Saturday, January 24, 2015

Servants and Leaders

After approximately ten years in vocational ministry I have had a lot of time to think about what it means to serve and what it means to lead.  And I was blessed with the opportunities to observe it being put into practice in a variety of ways.  What is my conclusion at this point in my life and ministry?  Most people don't do either very well. 

The most obvious "bad apples" are found in the operational paradigms of those who would be considered the leader.  But our ministries are also full of people who aren't very easy to lead regardless of the quality of the leaders. 

Why is this?

It is because we are either unaware of, or, unwilling to abide by, the Biblical prescriptions for how we are to conduct ourselves in the context of Christian community.  Let me give you some extreme examples of what this looks like before I do anything else.

Bad Leader:

A bad leader is someone who thinks of their "title" or "role" as conferring to them some sort of unassailable position of absolute authority that affords them the RIGHT to make any demand they want of others, in ANY manner that they choose to make the demand.  Think of a Senior Pastor who has set up his own little enclave of power that refuses to listen to, or, be tender with, the "little people".  Even honest questioning is viewed as disobedience and sin.  Want to ask why your church is allocating such a large amount of money to a private pet project(or salary) to the pastor?  Dems fighting words buddy, get ready for church discipline....

Bad Servant/Follower

A bad follower is someone who is consistently contentious and argumentative about every little thing.  Especially when it is not a Biblical issue, but a preference issue.  They never seem to be willing to joyfully follow reasonable instructions, but instead, argue for every inch.  Think of a church member who won't stop fighting with the church leaders over what color to paint the walls in the foyer, or, complains to everyone around them how "dumb" the leaders are for doing "this" vs "that".  Sadly, what I just described is wildly common.  I have known people who have left a church because the straw that broke the camels back was a disagreement on who should have access to the church kitchen, or, where the church library would be kept. 

If you have been involved in a church for any length of time you have probably had your fair share of experiences on either end of this spectrum.

So where do we start to address this? 

"Followers"

12 Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord's work. They work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. 13 Think highly of them and give them your wholehearted love because of their work. And remember to live peaceably with each other.  1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

The most obvious verse we can find regarding the issues of being a follower is found in this text.  What are the key words?  Honor, think highly of, give wholehearted love, live peaceably. 

If you are currently in a position of having someone in a role of "leader", can you claim that this passage accurately and consistently describes your behavior and heart attitude?


"Leaders"  

42 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”-- Mark 10:42-45

What does it mean to be a leader according to Jesus?  To serve.  NOT to Lord it over people.  A leaders heart is to be shaped by an active willingness to lay aside "rights"(this is what a slave imagery conveys) for the purpose of serving those they lead. 

If you are currently in a position where you are responsible to lead others, can you claim that this passage accurately and consistently describes your behavior and heart attitude?


The problem with these two passages is they can easily be used as battering rams to DEMAND that someone else behave in a specific way.  Leaders will bludgeon "followers" with a passage about honoring their leader(which just happens to be themselves...) and followers will disrespect the "leader" because they want to contend that the leader isn't being enough of a servant.....

There is a much more important passage in scripture that cuts through the black and white role defining that we too often do as we try to create defined roles and rules for those roles....

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23

The "Fruits of the Spirit" are the guiding principle for ALL Christians, at ALL times, for ALL roles they may ever have the responsibility for.  No matter where you are currently in your life and within a particular ministry and church, EVERYTHING you do is to be evaluated through the lens of these values.  If you claim to be in Christ, but consistently and belligerently act in ways that are diametrically opposed to the outward reflection of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.....well....draw your own conclusions.

No matter your role, ask yourself the question, "In this situation, as right or wrong I, or, they, may be, are the fruits of the spirit evident in my attitude, behavior and words?"

Do you want a healthy church?  It isn't about getting better leaders, or, getting better servants.  It's about each Christian, regardless of position, being shaped and defined by the work of the Holy Spirit.  When that is your first priority, the rest will work itself out.

The best leader of all time.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bacon

Bedtime stories are a favorite of my son and I.  Recently I began to tell the story of God's people(starting with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat) and have recently arrived at the ministry of Jesus.  Last night we talked about the story from Matthew 8:


28 When He arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met Him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw Him, they pleaded with Him to leave their region.

At the conclusion of the story I was asking my son about the townspeople wanting Jesus to leave.  Even though what Jesus had done had freed the people from a great problem, they didn't like the results.  My son wisely responded, "Well, where are they supposed to get bacon now??"
I don't think my son was necessarily siding with the townspeople's rejection of Jesus, but it does illustrate an important point....

Do you ever browse through facebook?  You probably notice something that is becoming more and more common:  Complaining, moaning, drama posts, etc.  It seems like half the people in my feed are ever more increasingly unhappy with the status of their current life.  But do you know what I have learned about many of these same people?  They have no intention of making any changes, or sacrificing anything that they want.

We want to do whatever it is we want to do, but we want the world(and God) to make it all work out in our subjective favor.  We want to be thinner while still eating junk food.  We want to be happier, while still making the same emotionally and mentally poor relationship and life choices.  We want to be richer, while still being financially irresponsible.

There is a refusal to ever acknowledge that what we want may come with a cost.  The townspeople were being completely terrorized by the demoniac.  Surely they wanted the problem resolved.  But no one had apparently made any sort of effort.  They just ignored the problem.  It tells us no one even went that way at all.  So Jesus came in and solved their problem.  And, even more beautifully, freed the oppressed man from what he was experiencing.

What was their response?  Was it, "thank you thank you thank you!!!"?  Nope.  It was, "Can you please leave?"

Look at your own life.  As you evaluate the degree to which you have joy, hope, peace, happiness, etc, are you content?  Or, are you struggling right now?  Then look at Christ's claims on your life, and God's revealed truth about who we are, and what we are called to.  Are you truly aligned with it?  I would argue that you are not.

As long as we live unwilling to come to Jesus, even if it costs us something, then we too will have a demoniac type effect in areas of our life that we will feel shut off from.  Bacon is great, but freedom and hope is better.


The most amazing science in the world

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Healthy Marriage

Of all the things I know, the one I am most certain of is that I know very little.  An old cliché is that teenagers think they know everything and what the are most certain of is that their parents know very little.  But then, as the years rolls on, they discover how little they know and how much they want their parents advice.  The unstated assumption in this cliché is that from our matured adult perspective we recognize how little we knew as children.....but how much we know now. 

This is completely wrong.

When I was young I assumed that all adults had it together.  Life made sense for them, they had all the answers, and they were "grown up".  Today I realize that adults have the same blinders and make the same mistakes that they did as children, we just do it with more wrinkles and facial hair.  Buying into the mistaken perspective that where you are right now means that you have finally "arrived" turns off our brains, negatively impacts our empathy, and shrinks us into self-assured navel gazers. 

The belief in our own "completed" knowledge base is the fertile soil for becoming a self-centered person.  We mistakenly believe that what we believe to be true about ourselves and others is completely true.  And when someone does not live up to the static perspective we have adopted, we find ourselves in conflict. 

You see, knowledge without humility is the impetus to disconnecting our hearts from the human frailty of relationship.  When we become self-assured in our own perspective of "rightness" another person's inability, or, struggle, to meet our standard develops resentment and frustration. 

No where does this become more apparent than within the context of our marriages.  And the world has lied to us about what a marriage is, and so we are set up to fail from the start. 

The primary, and most destructive, lie about marriage is the story about "romantic" love.  You meet the "one", they give you butterflies, you can't stand the thought of spending even one minute apart.  And based on this, marriage is the end game.  When we are told that marriage is about love, what they mean is "romantic love". 

But here is the thing about romantic love.  Experiencing romantic love is a reflection of YOUR sensibilities.  It is based upon your current preferences and standards.  And these things are ever changing.  Not to mention that what is sweet and charming about someone who you see once every few days loses that allure when you see them EVERYYYYYY day. 

Romantic love, when you boil it down, is about what is being done for you.  There is a static standard you have created for yourself that you expect to be met.  While you may recognize that a child has to grow up and change and mature, we believe that we have arrived at whatever intellectual and emotional maturity destination that being an adult encompasses.  So therefore, we are done growing, and that other person better make the effort to meet us where we are at. 

In Ephesians 4:2, we are encouraged to, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love". 

Let me break that down.  The final word, "love", is the Greek word, "agape".  Which IS NOT romantic.  It is a giving love.  A God centered love that seeks the good for others first to the point of being sacrificial.  And this word is the foundation, what the other actions are rooted in, for the rest of the verse. 

So you SACRIFICIALLY are to be HUMBLE and gentle and patient.  While this passage is written to the general Christian population, it is a foundational truth that God calls us all to as the blueprint to guide our relationships. 

To sacrificially act in humility to your spouse means to;

1- Put them first, EVEN as it costs you something

2- Have an attitude of teachability that never wanes, no matter how much you have grown.  Because humility is a willingness to say, "I still have a lot to learn"

Every day we must come to our spouse with a humble heart that says, "I have so much more to learn about you, what I know today is going to be laughably small in comparison to what I shall know by tomorrow." 

Just like we realized that we just didn't know what we thought we knew when we were teenagers, a healthy marriage is found when two people have the self-awareness to say that they can never think they have arrived.

If you want a healthy marriage, start accepting that you know very little.  Become a student of your spouse.  Be empathetic to their short comings and mistakes, because you need them to be the same for you.  And we need to HUMBLY accept our own limitations as we extend that grace to our spouse. 
 

 
I just know you were more likely to read this because of his picture.....

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

New Years Resolutions are so 2014, or, why you fail at improving yourself

We love to make new commitments to some sort of new "us-es" every year about this time.  Standing of the precipice of a fresh start there is this compulsion to say, "This year will be different."  Yet, all the studies about these well intentioned resolutions(citation needed) seem to indicate that we pretty much break them all by the time the first week has rolled by. 

Try going to the gym on January 2nd(not the first because the "resolutioners" will be hung over on the 1st) and see how packed it is.  Compare that to the 22nd of January.  You will notice something very interesting.  The gym is very sparsely populated in comparison.  If you are a regular gym goer to-er you hate the first week of a new year because a bunch of knuckleheads will be horning in on your space not knowing how to properly use any of the equipment, nor will they re-rack what they use. 

People quit on their resolutions so easily because; 1) They set unrealistic goals for themselves(never ran since 8th grade gym, this year...MARATHON), 2) It is nice to admit to having a problem that you should fix without actually doing anything(because, hey, knowing is half the battle and just admitting to it makes me a better person....right??) and most importantly, 3) Each time we fail we accept that we are failures and so stop trying lest we get reminded of our failures.

This final one is the most important one to understand.  Our fear of failing, of feeling worthless and unworthy, makes it easier to just quit.  If we quit, we never failed.....or something like that..... How many times have you told yourself, or, heard from others;

I could lose the weight if I tried, but I am fine like this.....

It was a silly idea anyways, I don't have time for that......

I have better things to do.....

At the bottom of each of those statements when it relates to our put aside resolutions is a heart that is desperately worried about being perceived as a failure.  Each time we don't achieve IMMEDIATE success or results we believe that we CAN'T do it.  And in fear of confirming it, we drop it. 

Our broken hearts cry out for affirmation and encouragement.  But the world, and our perception of failures, cause us to shut down. 

Did you know that after each night a fresh morning awaits?  No matter how far you fell yesterday, today is now, and tomorrow is gone.  In Lamentations 3:22-23 we are told, "The Steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are NEW EVERY MORNING"  And in 1 Corinthians 6:11 we are reminded, "And that is what some of you WERE.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of Jesus" 

As you face this upcoming year...get ready to fail.  Maybe tonight.  Most likely before the end of the first weekend of January.  But here is the promise.  It doesn't matter.  Your failures, your sins, your mistakes, those were what you WERE.  Each fresh day is a reminder that the faithfulness of the Lord is great, that his mercies are FRESH every morning. 

Don't miss that....FRESH EVERY MORNING.  There is no qualifier attached to that.  It isn't, "Fresh every morning....as long as you did pretty good yesterday."  The hope of the Gospel is that in Christ we are no longer our failures, even the ones that just occurred.  New mercies are here, and new hope has sprung forth. 

So in 2015, don't make a New Years resolution.  Because you will fail.  Make a resolution each moment to keep going even when you fail, because each moment you are standing on the precipice of something wonderful and new. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Jesus, the Demon

My son has a pretty arbitrary standard for whether or not he likes you....Do you do what HE wants.....  He is a very opinionated and strong willed child(clearly from his mother...) and he has little patience for things that aren't exactly what he wants.  Everything that goes in opposition to his desires creates the most dramatic responses. 

If he does not get what he wants he will go to the nuclear option immediately.  Phrases that he uses way too often are, "You're the worst", or, "I don't want you as a daddy anymore".  While we work on correcting this behavior, it is a very insightful look into our own hearts. 

I know that you probably don't tell people they are the worst if they won't give you a piece of candy....but you do get angry and reject people who do not live up to your arbitrary standards.  We view the worth of a person by the degree to which they please us.  When we honestly examine our emotional responses to people, negative and positive, they are deeply interwoven with how we perceive their actions and their affects on us. 

Ultimately, this heart attitude is a defining characteristic of our response to God, the Bible and Christ.  We ask ourselves, "How does this make me FEEL?"  When we perceive something being in contradiction to how we feel, or, what we want, we become belligerent towards God.  Or, we just ignore Him all together.  While we generally like the concept of a Holy Deity who loves us and has a plan for us, we want that love and plan to be shaped by our desires.  And when it conflicts with those self-centered priorities we say, "you're the worst".

Often the core issue for people's rejection of the claims of Christ and the reliability of Scripture comes from a place of strong personal disagreement and rejection of Truth claims that are in opposition to personal preferences.  I can't count the number of times I have heard the argument against God and the Bible based upon a personal disagreement on "this" issue.  Never is there a willingness to engage in the possibility that a finite, subjective and personal preference is potentially incorrect and mistaken in contrast to the possibility of a perfect and Holy creator King of all the universe. 

My son doesn't yet concede the possibility that it is likely NOT a good thing for him to have MORE candy.  He wants what he wants, and I am his enemy(even though briefly) for being an obstacle to him obtaining his selfish desires. 

In John 8 Jesus finally throws down the gauntlet.  First, he has spent the last few days telling everyone that all their hyper-religious behavior is of no real value, then he calls them children of the devil, and finally, strike three, he claims to be the great, "I AM".  And at this point they decided that it was time to kill this offensive fellow.(vs 58-59) 

As Jesus is doing and saying all of this they respond by saying that Jesus is clearly demon possessed.(v 48)  They don't like what they hear, they don't appreciate that he calls them on their behavior that they are selfishly convinced is the "right" and "righteous" way to behave.  So they become antagonistic towards him.  Their rejection is based upon a purely emotional response to being told that what they like and what they want isn't "ok".  Who is he, they think, to tell us that there is a right way to come to God, and that OUR way is not it??

Either Jesus is who He claims to be(The Great I AM) or he is not.  If He is, we need to humble ourselves, because no matter how firmly we hold onto our preferences and beliefs we are standing in opposition to the Most High.  You might REALLLLY want that piece of candy right now, but at what cost?

Reality; we are like toddlers who are told "no". 





  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Who's Your Daddy?

I have a confession.  A struggle.  A great shame.  I am my father's son.  I talk just like him, I walk like him, I look like him(but obviously a much handsomer version).  The way I process information and respond is a carbon copy of my dad.  There is virtually no way I could convince anyone who knows both of us that I am not his son. 

Now, I am just kidding.  I think my dad is great and I look up to him in so many ways.  One of my greatest disappointments as a child was when I discovered that my dad couldn't be President(he wasn't born here).  All the problems we have would have been easily solved by my dad! 

In part, a lot of the ways I am similar to my dad are genetic.  I didn't choose to have such masculine and attractive facial hair.  But in many ways our similarities were born not out of genetics, but love and respect for my dad.  He was my model in so many ways.  And consciously and subconsciously I mimicked what I observed because I valued him and wanted him to be pleased with me.

Our lives become living reflections of what we value and love.  There is no hiding what is important to you.  It is literally written all over your "face".  If you were to say you place the highest value on "this" but act in ways directly contradictory to those ways....then you don't really mean it.  No one would ever say that I think running long distances is important.....I clearly don't look like I run long distances...and...I never actually run.....No matter what I might say about the matter does not change the reality.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus has been laying out a very clear challenge to the Jewish leaders who have become enamored with their own self-righteous behavior.  As chapter 8 is wrapping up I think the most important practical application is presented. 

"If God WERE your father, you would love me"- John 8:42

He does not say, "If God were your father, you would DO something".  He makes the central point that love for God and Jesus is the driving force behind our kinship with Christ. Earlier in the passage he does start by saying that if they were really his disciples they would follow his teaching.  But lest we confuse the issue, and the order of importance, he clarifies that it is LOVE for God that drives behavior. 

To be very clear, he says FIRST--Truly being his disciple......LEADS to SECOND---Following his teaching.

Acting a certain way does not MAKE you a disciple of Christ and a child of God.  Loving God is what makes us a child of God....AND that love changes how we act. 

When we reverse the process we do not create beloved children, but whitewashed tombs. 

There are so many ways that I am like my dad.  And most of them just happened as a natural response to my love for him.  I didn't say as a five year old, "I need to WALK and TALK this way SO that daddy loves me".  BECAUSE I love my daddy I desired to do so.

So what do we need to ask ourselves?  When we look at our lives, our behaviors, etc, do they reflect plainly how deeply we love the Son?  Or, do they reflect how much we love ourselves, and, this world?  Love as a motivator needs not be given a list of do's and don'ts.  But when they aren't a natural outpouring of who we are....we have to look deeply at our hearts. 

Sometimes it is good for a dad to copy a son..... I am pretty sure if my dad understood computers he would do stuff like this to me as well.....

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Good isn't Good Enough

My son has reached the age where he has been taught the classic, "Stop, Drop and Roll" technique for addressing being on fire.  This is a good thing.  If my son ever finds himself in a situation where his pants have begun to burn and smolder, it will be very beneficial for him to know what to do.  Not to mention it is fun to watch him demonstrate his SDaR technique in our living room.

Valuable as it may be, SDaR misses a very important point that ultimately is much more vital to my sons survival.  Practically speaking, the likelihood of my five year old spontaneously catching fire while playing on the swing set is highly unlikely.  What is much more probable is that while we are sleeping there is an electrical fire that starts somewhere in our house.  With our house ablaze my son may very well find some sort of fire on his clothes.  And if that is to occur....he has to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!!!! 

If you were to find yourself in a burning house all the SDaR in the world will not save you if you do not first get out of the source of the fire.  No matter how effectively and rapidly you roll back and forth on the floor you will eventually burn up.  Get away from the fire, and THEN deal with your smoldering pants.  To reverse that vital process is the height of absurdity. 

In the Gospel of John the ministry of Jesus really gets going when he comes to the Festival of the Booths and calls out all the hyper religious people for being great rule followers who are still destined for destruction.  The Jewish religious establishment prided itself on doing all the right things the right way, but Jesus tells them it is all for naught.  Their behavior is not going to stave off destruction. 

Clearly he was a popular fellow......

Behaving morally, ethically, kindly, etc, are all nice and commendable things.  My preference is to have neighbors who do NOT rob me in the middle of the night and set my house on fire.  The reasons that they do not behave in such a manner are, in some ways, immaterial to me.  If my neighbor believes he is being monitored by aliens who will shoot him with space lasers if he mistreats me, the end, self-centered result is that my day to day life is more pleasant because I have a neighbor who acts appropriately. 

Good behavior is our Stop Drop and Roll.  In a vacuum it is a good thing to know and put into practice.  But what if we are ultimately in the middle of a blazing inferno? 

In John 8 Jesus is beginning to get to the crux of his argument.  That these moral and good behaving people cannot follow Jesus and are going to die in their sins(verse 21).  To understand the context of what Jesus is saying we must recognize the context of the environment that Jesus is stating this.  Everything about this Festival is in proclaiming how righteous and good they all are because of how they follow all the rules.  Their self-styled "goodness" is based on the belief that following the clearly laid out rules justifies themselves in the eyes of God.  They treat religious law as a sort of road map that guarantees that they will arrive at their desired destination. 

With that sort of imagery in mind Jesus says, "You cannot follow where I am going".  Which means, "There is no human road map that you can control and manipulate that will save you".  What will save them?  Believe in the Son of Man who will be raised up(verse 28).  Through the finished work of Christ on the cross(the raised up Son of Man) we can be saved from death.  There is no other way.

If you are sit in a burning house your inevitable life trajectory is destruction.  Before you do anything else, get out!  The natural state of our lives is death.  No matter what good we do, what rules we adhere to, what ethically justifiable behaviors we practice, we are headed to a fire. 

Does this mean that "good" behavior is pointless?  Of course not.  Even if you get out of the burning house you still have to deal with the embers before they cause you damage.  But if you reverse the process of salvation first, THEN regeneration(Holy("good") lives), you aren't doing anything at all.  Rolling around on the ground won't get you out of the house.  Getting out of the house makes the rolling around effective. 

You will never be good enough to get out of the fire.