember the gospel (Romans 1:16). Oh, I forgot. Here’s a drum Ken bangs on even more than the second “G.” Good thing too. Fix your eyes at every turn on the One who died, was buried and rose again. He alone has the power to set us free from the old ways and help us put on the new ones of love and respect in a marriage.
  4. Ask for prayer support and accountability from within your church (James 5:16). Marriage counseling constitutes a form of spiritual warfare given the formidable foes, like our idols, that we seek to defeat. Such things give way to the fervent, righteous prayers of God’s people. Ask people to lay down intercessory prayer cover for you.
  5. Persevere. On this note, he writes:

Most marriages get into trouble as a result of attitudes and habits that have developed over a long period of time, some of which preceded your wedding day. Since these problems took a long time to develop, they usually take a good deal of time and effort to resolve. Therefore, make a commitment to keep working as long as it takes to overcome problems that threaten your marriage, even if that means an extended season of counseling (p. 179).

Now that’s good counsel.