A LIFE WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL (4)

How the Gospel Stuns Us into Lowliness

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In this latest series of posts, I’ve argued from Philippians 2:1-11 that a life worthy of the gospel treasures and fosters unity in Christ’s church as a non-negotiable priority. 

So far we’ve considered the why and the how of such a life. Lastly, let’s examine what unity takes (vv. 5-11).

Likely an early hymn of the church, this section of Philippians 2 spans the humiliation and exaltation of our Lord Jesus.

Zero in on v. 5. Have this mind (there’s that word again—the way we think matters so much in a church desiring unity) among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus.

What does it take–this unity, humility, concern thing in Christ’s church? It requires the mind of Christ.

It takes Christ’s way of thinking, acting, humbling, emptying, serving, even dying—all so beautifully modeled in His incarnation, laying aside His divine prerogatives, taking the form of a bondservant and dying for our sins.

This Jesus template must govern our thinking at every turn. It involves three things.

One, you must be joined to Christ to even have the mind of Christ. It takes doing what the Bible calls repentance–turning away from your selfish ways and trusting in Jesus’ death on the cross.

Faith joins you to Christ such that you can die to self and live for Him by caring for others.

Two, you must abide continually in Christ (John 15:1-8). Steep yourself in the Word of Jesus and meditate on His love. Pray He gives you His mind, particularly in dealing with those you like least in His church.

Three, trust in Christ that He will reward you as you choose humility and concern for others. He will guard your rights as you lay them down for others.

It takes faith to act on the mind of Christ as a selfless, giving, servant-minded person. God exalts those who humble themselves even as Jesus did, but He humbles those who exalt themselves.

John Piper asks:

Why do Christians walk through life feeling a humble sense that we owe service to people, rather than them owing us? The answer is that Christ loved us and died for us and forgave us and accepted us and justified us and gave us eternal life and made us heirs of the world when he owed us nothing. He treated us as worthy of his service, when we were not worthy of his service. He took thought not only for his own interests but for ours. He counted us as greater than himself: “Who is the greater,” he said, “one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:27). That is where our humility comes from. We feel overwhelmed by God’s grace: bygone grace in the cross and moment-by-moment arriving grace promised for our everlasting future. Christians are stunned into lowliness. Freely you have been served, freely serve. Emphasis added.

Lives worthy of the gospel treasure and foster unity as a non-negotiable priority.

We know why it matters, how it works, and what it takes.

May we be stunned into lowliness while we wait for the exaltation to come.

Question: What gospel passages in the Scripture most help shape your thinking toward lowliness?

 

THE PEACEMAKING CHURCH

An Update on a Book Long in Coming

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I submitted to Baker Publishing Group a proposal for writing a book way back at the end of 2014.

Much to my delight they accepted and fixed a date for submission.

Then the wheels came off with Nancy’s cancer fight and my jaw surgeries.

My editor graciously granted one delay after another.

In September of last year, I finally turned in a draft manuscript.

After Baker ran me through the editorial meat grinder (thankfully), I labored over a revision. It passed muster with the publisher in December 2017.

Today I learned from the marketing department that Baker posted a page on their website about the book with links to Amazon and other vendors. You can access it here.

I love the cover they designed. Ken Sande of RW360 wrote me a more-favorable-than-I-dared-imagine foreword. Thank you, brother!

The subtitle differs from my suggested version: The Best Fight Is the One Your Church Never Has. But what do I know? When you’re a rookie, you gladly defer to the pros.

The process begins now for seeking endorsements. That’s a big deal, since I’m a small potatoes pastor in Florida. But God knows how He may use the effort.

Baker tells me they plan to publish this November. Watch for further updates, if you are at all interested. I’ll keep you posted.

I am so grateful for God’s grace to get this done. Thanks to so many who have cheered me along the road to publication.

LIVING IN PEACE & THE KISS OF LOVE

How Striving for Peace Fuels the Kiss of Love

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A church at odds will not likely have many of its folks practicing the gospel virtue of greeting one another with the kiss of love (1 Pet. 5:14). Perhaps that’s why Paul finishes the way he does in the passage under consideration in this latest series of posts.

After emphasizing the role of joy, wholeness, submission and agreement for enhancing the practice of greeting with a holy kiss in 2 Cor. 13:11-12, the apostle Paul ends with one final factor.

“Live in peace.”

Rejoice, aim for restoration, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace.

So many texts of the New Testament point us to this last virtue. Consider Heb. 12:14:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

It is the duty of the church to strive for peace, to work hard at peacemaking, as those shaped by the gospel of the ultimate peacemaker, Jesus, who reconciled us to God (2 Cor. 5:18).

Notice the sweet promise with which Paul finishes for the church that prizes these five things: and the God of love and peace will be with you.

The God who supplies love and peace, given that’s His nature, will abide with the church in a special way with that love and peace. Of course inherent with the promise comes the warning that to fail to do these things means He will withdraw the same.

If we consistently do these things–rejoice in God, aim for perfection, submit to godly, gospel-laced, Bible-saturated authority, agree on the truth, and strive for the peace of our church–we stand to excel as one holy kissing bunch of believers!

Not that I necessarily want to say that you go out and from now on do the peck on the cheek thing. But as a rule something more may befit us than the token handshake of our culture.

Holy hugs (men with women and vice versa remember – side hugs or A-frame only) capture a whole lot more of the spirit of what the Bible teaches here than the casual wave or minimal greeting.

Let me leave you with this one thought. If the idea of giving someone else in the body a holy kiss seems unpleasant, even repugnant to you, you more than likely have some peacemaking to do.

Determine to rely on Jesus’ peacemaking power and the gospel’s impetus to help you engage others with a holy, tangible intimacy.

Greet one another with the kiss of love.

 

SUBMISSION & THE KISS OF LOVE

How Following Leadership Fuels the Kiss of Love

File'-Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles'_by_Valentin_de_Boulogne

When you blog as a pastor you never know. Does anyone read what you write?

I was both blessed and bothered recently by a report. Someone told me they were glad I have been writing lately on the New Testament exhortation to greet one another with a holy kiss (2 Cor. 13:12).

Great. Score one for this pastor/blogger. Somebody actually reads these posts. My elation was soon tempered.

“We think your church has become unloving.” Ouch. So much for self-congratulation.

Guess I need to keep hammering away at this subject.

In the first post I explained how the gospel shapes our community with oneness when we engage one another intentionally by greeting with the holy kiss of love.

In the second post I emphasized how rejoicing in the Lord is the first of four things Paul proposes for motivating the practice of greeting one another with a holy kiss.

In the third post, I unpacked how aiming for restoration–setting high goals compels doing the holy kiss thing in church.

In this post we turn to the next imperative in Paul’s arsenal from 2 Cor. 13:11 to promote his unity purposes at Corinth: submitting to the leadership.

The ESV offers an alternative in the margin to the next command, comfort one another.

For reasons I won’t elaborate on, I prefer the footnote. Listen to my appeal.

Throughout this letter Paul has brought apostolic correction in the way of inspired teaching designed to cure what ails them as a church.

It is imperative that they heed his counsel and follow his instruction if they have any hope of righting the ship, mending their ways, and going on to maturity.

In this he directs them yet another time away from the destructive influence of the false teachers plaguing the fellowship and draws them back into the safety of his pastoral and apostolic leadership.

In a community, some have to lead and others have to follow. Elders don’t possess apostolic authority, but God has entrusted them with ecclesiastical authority for which they will give an account (Heb. 13:17).

Without order in leading and following you have little likelihood of a church of peace where love can be readily expressed including things like the holy kiss.

Thus Peter says in 1 Pet. 5:5: Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

John MacArthur put it this way:

There must be a character of submission in the church in that it submits itself willingly to the authority of God, to heed all the appeals based on truth, all the calls to righteousness. Paul is saying to the Corinthians, “Look, if you’re going to be the kind of church you ought to be and enjoy the perfection that I desire for you . . . there needs to be a pervasive submission to that which is authoritative from the mind of God to you.”

Nobody likes the “S” word. I get that. But rightly understood, it matters greatly for preserving the gift of unity in the church.

Submissive types hug; rebels self-protect. Which are you?

“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.

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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

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Cruising.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.