THE GOSPEL GRACE OF WELCOMING (3)

How Embracing Others with Differences of Conscience Protects Church Unity

It feels good to return to writing about the New Testament prescription for believers to excel in preserving unity in the church (Eph. 4:1-3).

Gospel

In post #1 on addressing how judging one another over “gray areas” in the Christian life damages unity, I introduced the issue.

In post #2, I treated the gist of welcoming–Paul’s antidote for unity-destroying judging in the body. In this post, we turn to the all-important ground of welcoming.

The ground of welcoming has two parts: the gospel of God who has welcomed us in Jesus Christ and the judgment of God before which every believer ultimately stands or falls.

Each one will require its own post for adequate explanation.

The first part is so important that Paul says it twice, each time invoking a different member of the Trinity.

Why should neither the strong nor weak despise or pass judgment of the other? Rom. 14:3— for God has welcomed him. Rom. 15:7—the conclusion of the matter—therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you (emphasis added).

The grace for doing community well, especially the more demanding prescriptions—but in reality all of them—always comes from the grace of God in the gospel and His great love for us properly appropriated and treasured.

The call here in terms of the ground for obedience does not differ at all from the call to forgive and the ground for that impossible grace, if left to ourselves, in Eph. 4:32—Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (emphasis added).

In one respect this way of arguing by Paul is from the lesser to the greater. And here’s why. Consider Rom. 5:6-10.

[6] For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—[8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. [10] For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (emphasis added).

All Jesus asks of us in gospel-shaped community is to welcome saved-by-grace believers with differing opinions on the grey areas of the Christian life. That’s the lesser.

How tough can that be (here comes the greater) for we whom the Father and the Son welcomed, received, embraced, justified, adopted, and loved though not just weak, but ungodly, sinners, and enemies no less?

Matthew Henry said it so well:

Can there be a more cogent argument? Has Christ been so kind to us, and shall we be so unkind to those that are his? Was he so forward to entertain us, and shall we be backward to entertain our brethren? Christ has received us into the nearest and dearest relations to himself: has received us into his fold, into his family, into the adoption of sons, into a covenant of friendship, yea, into a marriage-covenant with himself; he has received us (though we were strangers and enemies, and had played the prodigal) into fellowship and communion with himself.

Are you finding it difficult to get along with people in the church whose opinions about secondary issues differ from yours?

Nothing will help you more than sustained focus on the gospel–amazing grace that saved a wretch like me and you.

 

HEADING OFF RELATIONAL DISASTERS

Six Marks of a Spirit of Magnanimity for Preventing Conflict

One of my favorite Old Testament accounts with peacemaking implications is Gen. 13:1-18. It tells of Abram’s largess in responding to Lot, his nephew, when a potential meltdown brewed on the south 40.

conflict conceptual meter

Here are a number of principles we can learn from the way Abram intercepted a family rupture before it ever happened.

First, taking initiative to diffuse tension. The conflict starts among the herdsmen. It doesn’t start with Lot and Abram, but their servants. It had to do with the tensions created by the amount of property stewarded by each man’s workers.

Word eventually got to the owner/masters about the conflict. Someone reported back to base about the escalating tensions in the field. But v. 8 is clear. Then Abram said to Lot. Abram took the first step. So often a relational disaster occurs because in pride, fear or selfishness or all of the above, no one will take the initiative—get the ball rolling.

Second, making efforts to avoid arguments. Look at Abram’s heart in v. 8. Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.” We’re family! We’re flesh and blood, man. You’re my nephew; I’m your uncle. I don’t want strife between us.

Do you see the value driving Abram in terms of his initiative? He will pay any reasonable cost—perhaps even an unreasonable one. But he will certainly pay a cost to avoid unnecessary conflict because he has the value—I will avoid a breach if I can do anything at all to prevent it.

Third, declining rights to press advantages. Again, notice the basis upon which Abram appeals to Lot—we are kinsmen. I don’t know that any of us would have blamed him if he responded very differently.  I’m your uncle, you little ungrateful so and so. What you think you’re doing? You’ve got a lot of nerve after all I have done for you.

But that clearly isn’t the card Abram played. He speaks to him equal to equal with his brotherly affection spilling over onto Lot.

Fourth, making choices to release control. Here’s where Abram’s magnanimity and spiritual resolve really shine. What else can we say of v. 9? Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, I will go to the left.

Our culture and time would probably pull Abram aside and question his sanity. We would advise him to think more than twice about such an offer. You choose, son!

Fifth, having courage to accept outcomes.  It took courage, did it not, for Abram to venture this? And there is no hint of Lot countering with a similar spirit of deferment. What does Lot do in response to Abram’s magnanimous offer in v. 10? Lot lifted up his eyes. He gazed upon well-watered Jordan Valley—water is everything!

He went East—always a direction away from the Lord and His blessing in Genesis—they separated. Abram went to the land of Canaan. God’s plan all along and Lot settled near where? Sodom. A set up for disaster just a short distance down the road. All because his eyes were lifted up on the things of this world and not the Lord.

Sixth, trusting God to keep promises. They parted. Lot in his direction, Abram in his. The relationship was intact. There was no breach, in large part due to Abram’s magnanimous spirit.

And notice what happens in v. 14. Who comes to Abram? God does. It’s at the point where he has released/surrendered in his magnanimity that God comes to him and says, “Lift up your eyes!” God comes to him and shows him the portion of the land which will be for him. Nothing was lost by his generosity.

Is there a relational storm brewing on your horizon? How might magnanimity on your part head off disaster before it strikes?

Jaw Wars

Hyperbaric_chamber_image

The Star Wars saga has nothing on me. I’ve got more episodes in my journey than the popular movie series will ever produce.

This just in. My oral surgeon today said he’s done all he can do surgically. The problem with my escalating pain must be medical. What to do? Two things. One, hyperbaric oxygen therapy. I report for the first of these tomorrow morning, Lord willing, at Florida Hospital. Can’t wait to climb into one of those rigs (see image above).

Two, infectious disease consult. The surgeon removed all the dead bone debris he could find. My pain can no longer stem from that cause. The only thing he can surmise on that score is osteomyelitis–chronic infection of the bone. My oral surgeon referred me back to my medical oncologist/hematologist for this consult, especially because I had multiple infections of the blood during my chemo treatments back in 2005. I am still waiting to hear back from his office about an appointment. My understanding at this point is that treatment protocol for this involves inserting a central line for six weeks of IV antibiotics. Something to look forward to. But I am trying not to get ahead of myself.

Pain remains high. Still pushing the drugs to cope. Lots of rest required. The saga goes on.

I’ve hauled out a familiar friend from ’05, the promise of God in 2 Cor. 12:9, to sustain me along the way.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

Oswald Chambers says this about one of my all time favorite verses of the Bible:

God does not give us overcoming life: He gives us life as we overcome. The strain is the strength. If there is no strain, there is no strength. Are you asking God to give you life and liberty and joy? He cannot, unless you will accept the strain. Immediately you face the strain, you will get the strength. Overcome your own timidity and take the step, and God will give you to eat of the tree of life and you will get nourishment. If you spend yourself out physically, you become exhausted; but spend yourself spiritually, and you get more strength. God never gives strength for to-morrow, or for the next hour, but only for the strain of the minute. The temptation is to face difficulties from a common-sense standpoint. The saint is hilarious when he is crushed with difficulties because the thing is so ludicrously impossible to anyone but God.

 Not sure about the hilarious part, but definitely striving for strength in the strain of each minute. Appreciate all the prayers of the faithful on FB.
More importantly, regarding Nancy, there is not much to report. She continues to work her therapy program therapy. Thank you for your faithful prayers on her behalf as well.

Jaw Joy

Human_jawbone_front

I won’t make this a long post. But post I must.

Jaw pain on my right side has plagued me since a root canal tooth failed in May. This morning I underwent oral surgery to remove dead bone on the right side of my jaw. The procedure exceeded my expectations. My surgeon cleaned out a bunch of junk. He did a superior job.  That I can work on a blog post the same day testifies to that effect.

I got to thinking about one’s jaw. I admit it. I take mine, both sides, for granted. I shouldn’t. My right side got hammered ten years ago with radiation treatment for head and neck cancer. Gotta love cancer treatment, conventional style. While cancer cells get killed, so also do healthy cells. Hey, I’m not complaining. I’m still preaching ten years later. My complications have been minimal. Couldn’t be more grateful.

Still, there is this jaw thing. Preacher’s tend to make connections from the experiential to the spiritual. Here’s mine, with the help of Puritan Matthew Henry, from Hosea 11:1-7.

He eased them of the burdens they had been long groaning under: I was to them as those that take off the yoke on their jaws, alluding to the care of the good husbandman, who is merciful to his beast, and will not tire him with hard and constant labour. Probably, in those times, the yoke on the neck of the oxen was fastened with some bridle, or headstall, over the jaws, which muzzled the mouth of the ox. Israel in Egypt were thus restrained from the enjoyments of their comforts and constrained to hard labour; but God eased them, removed their shoulder from the burden, Ps. 81:6. Note, Liberty is a great mercy, especially out of bondage (emphasis mine).

Do you see that phrase, I was to them as those that take off the yoke on their jaws? At this point in my spiritual journey, no other verse may matter more to me in the strengthening of my faith to finish strong. Do I long for the pain in my jaw to abate? Absolutely.

Would I trade that for the confidence that Jesus, by His gracious death on the cross and victorious resurrection from the dead, has TAKEN OFF THE JAW OF WORKS and given this unworthy ox the mercy of laboring under gospel grace?

Not in a million years.

Thank you, my great Savior, for using my frail jaw for reminding me once again of your great grace.

This jaw, what’s left of it, praises You.

Overcoming Resentment and the Urge to Get Even

geteven

Everyone deals with this. No one avoids hurt which results from bad treatment. The human condition inevitably struggles with lingering resentment over wrongs done. Who hasn’t relished the prospect of payback which matches the harm inflicted by someone’s evil?

Joseph certainly must have. He had every reason to after his brothers sold him into Egyptian slavery (Genesis 37). Fearing the worst after their father died, those brothers definitely worried so:

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” (Genesis 50:15-18 ESV)

They pitched Pharaoh’s number two, their little brother, on accepting an offer of servitude in exchange for their lives and the lives of their families. Joseph’s response stands forever as a marvel of grace and a model for peacemaking reconciliation  even in the face of the worst kind of treatment:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50:19-21 ESV)

My, talk about letting your speech always be gracious (Colossians 4:6) and love covering a multitude of sins (Proverbs 10:12)!

How did Joseph do it? What did he know that caused him to release arguably reasonable and deserved resentment for his brothers and bless them with fear-easing comfort?

Three things.

  1. He knew his place – not being God. Am I in the place of God? His was not to judge. That job’s taken. He heard Paul’s words before he ever wrote them:

    Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21 ESV)

  2. He knew his God – working for good.  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Once again we read foreshadowing of the apostle finding grace to heal hurts anchored in God’s sovereignty.   And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)
  3. He knew his role – caring for others.  I will provide for you and your little ones. Paul, Paul everywhere.

    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. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)

Of course Joseph ultimately points to his greater Son, Jesus, who not only modeled such love and grace (Luke 23:34) but also empowers us to do the same through the power of the gospel (Philippians 2:5-11).

Are you shackled by the chains of unforgiveness that harbor resentment and plot revenge? Seek your freedom in the love-covering-a-multitude of your sins and the sins of others by virtue of the cross and resurrection.

Grace Active

My grace is sufficient for you

Tomorrow I have the privilege of speaking at Reformed Seminary Orlando during chapel. My text is 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. The title of the message is “The All-Sufficiency of Christ in the Midst of Trials.” I hope to convince those who listen that Jesus is enough, even through things like head and neck cancer and the loss of your first born.

I hope to conclude with this prayer:

Grace Active

Lord Jesus, Great High Priest,

You have opened a new and living way by which a fallen creature can approach you with acceptance. Help me to contemplate the dignity of your Person, the perfectness of your sacrifice, the effectiveness of your intercession.

O what blessedness accompanies devotion, when under all the trials that weary me, the cares that corrode me, the fears that disturb me, the infirmities that oppress me, I can come to you in my need and feel peace beyond understanding!

The grace that restores is necessary to preserve, lead, guard, supply, help me. And here your saints encourage my hope; they were once poor and are now rich, bound and are now free, tried and now are victorious.

Every new duty calls for more grace than I now possess, but not more than is found in you, the divine Treasury in whom all fullness dwells. To you I repair for grace upon grace, until every void made by sin be replenished and I am filled with all your fullness. May my desires be enlarged and my hopes be emboldened, that I may honor you by my entire dependency and the greatness of my expectation.

Be with me, and prepare me for all the smiles of prosperity, the frowns of adversity, the losses of substance, the death of friends, the days of darkness, the changes of life, and the last great change of all.

May I find your grace sufficient for all my needs.

“Grace Active, in The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett (Edingburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust), 214-215.

Can’t say it/pray it any better than that.

January 12, 2014 at OGC

front-prayer

Big day tomorrow!

Note: it’s a name tag Sunday. Grab one on your way in and help make community easier for all.

8:30 AM – Prayer time in the conference room. Always up for newcomers to help us with intercession.

9:30 AM – Equipping Hour for all ages. Adult discipleship classes include Reformed Theology, New Testament, and Biblical Finances.

10:45 AM – Worship Service. I’m preaching on 1 Thess. 5:16-18, a message called “The Jewelry of Grace.” I plan to focus on v. 17 and what it means to pray without ceasing. Here’s how Charles Spurge0n tied joy, prayer, and giving thanks together:

When joy and prayer are married their first born child is gratitude. When we joy in God for what we have, and believingly pray to him for more, then our souls thank him both in the enjoyment of what we have, and in the prospect of what is yet to come. Those three texts are three companion pictures, representing the life of a true Christian, the central sketch is the connecting link between those on either side. These three precepts are an ornament of grace to every believer’s neck, wear them every one of you, for glory and for beauty; “Rejoice evermore;” “Pray without ceasing;” “in everything give thanks.”

At the end of the service we will receive twelve new members into the body. Be sure to greet them in the receiving line after the service and join us for a reception in the fellowship hall.

6:00 PM – Concert of Prayer in the conference room. We will resume our monthly times of intercession. Special emphasis on Japan given the Homestay ministry coming up next month.

Looking forward to a great Lord’s Day with God’s people!

First Quarter 2014 Featured Resource

Holland Michigan Tulip Festival - Windmill and Tulip Flowers

Books change lives. I believe that with all my heart. Over forty-one years of walking with Jesus now, I have experienced over and over again the power of God unleashed in my life through an extra-biblical resource devoured at just the right time.

That’s why we have a resource center at OGC. And it’s why we feature various works from time to time in order to commend them to folks. For the first quarter of 2014 I have decided to draw attention to Richard Phillips’ excellent volume called “What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace.” For my previous review of this primer on the doctrines of grace click here.

Doctrines of Grace

Why beat the drum for a book for a second time? Couple of reasons. First, new folks to OGC will profit immensely from reading these pages, especially if the grid of reformed theology is something of a new concept. You won’t find an exhaustive treatment of TULIP within, but you will get a first-rate introduction to glorious truth.

Second, the volume will accompany quite nicely one of our new Equipping Hour (9:30-10:30 AM) classes starting this Sunday, January 5. Deacon Matt West will teach an introduction to reformed theology (meets in W1). If you have yet to take this core class in our three-year discipleship scope and sequence, I urge you to do so this time around. Of course you won’t go wrong with either of the other two offerings, namely biblical finance (F4) and New Testament (G0spels, Acts, & Hebrews – W5), but for a church with our confession of faith, everyone needs to take the reformed theology intro at least once.

I am happy to say that we have nearly a dozen or so copies in the resource center for the low price (our cost) of $7.00. Pick up a copy this Sunday!

Overlooking Offenses

Last Sunday I hammered away at peacemaking in the body of Christ as an application of Jesus’ prayers about our oneness in John 17. You can listen to that message here.

An essential strategy in the peacemaking process is the glory of overlooking offenses. I say glory because of a text like Proverbs 91:11.

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.

It makes bad sense to blow your top. One way to stay on the good sense side of things is to regularly overlook offenses. But why call that disposition glory and when must we not overlook an offense?

Ken Sande explains:

Since God does not deal harshly with us when we sin, we should be willing to treat others in a similar fashion. This does not mean that we must overlook all sins, but it does require that we ask God to help us discern and overlook minor wrongs. Overlooking offenses is appropriate under two conditions. First, the offense should not have created a wall between you and the other person or caused you to feel differently toward him or her for more than a short period of time. Second, the offense should not be causing serious harm to God’s reputation, to others, or to the offender.

It is to God’s glory that He passes over our offenses because of the blood of Christ. We share in that glory and put it on display when we choose to be not easily offended and overlook the offenses of others.

The Grand Canyon of the Gospel

Have you ever visited the Grand Canyon? I have. Twice. The view from every vantage point takes one’s breath away.

As stunning as that vista is, it doesn’t compare to the scene of God’s love on display in the gospel of Christ. Greg Gilbert capitalizes on that illustration in his book What Is the Gospel?

How long has it been since you looked up from the earthly details of life and came face to face with the Grand Canyon of what God has done for us in the gospel—his unfathomable grace in forgiving people who have rebelled against him, his breathtaking plan to send his Son to suffer and die in their place, to establish the throne of the resurrected Jesus over a kingdom of perfect righteousness, and to bring those who are saved and redeemed by his blood into a new heavens and new earth where sin and evil will be forever conquered!

How is it that I let the beauty and power and vastness of that gospel be crowded out of my mind so often and for so long? Why is it that my thoughts and emotions are often dominated by silly things like whether my car is clean, or what’s happening on CNN right now, or whether I was happy with my lunch today, rather than by these glorious truths? Why do I so often organize and think about my life as if I were wearing blinders, rather than in the light of eternity? Why does this gospel not permeate, all the time and all the way to the bottom, my relationships with my wife and children, my coworkers and friends and fellow church members?

I know exactly why. It’s because I’m a sinner, and worldliness will continue to linger in my heart and war against me until the day Jesus comes back. But until then, I want to fight against that. I want to fight against spiritual laziness—against the drugged stupor this world constantly threatens to put me in—and I want to embrace this gospel hard and let it affect everything—my actions, affections, emotions, desires, thoughts, and will (p. 114-15).

Content likes that makes me eager to sit under Greg’s teaching this Friday night and Saturday morning in our Living in the Grip of the Gospel Conference at OGC. Oh for a people who embrace the gospel hard and let it effect everything!