WORK HARD FOR A HEALING SPIRIT (5)

The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

In my latest series of posts based on 1 Thess. 5:12-13, I have argued for the pursuit of church unity by the way followers honor their leaders. It has everything to do with the nature of their work.

In the last post we covered the family nature of the work. In this post we consider the toilsome nature of the ministry.

Hard Work

The Greek language has a variety of terms for work. In v. 12, Paul uses a verb form of a particularly vivid word. It describes toil, labor, or work so depleting it leaves one weary—completely exhausted.

The root of the word means beaten, as in this kind of work leaves you feeling like you just went fifteen rounds with Muhammad Ali.

Paul uses the same word in 1 Tim. 5:17 when he speaks of those who labor in preaching and teaching, a principal role of an elder.

In his own testimony, Paul claimed in 1 Cor. 15:10, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

If you are worth your salt, if you are duly qualified, if you are rightly called to office, if you truly get the nature of service in God’s church, whether elders who devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the word or deacons who “wait on tables” serving practical needs in the body and ministering to those in need (Acts 6:1-7), I guarantee you, you know the reality of this.

You know what it means to work hard. You’ve lost sleep, sacrificed family time, and put your own needs second to those you serve countless times. And sometimes it just leaves you feeling spent.

Not only that, but by Jesus’ own admission the laborers are few (Matt. 9:37). So you are likely undermanned on your team for the tasks on your list. These realities of church ministry alone are reason enough, Paul argues, for followers to pursue peace by treating their officers with respect.

In my role as a shepherd of God’s people, I get called upon often to assist folks in resolving disputes. I find the effort, time, and commitments necessary for effective assisted peacemaking among the toughest assignments in my ministry.

I always approach these challenges the same way. First, I meet with the individuals alone for conflict coaching—multiple times if necessary. Then, we meet for the actual mediation.

Along the way I try to help identify issues, concerns, offenses, idols of the heart, and paths to reconciliation. It can be brutally exhausting work.

Some time ago I served a family in such a conflict. The Lord worked mightily in healing the rift. I received one of the kindest notes notes of appreciation anyone has ever sent me.

I put that card in my Why I Became a Pastor File. I pull it out on days I think about abandoning ship and becoming a Walmart greeter.

Few things convey more honor and respect to someone like me in pastoral ministry than tangible appreciation.

What is something you might do to show your gratitude for the hard work done by your spiritual leaders?

 

WORK HARD FOR A HEALING SPIRIT (2)

The What & Why of Honoring Church Leaders for Unity’s Sake

In my last post, I argued that eager preservers of church unity (Eph. 4:1-3) bring a lot of energy to peacemaking in the church. It always ranks high in their priorities as members of a fellowship.

respectWith this end in view, the apostle Paul zeroes in on the relationship between followers and their leaders in 1 Thess. 5:12-13. He spells out a practice they must master, if they are to excel as a peacemaking people.

Simply put: Peacemaking people in Christ’s church treat their officers with utmost honor given the nature of their work.

Paul models a peacemaking spirit himself in carefully chosen words up front. We ask you, brothers (emphasis added). He commands at the end of v. 13—but he leads with a request.

The same word ask appears earlier in the letter coupled with another term in 1 Thess. 4:1. We ask and urge you. The two verbs combine to reveal his heart. He pleads with them.

He appeals to their familial sentiments—like a father would his children. With respect to their attitude toward their leaders—elders and deacons alike—he begs for a spirit of honor.

The What—Respect and Esteem

Paul uses two infinitives—synonyms to drive home his point—to respect (v. 12) and to esteem (v. 13). The former literally is the Greek word for to know. We ask you, brothers, to know those who labor among you.

He desires something more than raw recognition or mere dutiful honor. Don’t just acknowledge them because you must obey. Know them. Relate to them. Personally engage them.

That fits well with the addition of the words in love that go with the second infinitive: esteem them. That infinitive normally gets translated to consider or to think in a certain way. Here the context dictates a nuance of honor.

Think of them in terms of esteem—and to no small degree. Esteem them very highly in love (emphasis added). One commentator calls very highly a triple Pauline intensive. It means quite beyond all measure.

It conveys the highest form of comparison imaginable. It appears rarely in the New Testament, but perhaps most vividly in Eph. 3:20—Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think (emphasis added).

Tara Barthel relates a story about a woman she once helped. It illustrates the kind of spirit Paul advocates in these verses:

Her marriage was very difficult, and her church leaders, though involved, were inexperienced in biblical counseling and biblical peacemaking. They made mistakes but they truly wanted to do what was biblically correct. Although this woman suffered greatly, she did so with great love and patience, realizing that her temporary circumstance was not just about her—it was also about helping her church leaders grow in knowledge, wisdom, and ability to serve as officers of Christ’s church. Her marital and familial conflicts concerned her church family, and so she endured patiently as her church leaders stumbled, erred, and caused hurt. Yes, she wept. Yes, it was hard. But God was glorified throughout the process, and her church was strengthened as she lived by faith and modeled what it looks like to be a biblical follower. This dear woman remembered that leaders are human; leaders are in the process of growing too. They are just as much in need of grace as followers are.

What are some ideas you have for showing respect and esteem to your church leaders?

 

“SULLY” SENSATIONAL

Four Things Peacemaking Leaders Do Well To Imitate from Captain Sullenberger

Rarely do I want to see motion pictures in a theater these days. The dearth of redemptive films released lately disappoints a guy like me who relishes quality cinema.

alg-plane-jpg

No problem on that score with “Sully”–director Clint Eastwood’s riveting telling of the drama surrounding the US Air pilot who successfully landed Flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009 after a crippling bird strike shortly upon takeoff.

This film moved me to tears at points. As I left the theater I asked the Lord why that was so. His answer seemed so clear to me. The main character, played masterfully by Tom Hanks, represents so much of the kind of man I desire to be as a peacemaking pastor.

These four virtues stood out along the 96 minute run time, which frankly felt more like half as many minutes to me.

One, humility. Though highly regarded by an admiring populace throughout NYC, Sully eschews the role of hero. “Just doing my job.” Effective peacemaking leadership which eagerly preserves the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace starts with this all-important virtue (Eph. 4:1-3).

Two, patience. Much of the film’s tension in storytelling surrounds the aftermath of the crash as the NTSB investigates the details of the event. The search for error on both pilots’ part resulting in the water landing rather than returning to La Guardia airport leads to insinuation of fault at best and outright accusation of blame at worst.

Not once does Sully lose his cool. He even intercepts the rising irritation on his co-pilot’s part before emotions can escalate unhelpfully during their public hearing. Peacemaking pastors must model a patiently-enduring-evil-self-control or risk losing the reconciliation effort due to their own sinfulness (2 Tim. 2:24).

Three, love. One of my favorite moments in the film comes near the end. A reporter asks how Sully did the feat never done before. He immediately responded, “I didn’t. We did it, all of us.” Then he proceeded to rattle off the litany of names of the crew, the first responders on the scene, citizens of the New York City, etc., praising the efforts of others in partnership that remarkable day. Peacemaking leaders affirm others and deflect attention from themselves for the greater good (Phil. 2:3-4).

Four, perseverance. The man never caved under pressure. He pursued the truth in love at every turn. Perhaps the most compelling scene for this pastor came on the downed plane apparently empty of all 155 souls on board. The intensity with which the captain searched the fast-flooding plane to make as certain as possible all were accounted for before he abandoned the aircraft inspired me. I immediately thought of Heb. 13:17. Peacemaking pastors who will give account to God for the souls on board their churches must exercise a similar resolve to do all they can for their welfare.

Check out the trailer below for a sneak peek.

I intend to see it again with my co-pilot, Pastor Mike, to compare notes about how we can become become better peacemaking leaders from this powerful example.

CHURCH PEACE: A WARFARE MATTER (1)

Four Spiritual Warfare Strategies for Preserving Peace in the Church

Religious celebrations of Easter Week, SpainConclusions matter.

From dessert and coffee at a restaurant, to the the climax of a story, to (this matters especially to pastors like me) how the sermon ends, the way things come to a close can make all the difference in the experience.

Lately in my study I’ve camped out a lot in Eph. 6:10-20. Paul’s treatment there of the challenging subject of spiritual warfare forms the focus of my church’s men’s retreat at the end of this month.

Think about it. He ends this exquisite letter to the the church at Ephesus on this note: we Christians are at war. We find ourselves in a never-ending conflict with formidable forces. Much opposition confronts anyone serious about walking in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Among those things, and the first place he starts in Eph. 4:3, is doing our best to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Safeguarding the treasured gift of unity in your church means you have to go to war over it.

It’s a high-stakes, dangerous, but utterly worthwhile undertaking.

Here are four strategies (a preview of our retreat content) for waging the spiritual battle.

One, trust your God for His strength. Be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might (10). This same power raised Jesus from the dead (Eph. 1:19-20). We have everything we need in the way of strength for this ongoing struggle. We draw from the One who effectively disarmed the enemy at Calvary (Col. 2:15).

Additionally our powerful God has equipped us with impressive battle gear designed to protect us so that we may stand and not fall (11). More on that in strategy #3.

Two, know your enemy for his schemes. The objective in this fight is plain–that you may be able to stand (11). Satan and his minions deployed in the invisible realm (12) plot our undoing. We must give him/them no ground.

The enemy attacks on multiple fronts: accusation (Rev. 12:10); deception (Gen. 3:1-6); sins like anger (Eph. 4:26-27) and withholding forgiveness (2 Cor. 2:10-11); just to name a few. Luther said it well in A Mighty Fortress:

For still our ancient foe,
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow’r are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Lesson?

Don’t underestimate the foe. Arm yourself with a informed knowledge of his shrewd tactics.

Three, wear your armor for its protection. The bulk of the passage focuses on the battle gear God supplies every believer for spiritual warfare (14-17). Paul repeatedly emphasizes our responsibility to put it on–take it up–all of it. We dare not engage this battle every day without every one of the six components.

What they are and some thoughts about them, plus strategy #4, will come with my next post and the second part on this subject.

In the meantime, take heed to this exhortation from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Do not relax. “Maintain the field!” You are always on duty in the Christian life, you can never relax. There is no such thing as a holiday in the spiritual realm.

Peacemaking warriors! Maintain the field! Ever on duty, battle to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace in your churches.

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).

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.

Dealing with Serious Threats to Our Peace

happy-reformation-day

I blew through the application section of this morning’s message. You can listen to the audio here.

I promised to post this portion of my manuscript on the blog for the convenience of anyone who wanted to pay closer attention.

I promise, I fulfill.

Warding off serious threats to peace in the church requires a decisive plan for their defeat – watching out for them, staying clear of them, being smart about them, and expecting the God of peace and the Lord of grace to help us fight them. Takeaways are plain. One, relish being part of a confessional church with Reformation roots. Your best friend to guard against error is an orthodox, articulation of sound doctrine. Two, embrace the stewardship of guarding the go0d deposit of the gospel. Three, expect error to hunt us to destroy our unity. Don’t be caught by surprise. Leaders and followers alike stay on the alert. This is why you don’t teach any class at OGC unless you are a member and have been appropriately vetted in terms of sound doctrine. Four, be decisive in dealing with error in the majors. We can’t afford to pussyfoot around with heresy in any form given the costs to our unity. Five, be careful what you read, watch on Christian TV, and to whom you listen to on the web. Be smart – wise in the good, innocent in the evil. Spend more time learning the truth than you do at all in dabbling in the deceptions. Six, rely on the God of peace and the Lord of grace to fight the battle against the arch deceiver. Pray, pray, pray. And, seven, preserve peace knowing you’ve been saved by the God of peace and are helped by the Lord of grace.

I look forward, Lord willing, to continuing the peacemaking theme next Sunday with Psalm 133 – Unity’s Song.