A Spiritual Hymn and a Simple Truth

As I was preparing to teach at my church this Sunday I came across an old story about Robert Robinson (1735-1790).  Robinson was the man who wrote “Come Thou Fount of every Blessing,”  one of my favorite hymns.

Robinson was just 22 years old when he wrote these lyrics:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

 Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robinson became ordained and preached under three different denominational banners in his lifetime.  Today there are many rumors that Robinson eventually 1) became a Unitarian or 2) abandoned his faith altogether.  I did a little investigating and found that these rumors are largely unfounded.

There is , however, little doubt that Robinson faced doubts and struggles later in his life.  As one story goes, Robinson was riding in a coach with a woman who was commenting on the famous hymn above, when Robinson responded, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.”

This, in my opinion, makes his cry to God all the more pertinent- “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love…” and immediately following, Robinson’s plea for help, “Here’s my heart, take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.”

The honesty with which Robinson penned these words strikes home.  We are all prone to wander.  And when we do it is most evident in how we deal with the conflict in our lives.  Our response to conflict is a gauge by which we can measure the condition of our hearts.

I thank God for Robinson’s words, and for Robinson’s struggles.  It is an encouragement to know that one who so deeply understood the truths of God still had to cling to this simple truth:

“O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.”

Restoring Integrity to Church Membership

At Peacemaker Ministries, we believe that membership in a local church is really important — partly because that’s where our primary growth as believers takes place (see Jeromy and Jerry’s thoughts earlier this week), and also because church membership is a key way that churches are able to practice assisted peacemaking (on the Slippery Slope, the mediation, arbitration and accountability slices).

Sam Ranier at Church Forward agrees that membership matters and, in a post called Restoring Integrity to Church Membership, Sam describes the process his church went through to narrow the gap between “members” and “active church members.” 

Here are the tips Sam shares:

1. Love the people.

2. Start a new members’ class.

3. Follow-up is critical.

4. Clean the rolls in stages.

5. Enlist key members of the church.

6. Challenge Sunday School/small groups/connect groups to help in the process.

7. Take it slow

8. Parallel an outwardly-focused missions strategy with the process of cleaning up the rolls

Implied throughout Sam’s post is his emphasis on reaching out to people, calling them back to living out the faith that they professed when they joined the church.  If your church is in a similar situation, Sam’s post has some very practical wisdom.  And don’t forget, like most change, something like this could be a catalyst for church conflict … so striving for integrity in this area might give you lots of opportunities to practice your peacemaking!

Riding with Randy Alcorn

Last fall, one of my jobs at the Peacemaker Conference was to help drive staff and special guests to and from the airport. This is actually quite fun for me, since I enjoy getting out and seeing the local area and playing host to folks as they come in. So it was my privilege to pick up one of the conference speakers, Randy Alcorn, and spend a few uninterrupted minutes with him. 

Now Randy–as a best-selling author and frequent conference speaker–has been through that drill countless times. Getting picked up from the airport and driving to a hotel is nothing new for him. He was probably pretty tired from the cross-country trip, and if it were me, the last thing I would want to do is chit-chat with a virtual stranger. I tried to give him a little space, but he engaged me anyway.  There was plenty I’d have liked to have asked him, but he practically insisted on talking about me — my family, my work, my interests. We talked about many things, including my young daughter’s recent struggles relating to heaven. (“I don’t want to go to heaven,” she’d say. “I want to stay at home.”) He was encouraging and gracious, and I came away a Randy Alcorn fan.

Anyway, when the weekend was over (and we drove back to the airport), Randy told me that he had come away a Peacemaker Conference fan — he was impressed with the entire atmosphere of the conference. He had brought several members of his staff, and they noticed it, too. Want to know what impressed them? Check out the new video on the conference home page.

Let me just personally say that we’d love to have you at the 2008 Conference in Orlando. Remember, there’s just a couple days until the registration price goes up. I think that like Randy, you’ll notice that there’s something different about this conference and come away a Peacemaker Conference fan.

And if you see me driving to and from the airport, be sure to wave!    

Out of Conflicts? Make Your Own!

Dilbert is a great cartoon, especially if you are looking for illustrations of ways we handle conflict. This one is from last week:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It seems we all have people in our lives whose motives we question.  We think to ourselves, “I wonder what he’s getting at,” or “What did she really mean,” or perhaps “Why is he questioning me on this?”

In Acts 21, Paul is just finishing up the week-long process of purification in the temple.  There happened to be a group of Jews there who were suspicious of Paul.  They also assumed that Paul had brought unclean Gentiles into the temple (they had seen Paul fraternizing with Trophimus the Ephesian earlier in the week), something that was strictly forbidden by Jewish law.   So, being already suspicious of Paul, the Jews seized the opportunity to stir up the city against him. The result is that Paul is persecuted because of  suspicion and inaccurate assumptions.

This raises some obvious questions for us:

1. Are we creating unnecessary conflict in our lives by allowing suspicious thoughts to form our opinion of someone? 

2. Are we then acting on assumptions rooted in those suspicions?

3. How would Christ have us respond to people that we don’t have “figured out”?

Beating Ourselves Up

I got an email from a woman over a month ago and one thing she said just keeps rolling around in my head — so I’m writing about it in the hopes that a little bit of processing-via-the-blog will help me put my finger on what bothers me about her comment.

 She was actually writing a really encouraging testimony about how God had graciously helped her to see her own failure in a relationship, so that she was quickly reconciled with the person whom she had wronged.  Praise God!

 But then she spent the next two days beating herself up for that failure … and she concluded the testimony by saying something like,

 “Okay, I’ve beaten myself up enough that I think I’ll be able to try to get it right the next time.”

What’s bothering me?  She’s betraying an unconscious belief that beating herself up is part of the reconciliation process; that we’re not free to give or receive forgiveness unless we’ve subjected ourselves (or others) to an appropriate amount of groveling.  It sounds to me like an evangelical way of paying penance: once I’ve done X, or once I feel badly enough about Y, then God and other people can/should/will forgive me. 

This is both dangerous and sad!  What’s so amazing about grace is that it’s free — abundant and free.  I am most in awe of God’s grace to me when I’m most aware of how little I deserve it … and nothing I do (whether in terms of my actions, or just beating myself up) can make me deserve that grace any more.

“Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream; all the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.” – Joseph Hart, “Come Ye Sinners.”

Forgiving, and Meaning It

I just saw the title of an article that caught my eye: “Forgiveness is hard to grant, harder to mean.”  Without getting too much into the meat of the article, that title really resonated with me, especially on the heels of the mediation that I participated in last week.

At one point in our mediation, one of the parties said something really profound that’s been echoing in my head ever since.  As he confessed his anger — indeed, his hatred — for the other party, he said, “The more I’ve said I forgive you, the more I’ve hated you.”  He wanted to be free of that, to be able to truly forgive and let go of his bitterness. 

 Has anybody else had this feeling before?  Oh, I know I have.  I think we know that it’s incumbent on us to forgive, especially as Christians.  I mean, it’s all over Scripture.  But it’s SO HARD to actually hold to those Four Promises of Forgiveness, to forgive one another as God in Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32). 

I don’t have any magic answers, except to recognize how elusive true forgiveness can be, especially in the face of deep or longstanding pain (maybe this is why forgiveness is such an ongoing topic of discussion for Christians?).  I DO, however, believe that true forgiveness is possible, and I believe that because of the cross.  When my own heart is holding onto bitterness and resentment, or when I see that in somebody else, the only thing I have to offer is persistently returning to the reality of what Christ has done for us, the enormity of the debt that he paid for us, and his love in us that helps us follow in our Savior’s footsteps of forgiveness.

Do You love the theoretical/universal church more than your local church?

Thanks, Jeromy, for your post on Tim Challies’ comments on being at a great conference and yet wishing he was back in his home church. It’s interesting…because I’ll bet some folks come to our annual Peacemaker Conference who think “Why can’t my church be like this conference?” They don’t think at all “I’d rather be back at my home church.”  

At a conference like the one Tim Challies mentioned or at the Peacemaker Conference, it’s always fun and always a genuine spiritual blessing…much like summer camp. But I think our positive vibes from conferences are due in no small part to the fact we don’t have daily interaction with remote conference attendees…for the most part, we don’t know their faults and foibles…in part, we really don’t have to do much hard peacemaking and heavy lifting of reconciliation with people we won’t see again for 12 months. 

But God places in bodies – literally in our physical bodies…and in very literal, flesh and blood bodies of Christ. And there, people annoy us and we annoy them; they sin against us and we sin against them. And our local church doesn’t feel as warm and fuzzy and sweet as a thousand person conference. But you know what? That local church is where God has placed us, that’s where the Gospel is lived out, and that’s where genuine reconciliation takes place. And that’s where the joy of being a “member” (1 Cor 12) of a flesh and blood body of Christ is lived. Reconciliation isn’t theoretical in the local church; it isn’t high-flying theology. It’s the lived life of a reconciled life made possible by the death of Christ. 

So praise God for your local church! It isn’t perfect…no church is. But it’s his manifestation of his saints for here and now in your area.

There Is No Place Like Home

We here at PM know that the local church is at the heart of peacemaking.

Tim Challies recently had some excellent reflections on a believer’s heart for his/her local fellowship.  Challies just attended the Ligonier Ministries National Conference and observed this:

“We were able to hear some exceptional messages by some great preachers. We heard from Sinclair Ferguson, Steve Lawson, C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul. They brought us the Word and brought it with power. I truly enjoyed the conference and benefited from it. Yet even while I sat there with 5,000 other believers, I couldn’t help but note a tiny little voice in my brain (or was it in my heart?) saying, “I’d rather be at Grace.” It is not that there was anything wrong with the conference. Far from it! It’s just that God has built into me and into all believers a heart for the local church. God has done something amazing in building the local church and in grouping us together in these bodies. The longer I stay at Grace and the more I commit myself to her, the more it feels like home.”

Indeed, your local church should feel like home. As Challies points out, our local fellowships are the hands of God at work in our little spheres of the world:

“You know, the more I travel and the more I see of the church at large, the more I come to love her—but even stronger, the more I come to love my local church. These local churches, which can be found from one end of the world to the other, truly are the hope for the world. It is to these bodies, more than any other, that God has entrusted His message. And it is through these local bodies that He seems to do His greatest work. These bodies are the most natural context for all manner of Christian ministry.”

Divorce Recovery

Winston Smith, a dear friend to our ministry and a member of the faculty at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, recently wrote a superb article on Divorce Recovery. It is Christ-centered, filled with hope, and amazingly practical. In his section entitled, “God Will Restore You,” he writes:

God recognizes how damaging and painful a divorce is. When God created the one-flesh relationship of marriage, it was intended to last a lifetime. That’s why he said, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16 NIV). But God also recognizes that, in a fallen world, sin sometimes destroys a marriage. When Israel left her marriage-like devotion to God, broke her promise of faithfulness, and pursued relationships with other gods, God described himself as issuing a certificate of divorce to his people (Jeremiah 3:8). Though it grieved him, after years and years of warnings, God could not let their unfaithfulness to him continue, so he sent Israel away, divorcing her.

It may seem odd that God’s marriage with his people was broken. But God didn’t break the marriage; sin did. Yet sin didn’t have the final word. God chose to repair the marriage rather than walk away from it. That tells us something important about God: he delights in restoring what’s broken. To God, the repaired is more beautiful than the new. That doesn’t mean God will restore your previous marriage, but it does mean God will restore and improve you through the wounds of divorce.

Winston goes on to provide practical advice on how to deal with grief, anger, and shame, how to recognize and overcome real guilt, and how to help your children, keep moving ahead when all of life seems to be lost in a fog. If you’re facing a divorce or know someone else who is, this is the article for them.

P.S. If your divorce is not yet final and you have a church that is willing to get involved, your pastor might find some helpful encouragement and guidance in this article on How Churches Can Preserve and Heal Marriages.

The Antidote for Rationalizing My Sin

A great post today by Tim Challies on asking for forgiveness. After you read Tim’s story, scroll down to the bottom and read Tim’s “tips on becoming a better apologizer.” They’re pretty closely related to the 7 A’s of a confession (maybe we’re all reading the same Bible?).

I especially resonated with Tim’s comments about “rationalizing” our sin in our confessions. When I “confess” I am often tempted to rationalize my sin in a couple of the A’s:

  • “Avoid if, but and maybe” I’ll stick one of these “weasel words” in there…”If you hadn’t made me mad, I never would have…” Rationalization.
  • “Admit Specifically” “I’m sorry for the ‘thing’ that made you mad.” What “thing”? I sinned against you in a very specific way. But I rationalize.
  • “Ask for forgiveness” Instead of specifically asking for forgiveness, I might vaguely conclude by saying, “So we’re good, right?” I rationalize…I don’t want to specifically ask for forgiveness, because it would mean I really, actually sinned against you.

So, on this Good Friday, be reminded why you cannot and ought not rationalize your sin: Jesus died for your sin and mine. If God takes it that seriously, I need to confess…not with ifs, buts or maybes, not vaguely, and not without actually asking for forgiveness.

I am a sinner generally. I sinned specifically. But praise God: through the death of Jesus Christ he has made a way for me to be reconciled to him and for us to be reconciled to one another. I can run to the cross, confess my sin to God, receive forgiveness because Jesus paid the price for me, and then confess to you and be reconciled to you.