GOOD FRIDAY IRONY

If Pagan Mortal Enemies Can Make Peace, Why Can’t You?

old crosses of stone to the backlight

How many times have I read a familiar portion of Scripture only to react: “I’ve never seen that before.”?

In the final moments leading up to his passion, Jesus goes to trial before Pilate (Luke 23:1-5). Pilate, evading the hot seat temporarily, ships Jesus off to Herod, the fox (Luke 13:32).

Herod and company delight to abuse the Son of God, ultimately transferring him back to Pilate’s jurisdiction in a game of political Ping-Pong (Luke 23:6-11). What fun.

Verse 12, Luke’s editorial comment on the turn of events, stopped me dead in my tracks.

“And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other (emphasis added).”

The word for “enmity” appears in Romans 8:7 as “hostile” to characterize the dilemma of the mind set on the flesh in relationship to a holy God. These infamous characters on history’s Good Friday stage did not care for each other in the least. And still their contempt for Jesus Christ wound up reconciling them as friends. Talk about major league irony!

Octavius Winslow’s comments, in his work Morning Thoughts, brought this insight to light for me:

How striking and solemn the instruction conveyed in this incident! Pilate and Herod, standing in the attitude of the deadliest hate to each other, are now made friends! And what strange but mighty power has thus suddenly subdued their animosity, and turned their hatred into love? What mystic chain has drawn and bound together these hostile rulers? Their mutual and deep enmity against Jesus! Believers in Christ! are the enemies of our glorious Redeemer, inspired by a natural and kindred feeling of hatred, induced to forget their private quarrels, and merge their differences in one common confederation to crush the Son of God, the object of their mutual hostility; and shall not the friends of the Redeemer, constrained by that divine principle of love which dwells in the hearts of all who are born of God, quench their heart-burnings, bury their antipathies, and draw more closely together in one holy, vigorous, and determined alliance to exalt the Son of God, the glorious and precious Object of their mutual affection? Oh, if Jesus is the bond of union to those who hate Him, how much more should He be the bond of union to those who love Him! Beneath His cross how should all unholy jealousy and bitterness, and wrath and anger, and clamor and all uncharitableness, be mourned over, confessed, abhorred, and renounced by the children of the one family; and how should all who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity be unhesitatingly and cordially recognized as such, thus “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“If Jesus is the bond of union to those who hate Him, how much more should He be the bond of union to those who love Him!” 

Indeed. Please allow me to challenge you this Good Friday.

Are you at enmity with some brother or sister somewhere in the body of Christ?

If Pilate and Herod can reconcile, cannot you at least take the first step (Rom. 12:18) toward your “enemy” for which Christ died and seek to be made friends?

 

 

WHEN RELATIONSHIPS RUPTURE (2)

How To Navigate Sharp Disagreements Which End in Separation

A single mountain road splits in two different directions. It's an autumnal cloudy day.

The magisterial reformer Martin Luther once offered this candid self-admission:

“I am rough, boisterous, stormy, and altogether war-like, fighting against innumerable monsters and devils. I am born for the removing of stumps and stones, cutting away thistles and thorns, and clearing wild forests.”

Even history’s giants of the faith suffered their share of personal issues. Sometimes their difficult natures resulted in relational train wrecks. My last post zeroed in on one of the Bible’s most infamous examples in Acts 15:36-41.

36 And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” 37 Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. 41 And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Sad but true, not all attempts at peacemaking end well. Breakups do happen among the best of us. What principles can we apply in those unfortunate circumstances to ease the pain and gain perspective?

In part one, I suggested three: accept reality, examine self, and understand interests. In part two, let’s consider four more helps for navigating sharp disagreements.

One, stay calm.

No matter who was right about John Mark, both Paul and Barnabas failed miserably in the way they conducted themselves. R. Kent Hughes notes in his commentary on Acts that the word paroxysm translated “sharp disagreement” denotes “violent action or emotion. This was not a mild gentleman’s disagreement but an intense and passionate conflict.”

Outbursts of anger shatter peace and multiply transgressions (Prov. 29:22). Determine to remain filled with the Spirit at all times (Gal. 5:22-23).

Two, seek help.

Did they? We don’t know. I want to hope these brothers attempted to climb up the slippery slope of peacemaking by enlisting mediators in the church at Antioch to work through their dispute (Phil. 4:2-3). To keep your conscience clear, make your own choices at every turn in sharp disagreements with a Four G’s ethic –no matter how the conflict ends up.

Three, trust God.

The worst of conflicts do not erase Romans 8:28 from the Bible. The Lord is always working to accomplish His purposes. Our frailties never thwart His ultimate plan (Phil. 1:12). As painful as their separation must have been, no doubt both men took comfort that one missionary team multiplied into two in God’s providence.

Four, allow time.

Let’s hope Paul and Barnabas, though parted, first reconciled with a conciliatory agree-to-disagree spirit. Always make this your goal, even if a dispute leads to dissolution of a partnership.

The sting of this breakup lessened eventually with a softening of Paul toward John Mark (2 Tim. 4:11). I imagine that put a smile on the Son of Encouragement’s face! God can and often does a lot of healing over time. Pray to that end.

Do you find yourself embroiled in a paroxysm-like conflict? These seven principles may help you survive the outcome in a First G kind of way (1 Cor. 10:31).

Question: What else has helped you do peacemaking in sharp disagreements?

THE WAYS OF A PEACEMAKER

Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers Who Excel at Mending Relationships

reconciliation

Alfred Poirier says this about pastoral ministry in his book The Peacemaking Pastor:

Pastoring is peacemaking. . .. Pastors are waiters serving the Lamb to sworn enemies. Pastors are busboys washing the dirty dishes of our hatreds, anger, lusts, deceits, malice, and filthy words in the purifying stream of Christ’s blood. It is tiring work. It is battle work. It is Messiah work. But we are compelled to persevere, because serving this way is at the heart of our calling as pastors, as mediators (188).

I’ve come to agree with all of that more than ever over the last fifteen years of pastoral ministry.

As a result, I read the Scriptures regularly with an eye for what will help churches guard unity and pursue peace.

In the next few posts, I want to focus on Paul’s letter to Philemon for its emphasis on forgiveness. So much of peacemaking involves both asking forgiveness and granting forgiveness.

And the book does involve that.

Onesimus, the thieving runaway slave become a Christian with Paul’s help (v. 10) in a Roman prison, needs forgiveness; Philemon, himself a convert of Paul (v. 19) and Onesimus’ owner, needs to forgive the wrongs done to him.

But the more I drilled down in my study of this shortest and most personal of Paul’s letters, I gained a different perspective on the thrust of Philemon.

What unfolds beautifully and powerfully in these twenty-five verses is the stunning ministry of the apostle Paul laboring busboy-like as a peacemaking mediator to bring the two estranged men together in reconciliation!

It appears Paul took Jesus quite seriously in Matthew 5:9 when He said, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Philemon presents a text-book example of how to act out the virtue Jesus longs to see embraced by each and every one of His followers.

The gist of things reads like this: Effective peacemakers go out of their way to broker reconciliation between estranged parties.

Paul became quite attached to Onesimus after his spiritual birth. He calls him my very heart (v. 12). He describes him as useful (v. 11). He even felt tempted to keep Onesimus with him for his services while still imprisoned (v. 13).

But he knew at the very least that would constitute a breach of faith with his brother, Philemon. So he rightly chose to send him back.

But how to do that knowing so much damage remained unresolved?

Paul’s strategy in this masterful letter gives us five practices of effective peacemakers who excel in helping mend broken relationships.

They lead with specific affirmation. They pray with singular aim. They engage with sincere appeal. They mediate with skillful aplomb. They invest with sacrificial action.

These will be the focus of my next posts.

Question: When has someone helped you mend a broken relationship and what did that look like?

AVOIDING ABORTIVE APOLOGIES

How NOT to Make Confession of Your Faults to Others

Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas, two NBA Hall of Famers, recently reconciled after a long-standing feud.

Their dispute dated back to the late 1980s when the LA Lakers and Detroit Pistons played each other in two consecutive NBA finals.

Johnson further admitted in a book co-authored with Larry Bird–another Hall of Famer who played for the Boston Celtics–that he helped keep Thomas off the 1992 US Olympic Dream Team.

Who takes issue with a such a moving scene? What’s the deal? On the one hand, I hope this emotional exchange results in genuine, lasting reconciliation. It certainly appears sincere.

On the other hand, it contains a flaw that often mars effective apology making–what a lawyer friend of mine refers to as an “abortive confession.” It fails to deliver because of one tiny word.

Did you catch it in the video? Johnson started well for sure. “You are my brother. Let me apologize . . . (so far so good, but then) IF I hurt you.”

One little word at the very least tainted the efficacy of Johnson’s confession.

Other words can have the same effect–like “but” and “maybe.” Ken Sande, in his book The Peacemaker, explains:

The best way to ruin a confession is to use words that shift the blame to others or that appear to minimize or excuse your guilt. The most common way to do this is to say, “I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you.” The word if ruins this confession, because it implies that you do not know whether or not you did wrong. … Clearly, that is no confession at all. It is a superficial statement designed to get someone to stop bothering you or to transfer fault for breaking a relationship. Small wonder that genuine forgiveness rarely follows such words (127).

Perhaps that last statement overstates the case somewhat. God can heal wounds between estranged parties through flawed means. We wish the best for these two men, of course.

But Sande’s point keeps in step with Jesus’s emphasis in Matthew 7:5: First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Abortive confessions fail to remove adequately the logs of our own offenses. Removing specks from the eyes of others with impaired vision is a dangerous procedure.

For additional help in making an effective apology see The Seven A’s of Confession.

Question: When have you been on the receiving end of an effective apology? What made it contribute to lasting reconciliation?

 

Run, Don't Walk, in This Race

I used to be a runner. Well, not really. More like a lumberer actually. In previous decades of my adult life I did jog for exercise. Hard to believe, but I actually competed in a 5K once, many moons ago. I took second place in the Faster Pastor division there in Winter Park. Of course, I think only two of us entered. I still have a picture of me outrunning a teenage girl at the finish line. Nothing seemed more mortifying to me than to have that girl beat me to the end of that race. I nearly had a heart attack right on the spot.

Now I walk for exercise. Far more dignified for a sixty year old with aging knees and too little time for working out. I like it better. Besides, Nancy doesn’t care to race. We just talk about our day and enjoy covering our four-street neighborhood.

However, if I read my New Testament right, and I hope I do, there is one place among others in which I must always be willing to run the race. And that is in making peace within the body of Christ, my church family. Hebrews 12:14 says this: Strive for peace with everyone. The Greek reads like this: Peace strive with all. The object comes before the verb (an imperative or command) for emphasis.

So where does this all fit in with the notion of running? It has to do with the particular word the writer uses for the English strive. It’s the word “dioko” which means to pursue, seek after, or to aspire to something. A literal cognate of the verb includes the word picture of running fast towards some goal or object. The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the word in Isaiah 5:11.

Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
that they may run after strong drink,
who tarry late into the evening
as wine inflames them!
See those words “run after.” That’s how the ESV translates the same Greek word in Heb. 12:14 translated “strive.” The imagery speaks volumes. In the body of Christ the gospel of Christ will compel the follower of Christ to make haste (every eager effort as another version puts it) to pursue the peace of Christ with the people of Christ. And please note, we cannot afford to be selective. You can’t determine that some believers warrant your vigorous pursuit of peace while others don’t. The exhortation pertains to all. Strive for peace with everyone.
Do you find yourself at odds with someone in the body of Christ? Be careful now. You might be tempted to excuse yourself on the basis of what that person has or hasn’t done in the pursuit of peace. What about you? In your honest evaluation of your efforts to close the gap and build a bridge of peace between you and that person have you run like the wind in pursuit of reconciliation with the same zeal you might run to a gourmet meal or a vacation in Idaho?
If not, it’s time to put on your peacemaking sneakers and go for a run in the race for unity and harmony by getting back into fellowship with your estranged brother or sister. The One who ran to the cross for you and me to make reconciliation between us and a holy God would want it that way.
Let us strive for peace within the body at OGC.

A Good Day for Tiger Woods

Signature

After reading this morning’s headline about the golfer’s exit from golf for now and his statement confessing infidelity in his marriage, I clicked on his website. His signature (pictured above), attached to his statement, is the only image in the main window. You can read what he has to say here.

While this news may not make for a good day for the PGA tour and golf lovers everywhere, Tiger Woods may end up regarding it one of the best days of his life.

I say that because of a verse from Scripture like Proverbs 28:13.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Woods’ confession may well possess all the components of what Ken Sande, in his book, The Peacemaker, calls the Seven A’s of Confession.

  1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)  – he has made this statement for all the world to see.
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs) – there appear to be no such clauses in his confession.
  3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions) – he names his actions infidelity and rightly so.
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone) – he begins the statement, “I am deeply aware of the disappointment and hurt.”
  5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution) – stepping away from golf indefinitely certainly qualifies for this.
  6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions) – the attitude appears altered, but only time will tell if actions change as well.
  7. Ask for forgiveness – he says the very words in his statement, “I ask forgiveness.”

Ken Sande often adds an eighth A under the seventh, namely, allow for time. It will take perhaps a very long while for Tiger to win back his wife’s trust. May we wish him well in that endeavor. Reconciliation/restoration of marriages honors God, the ultimate peacemaker.

Only one more thing could turn this good day into a very, very good day for Tiger Woods. If it turns out somewhere along the line that Psalm 32:1-5 applies to him as a result of this fall from grace, he will learn to call this his best of days.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

The biggest thing missing from Tiger Woods’ statement is any reference to God and the offense his sin makes before the Most High.

Oh that he, that we, might know the supreme blessedness of “you forgave the iniquity of my sin” through the good news of the gospel that Jesus Christ stood in his, our place, for things like infidelity and every other sin that condemns us and puts us rightly under His wrath.

The day we obtain mercy, not just from our wives, or children, or the public, but from God, that indeed is the best of all days in our life.