PEACEMAKING & “ALTAR BUILDING”

Marks of a God-Centered Lifestyle Essential for Peacemaking Excellence

I posted recently on one of my favorite Bible peacemaking passagesGen. 13. I failed to mention a critical component in the text–Abram’s pattern of altar building.

Praying in the dark

There is  a similarity between how the chapter begins and ends. In this is an insight—perhaps a secret—which explains why Abram could respond the way he did in the conflict with his nephew.

Genesis 12:10-20 recounts how Abram barely escaped a near disastrous entanglement with Pharaoh in Egypt. That background sets the stage for Abram coming out of Egypt back into Negeb.

It’s not an accident that these accounts come back-to-back. In chapter 12, Abram derails miserably with the Pharaoh debacle; here he gets back on track again with his own extended household.

The crucial difference between the two situations and their respective outcomes is revealed in v. 2-4.

Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord.

It appears Abram learned a lesson from his failures in Egypt. He’s back seeking the Lord again at all times. He has resumed the all-important practice of altar building.

What does that look like? It means making God the center of your existence through a variety of means. You make a priority of worshiping Him. You regularly listen for His voice in His word. You keep up ongoing conversation with Him in prayer. You wait on Him to fulfill His promises to you.

These things make all the difference in the world! This is a huge turning point in how chapter twelve ends and how thirteen unfolds. But there’s more.

Verse 18 says this:  So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the Lord. This chapter begins with altar building and it ends with altar building. Both references spell bookend emphasis for what comes in between.

It is this kind of God-centered orientation in chapter 13 which enables Abram with great grace to head off a relational train wreck with Lot.

Puritan Matthew Henry offered these practical insights about the disciplines of altar building:

Abram attended on God in his instituted ordinances. He built an altar unto the Lord who appeared to him, and called on the name of the Lord. Now consider this, (1.) As done upon a special occasion. When God appeared to him, then and there he built an altar, with an eye to the God who appeared to him. . . . Thus he acknowledged, with thankfulness, God’s kindness to him in making him that gracious visit and promise; and thus he testified his confidence in and dependence upon the word which God had spoken. . . . (2.) As his constant practice, whithersoever he removed. As soon as Abram had got to Canaan, though he was but a stranger and sojourner there, yet he set up, and kept up, the worship of God in his family; and wherever he had a tent God had an altar, and that an altar sanctified by prayer. . . .  Note, those that would approve themselves the children of faithful Abram, and would inherit the blessing of Abram, must make conscience of keeping up the solemn worship of God, particularly in their families, according to the example of Abram. The way of family worship is a good old way, is no novel invention, but the ancient usage of all the saints. Abram was very rich and had a numerous family, was now unsettled and in the midst of enemies, and yet, wherever he pitched his tent, he built an altar. Wherever we go, let us not fail to take our religion along with us.

How much altar building characterizes your life these days?

Your relational magnanimity quotient in peacemaking depends upon it.

 

THE TRIPLE FENCE

An Extraordinary Benefit To Having My Jaw Wired Shut

One week down. Two to go. Robojaw 2 left me Meatless in Miami–a major upside to the whole jaw-wired-shut deal recorded in that post. Today another half-glass-full look at things from Revheff Smoothie Town.

Zipped mouth

It came to me during my morning reading in the Scriptures. Psalm 141:3 stopped me cold:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!

King David prays. His sense of urgency in approaching I AM is palpable in the first two verses. Need drives him. Concern grips him. Several items make up his list of petitions.

Note the starting place. Of all the things I’ve ever prayed for to get help, I don’t think this particular issue ever made priority one: post a sentry over my speech. The Hebrew word for “guard” is closely related to the cognate “eyelid.”

David asks the Lord to keep a close eye on the gate separating his tongue from communication with others. Essentially he asks God to exercise great care over that strategic location.

Puritan Thomas Watson made this observation about how God has provided for this very protection by the wonders of creation:

God has given us two ears, but one tongue, to show that we should be swift to hear, but slow to speak. God has set a double fence before the tongue, the teeth and the lips, to teach us to be wary that we offend not with our tongue.

A double fence. What a word picture! For me He has ordained an additional barrier–a wired shut jaw. Amazing the economy of words one settles for when speaking so as to be understood requires so much effort at articulation.

The triple fencing of my tongue has led to three insights as to why we would all do well to take our cue from David and regularly pray the same prayer.

One, no one can tame the tongue in his/her own strength. James 5:8 settles this issue: But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Think of your tongue as a venomous viper ready to strike at the slightest provocation. Only one handler can tame it, but we must ask for His help.

Two, prayer on this score can spare us a world of difficulty. Prov. 21:23 advises: Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. I shudder to think how often ill advised words have gotten me into hot water. I posted about this quite recently here. James gets even more vivid with metaphors on this score in James 3:5-6.

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

That which has the power of life and death at its command needs all the fencing it can get (Prov. 18:21).

Three, fenced tongues matter greatly to a church’s peace. Among the things God hates we find these in Prov. 6:19: a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. Few things disrupt unity in God’s church like runaway tongues.

May we follow the example of the One who when reviled opened not His mouth (Isa. 53:7).

That starts by making the tongue a high priority matter in our praying.

SWEET REASONABLENESS (3)

How To Cultivate This Relational Virtue

Few things pour fuel on the fire of my anxiety like relational conflict.

Man with cardboard box on his head and terrified look skethed

I remember cutting the lawn some time ago just how much this fault grips me. My calendar the next day included an “exit interview” with someone who left my church.

Would you understand if I admitted that I hate those deals? They are just about the least favorite part of my job description. Give me a root canal instead, please.

Honestly, the more I mowed, the more obsessed I grew with worry over how that conversation would go. Pitiful–to say the least.

Finally, the Lord gave me an Agent Gibbs head slap on the back of the neck. It dawned on me just how far down the carnal slope I had slipped.

Why don’t you pray instead, knucklehead? Before I knew it, the Lord put 2 Tim. 2:24-25 into my thick head and hard heart. I started praying through those strategic pastoral verses while doing lawn wars Florida style.

When the apostle Paul exhorts the church at Philippi to a sweet reasonableness within the community, he details what it takes to make that virtue a reality. My last post dealt with the first of those ingredients–pursuing our joy in God.

This post zeroes in on the next component–making our requests to God (Phil. 4:6-7).

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Remember, the context here deals with conflict between two godly women in the church. We must put off worry when it comes to relational tension. How? Pray. Once again, Ken Sande helps unpack the meaning:

Paul knew that we cannot just stop being anxious. Worried thoughts have a way of creeping back into our minds, no matter how hard we try to ignore them. Therefore, he instructs us to replace worrying with “prayer and petition, with thanksgiving.” When you are in a dispute, it is natural to dwell on your difficult circumstances or the wrong things that the other person has done or may do to you. The best way to overcome this negative thinking is to replace it with more constructive thoughts, such as praising God for his grace through the gospel, thanking him for the many things he has already done for you in this and other situations, and praying for assistance in dealing with your current challenges (cf. Matt. 6:25-34), (The Peacemaker, 86-87).

That exit interview sailed by faster than I imagined it would. The grass got cut too. And I learned for the upteenth time to just say no to worry by just saying yes to prayer.

Part four coming your way soon!

A Birthday Prayer

birthday prayer
Among the gifts I enjoy as a now 63 year old man is friendship with an extraordinary pastor from Jacksonville. He specializes in praying for folks using the content of the Psalms. For my birthday last week he sent me this adaptation from Psalm 16.

Preserve Curt for another year, O God. On this birthday remind Curt of your faithful preserving his days this past year and cause him to take refuge in your careful shepherding in the year to come. You are indeed his Lord and he has no good apart from you. You, O LORD are his chosen portion and his cup; you hold his every moment and every day. Convince Curt that the lines of his life have fallen for him in pleasant places, indeed, he has been given a beautiful inheritance, in Christ. Thank you, Lord, for blessing and giving Curt counsel this past year. Even in the darkness of night you have been faithful to instruct him and comfort him. Grant your grace this coming year, O Lord, that he might set you often before his face and cause your right hand to so sustain him that he will surely not be shaken. Gladden his heart. Cause his whole being to rejoice as his flesh dwells secure. Make known to him your path of life this coming year for in your presence there is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. I ask, Lord, show Curt your paths, your fullness of joy and your pleasures this year ahead. And cause him to rest in Christ as one in whom the Father takes great delight. Amen & Amen.

Few gifts mean more than being prayed for. Thanks, pastor. You make me want to be a better pastor.

May we all follow his example in praying for others using the Psalms as an inspired template.

Nearest When Most Needed

mighty-fortress-a_t_nv

Yesterday some of us from Orlando Grace stood watch at the hospital. One of our own waited in suspense while her husband, a much treasured servant in our church, underwent a heart catheterization procedure. She got “bad” news. Even as I write this, her man faces bypass surgery in a matter of minutes.

After the shock subsided some, we prayed together. We thanked God for watching over our brother, who does strenuous work as part of his job, that his condition came to light before the worst may have happened. We asked God for His mercy in the procedure to circumvent the triple blockage. Finally we believed God together that our sister and her family would experience the all-sufficient grace of God as never before. He has pledged to be our helper.

So says Psalm 46:1. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (emphasis added).” Charles Spurgeon commented about this massive promise in God’s word:

All creatures have their places of refuge. “ As for the stork, the fir trees are her house. The high hills are a refuge for the Spurgeonwild goats; and the rocks for the conies.” All men also have their places of refuge, though some are “refuges of lies.” But God is our refuge and strength,” the omnipotence of Jehovah is pledged for the defense and support of his people. “A very present help in trouble,”- one who is near at hand; always near, but nearest when he is most needed. Not much entreaty is required to bring him to the aid of his people, for he is close at hand and close at heart, “a very present help in trouble.”

What need, extreme or otherwise, prompts you to say “Help!” Make God your refuge in it. Always near, but nearest when most needed.

Surviving Sorrow

I Married Up

How’s Nancy?

How are you?

I get these two questions a lot these days. I’m grateful. Caring by others adds greatly to comfort in trial and the soul sorrow it can bring.

As for question one . . .

My wife amazes me. Her devotion to a natural cancer-beating protocol nearly defies description. She has embraced this season’s demanded vocation – getting well – with whatever-it-takes zeal. By way of update, she continues to recover nicely from surgery. Last week the surgeon gave her a good report. Just a couple more weeks to go and she will be back to lifting those boxes of supplements all by herself again. Good thing. My back hurts.

Another blood test revealed slightly elevated CA-125 markers. The doc said “No surprise. Common after surgery.” Now we have a baseline for measuring effectiveness of the treatment regimen. We expect her to check these about monthly from this point on. That way we will have some idea of whether we are gaining, losing, or holding ground in the war against, as I prefer to call it, “this stupid disease.” As always, we would ask for prayer for God’s healing power to rid her body of every renegade cell.

As for question two . . .

How much time do you have? I fight daily on a number of fronts. Among them, sadness. Though January, gratefully, came and went, the sting of Josh’s death lingers. I don’t expect it ever to go away, though the burden does lessen with time. But fear of greater loss can compound my weight of sorrow. I feel it every day.

And yet, every day, it seems the Lord brings something to help me fight better to outlast my sorrow. This morning was no exception, as my daily Bible reading brought me to Matthew 26:36-46 (ESV).

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful
and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this Gethsemanecup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

Not just “sorrowful” but “troubled.” “Even to death.” The cross loomed on the horizon. The tempter lurked in a different garden hunting the Last Adam as he did the first (Genesis 3:1-7). More than ample reason for extreme distress.

How then does Jesus fight? What cues can we take from Him for surviving sorrow, whatever form it takes in our gardens of suffering? Four things: surrounding, seeking, serving, submitting.

One, surrounding ourselves with support. Jesus did not head for that garden alone. He took the disciples with him. The closest of the close he staged a stone’s throw away. He needed them. “Watch WITH me,” was His plea.

Two, seeking God’s help. Falling on His face He prayed. Let those words sink in. Some things only God can fix. Some hurts only the Lord can manage. Some pains only the Father can ease. Some challenges only I AM can handle. The two most important words out of our mouths when struggling to survive sorrow are “My Father,” because they mean we’ve turned heavenward, the only hope of avoiding collapse. And we must persist in this pattern. Three times Jesus went before the Father to voice His prayer. As long as the sorrow hangs around, take it to the Lord in prayer.

Three, serving others in love. The disciples favored a strategy often turned to in sorrow. Sleep. Jesus does not berate them. Even though subject to the temptation of temptations Himself, His best friends no comforters at all, He does not lash out. Rather He teaches and warns. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. First the example, next the instruction. You’ve got to watch and pray to survive your sorrows. I’m grateful for the stewardship of pastoral ministry. The call to serve others helps pull me out of sorrow’s tractor beam grip that so often leads to self-pity and despair.

Fourth, submitting to God’s will. If the two most important words out of the gate in sorrow are “My Father,” then the four most strategic words at the finish line are “Your will be done.” Who prays this way? Only those who believe Psalm 115:3. Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. The Son of God treasured the Father’s sovereignty in all things. He submitted Himself perfectly to His will. He delighted to do that will, even to the point of death, death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8).

So when I don’t fare so well on any given day in my fight to survive my sorrow, or perhaps my comforters fall asleep on me, I try to remember the One who fought His sorrows and won for me what I cannot do for myself. I commend the same strategy to you as you go through your valley of the shadow whenever and wherever it may come.

Birthday Burnings and Pleas for Mercy

Josh and Me (2)

Josh,

You would have turned 37 today. Mom and I may not have necessarily enjoyed the pleasure of your company this very day. You would likely have pulled a double at the restaurant. But we would have caught up with you on your day off, maybe even watched the Super Bowl this Sunday, played perhaps with properly inflated balls.

I would grill you a ribeye, medium rare, just as you liked it. Mom would have baked you one of those killer “Black Magic” cakes – a Heff birthday tradition. We would have sipped a Zin brought by you purchased inevitably above my pastoral price point. And the preacher in Ecclesiastes 2:24-25 would have smiled upon us: “There is nothing better for a person than he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”

But you are gone. I miss you.

Love,

Dad

Those horrible words sink in yet another heart-stabbingly relentless time. Just when I thought I survived January 18, the 28th brings another of grief”s battering waves.

Once again, where does a grieving father turn? He goes to His father above. And He never disappoints.

There this miserable-memory morning I read these words from another familiar-with-suffering servant:

Job gives utterance to a mood which is not foreign to us when he says, “Am I a sea, or a whale, that You set a guard over me?” In certain moods of anguish the human heart says to God, “I wish You would leave me alone; why should I be used for things which have no appeal to me?” In the Christian life we are not being used for our own designs at all, but for the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus Christ. He has prayed that we baffled-to-fight-bettermight be “one with Him as He is one with the Father”; consequently God is concerned only about that one thing, and He never says “By your leave.” Whether we like it or not, God will burn us in His fire until we are as pure as He is, and it is during the process that we cry, as Job did, “I wish You would leave me alone.” God is the only Being who can afford to be misunderstood; we cannot, Job could not, but God can. If we are misunderstood we “get about” the man as soon as we can. St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” God never vindicates Himself, He deliberately stands aside and lets all sorts of slanders heap on Him, yet He is not in any hurry. We have the idea that prosperity, or happiness, or morality, is the end of a man’s existence; according to the Bible it is something else, “to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.” When a man is right with God, God puts His honor in that man’s keeping. Job was one of those in whom God staked His honor, and it was during the process of His inexplicable ways that Job makes his appeal for mercy, and yet all through there comes out his implicit confidence in God. “And blessed is he, who is not offended because of Me,” said Our Lord (Oswald Chambers, Baffled to Fight Better: Job and the Problem of Suffering, Discovery House, 1990, p. 41-42, emphasis added).

I’m not a 21st century Job. Not even close. But I do need mercy. Thus I appeal.

Sovereign God, if I belong to that privileged company “Guardians of Your Honor,” and I believe I do, only by grace, then burn away as You please. But have mercy on me for I am but a sinful, grieving man dealing with this birthday’s burnings. I admit it. I sometimes wish you would leave me alone. But not so much that I entertain offense at my Savior and abandon my implicit confidence in You.

BONHOEFFERS MORNING PRAYER

Dietrich BonhoefferNew Year’s Day, 2015. Time to reflect back in hopes of moving forward.
2014 started miserably with death in January. Grief took up an unwelcome residence in our household. Lesson learned? The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).
The year peaked sweetly with blessing in July. Twin grand kids. It doesn’t get much better. Lesson learned? There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). 
We crash dived hard with sickness in December. Cancer again. But this time attacking the queen. Lesson learned? Being learned? Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4).
Why must it be so hard? How does one press on into another year when the first Friday will bring another doctor’s visit and the prospect of more bad news?
Turn everlastingly Godward.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer did. Imprisoned in Nazi Germany for opposing Hitler’s Third Reich, he wrote his famous treatise, Letters from PrisonIt proved a great comfort to me time and again when I read it during my cancer journey in 2005. A friend of mine recently sent me a copy of Bonhoeffer’s Morning Prayer (see below). The German pastor read it to his fellow prisoners that Christmas morning in 1943. My friend wrote a note with it expressing his hope it would strengthen me and Nancy in, as he put it, “this latest chapter in your life.”
It did. It does. Thanks, Mike.
May it do the same for you, dear reader, whatever 2015 brings to your household.
MORNING PRAYER
Christmas, 1943
God, to you I call early in the morning.
Help me pray
And gather my thoughts to yourself
I cannot do it alone.
In me it is dark,
But with you is the light;
I am lonely, but you forsake me not;
I am faint-hearted, but with you is help;
I am restless, but with you is peace;
In me is bitterness, but with you is patience;
I do not understand my way, but
You know the way for me.
Father in Heaven,
Praise and thanks
Be yours for the night’s rest.
Praise and thanks be your for the new day.
Praise and thanks be yours for all your kindness
And faithfulness in my past life.
You have shown me much good,
Let me now receive from your hand
What is hard (emphasis mine).
You will not lay upon me
More than I can bear.
For your children you let all things
Serve for the best.
Lord Jesus Christ,
You were poor
And miserable, captive and forsaken as I am.
You know every need of humans,
You remain with me
When no man stands by me,
You forget me not and seek me,
You will that I recognize you
And turn to you.
Lord, I hear your call and follow,
Help me!
Holy Spirit,
Give me the faith that rescues me from
Despair, addictions, and vice,
Give me the love for God and humans,
That destroys all hate and bitterness,
Give me the hope that frees me from
Fear and despondency.
Holy, merciful God,
My Creator and my Savior,
My Judge and my Deliverer,
You know me and everything I do.
You hate and punish evil in this world
And in the next with no respect of persons;
You forgive sins for the one
Who asks sincerely;
You love good and reward it on this
Earth with a good conscience
And in the world to come
With the crown of righteousness.
Before you I think of all my loved ones,
And of my fellow prisoners, and of all those
Who do their hard service in this house.
Lord, have mercy!
Grant me freedom again,
And let me so live in the present
That I can live responsibly
Before humans.
Lord, whatever else this day brings—
May your name be praised!
Amen.

 

A New Year’s Prayer

new year prayer

Here is the Puritan prayer from the Valley of Vision which I quoted at the top of the message this morning:

O Lord,
I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with Thee, O Father as my harbour,
Thee, O Son, at my helm,
Thee O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,
my lamp burning,
my ear open to Thy calls,
my heart full of love,
my soul free.

 Give me Thy grace to sanctify me,
Thy comforts to cheer,
Thy wisdom to teach,
Thy right hand to guide,
Thy counsel to instruct,
Thy law to judge,
Thy presence to stabilize.

May Thy fear be my awe,
Thy triumphs my joy.

Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed in Thy presence,
in Thy service,
to Thy glory.

Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,
that I may not be one moment apart from Thee,
but may rely on Thy Spirit
to supply every thought,
speak in every word,
direct every step,
prosper every work,
build up every mote of faith,
and give me a desire to show forth Thy praise;
testify Thy love,
and advance Thy kingdom.