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

cruikseship

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

ABC

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

counseling couch

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.

To Partake or Not To Partake

communion

Every first Sunday of the month I wrestle with the same question – how to “fence” the Table? By that I mean what precautions do I prescribe for folks who want to take Communion? Clearly this is advisable given the Bible’s warning that to eat and drink unworthily is to invite the severest kind of judgment (1 Cor. 11:27-30).

The first is easy. Don’t partake if you’re not a devoted follower of Jesus. This means of grace applies to those who treasure Jesus as the One who gave His body to be broken and His blood to be shed for the forgiveness of their sins. It has nothing to do at all to do with mere ritual; it has everything to do with remembering the supreme sacrifice upon which our hope for justification (being found right with God) rests.

For this Baptist, that means that the second precaution is easy as well. You wouldn’t put Communion, a continuation rite for ongoing spiritual nourishment before  baptism, the initiation rite for entrance into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Baptism happens once as a symbol of what God had done in the heart by faith – being identified with Jesus in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-4). Communion occurs often throughout the course of one’s spiritual journey as a means of remembering what Jesus had done and nourishing one’s faith with the real presence of Jesus at the Table (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

The third precaution doesn’t seem as easy but probably should be. You don’t want to partake if you find yourself at odds with a brother or sister and have failed to take the necessary steps in biblical peacemaking to promote reconciliation. To this dilemma Jesus speaks quite plainly in Matt. 5:23-24 –

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Alfred Poirier, in his book, The Peacemaking Pastor, makes the necessary connection here between worship and peacemaking:

peacemaking pastorWhat is interesting in this passage is that Jesus pictures us remembering the conflicts in our lives during worship–true worship. Worship in Spirit and truth should result in remembering those with whom we are not yet reconciled. For we cannot worship the God of peace and hate our brother and sister, nor can we eat from the Lord’s Table when our heart and mouth are full of bitterness. And true worship should encourage us that the God of peace will be with us if we need to go and get reconciled (Poirier, 2006, p. 277).

I wonder how many believers during their last Communion allowed the bread and cup to pass through mouths and enter into hearts poisoned by enmity in some relationship? May it never be. Better to leave your gift at the altar than play the hypocrite that worships while estranged from a family member in the faith.

Determine with God’s help and the grace of Jesus in His gospel of peace that such a thing will not happen again. “If possible, as far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all” (Rom. 12:18). As you do, let there be no wondering at all about the answer to the all important question – to partake or not partake? By all means, all other fencing matters being satisfied, partake.

Holiday Peacemaking 101

handling-holiday-conflict-arti

With the holidays each year comes increased opportunity for conflict in relationships. Unrealized expectations, margin-less schedules, extended family demands, and a host of other stress-escalating factors conspire to heighten the potential for relational strife. In the spirit of Rom. 12:18, “so far as it depends upon you be at peace,” consider these principles for making it to 2014 without suffering a conflict train wreck.

First, check your expectations at the front door of the season. Idealistic notions of the holidays with their feel-good promises often fall short of the realities of dealing with family and friends whose total depravity doesn’t automatically take a break from Thanksgiving to New Years.  Remember that everyone you engage could legitimately compete with Paul in 1 Tim. 1:15 for the title “chief of sinners.” While you’re at it, assume that you qualify for the label over and above anyone else at the party and you will go a long way toward enjoying the blessedness of a peacemaker this Christmas (Matt. 5:9).

Second, overlook offenses. A lot. Assume folks will do and say some things during what the recovery movement calls “the silly silly seasonseason” just because so much of the craziness is just that. Exercise more patience than usually required. Proverbs 19:11 counsels, “Good sense makes one slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Overlooking can get overlooked as among the virtues qualifying as glorious. One reason the overlook strategy makes good sense comes into perspective in another wisdom saying in Prov. 17:14. “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.” Count the cost doesn’t just apply to financial decisions but relational ones as well. It may not pay to start the battle in the first place, so let it go whenever in good conscience you possibly can.

Third, when you can’t overlook for the gravity of an offense, go straight to the person involved – do not talk to someone else about it – and seek to resolve the matter between you and him in private (Matt. 18:15). Treat the person the same way you would want to be treated if the shoe were on the other foot. Let texts like Gal. 6:1-2 dictate your timing, approach, and most of all objective – bearing a fellow-sinner’s burden by helping rescue them from the trespass you believe has ensnared them.

Fourth, overcome evil with good through not returning the same. Rather, determine to heap coals of love on a head when you get the chance (Rom. 12:17-21). The holidays typically bring us into close quarter contact with folks, including relatives, with whom we might otherwise prefer not to associate. Make conversation. Ask questions. Serve quietly. Don’t just look out for your own interests but even those of your obnoxious cousin (Phil. 2:3-4).

Fifth, and most importantly, take your cue from the One the Bible calls the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6-7), drawing strength from Him and the power of His gospel, in your determination to live at peace with others throughout the holiday season. In her article, “Walking in Peace Amid Holiday Strife,” Tara Barthel writes:

If we are to walk as people of peace during the stress of the holidays, we must first begin by remembering the greatness of God and all that he has done for us in Christ. Then we can move on to how we are to live in light of these truths. If we try to skip the first step and move to the changing of our behavior, we will probably end up frustrated both by our own failures as well as the fallenness of those around us. Our only hope is in God—he justifies us, redeems us, delivers us from our shame, and conforms us to Christ (Romans 8:29). Such a God! Such a Savior! This is the Jesus whose birth we celebrate during this Christmas holiday season.

What she said.

May the Prince of Peace fill you with the spirit of peace for the making of real peace in the face of your holiday conflict, if and when you eventually tangle with it.

Love Problems Are God Problems

love_is_all_you_need_

Given my role as a pastor, I see a lot of these. Love problems. They crop up all over the place, especially in marriages.

Recently I scoured the web for potential resources to use in a marital support group to help some couples deal with their recurring issues. Finally I landed on a book and accompanying study guide that looked very promising. Winston Smith’s Marriage Matters: Extraordinary Change through Ordinary Moments (New Growth Press, 2010, 285 pages) stood out among the myriad of offerings. This Christian Counseling and Education product doesn’t seek so much to contribute to the numerous biblical theologies of marriage on the market, many of them good as they are. This tool helps couples work through how the gospel can bring lasting change to troubled relationships in the ordinary, often challenging, moments of everyday life.

Smith’s premise goes like this: marriages change when we recognize God’s agenda for so-called ordinary moments. He launches his argument from a familiar passage of Scripture and then unpacks the core idea.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8, italics mine).

Marriage_Matters“God is love.” We all want more love in our marriages. Who doesn’t love love? For the most part, we marry because of love–or at least because we hope for love. But in the most difficult moments we don’t feel loved, and we find it hard to love. God may not seem to make much difference in these moments; however, his involvement is crucial because God is love. When we find it hard to love, we need him all the more. A lack of love should prompt us to not just look more closely at our marriage but at our relationship with God.

The bad news: your love problems are bigger than you think because love problems are God problems. The good news: the solution is bigger than you think because God cares and is involved. Having more love in your marriage means having more of God in your marriage. Having trouble loving is evidence either that you don’t know God or that something is interfering in your relationship with God (p. 9).

Duh. Why didn’t I think of that? When that revolutionary concept sunk into my think head and prone-to-be-hard heart, I decided I needed to take the love problems in my marriage more seriously. Yes, tough as it is to believe, Nancy and I have these too, from time to time. Most, by the way,  are due to my idols doing their destructive thing in our relationship.

I knew without a doubt the first step I needed to take – memorize and mediate regularly on 1 Corinthians 13, sometimes referred to as the love chapter in the Bible.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Part of mediation involves inserting my own name into v. 4-6 and praying the content back to God. Curt is patient and kind; Curt does not envy or boast. Lord, make these things true of me. You get the idea.

Do you have love problems? We all do. Bad news: the problem is bigger than you think. Good news: the solution is bigger than you think. Why not ask the Lord to help you bring your love problems with your spouse or whomever to the Lord so as to tap into His unlimited reservoirs of love? He alone can enable us to love better our neighbor as ourselves. And to ensure that the nature of your love matches His own, take up my challenge to memorize the love chapter and prayerfully meditate upon it. It will surprise you just how much that spiritual discipline shapes the ordinary moments you share with those whom you love.

From now on I think I will make memorizing 1 Corinthians 13 mandatory in my premarital counseling ministry. Better late than never.

Peacemaker's Pledge

This Sunday is Conciliation Anniversary Sunday at Orlando Grace. We will mark the 11th anniversary of a reconciliation service hosted by our leadership in the aftermath of the last major conflict endured by our church. As always, I will preach on biblical conflict resolution. The title of the message is What Peacemaking People Do. If you wish to preview the text for prayerful preparation, see 1 Thessalonians 5:9-15.

This time of year also makes for a fitting review of the helpful Peacemaker’s Pledge brought to us from the excellent folks at Peacemaker Ministries. I include it here for our edification. Please consider giving it another or perhaps first-time careful and prayerful reading as we head into this weekend of remembering at OGC.

As people reconciled to God by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we believe that we are called to respond to conflict in a way that is remarkably different from the way the world deals with conflict. We also believe that conflict provides opportunities to glorify God, serve other people, and grow to be like Christ. Therefore, in response to God’s love and in reliance on his grace, we commit ourselves to respond to conflict according to the following principles:

Glorify God — Instead of focusing on our own desires or dwelling on what others may do, we will rejoice in the Lord and bring him praise by depending on his forgiveness, wisdom, power, and love, as we seek to faithfully obey his commands and maintain a loving, merciful, and forgiving attitude.

Get the Log out of Your Eye — Instead of blaming others for a conflict or resisting correction, we will trust in God’s mercy and take responsibility for our own contribution to conflicts—confessing our sins to those we have wronged, asking God to help us change any attitudes and habits that lead to conflict, and seeking to repair any harm we have caused.

Gently Restore — Instead of pretending that conflict doesn’t exist or talking about others behind their backs, we will overlook minor offenses or we will talk personally and graciously with those whose offenses seem too serious to overlook, seeking to restore them rather than condemn them. When a conflict with a Christian brother or sister cannot be resolved in private, we will ask others in the body of Christ to help us settle the matter in a biblical manner.

Go and be reconciled — Instead of accepting premature compromise or allowing relationships to wither, we will actively pursue genuine peace and reconciliation—forgiving others as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us, and seeking just and mutually beneficial solutions to our differences.

By God’s grace, we will apply these principles as a matter of stewardship, realizing that conflict is an assignment, not an accident. We will remember that success in God’s eyes is not a matter of specific results, but of faithful, dependent obedience. And we will pray that our service as peacemakers will bring praise to our Lord and lead others to know His infinite love.

As we mark another year of relative conflict-free peace within our assembly, may we recommit ourselves to this pledge and continue to cultivate a culture of peace for the glory of God and our great joy.