GOOD DAYS, GRACE DAYS

How Peacemaking Commitments Make for the Good Life

good life

How do you define “the good life?”

According to one source reported by Psychology Today, happiness consists of four things: experiencing pleasure, avoiding negative experience, seeking self-development, or making contributions to others.

The apostle Peter wrote a different prescription for loving life and seeing good days in 1 Pet. 3:8-12.

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For
“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
11 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

In my last post, I introduced this passage as a strategy for the good life for a suffering people. The main idea from the passage is this: Our extraordinary identity as God’s people calls for radical peacemaking commitments in the church. 

A suffering church must be a unified church. That takes three different peacemaking commitments embedded in the text.

The first of these commitments in verse 8 is showing grace. I take that from the four specifics which follow the need for unity of mind.

One, sympathy. The word means literally to suffer with someone in something. It’s the idea of empathizing with others in all kinds of situations, good or bad. Romans 12:15 says it well: Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. 

Two, brotherly love. Our affection for others in the body of Christ should resemble the love we have for our physical families.

Three, a tender heart. The root means kidney or bowel. It was used to describe the visceral area of the body. It conveys the idea of a depth of feeling for others that comes from the gut—way down deep inside.

Four, humility. We simply can’t overstate the importance of this quality to a peacemaking ethic. Peter will hit it again in 1 Pet. 5:5: Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Henry Scougal, in his treatise, The Life of God in the Soul of Man, comments on this:

The leaves of high trees do shake with every blast of wind; and every breath, every evil word, will disquiet and torment an arrogant man; but the humble person hath the advantage, when he is despised, that none can think more meanly of him than he doth of himself; and therefore he is not troubled at the matter, but can easily bear those reproaches which would the other to the soul (1996, p. 84).

Does “showing grace” make your list for defining the good life? The apostle put it at the very top. Do you need to alter your priorities?

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.

GUARDING YOUR HOME’S PEACE AFTER YOU’RE GONE

Living-Will

Forgive me if this seems maudlin. Nobody enjoys thinking about his death, let alone documenting every wish.

Just the same, moments ago I finished doing that very thing in a letter to my wife. I plan on giving it to her on Monday morning just before they wheel me away for “Operation Robojaw.”

Let’s face it. Nobody’s next second, let alone day is guaranteed. Pushing 64 years of age with an eight hour procedure ahead of me means I’d better go here.

My main motivation? Loving my bride well. Perish the thought, but she will have her hands full with grief. Why further jeopardize her shalom by failing to take responsibility for this myself?

Here are five things you can do in advance of your earthly demise to guard the shalom of the household you leave behind:

  • Prepare a living will. What in the world are you waiting for? This one is a no brainer.
  • Specify what you want done with your remains: burial, cremation, cryogenic freezing. Whatever. For a decent treatment of the burial vs. cremation question check out Cremation Confusion.
  • Write your spouse a letter to be opened only on the occasion of your passing. Warning. Should you do this and I hope you will sooner rather than later, keep the tissues nearby. Tears will come.
  • Tell your beloved the best of your heart’s affection. Then get after the business of detailing what you want done with your most important stuff. My list turned out pretty short. You know what they say: you can’t take it with you.
  • Write out a draft order of worship for your memorial service. My document runs from prelude to postlude. It contains the songs I want sung, the people I want to speak, the music I want played and the players to play it. I am a demanding so-and-so. I have even given Nancy instructions for a memorial fund in lieu of flowers.
  • Get the thing witnessed and notarized. Don’t leave any doubt as to the legitimacy of the document.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a death wish. But I do resonate with Paul when he writes, “I am hard pressed between the two–depart to be with Christ or remain in the flesh (Phil. 1:21-24). I get it. When it’s my time–precious in God’s sight as it is (Psalm 116:15)–I’m the only one to gain.

I fully expect to survive. Lord willing, “Operation Robojaw” will be a smashing success. If not, I’ve got peace that I’ve done my part to help guard the peace of the one for whom I care the most.

Will you?

Question: What have I missed? Can you think of any other helpful items to add to my list? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Why Family Night Matters To Me

This Sunday evening, June 14, at 5 PM, OGC will have its second Family Night Member’s Meeting. I wouldn’t dream of missing it. And not just because I’m one of the shepherds of the flock. I’m pretty certain I would make this a priority, if I were a “mere” regular sheep of the fold.

Why? Because I made promises before God and His church about being in covenant community with the rest of the membership at OGC. And that means commitments of love spelled out in a place like 1 Corinthians 13.

I love how Jonathan Leeman, in his book The Surprising Offense of God’s Love, grabs back the pretty lyrics of that passage from weddings (not that it doesn’t fit there, of course) and reads it to the local church:

Do you want to exercise, practice, embody, and define the glorious love of heaven, he asks us? Then do it in a local church, a church where factions are pitted against one another (1 Cor. 1:12-13), where people have big heads (4:8), where Surprising Offensemembers are sleeping with their fathers’ wives (5:2), where members are suing and defrauding one another (6:1-8), where members are getting drunk on the communion wine and not leaving enough for others (11:21-22), where spiritual gift one-upmanship is rife (chaps. 12 and 14), where the meetings are threatened by disorder (14:40), and where some are saying there is no resurrection from the dead (15:12). Bind and submit yourself and your gifts to these kinds of people. Love them with patience and kindness, without envy or boasting, without arrogance or rudeness, not insisting on our own way, not irritably or resentfully, not rejoicing at wrongdoing but rejoicing at the truth. 

People often complain about the sinners they find in the local church, and with good reason. It’s filled with sinners, which is why Paul calls Christians to love one another by bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things. If you won’t love such backstabbers and defrauders like this, don’t talk about your spiritual gifts, your vast biblical knowledge, or all the things you do for the poor. You’re just a noisy gong. Don’t talk about your love for all Christians everywhere; you are just a clanging cymbal. But if you do practice loving a specific, concrete people, all of whose names you don’t get to choose, then you will participate in defining love for the world, the love which will characterize the church on the last day perfectly because it images the self-sacrificing and merciful love of Christ perfectly.”   

Family Night gives us one of the many ways to grow in love for those with whom He has called us into covenant commitments of membership. Here we learn to grow in that which is greatest and put the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus on display.

 

 

Envy’s Everywhere

envy

I can think of a lot of sins of the flesh which seem more prevalent in the body of Christ than the green monster. Perhaps that has something to do with its capacity, more than some, to fly under the radar in our churches. Other faults tend to rear their ugly heads publicly; envy hunts its victims within the private recesses of their concealed hearts. Not to God, of course.

Alexander Strauch continues to challenge me with his book Leading with Love. He treats First Corinthians 13, the so-called love chapter, through the lens of a Christian leader. I keep coming back to this read. It sobers me about how far I have to go in terms of shepherding God’s people from a heart of love. It doesn’t take more than the third characteristic of love, framed negatively, to go after this sneaky thing, “Love does not envy.”

Strauch admonishes:

We need to be aware that envy is a prevalent sin among the Lord’s people and Christian leaders. Pastors can go to bizarre leading with loveextremes to eliminate from the church gifted people who threaten them [not this pastor]. Churches can envy other churches that are larger or are growing rapidly [not OGC]. Missionaries can envy other missionaries who are more fruitful or better supported [not my missionaries]. Bible study leaders can envy more popular Bible study leaders [not my community group leaders]; singers can envy other singers who sing more often or receive louder applause [not my worship team]; elders can envy fellow elders who shine brighter in leadership ability and knowledge [not my elders]; and deacons can envy fellow deacons who serve more effectively or are sought out for help more frequently [not my deacons] (p. 50).

Can anybody spell “Denial’s not just a river in Egypt?” At least about the “not this pastor” protest.

So what’s the antidote? Adopt the spirit of John the Baptist who pleaded this when Jesus’ popularity outstripped his own and envy hunted his soul:

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:27-30 ESV)

I’ve got what I’ve got because Jesus gave it to me. If someone has more in my often distorted opinion, so be it. May He increase and I decrease. No better cure for envy than that.

Divine Mathematics

math

I hated math. I remember getting a “D” in Mr. Donnelly’s seventh grade class when the “New Math” came out – whatever that was. My overachiever, get-all-A’s world crumbled then and there. It never recovered. In college I did everything I could to stay away from anything mathematics related. Wasn’t I surprised when I signed up for Astronomy 101 that it was a math class in disguise. I just wanted to know about the stars. Took every extra-help Saturday class to survive that one.

Now, divine mathematics is an altogether different thing. That’s what D. A. Carson calls the equation formulated by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 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. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (ESV).

The equation? Five minus one equals zero. Or to put it George Sweeting’s way “gifts, minus love, equals zero.” Paul goes to great lengths in the first part of the Bible’s famous love chapter to describe supernatural gifts, extraordinary faith, and even heroic gestures like martyrdom, only to obliterate their significance before God if they lack love. Even the big five taken all together in this text, minus love, amount to absolutely nothing. Auth0r Jerry Bridges brings home the importance of God’s way of doing math:

leading with loveWrite down, either in your imagination or on a sheet of paper, a row of zeros. Keep adding zeros until you have filled the whole line on the page. What do they add up to? Exactly nothing! Even if you were to write a thousand of them, they would still be nothing. But put a positive number in front of them and immediately they have value. This is the way it is with our gifts and faith and zeal. They are the zeros on the page. Without love, they count for nothing. But put love in front of them and immediately they have value. And just as the number two gives more value to a row of zeros than the number one does, so more and more love can add exponentially greater value to our gifts (quoted in Leading with Love, Alexander Strauch, p. 15-16).

I can live with a “D” from 7th grade, but I want to excel far better in spiritual mathematics. No Christian leader should aspire to anything less. For that matter, nor should any follower of Jesus.

The Power of Kindness

kindness-620

I finished my day today with a visit to my atheist friend’s house in our neighborhood. Regretfully his wife is dying. Cancer has overrun her body, particularly her brain. Stupid disease. The extended family has camped out for the duration. Hospice has coached all concerned about what to expect. Her body is shutting down. It’s only a matter of time. Once again the the specter of death haunts my 2014, though not at my own doorstep in this particular situation. Sigh.

My wife found me a card this morning to express our sentiments. A small potted plant seemed an inadequate but at least well-meant token to present at the door. For thirty minutes I sat with my buddy with whom I have had numerous conversations about the gospel, at least to this point to no avail, along with his son, and just sought to be kind in loving my neighbor as myself and feeling the weight of their grief. At this point, having said just about all I think I can say in numerous lunches, I am banking on the power of kindness to carry the day in my relationship with this man, whether he ever believes in Jesus or not.

The apostle Paul extols the virtues of love in his well-known treatise on the subject in 1 Corinthians 13. As he begins to describe its qualities, he leads off in v. 4 this way: “Love is patient and kind.” While it seems some in my profession can occasionally forget it, and Lord knows I admit my share of failures in this regard, kindness as a virtue simply must characterize any pastor’s way of relating with others at every turn. Consider 2 Tim. 2:24 – “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone.” My sincere apologies to every one of you whom I have failed over the years in this respect.

As I was reading this evening a section of Alexander Strauch’s book, Leading with Love, I came across this illustration of the power of kindness. It comes from the life of St. Augustine who, in his book Confessions, testifies to the impact, even in his unconverted days, of the kindness shown him by the renowned preacher and bishop, Ambrose:

300px-Augustine_of_HippoThat “man of God” received me like a father and expressed pleasure at my coming with a kindness most fitting in a bishop. I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your Church, but as a human being who was kind to me (Strauch, 2006, 45).

My dear friend has little to no confidence in my church, that is to say, our beliefs. I pray his confidence in my feeble attempts at kindness may one day lead to an Augustine-like transformation in his life.

Someone has said “kindness is love in work clothes.” Let’s get to work.

 

 

Leading With Love

leading with love

The Lord has me camped out of late in Alexander Strauch’s exposition of 1 Corinthians 13 as it applies to the realm of leadership in the local church. All I can say is very convicting. I have a long way to go in living out the law of love in the stewardship that is pastoral ministry. For a PDF version of the book click here.

This gem at the end of chapter one will give an idea of how close things hit to home:

A Modern Paraphrase

Picturing himself as the most extraordinary teacher or leader
to ever live, Paul would say:

If I were the most gifted communicator to ever preach,
so that millions of people were moved by my oratory,
but didn’t have love, I would be an annoying, empty wind-bag
before God and people.

If I had the most charismatic personality, so that
everyone was drawn to me like a powerful magnet, but
didn’t have Christlike love, I would be a phony, a dud.

If I were the greatest visionary leader the church has ever heard,
but didn’t have love, I would be misguided and lost.

If I were the bestselling author on theology and church growth,
but didn’t have love, I would be an empty-headed failure.

If I sacrificially gave all my waking hours to discipling
future leaders, but did it without love,
I would be a false guide and model.

The scary thing is that reading something like this usually guarantees testing in the area for the purpose of growth.

Prayers are definitely appreciated.

A Church “Do Your Best”

do your best

This week I am doing sermon prep in Ephesians 4:1-6 for a message in September, Lord willing. In the text the apostle exhorts believers who desire to live out a worthy walk in Jesus to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The word for “eager” is variously translated “make every effort” (2 Pet. 1:5) or “do your best” (2 Tim. 2:15). In other words, there are some things about life in gospel community that demand our all. Paul argues in Ephesians 4 for those called of Jesus to His glorious salvation and made part of His glorious church that virtuous (see v. 2) peacemaking ranks right up there at the top of responsibilities in which we will want to excel.

That commitment will work itself out in various forms, but I want to talk about just one with the help of Jonathan Edwards from his work, Charity and Its Fruits:

220px-Jonathan_EdwardsAll undue anger indisposes us for the pious exercises and the active duties of religion. It puts the soul far from that sweet and excellent frame of spirit in which we most enjoy communion with God, and which makes truth and ordinances most profitable to us. And hence it is that God commands us not to approach his altars while we are at enmity with others, but “first to be reconciled to our brother, and then come and offer our gift” (Mat. 5:24); and that by the apostle it is said, “I will, therefore, that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” (1 Tim. 2:8).

So what does this mean?

If we take seriously an eagerness to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace such that we do our best in this regard, then peacemaking will take priority even over corporate worship. If we cannot overlook an offense, then we will make every diligent effort to meet with the necessary party to reconcile and not pretend to lift so-called hands in holy worship when we have avoided our responsibility to do so.

If applicable, you have between now and Sunday to do your best. Go for 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.