AFFIRMATION & THE PEACEMAKER

Virtue #1 in the Ways of a Peacemaker

Bridge of Spies

Based upon true events during the Cold War, the gripping film Bridge of Spies stars Tom Hanks as attorney James Donovan.

The CIA hires Donovan to act as a mediator in a prisoner exchange between the US and Soviet Union in East Berlin.

Hanks’ character displays much of the relational wisdom skills necessary for effective assisted peacemaking between opposing parties.

For an excellent post exploring these concepts click here.

Recently I introduced a series of posts called The Ways of a Peacemaker: Five Practices of Effective Peacemakers who Excel at Mending Relationships.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon, the apostle prepares to return run-away-slave-turned-Christian Onesimus to his owner. Here we see a biblical model of assisted peacemaking worthy of imitation.

This post explores the first of five practices skillful peacemakers employ in helping repair broken relationships–leading with specific affirmation.

After the customary greetings of an epistle in verses 1-3, Paul does what he so often does in his New Testament letters in verses 4-5. He expresses his gratitude to God for this man.

This “thanks” saturates his regular praying for Philemon. And he goes way beyond a mere generalized appreciation of this brother.

He gets quite specific as to the reasons for his thanks in v. 5—because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

Do you see what Paul values and how he reinforces it with praise? Love for all the saints and faith in the Lord.

Normally Paul would put faith first and love second, but not here.

He reverses them knowing that he will call on that love and more from Philemon with the peacemaking requests he will make of him.

Ken Sande writes:

A conflict generally involves two basic ingredients: people and a problem. All too often, we ignore the feelings and concerns of the people and focus all our attention on the problems that separate us. This approach often causes further offense and alienation, which only makes conflicts more difficult to resolve. One way to avoid these unnecessary complications is to affirm respect and concern for your opponent throughout the negotiation process (The Peacemaker, 231).

The same goes for all-in mediators trying to broker reconciliation—they lead with specific affirmation.

For a helpful rubric for biblical negotiation which leads with affirmation please see The PAUSE Principle.

One word of caution. Lead with sincere, legitimate affirmation. Avoid the temptation to manipulate with ingenuine words. That’s bound to backfire and doesn’t honor the Lord.

Affirmation communicates your value of persons made in God’s image. The way of a peacemaker never forgets using the tongue to bless others rather than curse them (James 3:6-10).

Virtue #2 in the ways of a peacemaker–praying with singular aim–will be the focus of my next post.

Question: What kinds of things can we readily affirm in others when engaged in conflict?

 

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.

WORTHLESS RELIGION

Why Our Tongues Matter So Much To Our Church’s Peace

It never ceases to amaze me. No matter how many times I read through the Bible it happens over and over again. I see something for the very first time. How it escaped me all those previous times I’ll never know.

Snake Tongue

Reading through James recently it hit me unlike ever before. A faith that works–the book’s theme–demonstrates its validity significantly in control of our tongues.

Track this emphasis with me in these verses:

James 1:26

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

James 3:1-12

I won’t cite the whole passage. You can read it by clicking on the link. But think about it. The writer invests twelve whole verses about our troublesome tongues declaring, “no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (v. 8).

How so?

“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water” (v. 9-12).

Mike Mason sternly warns:

How cautious we need to be about leveling even the smallest criticism against the loved and elect children of God. Do we really think we can get away with grumbling against the friends of Jesus? If we stopped to realize who it is we were attacking, wouldn’t we bite our tongues (The Gospel According to Job, 241).

But James hasn’t finished this stream of exhortation just yet.

James 4:11-12

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”

Sorry, there’s even more. He hammers away in James 5:9.

“Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold the Judge is standing at the door.”

Gulp. If that doesn’t sober us nothing will. How very serious does the Lord take this matter of how we speak about our brothers and sisters! We can and must gauge the legitimacy of our claim as Christ followers by it.

Ever since this latest light went on in the book of James, I have sought to exercise all the more care over the words I speak about others inside and outside my church. The last thing I want to hear from the lips of Jesus one day is “Heff, your religion was worthless because your tongue was poison.”

How about you?

GUARDIANS OF UNITY SET A GUARD WHERE IT COUNTS MOST

Five Guidelines for Controlling the Tongue to Safeguard Church Unity

Few things stand to jeopardize our churches’ treasured oneness than our own runaway tongues. Thus the poet of sacred text prays, Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips (Psalm 141:3)!

words

They most certainly do. Anyone aspiring to a do-your-best standard of peacemaking in his church will embrace these five principles from Scripture which can effectively set a guard over our tongues and govern our words:

One, respect them accordingly. Since Prov. 18:21 is true–Death and life are in the power of the tongue, treat your words with enormous respect. They can do great good. They can do enormous harm. At our Idaho place, I keep a variety of weapons–largely for hunting purposes. For obvious reasons, they command my complete respect every time I handle them. Treat your words with the same reverence.

Two, suspect them ruthlessly. James 3:8 warns, No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Read the rest of the chapter for more plain talk about the Mission Impossible that is controlling our words. That reality should sober us. Assume the worst about your speech right out of the gate. It will help check your words constructively before you let them fly.

Three, limit them considerably. The wisdom writer helps us again. When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent (Prov. 10:19). Remember this rule of thumb–or should I say tongue?: the greater the number of words we speak, the greater the potential for sins we commit. James gets this too. Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19). Perhaps overused but nonetheless true: God gave us two ears and just one mouth for a reason.

Four, choose them strategically. This can mean a lot of things. At the very least consider these guidelines. Always speak the truth, but do it in love (Eph. 4:15). Ask yourself before you speak, Will this build up and give grace or corrupt and tear down (Eph. 4:29). While never lacking graciousness in your word choices, recognize that love at times dictates sanctified sternness. We see this all over Paul’s letters. While reading one of them recently, I was struck by his counsel to a pastor on Crete to rebuke them sharply (Titus 1:13). Their nasty habits required tough love for their own salvation good.

Five, keep them confidentially. Among the seven things God hates (Prov. 6:16-19), Solomon lists last, one who sows discord among brothers. Alexander Strauch does not overstate the case when he writes:

Gossip, or talebearing, is one of the common sins of discord. . . . Like a dreadful, contagious disease, it poisons people’s minds and creates chaos and misinformation. it is an ugly vice that drives people apart and destroys peace (If You Bite & Devour One Another, 71).

Keep confidences religiously!

The Psalmist sets us the example. Pray often for the Lord to act as guardian of your tongue and watchman over your words. Pray the same for the rest of the people in your congregation. Set a guard where it matters most, my dear fellow guardian of your church’s  peace.

Question: What other texts have helped you in your attempts to tame your tongue? You can leave your comment here.

A Way to Pray

A Way to Pray

When someone gifts me a book, I tend to pay close attention. Books change lives. A new title added to my library, prompted by someone’s concern that it might enrich me, makes me want to read the thing with very few exceptions.

That certainly was the case with my recent sabbatical when a dear friend of mine sent me this gem of a read. Most people know the Puritan Matthew Henry for his massive commentary on the whole Bible. Rarely do I prepare a sermon that I don’t reference this classic as part of my study. What I didn’t know until receiving a copy of A Way to Pray and reading its introduction by O. Palmer Robertson, is that the man never finished the commentary without help. He considered the publication of this work a greater priority.

A Way to Pray consists almost entirely of Scriptures arranged topically and put into the language of prayer to help guide the believer’s intercessory life. Robertson revised the 300 year old work to put it into language suitable to the modern day.

Here’s what Robertson says in the introduction about the significance of this approach to prayer:

Prayer in this form is nothing more and nothing less than what the old Puritans called ‘pleading the promises’.  God has made promises to his people.  His people respond by redirecting those promises to the Lord in the form of prayer.  How could a God who is faithful to his word fail to answer prayers of this kind?  He has promised.  He will honour that promise.  If Christians would join together and form their prayers with the maturity and insight provided by Scripture itself, the impact on the world could not be measured.”

Robertson also goes on to say, and this strikes me as no insignificant testimony, that, “Next to the Bible it has been the most read and the most influential book in my life.”

As I have begun to work through the various sections – praise, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession, etc., I have found A Way to Pray to provide a richness to my spiritual disciplines which I regret not adding to the mix a long time ago. You can purchase a copy here. Or you can access a free online version here.

In working through the section on confession this morning, I prayed this from p. 54:

In the multitude of our words there never has been a lack of sin, for man full of talk will never be justified. While the lips of the righteous feed many, our lips have poured out foolishness and spoken perversity. Much corrupt communication has come out of our mouths. We are guilty of foolish talk and jesting, which are always out of place in your presence. We have spoken little of things useful for building up; others in the faith. We have failed to speak words that could minister grace to our hearers.

If we must give account for every idle word that we have spoken, we stand condemned. If by our words we shall be justified and by our words we shall be condemned, then woe to us. We are ruined, for we all have unclean lips and live among people with unclean lips. What would happen to us if you should turn our tongue against us?

Here’s to prayer that impacts the world beyond measure.