WHEN A KISS ISN’T JUST A KISS

How Greeting with a Holy Kiss Promotes Unity in the Church

holy kiss

I love how the apostle Paul closes out his second letter to the Corinthians. “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor. 13:12).

My aim in this post and others to follow is to show how taking this command seriously can serve to guard oneness in your church.

What is a holy kiss? The adjective tips us off that he means nothing sensual at all. Yet it still involves physical contact. This gesture promotes spiritual purposes, not amorous ones.

In the ancient world, among the Jews and other cultures, even in parts of the world today, people greeted each other, normally males with males and females with females, by a light touch of the lips, first on one cheek and then on the other.

The early church adopted the same, often after baptisms as a way of welcoming new converts into the church and during communion to welcome repentant folks who returned to the table.

We find this same exhortation in several other places in the New Testament (see Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 1 Thess. 5:26; and 1 Pet. 5:14 where Peter calls it the kiss of love).

This mattered.Why does Paul close his letter on this note, other than the familiar benediction in 2 Cor. 13:14? What would possess him to direct them to make sure they engage in such an intimate, personal expression of love toward one another as a holy kiss at the close of things?

It has everything to do with the kinds of issues he addresses in this most personal letter he has just written to them. The Corinthian church experienced trouble on multiple fronts. They suffered division in their ranks (2 Cor. 12:20), corrupt teaching from false apostles (2 Cor. 11:4), grave sin that needed discipline and restoration (2 Cor. 2:5-8), among other things.

So writing both to address these things and to defend his apostleship which had come into question, Paul now wraps up the letter to put a summary recap on everything he has said.

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

He reveals his pastoral heart in love. Notice he calls them brothers (all inclusive, men and women). That’s important, as a term of endearment, because the immediate context, shows Paul delivering a scorching rebuke, threatening apostolic severity (2 Cor. 13:10) when he comes, if they don’t shape up.

He doesn’t want to leave that kind of sour taste in their mouths. Note well, reproof delivered with hard words may well have longer lasting effects when followed by strong assurances of love and affection.

Never lower the boom on anyone, especially in the body of Christ, without strong reminders of your affection and commitment to that someone.

I think Paul calls for the kiss of love in the end result of his letter so that they won’t peace-fake. I suppose you can come up to somebody you would really rather not have anything to do with and fake such a thing, but don’t call it holy. And it’s really hard to do!

To engage somebody on that level of intimacy where you will go cheek to cheek, normally means you’ve got no impediments blocking your relationship. Having to do this kind of thing in a fellowship of believers can help ensure that peacemaking, not peace-faking or peace-breaking, actually does go on.

In my next post I will head into v. 11 to help us embrace the practice of greeting one another with a holy kiss in ways culturally appropriate in our day and age.

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.

WHY NOT A UNITY CHARTER?

A Proposed Document for Churches Serious about Preserving Peace

Ephesians 4:3 remains the anchor verse for my blog site–eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Nothing short of our very best efforts in safeguarding unity in our congregations will suffice, if we seriously embrace the thrust behind that word eager. I plan on devoting an entire chapter to the idea in my book, The Peacemaking Church.

woman is filling document on glass table, shallow depth of field
The thought occurred to me recently, Why not fashion a church charter to foster unity’s preservation? Plenty of organizations use charters of one kind or another to shape a desired culture. Surely the church can do the same on something this crucial to her well being.

I crafted mine by making an acronym out of the word unity. Imagine posting something like this around your facility, incorporating its content in your bylaws, and/or teaching through it as part of the membership class.

OUR CHURCH’S UNITY CHARTER

We Use Means Big and Small to Maintain Unity–from potentially hosting a RW360 weekend conference to simply stocking our resource center with copies of Resolving Everyday Conflict, we put into play multiple options designed to help us keep our congregation’s culture of peace strong.

We Need Love First and Last to Maintain Unity–of all the virtues generated by the gospel’s power in our lives, we acknowledge none matters more than what Paul calls in 1 Cor. 13 the greatest–love. We measure every value, word, and action in terms of its conformity or lack thereof to the question: Is it loving?

We Imitate Models Divine and Human to Maintain Unity–as Paul appealed to the selfless example of Jesus in Phil. 2:5-11 for a mindset that looks out not only for our own interests, but also for the interest of others, we meditate often on our Lord’s incarnation for motivation in safeguarding unity. We resist objecting to such a standard as impossibly high realizing that Phil. 2:19-30 present two other “normal” individuals–Timothy and Epaphroditus–who excelled at meeting the challenge.

We Train Servants Clergy and Lay to Maintain Unity–so as to equip the saints for peacemaking excellence, we arrange for offering regular teaching on the subject using the various models provided by Peacemakers Ministries. Every pastor undergoes conflict coaching and mediation training to provide the necessary tools for handling disturbances which threaten unity in the church.

We Yield Preferences Left and Right to Maintain Unity–whether pertaining to styles of worship music or matters of conscience over which only Jesus should judge (Rom. 14:1-12) and everything in between, we rely on the gospel’s power to defer to others wherever and whenever  we possibly can. It is our joy to lay down rights with the Spirit’s help in the name of safeguarding our treasured unity.

Now I ask you: what difference might it make if your church and mine adopted such a charter for preserving unity? Your church might word things differently. Who cares?

As long as our commitments come from the Scriptures and ultimately serve the endgame–eagerly preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace–spelling out our high value of unity and the ends to which we will go to protect it can only enhance our prospects for heading off conflict before it ever happens.

Question: How might you tweak a charter of unity for your church, if you had opportunity to participate in such a stewardship? You can leave a comment here.

IS YOUR CHURCH LOVING?

How To Help Your Church Abound in Love

I certainly hope so. It should be. Jesus declared love the distinguishing mark by which all others would know that we are His disciples (John 13:35).

love one another 2

But here’s the deal. Paul prays in Phil. 1:9 that their church’s love may abound more and more. He exhorted another church very much the same way:

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more (1 Thess. 4:9-10, emphasis added).

It seems we can’t afford to rest on our laurels when it comes to the degree of love operational in our congregations.

Here are seven ways you can potentially affect the abounding of love in your church so as to ensure its peace and unity:

  1. Admit to the Lord any failures on this front, believe the gospel again, and determine to obey in His strength in the future.
  2. Embrace the commandment to excel in love as just that–marching orders from Jesus. We can’t treat this virtue as optional. Also, regard it as the A-priority responsibility it is. Why else would Peter write: Above all, keep loving one another earnestly (1 Pet. 4:8, emphasis added).
  3. Never assume you have arrived on this front. The Bible doesn’t make room for complacency in our love performance. Ask the Lord to help you push the edge of envelope in ways you haven’t done so before.
  4. Make it a habit to do loving things. Build your love muscles by practicing kindness. Alexander Strauch calls kindness love with work clothes on. Write notes. Give gifts (even little ones). Make a phone call. Buy someone lunch. Drop by for a visit (ask first).
  5. Practice hospitality. Texts teaching about love often include the exhortation to open our home to others. For example, Paul exhorts, Let love be genuine in Rom. 12:9. Then in v. 13 he adds, Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
    We find another example of this combo in Heb. 13:1-2. One commands, Let brotherly love continue. Then v. 2 quickly follows with, Do not neglect to show hospitality. Few things say love more persuasively than sharing a meal with others around your table.
  6. Pray for one another in your church to grow in love for one another. Last Sunday we studied that text in Philippians (1:9) where Paul prays for their love to abound. So this week I am praying through our member/attender list for each household for the same thing. Your church has such a list, doesn’t it?
  7. Finally, and most importantly, meditate often on the love of God for you in Christ Jesus. I think Paul prays in Eph. 3:18-19 the way he does for this very reason. He knows if we can even remotely comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of Jesus’ love for us, it cannot help but overflow through us to refresh others.

Churches that love well in Jesus advertise well for Jesus. And members who abound in love are the kind of members who excel in helping preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in their churches. Go for it!

Question: What’s one thing you want to do this week to push your love for others towards an abounding level? You can leave a comment here.

PHILIPPIANS: A PEACEMAKER’S MUST

Mastering the Letter As We Study the Book

Last Sunday we embarked on a pulpit study of Paul’s epistle to the Philippians. This choice by our elders during my medical leave of absence thrills me. Why? The theme of peacemaking runs throughout it.

Phil

We don’t get any further than 1:27 before Paul begs, so that I may hear of you standing firm in one spirit , with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel. Then in 2:2 the apostle goes so far as to plead, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Come 2:14 he lays this on them: Do all things without grumbling or disputing. And before the book ends, he calls out two women by name charging them to agree in the Lord (Phil. 4:2). He even invokes the aid of a mediator to assist them to that end. This church certainly endured its share of unity challenges!

We could hardly dig into a more strategic book to strengthen our peacemaking core value than the book of Philippians.

Here are seven ways to get the most out of a study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

  1. Listen to Pastor Mike’s comprehensive overview of the book AGAIN. My, what a job he did! For extra credit check out ISBE’s article for its introduction of the letter.
  2. Read through the entire book at least once per week, perhaps on Saturday nights in preparation for the Lord’s Day.
  3. Read the sermon passage of the week DAILY. Ask the Lord to give you insight. Make some observation, interpretation, application notes along the way in a notebook, journal, or your mobile device. Tomorrow’s text is Phil. 1:1-11.
  4. Pick a key verse (mine is Phil. 2:1-11–I know that’s a section), memorize it, and meditate upon it throughout the series. How might God work in our church this year if everyone did this? Take a smaller portion if eleven verses overwhelm you. I get it. For some reason memorization comes rather easily to me. Not everyone enjoys the same experience.
  5. Bookmark the Preceptaustin page in your computer for more commentary resources you can possibly consult along the way. After you do your own study through the week, check your conclusions against the scholarly work you’ll find at that site.
  6. Use your Sunday’s well. Remember Pastor Shane’s message a few weeks back? He stressed this. Discuss the sermon at lunch with others. Review the points from your notes later in the day. Decide on one thing you will do to apply the message that week. Ask someone to hold you accountable to it.
  7. Pray for the speaker each week (Dennis Mudge serves tomorrow) and for us as a congregation. Pray for anointing on the preacher. Pray for soft hearts among us as hearers (James 1:21).

Imagine the fruit to come from these messages, if our covenant members adopt this kind of strategy for mining the rich ore laden in the shafts of this peacemaking treasure of God’s word.

Lord willing, see you tomorrow back in my appointed seat. I might even let loose with an “Amen!” or “Preach it, brother!” here and there.

Question: What excites you about our study in this book of the Bible? You can leave your comment here.

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).

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. 

 

Peacemaker's Pledge

This Sunday is Conciliation Anniversary Sunday at Orlando Grace. We will mark the 11th anniversary of a reconciliation service hosted by our leadership in the aftermath of the last major conflict endured by our church. As always, I will preach on biblical conflict resolution. The title of the message is What Peacemaking People Do. If you wish to preview the text for prayerful preparation, see 1 Thessalonians 5:9-15.

This time of year also makes for a fitting review of the helpful Peacemaker’s Pledge brought to us from the excellent folks at Peacemaker Ministries. I include it here for our edification. Please consider giving it another or perhaps first-time careful and prayerful reading as we head into this weekend of remembering at OGC.

As people reconciled to God by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we believe that we are called to respond to conflict in a way that is remarkably different from the way the world deals with conflict. We also believe that conflict provides opportunities to glorify God, serve other people, and grow to be like Christ. Therefore, in response to God’s love and in reliance on his grace, we commit ourselves to respond to conflict according to the following principles:

Glorify God — Instead of focusing on our own desires or dwelling on what others may do, we will rejoice in the Lord and bring him praise by depending on his forgiveness, wisdom, power, and love, as we seek to faithfully obey his commands and maintain a loving, merciful, and forgiving attitude.

Get the Log out of Your Eye — Instead of blaming others for a conflict or resisting correction, we will trust in God’s mercy and take responsibility for our own contribution to conflicts—confessing our sins to those we have wronged, asking God to help us change any attitudes and habits that lead to conflict, and seeking to repair any harm we have caused.

Gently Restore — Instead of pretending that conflict doesn’t exist or talking about others behind their backs, we will overlook minor offenses or we will talk personally and graciously with those whose offenses seem too serious to overlook, seeking to restore them rather than condemn them. When a conflict with a Christian brother or sister cannot be resolved in private, we will ask others in the body of Christ to help us settle the matter in a biblical manner.

Go and be reconciled — Instead of accepting premature compromise or allowing relationships to wither, we will actively pursue genuine peace and reconciliation—forgiving others as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven us, and seeking just and mutually beneficial solutions to our differences.

By God’s grace, we will apply these principles as a matter of stewardship, realizing that conflict is an assignment, not an accident. We will remember that success in God’s eyes is not a matter of specific results, but of faithful, dependent obedience. And we will pray that our service as peacemakers will bring praise to our Lord and lead others to know His infinite love.

As we mark another year of relative conflict-free peace within our assembly, may we recommit ourselves to this pledge and continue to cultivate a culture of peace for the glory of God and our great joy.

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 Biblical Vision for the Church

Pastor Mark Dever has a message from 1 Corinthians up on the audio portion of the 9Marks site. I listened to it last week.

He entitled it A Biblical Vision for the Church. Essentially he argues that the church exists for God and that the thing that should constrain us more than anything else in terms of our participation in a local church is that perspective.

From that starting point he goes on to articulate from various places in the epistle how the local church is to be three things: holy, unified, and loving. He reasons that because God Himself is these things, which he shows from the text as well, we should reflect these things in our churches.

It means we can’t afford to overlook things like church discipline.

It means we can’t fragment into divisions that center on various personalities.

It means we ought to bend over backwards in deferring to one another in showing love.

He finishes with how the gospel informs all those things. He pleads with the listener to evaluate his church in these terms.

It’s a worthwhile investment of about fifty minutes.

Check it out. You can listen to the audio here.