Thursday, February 28, 2013

Obedience and Answered Prayer

"The truly obedient person not only understands what God wants prayed but how God wants life to be life to be lived.  Such a person has bought into God's plans and purposes.  He or she is tracking with God, appreciating the wisdom of God's commands and living in accord with His ways.  The obedience of such a person flows from a heart filled with love for the Father.  It is a life-gift to God."
Alvin VanderGriend, Praying God's Heart, 78.

"If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination."
Proverbs 28: 9

"Whoever conceals his transgressions will not proper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy."
Proverbs 28: 13

Here is the rub for most of us.  

We know we should pray.  We know, at least theoretically, God answers prayers.  Yet, most of us do not seem to have that connection and intimacy with God where we get the answers we really want in the way we want them.  Why?

As I have argued in other posts and in my recent evening lecture series (, the primary reason is that we are captured by the values of our world system and our own flesh to such an extent that we are blinded to spiritual realities.  

In other words, we walk in at least tacit disobedience to God's ways.  Most of us are in active and direct rebellion.  Is there any wonder that we do not get direct and immediate answers to our prayers?

So what can be done about it?  What does it mean to walk in obedience to God's commands?

This is the question that has not been answered well for several centuries within the Western world.  We have made it about behavior modification.  We have made it about performance of duties.  We have made it about what we know.  Honestly, we have made it about anything but repenting of our sins when the Spirit points them out and believing in Jesus as our only hope.  The vast majority of believers have forgotten the full-orbed Gospel.

When we live in light of the gospel, we find ourselves resting in Jesus.  We find ourselves relying upon Him for our righteousness.  We must be humble because confessing our sin and relying upon Jesus by faith crushes our pride.  It feels like death to kill our pride, but it is the pathway of life.

It is also the avenue for experiencing answered prayers.  Learning to repent of our indwelling sin and resting in Christ means buying into God's plans and purposes.  It means living according to God's ways.

The truly good news is that it does not necessarily mean that we have to have an outward obedience that mirrors a monk living in the desert.  It does not necessarily mean that we have to wait until we are old to really be holy (why do I always picture in my head holy people as really old and thus deadened to the passions of youth?).  

While we might be these folks, more likely we will be the average believer in Christ who has learned the truth about their need for Jesus.  As they go about their day at the office, with their children, or on the road, they have learned that maturity is not about mere outward duty or performance.  

No, they have learned it is about actively walking in repentance from our many failings and trusting in Jesus as our only hope.  Such a life becomes a dialogue with the living God.  Such a life has the hope of obedience.  

Notice, it is not having it all together!  It is a life marked by quick repentance, refreshing love from Christ, and a heart transformed by grace.

Such a life is marked by answered prayer.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Prayer and Fullness of Joy

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Ps. 16:11

Many years ago, while I was in seminary, I had a friend who shared my passion for seeing the lost come to know Jesus.  We were talking about what we did when someone embraces Jesus by faith.  I shared that I would get them immediately into a bible study and a discipleship group.  In the tradition of fundamentalism in which I had started my Christian journey, knowing scripture and being in an accountability and growth relationship was key.

My friend shared that while he thought that was interesting, but he did not do this.  Instead, he taught them how to pray because he figured if they learned how to pray, they would learn how to walk with God.

For years I have thought about this conversation and its implications.  I do not believe there is anything wrong with bible study and discipleship groups.  In fact, I still encourage them!  Yet, I think my method of encouraging a new believer to grow was a bit short-sighted.  

Why?  I had a mistaken belief that if I changed a person's mind, it would transform them.  Experience has taught me that this is not always true.  In fact, transformation through changing one's mind often does not bring about lasting and deep change.

You see, there is a vast and categorically different experience between knowing about God and knowing God.  

Knowing about God can bring a sort of intellectual satisfaction.  Yet, unless it leads to knowing God it does not lead to the fullness of joy found in the path of life.  Knowing about God apart from experiencing the presence of God through fellowship with Him will grow stale.  It leaves us with the knowledge that we should know better, but it does not have the power to change our heart that actually directs our whole being.  In other words, the heart will not serve the mind, but it must be transformed by the grace of God.

On the other hand, knowing God leads to fullness of life now and eternal life forevermore.  Knowing God transforms the heart.  In so doing, it will activate the mind and demands that the mind come to know more about the God whose presence brings fullness of joy.  Thus, the mind serves the transformed heart.

In light of this, the first question we must ask is do you know God?  Have you tasted the sweetness that is Jesus?  If you have, nourish this relationship by learning how to pray.  If you have not, pray and ask for God to lead you to the path of life.  This path is marked by a faith relationship with Jesus.  Such a relationship begins with prayer and it is nourished by prayer.

Prayer is not merely just us sharing with God our needs.  While this is part of prayer, prayer is much more.  It is also learning how to listen to Him.  The surest means of listen to God is through His Word.  Pray with the Bible open.  Pray through what you read and ask how the Living God wants to apply His Word to you.

Most importantly, pray!  Do not neglect this gift of fellowship with the Living Lord.  Learn how to pray often.  For God's presence is found as we meet with Him in prayer.

Have you known Jesus for years?  Do you find that your relationship has grown a bit stale?  I know at times in life, I found myself in exactly this situation.  Please go back to the basics: pray, and learn how to listen to God in prayer.  Seek after God until His presence is known, for in His presence there is fullness of joy!

How do you know when you have found Him?  Joy, pleasure, contentment, peace, love, and grace.  You will not just know the definition of these words, but you will taste and know them in your heart.  Such grace will transform your mind, your actions, and your life!

May this week be marked by the incredible life-changing grace of God in our experience.  Seek His face and find the fullness of joy in his presence!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Peacemaking and Peacekeeping

"Peacemakers are people who breathe grace.  They draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then they bring love, mercy, forgiveness, strength, and wisdom to the conflicts of daily life.  GOd delights to breathe his grace through peacemaker and use them to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and encourage repentance and reconciliation."
Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, 11.

Recently at my church we had several discussion in different places about the differences between peacekeeping and peacemaking.  Having had a decade of thought formed by Ken Sande's book The Peacemaker I thought it would be obvious that God calls us to be peacemakers and not mere peacekeepers.  As is often the case, I was wrong!

Many people shared that peacemakers sounded aggressive.  They thought it was better to be a peacekeeper.  I do not know if folks were confusing peacemakers with a Colt 45 or what, but we had to tease it out a bit and ask, "Why do you thinking peacekeeping is better?"

Most answered that peacekeeping meant having patience with the faults of others.  It meant loving others even with their faults.  Given I live in Seattle, it helped promote the famous "Seattle Nice."  (On a side note, I shared that moving from New England Nasty, Seattle Nice was quite a change!)

One key thought was missing in these observations.  How do we promote the glory of God in all things?  Is it the loving thing to do to overlook sin and patterns of sin?  Sometimes yes.  Sometimes no. My guess is that if we never confront and deal with issues for the glory of God, we are not really loving people.  Instead we are protecting ourselves.

Anyway, I heartily recommend the book The Peacemaker.  The latest version does a better job, in my opinion, of emphasizing the importance of the gospel in being a true peacemaker.

The following is a plug for the book and for their website.  It is taken from in hope that each of us become peacemakers for the glory of God.  Even if the thought sounds scary, read on and think about what it means to be a peacemaker.  

I think these ideas are very biblical and I believe that if they were lived out about 95% of personal and church conflict could be resolved.  What do you think?

Staying on Top of Conflict
Harmful conflict is usually triggered by unmet desires. "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it" (James 4:1-2). Even good desires can evolve into controlling demands or idols that can lead us to judge others and then avoid or punish them until we get what we want (see Luke 10:38-42). This progression often starts with minor differences, but before we know it we're sliding down a slippery slope of conflict that can drop off in two directions.
Slippery Slope

Escape Responses

People tend to use escape responses when they are more interested in avoiding unpleasant people or situations than in resolving differences.
Denial—One way to escape from a conflict is to pretend that a problem does not exist. Another way is to refuse to do what should be done to resolve a conflict properly. These responses bring only temporary relief and usually make matters worse (see 1 Sam. 2:22-25).
Flight—Another way to escape from a conflict is to run away. This may take the form of pulling away from a relationship, quitting a job, filing for divorce, or changing churches. Flight may be legitimate in extreme circumstances (see 1 Sam. 19:9-10), but in most cases it only postpones a proper solution to a problem.

Suicide—When people lose all hope of resolving a conflict, they may seek to escape from the situation (or make a desperate cry for help) by attempting to take their own lives (see 1 Sam 31:4). Suicide is never a right way to deal with conflict.

Attack Responses

People tend to use attack responses when they are more interested in controlling others and getting their way than in preserving a relationship.
Assault—Some people try to overcome an opponent by using various forms of force or intimidation, such as verbal attacks (including gossip and slander), physical violence, or efforts to damage a person financially or professionally (see Acts 6:8-15). Such conduct always makes conflict worse.
Litigation—Although some conflicts may legitimately be taken before a civil judge (see Acts 24:1-26:32; Rom. 13:1-5), lawsuits usually damage relationships, diminish our Christian witness, and often fail to achieve complete justice. This is why Christians are commanded to make every effort to settle their differences within the church rather than the civil courts (see Matt. 5:25-26; 1 Cor. 6:1-8).
Murder—In extreme cases, people may be so desperate to win a dispute that they will try to kill those who oppose them (see Acts 7:54-58). While most people would not actually kill someone, we still stand guilty of murder in God's eyes when we harbor anger or contempt in our hearts toward others (see 1 John 3:15; Matt. 5:21-22).

The Gospel—The Key to Peace

The key to changing the way we deal with conflict is the gospel—the good news that God made peace with us and between us by sending his Son to die for our sins and give us new life through his resurrection (Col. 1:19-20; Eph. 2:14-16). When we believe in Jesus, we receive forgiveness and are united with Christ and one another (Acts 10:43; Phil. 2:1-2). God then begins to transform us into the likeness of his Son, enabling us to break free from sinful escaping and attacking habits and mature into peacemakers who reflect the glory of God's reconciling love in the midst of conflict (2 Cor. 3:17-18; Col. 3:12-15).

Peacemaking Responses

Peacemakers are people who breathe grace. Inspired by the gospel, they draw continually on the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, and then breathe out his love, mercy, forgiveness, and wisdom to dissipate anger, improve understanding, promote justice, and model repentance and reconciliation.

The six responses found on the top portion of the slippery slope may be divided into two categories: personal peacemaking responses and assisted peacemaking responses:
There are three biblical ways to resolve conflicts personally and privately, just between you and the other party.
Overlook an Offense—Many disputes are so insignificant that they should be resolved by quietly overlooking an offense. "A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense" (Prov. 19:11). Overlooking an offense is a form of forgiveness, and involves a deliberate decision not to talk about it, dwell on it, or let it grow into pent-up bitterness or anger.
Reconciliation—If an offense is too serious to overlook or has damaged our relationship, we need to resolve personal or relational issues through confession, loving correction, and forgiveness. "[If] your brother has something against you ... go and be reconciled"(Matt. 5:23-24). "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently" (Gal. 6:1; see Matt. 18:15). "Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col. 3:13).
Negotiation—Even if we successfully resolve relational issues, we may still need to work through material issues related to money, property, or other rights. This should be done through a cooperative bargaining process in which you and the other person seek to reach a settlement that satisfies the legitimate needs of each side. "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil. 2:4).
When a dispute cannot be resolved personally, God calls us to seek assistance from other believers.

Mediation—If two people cannot reach an agreement in private, they should ask one or more objective outside people to meet with them to help them communicate more effectively and explore possible solutions. "If he will not listen [to you], take one or two others along" (Matt. 18:16). These mediators may ask questions and give advice, but the parties retain the responsibility of making the final decision on how to resolve their differences.

Arbitration—When you and an opponent cannot come to a voluntary agreement on a material issue, you may appoint one or more arbitrators to listen to your arguments and render a binding decision to settle the issue. "If you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church" (1 Cor. 6:4).
Accountability—If a person who professes to be a Christian wanders from the Lord by refusing to be reconciled and do what is right, Jesus commands church leaders to lovingly intervene to hold him or her accountable to Scripture and to promote repentance, justice, and forgiveness: "If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not ... go to look for the one that wandered off? ... If he refuses to listen ..., tell it to the church" (Matt. 18:12,17).

Friday, February 22, 2013

Theology of Prayer and Revival

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us! ...
Will you not revive us again, 
that your people may rejoice in You?
Ps 85: 4, 6.

Yesterday I had the privilege of meeting and talking at length with a long-time leader within my denomination- the Christian Reformed Church.  His emphasis has been on the topic of prayer, and its importance for evangelism.  I could not agree more with him!  Prayer and effective outreach are directly related.

While talking, I mentioned that in my opinion, some of the younger leaders within the CRC have abandoned our very biblical theology in favor of strategies, gimmicks, and social justice as the means of "growth and outreach."  I shared that I believe this emphasis change by these folks is a huge mistake!  


I grew up in a mainline Protestant denomination.  The path these folks think will bring renewal and new converts is nothing more than a well-worn and well-documented path taken by the mainline denominations.  It is amazing how it works 0% of the time, but the way of fallen humanity is to continue to try it.

Anyway, the point of the conversation was to get this man's perspective on the CRC and how it has moved and functioned in the past forty years.  As an invited in outsider and American Church historian, I see a clear path toward losing people, churches, and about two generations of young people from the denomination.  Why is this happening?

This man shared an interesting insight.  He discovered that our denomination had a great theological foundation, but we lacked a biblical and invigorating theology of prayer.  As a result, many people who are brought up in the CRC take their great theological education, and they move to churches where their theology can be wed to their practice.  

In particular, they move to where biblical and Reformed theology meets dependent prayer and passionate outreach.

Again, I could not agree more with this assessment.  My prayer and passion is to see the CRC experience authentic revival.  I want to see America experience authentic revival.  I want to see God's Kingdom grow by leaps and bounds throughout the world.  In fact, I am willing to give everything to see this happen!

Here is the problem with the CRC.  If dependent prayer, listen prayer, intimate prayer is always an antecedent to true revival and we do not have a cultural tradition that emphasizes dependent, listening, intimate prayer, how can we proceed to authentic revival?  

In other words, what we need is not "Will you not revive us again," but we need, "Lord please revive us for the first time!"

Such a task is way beyond me.  It is beyond any "denominational plan."  We need grace!  We need to repent and believe in the God of revival and transformation!

If this man is right, and I think he is, we need an entirely different framework to understand how God works.  We need to let go of our control and fear of the Holy Spirit's work in revival.  We need to begin an emphasis on prayer and revival from our seminary, our denomination, and our current leaders.

I think it is starting.  I pray it is starting.  I ask that it begin with me if need be!  

Lord have mercy.  Give us a fresh outpouring of the Spirit so we can match with our excellent theological heritage an experiential knowledge of You that propels us outward in evangelism and all of life.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Journey of Grace

The journey to the Island is very like the pilgrimage of life.  Sometimes the way is easy, level going and without hindrance.  At other times we find our way blocked and we can do nothing about it but wait.  No amount of jumping up and down or getting irate will change the situation, unless you are Moses or have the cloak of Elijah!  There are times when we must move forward without delay or the opportunity will have gone and the road before us will be closed.  Sometimes life is all at sea and then another time a road opens up suddenly before us.  At all times we need to accept the wisdom, knowledge, and guidance of those who have gone before us.  We need to plan our journey and be aware of any hazards we may encounter.  Without a doubt we are all travelers in this world, if not pilgrims.  We are all on a journey along the road of life.
David Adam, The Road of Life, xiv.

I have many children and one of their favorite movie is Cars.  In this movie, the title song states that "life is a highway, and I want to drive it all night long."  While I love this movie and even enjoy this song, I find that my life is more of an off-road experience resembling driving along a seldom used logging trail.  I guess I am envious of those folks whose life is just a smooth highway!  

It seems to me that the only time my ride is really smooth is when I am sitting still.  I love these times of refreshment and relaxing.  Yet, they are often brief because the Spirit speaks in the midst of them to provoke me onward.  Generally, I then start to move forward on a clearly marked section of the logging road.  Soon there is a bend in the road; and as I take the corner, I see that the road immediately ahead angles into a swamp, is rock covered, or is overgrown with bushes and recently fallen trees.

How do we not only survive but also thrive on this often bumpy road of life?

"At all times we need to accept the wisdom, knowledge, and guidance of those who have gone before us.  We need to plan our journey and be aware of any hazards we may encounter."

What great advice!  We live in a rootless age marked by shallow soil (to mix my metaphors from that of a road to agricultural terms!).  There is such a disdain for anything older than yesterday or wisdom that does not immediately match and suit our accepted contemporary sensibilities.  

Is there any wonder why so many of our youth appear to lack vision for life?  They were told that "life is a highway."  Then they begin to live and find that life is more like a winding logging road through the middle of nowhere!

Thankfully, our journey is not through uncharted territory.  The road of life, the pilgrimage each of us travels, the path we each must choose is charted, marked, and navigated.  Our North Star is the One True and Living God who calls us to true life.  This life begins with an acknowledged relationship with Him.  I say acknowledged; because even if we wish to deny it, this God is the Father of all and He is constantly calling out to us.  We never journey alone.  Learn to walk with Him by faith because He knows the way.

Second, there have been many map-makers throughout history.  These folks may not have had iPhones and the internet, but they had all the temptations and difficulties known to us all.  They have experienced broken relationships.  They have lived through tragedy.  They have been stung by sin's bite.  They have lived through the swamps and pitfalls along the road!

They have also experienced the joys of life that each of us long for.  They have fallen in love, had children, enjoyed their friend's company, thought through questions and issues, and enjoyed the small moments in life.  They have experienced great success.  These folks have lived through the smooth places and level parts of the road.  They can show you the way.

Most importantly, these map-makers can and will point you to the One who knows your path.  They will encourage you in the difficult times and the great times.  Why would we want to walk through life as if we are the only ones who could know our own struggles?

Join with the community of faith throughout all time.  Look, with the community of fellow pilgrims, toward that One True Guide who calls out to you.  Stop your refusal to listen!  Ask Him to tune your ears that you can hear His voice.  Ask Him to change your heart so that you will follow. 

We do not travel alone.  Look to the Guide, for He knows the road you must travel.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Asking the right question

I often think that we ask the wrong questions about 95% of the time.  We look at a problem, we see our life, we ask our questions, but we never ask "Am I asking the right questions?"  At least I know all to well that I often ask the wrong questions!

"There is a way that seems right to a person, but in the end it leads to death"
Proverbs 14:12 

This morning I was thinking about the process of church renewal.  Virtually all churches, in all places, think that the next leader will be able to "make a difference" and bring back the "glory days."  Unfortunately, the definition of making a difference and glory days is not concrete or settled for anyone.  This leads to conflict, struggle, and ultimately a lack of fruitfulness.

The above paragraph is easy to understand and affirm.  A lack of clarity in vision causes conflict.  O.K.  But I am thinking today about why we have a lack of clarity in vision.  We know we need to grow and experience renewal, so why do we struggle so much to pull it off?  Why does the process of renewal often cause conflict and pain?

We ask the wrong question or questions.

So often and so easily, we can blame the previous pastor or the leadership team.  We blame the people who left.  We blame the conflict and personalities that led to the conflict.  We blame our culture and how it no longer values the gospel and Church.  We blame ... (you fill in the blank).

Rarely do individuals and almost never do churches confess, "We must be doing something wrong."  

I guess it is human nature and the nature of organizations composed of fallen humans.  We want someone to fix it, but we don't think we broke it.  We blame someone else.

Our real problem with most churches is that we are doing something or most often many things wrong. We like the way things are and we want our new pastor, our new members, and our changing culture  which we are trying to reach to see how right we are and join us.  Then we are surprised when it does not happen!

As churches (and individuals) we should ask often "What are we doing wrong that turns off new people to the gospel before they hear it?"  "Why are we in conflict over the same issues time and time again?"  "What are we doing wrong?"

While it goes totally against our nature, we need to stop the blame game toward others and start with the blame game toward ourselves.  As Jesus put it, 

"Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  ... You hypocrite, 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." 
Matt. 7: 3, 5

What does this look like in real life?  Most often church renewal will not come by merely changing the leadership and doing the same things a little harder.  The reason renewal is needed is because we are doing what we doing.  We need to honestly, reflectively, and consistently ask, "Is what we are doing advancing the Kingdom by helping people grow deeper in the grace and by bringing new people to faith so they can grow deeper in grace?"

If not, we need to do something different.  

Within my own denomination, some think this means that we have a theology problem.  I fiercely disagree.  Our Continental Reformed theology is biblical and solid.  It is not the problem.  In fact, I believe when it is properly understood and lived, it is the solution!

No, the problem is our practices, our worship style, our way of relating, our church power structures, our ways of handling conflict, etc. etc.  We codify and then maintain systems and styles that have nothing to do with theology.  In fact, many of our practices actually run counter to our stated theology!

We need to ask different questions.  What are we doing that is wrong?  We caused this mess, what can we do to change the structures and systems that perpetuate it?

Even with these proper questions, change is hard.  Yet, without asking the right questions, we will not change for the better.  O for the grace to repent and believe in the living Christ even for our churches!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Leadership Styles and Expectations

It has been one of those mornings!  Tomorrow I hope to write on peacemaking versus peacekeeping.  Today, it is already late morning and I have more appointments coming up quickly.  Thus, I will repost from last summer concerning the topic of ministry leadership and congregational expectations.

I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ-
I who am humble when face to face with you,
 but bold toward you when I am away!
2 Cor. 10:1

The Corinthian church was a problem church.  As a church, it had more spiritual gifts than any other (or at least longer lists of gifts than Paul gives to other churches).  They had wealth due to their sea port.  They had the power and presence of an Apostolic pastor.  Yet, they fought all the time and tolerated incredible immorality in their midst.

This is not all.  Probably their greatest sin is the way they listened to the Word of God.  Ancient evidence suggests that Corinth was ruled by those who were the best speakers.  Thus, Paul declares that his speech was not with "lofty speech or wisdom" (1 Cor. 2:1).  Instead, he came having "decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (1 Cor. 2:2)

I do get tired of this passage and the entire Corinthian correspondence being used by anti-intellectual believers as a means of justifying their foolishness.  Paul is not discrediting being educated or knowledgable!  Instead his writing and ministry to Corinth illustrates his persistent attack on the Corinthian expectation of what real ministry should look like.

What do I mean?  Expectations shape one's perspective.  

The Corinthians would only listen to a great orator.  Their town was full of great orators.  Paul did not measure up.  Thus, they were constantly persuaded to reject Paul's message for the "wisdom" found in their great speakers.  Such worldly wisdom was not founded on the Word of God, but the wisdom of a decadent and failing Greek society.  

An honest reading of the Corinthian correspondence reveals that Paul constantly dealt with the expectations of the Corinthians.  He came in the power of the Spirit.  His writing was much stronger and more persuasive than his speaking.  He warned them, cling to Christ and to faith!  Do not be led astray by the false but persuasive teaching of the great orators.  

Yesterday I began a discussion of leadership through our strengths.  I shared I had spent much of my early ministry experience trying to "shore up" my weaknesses.  It took time, but what I have learned is that those who constantly critiqued my weaknesses wanted me to be a different person.  They did not want me to confess my weaknesses and play to my strengths.  They wanted me to not have my weaknesses!

In other words, what people expect from a leader or a pastor shapes how they measure the effectiveness of the leader or pastor.  Ironically, it often is not even the pastor or leader that is the issue.  It is the size of the church or the individual's preference for the size of a church that really determine leadership expectations.  

Let me give an example from a fine book by Gene Wood called Leading Turnaround Churches.  Wood inserted in the book a handout he gave to those who joined his church dealing with expectations.  This is a fine resource for helping folks identify their pastoral expectations.

Wood begins with a look at what the bible says a pastor does.  As he defines it, a pastor must feed his people the Word of God, must protect them from false teaching, must model the Christian life, and must equip others for ministry.  What is most interesting is how a pastor performs these duties changes according to the size and expectations of the church.

What does this look like?  Wood begins with the description of a small church pastor.  Those who pastor church of less than 100 people spend much of their time being everyone's friend.  They are expected to always be the one who opens the doors and the last one to leave every event.  They know everyone in the church, they know their children, they know their out of town relatives, and they know the name of everyone's dog.  In addition, this pastor spends much time doing church maintenance and office administration.

So what happens if you are not a complete people person who is built to maintain and establish relationships?  People who are used to this size church will think you are a bad pastor!  You might be a great speaker and vision caster.  You might be able to see multiple futures for the church and you might know how to get there.  Let me say, if you don't do it all yourself and quickly grow the church, these gifts do not matter.  Why?  The expectations of a church this size and the people who like this size church do not match your gifts.

I know several of my greatest detractors in ministry have been people who liked this size church and found that I did not match their expectations.  I was told that "I don't love the people enough."  I was told that "I was not friendly enough."  For those who know me, these charges may sound strange.  Yet, they arose from unmet expectations.  Interestingly both of these folks said I was the best preacher they had ever heard, but they were more than ready for me to "leave their church alone!"

Similarly, Wood describes the expectations of several other size churches.  For example he gives a church that ranges in size from 400 to 800 people.  In this church, the pastor had better be able to speak well.  As he states, "His people will forgive him for anything but preaching poorly." (80)  This pastor does not socialize with many of the people in the church.  Why?  Because he does not care?  No, because there are way to many people.  Instead he spends his time training leaders, managing the office, counseling in assigned times, working in outside ministries, and in study.  This pastor often does not do hospital visits unless it is for a key church leader or something serious.  Instead others within the church do the visitation and caring ministries of the church.  In fact, those gifted in these areas of ministry do them!

This pastor still feeds, protects, models, and equips the members of the church to grow the Kingdom, but  now the ministries are often done by other people.  Ironically for those who believe the pastor should do everything, many times people in this size church feel they are better cared for and loved because the variety of ministries and care is far greater than in a smaller church.

So what does all this mean?  Leaders must lead from their strengths (see yesterday's post).  They must know them and work from them to perform their ministry.  They must also know their weakness that come from these strengths.  Humility comes from knowing how God can work through our strengths in spite of our weaknesses!

Furthermore, a leader's effectiveness is also determined by the expectations of their ministry.  A perfectly good leader will be undone if placed in the wrong situation with the wrong expectations!  I think both the leader and those being led must be aware of these expectations.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Using our God-Given Strengths in Ministry

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb,
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Ps 139: 13-14

Do you really believe that the Lord made you who you are?  Do you believe that He composed your soul and personality right alongside your body while you were in your mother's womb?  I think many sincere folks doubt that the Lord knew exactly what He was doing when He put us together.  We look at our sin tendencies and our hang-ups, and we wonder how God could use us.  We are so _____ (fill in the blank).  We might be cautious or aggressive; thoughtful or spontaneous; or quiet or outgoing.  We make so many mistakes!  How could God use us like we are?

It is so much easier to see what holds us back instead of how God could and will use us as He made us.  Today I wish to focus our thoughts on leadership and how God uses our strengths to lead His people.  Ironically, we often find that our greatest strengths as also our greatest weaknesses.  At least this has been my experience as I have grown as a man, pastor, and leader in the Church!

To help get into this subject, I will share what I laid out to the leadership of First CRC of Seattle as I prepared to minister in this new place.  I began my life in this new church by using the Strength-Finder's material to describe the person God has made me to be.  I recommend this material to anyone who wishes to discover their natural strengths.  

Strength-Finder 2.0 can be accessed by purchasing one of their books.  There is a code in back, which allows you to take the on-line test.  Through a series of questions, the on-line resource helps access your top five strengths.  Someone was telling me you can get the order of all 34 strengths for only a nominal fee of $500 or so.  Personally, I will stick with the top five!

I do recommend this test.  I have taken many personality tests and such.  I find often these tests demonstrate more how I felt on a certain day than who I am.  In fact, I have taken some tests multiple times, and I have found the tests pointing in opposite directions depending upon when I took them!

In terms of the Strength-Finder's test, I have taken it two times.  The first time I did it to help a fellow pastor who was going through the training.  He needed another test taker immediately.  I really did not have time to do it, but I agreed to help him out.  

I took the test in a hurry.  It asks questions of which you prefer on a scale of 1 to 7.  For the first 100 questions, I answered each question in 2 seconds or less with either a 1 or 7.  At that point, I knew the program would think I was insane and impulsive.  I finished the test, but took it with a grain of salt.  

Then I got the results.  I found it helpful that it listed what each strength meant for how I approached the world.  I also found it very accurate as to how each strength also has possible weaknesses.  In 20 years of ministry, I had found these weakness to true in my life.  In fact, I have spent so much of my ministry life being obsessed by my weaknesses!  Yet, as I talked with my pastor friend/Strength-Finder trainer and several other friends about the test, all affirmed they thought it was an accurate picture of my greatest strengths.

I was skeptical.  It ends up that one of my greatest strengths is strategy, and I figured I could throw the test if I wanted to.  I also figured that it ended up with the published results (like saying I have the gift of self-confidence) because of the way I took the test.

I really did not pay the test much attention for the next year.  Then, Borders went out of business.  As it was closing, I purchased several leadership books at a huge discount.  One of these books was Strength-finders for Leadership

I decided to re-take the test.  I would do it under a new name, so my past time taking the test would not shade my results.  This time I took the test being careful to answer each question with thought and less impulsiveness.  I honestly and painstakingly went through the test.  Then I got the results.

To my amazement, I had the same top five strengths.  The order was slightly different, but the same five were there.  I believe this illustrates an accurate and helpful test.

At the Leadership retreat, I began by sharing my strengths as illustrated by the test.  I also shared that my strengths also mean some will misinterpret who I am.  For example, my number one strength is context.  I want to know about everyone's past.  I want to know about a ministry's or church's past.  I want to know context!  Why?  So I can use my second strength, which is strategy.  I use context to determine how to relate and move forward in the present and future.

What does this mean?  I ask a lot of questions.  I ask these questions of individuals and I ask them in a group setting.  Why?  Not because I wish to be a pain, but because I want to know why and how you think.  To some this can be very disconcerting!  I tried to share that I do not wish to make someone feel on the spot, but I do wish to know them.

Another one of my top five strengths is self-assurance.  This gift means I have an inherit confidence in my abilities and in what I do.  Personally, I think it means that if I feel like God is leading, I will move forward without question or doubt.  This is a helpful strength for leadership as it does help give confidence to others.

Yet, it also can be seen as arrogance.  This is particularly true if someone does not have that same sense of confidence!  So I tried to share that I need folks to give me the benefit of the doubt when I am confident in what I can or cannot do.  I truly do not mean it as arrogance!  In fact, I am more than willing to confess my weaknesses!  I want to be approachable and I want to know people. 

One thing I have learned in my years of ministry is that all of us cannot help but lead from our strengths.  This is because we should be who God made us to be!  It is really no good "faking it until we make it."  God can and does use all of us and He does use every personality type and strength mix in building His Kingdom.  He can use you!  (Another of my strengths is activator.  It means I naturally seek to encourage others to do what God is calling them to do.  Ironic isn't it!)

The problem is that so many of us take too much time focusing on our weakness instead of our strengths.  I know early in my life and ministry well-meaning folks would try to tell me that I really need to change.  These critiques would come on two fronts.

First, they would say that I really needed to be more "pastoral."  What did they mean?  Stop leading and asking so many questions.  Just "be with people" and let them know you "love them."  On the surface, I so much agree that these traits are an important part of pastoral ministry.  Yet, they can be achieved in different ways!

Personally, I spent many years seeking to build up that which was perceived as "weak" or not natural and neglect working within our God-given strengths.  Such labor led to burnout, stress, and great frustration.  I now see that what these folks wanted was for me to be more like them.  They really did not care who I was.  They wanted to make me in their image.

A second critique that was often made was that I needed to stop trying to lead with my strengths.  I had many folks who would point out my confidence in God or my ability to see possible future issues and they would call these God-given abilities weaknesses.  They would ask me to stop trying to lead and instead to learn humility.

Early in my ministry career, I worked at a very large church on staff as a middle school youth director.  The church was in an interim period, and the staff was making decisions about the directions in ministry.  After a month or so, I began to point out possible difficulties with some of their decisions and I offered other possible solutions.  I was honestly told, through body language and other not so subtle clues to shut up!  Yet, I could not help but offer my opinions occasionally.  Then I noticed something.  One of the senior pastoral staff would write down what I said.  I would be ignored in the meeting, but in the next meeting he would bring up my exact idea and it would be adopted!  Looking back I can see that the problem wasn't my strengths being weakness, but I need a place to lead, not a place where I was a junior and unimportant staff member!

In other words, know your strengths and work within them!

That being said, it is true that all of our strengths also have potentially negative relationship and directional issues built into them.  Why?  Not everyone is like us!  Furthermore we live in a fallen world and we are fallen people.  We must be aware of our potential weakness and confess them.  If we hurt others, we need to repent and be open to correction.  Christian Leadership means true humility.

This post is getting long, so I will end here.  Hopefully tomorrow I will share more thoughts concerning leadership.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Revival for the Spiritually Dead

"Go and say to this people:
'Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.'
Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes, lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed."
Isa. 6: 9-10

As a pastor, I have served churches in many parts of the United States.  I have also served as a witness for Christ in a 10 week summer mission trip to southeast Asia.  Lord willing, I hope to be a witness for Christ in many other parts of the world in the next 20 years.  In every place I have gone, I have seen people come to know Jesus and others who have been completely hardened to the gospel.

Why is there such a range of response to the gospel?

In the passage above, Isaiah has just seen the Lord, and he has fallen before Him.  The Lord took a burning coal, touched his lips, and made him a vessel ready to bring the Word of the Lord.  In other words, Isaiah just experienced repentance and faith from seeing his true condition before the Holy God and calling out for mercy.  Such a cry the Lord always answers.

After this conversion, Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord asking, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"  Notice the plural "us", which demonstrates the multiple personhood of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In response to this question, Isaiah says, "Here am I!  Send me."  The above passage is the message the Lord gives Isaiah.

So, why do some believe the message of the gospel and others reject it?  

The human condition apart from God's grace is that of deaf, blind, and hard-hearted to spiritual truth.  As Paul says, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins."  Dead people cannot respond to outside stimuli.  The meaning of "being dead" is that they can not respond.  Once dead, the only way someone can respond again is to be made alive again.  

I know this biblical teaching goes against what so many of us wish to believe.  Yet it is true.  We are dead to our true spiritual situation unless the Lord opens our eyes, unstops our ears, and changes our hearts.  When He does, we turn or repent and we find healing.  

Being spiritually dead does not mean that we do not have a measure of a free will.  

We can love our families and friends.  We can be honest.  We can be generous.  We can have good self-control.  We can even give up drinking or anything else we call a vice.  In other words, we are not robots.  Being created in the image of God gives us great gifts and abilities.

What does it mean to be spiritually dead?

Being spiritual dead means we do not have the gift of faith.  It is now dead; and as a result, we can neither honestly repent before God nor can we place trusting faith in the living God. Such faith is foreign to our fallen human nature.  It is something that makes no sense.  At least it makes no sense unless God's grace changes something within our heart that allows us to freely choose to repent and believe the gospel.

The greatest need for people everyone is God-given revival.

Revival, or "spiritual awakening" is not something that we can bring about by our efforts.  It is not changing someone's morality.  It is not helping them to have a better, more positive outlook.

Revival is God's work in bringing redemption to individuals.  As individuals are transformed, they work to bring God's righteous love and grace to their lives, their surroundings, and the world.

Revival is God's work, God's way.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Preparation for the Struggle of Life

"Blessed by the Lord, my rock, 
who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;
he is my steadfast love and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield and he in whom I take refuge,
who subdues people under me."
Ps 144: 1-2

In many places in the world today, Christians have been sold a worthless bill of goods when it comes to understanding life.  We are often told that Jesus will make it all better.  We are affirmed to believe merely that the gospel is our second chance.  We are taught to do our best and Jesus will take care of the rest.

What if the Christian life was more about struggle than victory?  What if our experience was meant to be marked more by warfare than by peace and security?

Against what do we battle?

We battle against the world system that is turned against God.  Its goal is to make the things of God look foolish and to make that which is foolish look great.  The more complete the world's system is against God, the more difficult it is to identify the worldly pull away from truth and righteousness.  We must fight against the world.

We battle against our flesh.  Our flesh or sinful nature never leaves us.  Even in the most godly person alive there is a constant struggle against our inward pull away from God.  When the world also matches perfectly with our flesh, as it does in the affluent parts of the world today, the pull of the flesh looks and feels so natural and good.  We must fight against the flesh.

The battle against the devil.  There is personal evil in this world that seeks to destroy the work of God.  It is personified in the fallen angel named Satan, but he also has a host of demonic associates who work behind the scenes.  These forces empower the world system.  They tempt the flesh.  Then the accuse the believer for being such a hypocrite.  We must fight against the devil and his schemes.  

How do we fight?

First we must realize we are in a struggle.  We have enemies who are shooting at us and the Church.  They are seeking to eliminate truth and righteousness from every area of life.  If we do not "seek His Kingdom and His righteousness" we will be made ineffective in our struggle.  

Do not be surprised at the trials and difficulties you face.  It is part of life.  In our fallen world, we live in a state of constant struggle.  Relationships are so easily broken.  Security is shaky at best.  Trouble is a constantly unwelcome companion.

Yet, God uses them to "train our hands for war, and our fingers for battle."  All that we need to do is recognize the training program!

All of our trials, all of our struggles, all of our conflicts should point us to the only true "fortress, stronghold, and shield in which we find steadfast love, a deliverer, and a refuge."  Even the process of aging and approaching death can be used to prepare us for everlasting life with our creator.

There is more to life than just this life and our experience of our life.

We are created to know and experience God's love and mercy.  It is found in the gospel.  It is lived by repenting of our sin and self-sufficiency while we look to Christ and His righteousness as our bread of life.  Lord have mercy upon me is a prayer God never despises!  He will send His mercy and grace to us, even in the midst of trials, when we ask Him for help.

Today, may we enter the battle.  May we witness, affirm, and engage in God's training program.  He is the Lord and He loves us.  There is no other god.  Come to Jesus and ask for His grace to believe in His love and watch care as enough.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Life justifies living?

"I tried your religion for awhile," he said, "and I found it's just a burden to carry.  You know what I've figured out?  Life justifies living.  Life is its own reward and explanation.  I don't need some pie-in-the-sky mirage to keep going.  This life has enough pleasure and mystery and adventure in it not to need anything else to account for it.  Life justifies living."
Mark Buchanan, Leadership, (Winter 2004), 38

I have heard this so many times.  I was first confronted with it as a philosophy student as an undergraduate.  The person talking was trying to convince me that my childhood belief system should be discarded.  Little did they know when they started the discussion that I had become a believer at 18 for fairly non-childish reasons.  It was a great discussion.


In many ways I agree with the above statement.  I so enjoy life.  I love friends and laughter.  My biggest disappointment in moving is being separated from my friends.  Good friends are so important for enjoying life!

In addition, I find such peace and beauty when I am out in nature.  In fact, I do everything I can to get out in nature all the time!  I think more than most, I truly enjoy life.  I love its pleasure, mystery, and adventure.  I do pray it will never end!

That being said, I know it will end.  As my body settles into middle age, I cannot enjoy the food I once enjoyed.  My intestinal pain and other physical symptoms make eating what was once pleasurable very unpleasurable.  Now I have to watch carefully what I eat.  It does take some of the pleasure and adventure out of my life while adding a non-enjoyable mystery as to why my body behaves as it does with gluten full food!

What about those who begin life with a series of poor choices- choices that haunt and misshape them for the rest of their life?  What about those who experience incredible abuse that warps their entire life experience?  What about those who witness and experience trauma that haunts their dreams and paralyzes their waking hours?

"Life is its own reward and explanation" is a selfish observation from one who is blessed with health, strength, good-fortune, and financial resources that allow them freedom to find pleasure.

When times are good, I agree with the above paragraph.  When times are bad, I think that the above paragraph leaves room for little else than suicide.  At the very least, all that is left is frustration and anger.

What if the above statement was given some better context?  What if this life is often extremely good, but even at its best it is a mere glimpse or shadow of a better world, a better life, that we were created to enjoy?

Such a perspective would explain why we find such pleasure, mystery, and adventure in many events and experiences in this life.  It would also give an explanation for those who are suffering.  

Friend, there is more to living than just this life!  We were created for eternity.  All that is lacking in this world helps us understand and clarify what the next world will be like.  Life with God, in relationship with God, gives us a taste of what life will be like when our mortal bodies depart and our sinful nature is gone.

The hope in Christ is not a crutch for the weak.  It is the truth that explains our experience.  The here and now is not all there is.  We were created to enjoy so much more.  That is why we have such longing; why we have such a desire for peace, security, love, and respect.  

Don't be satisfied for the pat answers of the healthy, wealthy, and young.  Find the true meaning of life in a faith relationship with Jesus Christ.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Unite my heart, O Lord

By the grace of God, I just finished a very busy week.  In the past seven days I have had many one-on-one appointments, groups meetings, a leadership retreat over the weekend, and then worship on Sunday including a new format for our evening service.  I worked, planned, and labored many, many hours.  I am not complaining.  I actually enjoyed it!

On Wednesday before the weekend ramped up, I was thinking and talking with the Lord about all the activity.  I honestly did not know for sure how any of it would go.  I did not have a solid bead on how to approach or complete any of the tasks.  This feeling is not normal for me.

Instead of the certainty of knowing what to do, I had to trust and rest in the grace of God.

I am glad to report that I am growing better at trusting and resting.  I am sad to report that I am still not really good at it!  I am much better at control than trust; at self-effort instead of rest; at worry and fear instead of peace and joy.

This morning I arose to meet with the Living God in prayer and His word.  Right off the page jumped Ps 86:11 

Teach me your way, O Lord, 
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name forever.

Unite my heart.  What a great phrase!  This is exactly what I need.

My very real human condition is most often marked by self-reliance.  Yet, I was created to be in complete reliance and trust by faith in the one true God.  When I live in my real real human condition, I experience anxiety, fear, depression, and self-pity on the one hand and control issues, self-reliance, self-righteousness, and pride on the other.  Often, I seem to bounce back and forth between these two poles of human experience.  Sometimes I make this bounce within a single minute!

Unite my heart, O Lord.  How?

Unite it so I regain and live in faith and trust in Your love and mercy.  Unite it so learn to walk in Your truth and the gospel instead of in my selfish thoughts and self-righteousness.  

Lord, unite that which is separated!

Weeks like this past one help me to see that God is faithful and He will lead and guide.  Yet, I need His grace to believe it before the next week!  Experience is a good teacher, but God's grace is needed to change my heart, to unite my heart so I can rest in God's grace.

What about you?  I encourage you and I, like David before us, begin the week by praying Ps. 86:11.

Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name forever.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Distracted from our Main Thing

"Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Mat. 4: 17

I am constantly amazed how quickly I can become distracted.  It does not take much to change my direction away from my intended course.  The question from a child, some minor health issue, dinner time, and a host of other daily occurrences move me away from my intended goals.

I do believe that life is found in these distractions.  Our life was never meant to be a "to do" list.  In the daily rhythm of life, including all the distractions, we are to discover and enjoy the presence of the Lord.   A mark of maturity is learning to walk with God in the midst of all that life is about.

I must confess that I have been slow to learn these lessons.  I can easily be a driven man- a man who gets many things done.  In fact, I grow in frustration as I find I am not getting done all that I wished to complete.  When I find my frustration growing, I must make a list of all I need to finish, with how long I think it will take to do each activity, and then I make a plan to complete the list.  

The question comes, where does God fit into my often-driven, often-distracted life?

By the Lord's grace, He has gently lead me to grow in several ways.  First, He is the one who has made me to be how I am.  My ability to get much done because of planning is a gift from Him.  It is not sin, but part of my created good.  I must remind myself to make my lists so I keep on track!

Second, He has shown me that I am not measured in His eyes by what I do or complete.  This has been the toughest lesson of all!  Jesus loves me even on days I struggle to get anything done on my "to do" list!  I now find that my biggest struggle is believing this truth.

How do I do it?  I have learned that life is not about what I do or don't do, but it is about walking in repentance and faith with my Father.  What do I mean?  Even my best efforts are so tainted with my desire to succeed.  I cannot escape that my best for God also makes me look good.  So even as I complete the many tasks on my radar, I must repent of my heart's desire to use the completion of tasks as the measurement of my life.

I believe that part of my frustration (otherwise known as anger!) with distractions and not completing tasks is my core heart belief that I am measured by what I do.  I need to repent of this idol!  I so much need the love and mercy of Christ poured out within my soul by faith.  When I find my satisfaction in Christ's love, I know joy and love that transforms my day.  It is found when I walk in a state of constant repentance and faith.

Repentance and faith.  There are those words again!  I need them so much.  So do you.  So does the Church.  So does all who live on this fallen earth!

Why have we made our Christian walk about so much else other than repentance and faith?  Why have we made worship of the Living God about everything but repentance and faith?

The first words of Jesus' ministry should give us a clue as to what he was about.  His first message was "Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near."  Repent!  Confess the reality of your sin and your need for God's mercy.  This is a message that all of us need to internalize and believe.  It is a message that rings true to the life of a long-time disciple of Jesus as well as the life of the most seasoned pagan.  Repent and believe in Jesus for in Him is the Kingdom of heaven.

Is this message the centerpiece of your life?  If not, why?  What else do you see as bringing you closer to God and thus closer to the person He has made you to be?  Ask the Holy Spirit to search you and point out anything that you trust in apart from Jesus to bring you life and joy.  

Repent and walk in faith so you can keep the Main thing, the Main thing.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What is a real Man?

"Brace yourself up like a man and I will question you,
and you will make it known to me."
The Lord speaking to Job
Job 40: 7

I believe in today's Western culture, particularly for those under age 40, there is no more confusing passage in all of scripture than this one! "Brace yourself up like a man?"  What in the world does this mean?

I believe there has been a concentrated and pernicious attack on men and young boys for the past forty years.  With the rise of the Feminist movement, came a prolonged attack on boys and men.  I could go into the many, many statistics to back this up, but defending this claim is not the aim of this post.  All I will say is that much like our modern political debate, instead of positively stating why women are different, special, and so needed in every realm of life, we were told why men were enslavers, manipulative, and content to keep women down.

The result?  We have leveled all of society as best as we can so as to diminish differences between men and women.  Want strange proof?  Just this week I was reading that our new aircraft carriers will no longer have urinals in the men's bathrooms.  This follows a worldwide trend.  I know several years ago a Scandinavian country tried to outlaw men urinating while standing since it was a means of showing dominance over women! 

What has been our message?  Boys and men, stop acting so "manly"!  Be calm, civilized, stop fidgeting, and stop acting like there is a difference between men and women.  We have disparaged being "macho" to the point where we have huge confusion over how a man should act, think, and be in society.

I believe we have done so to a great peril to individual men and women, the Church, and our society as a whole.  I know I have spent way too much time working with young men (and some not so young) encouraging them to act like a man.  I have found so much confusion among young men as to who they should be, how they should act, and what they should do.  For the past twenty years at least: 

Thoughtful men do not wish to be a "chauvinist pig" so they become passive around women;

Many young men struggle with their "failure to launch" so they retreat to video games, extreme sports, and they settle for part-time jobs to pay for their pleasures while they depend upon others to provide for their daily needs;

We have so emphasized our need for egalitarian relationships that men get married, but do not know how to lead a family, a Church, or a business.  Instead, they differ leadership decisions to "consensus" decisions.  Such a lack of leadership often leads to resentment, anger and broken relationships with spouses, significant others, and in all of life;

Finally, there appears to be a true lack of understanding that delayed gratification is necessary for maturity and true manhood.  If our reward is not immediate, it is not coming.  Thus our relationships, business and career decisions, life decisions, and all choices are based on our need for immediate reward.  We seem to have lost the will to live in light of next year, let alone eternity!

So what does it mean to be a man?  Our culture is so confused!  So are many in the Church.  What does the Bible have to say about it?  What does it mean to "brace yourself up like a man"?

I just read a great article in the summer 2002 Leadership magazine that I think gives some insight.  I like this following quote from Robert Lewis because it states positively what it means to be a man.  How I want my boys to hear this message!

What is your definition of manhood?

We compared the first Adam with the last Adam, Christ, and we found four differences.  They are our four foundations stones for authentic manhood.

A real man is one who rejects passivity, accepts responsibility, leads courageously, and expects the greater reward, God's reward.

What do you think of this definition?  Is it helpful?  How do we incorporate this understanding into our lives?  Into the life of our family?

The first place to start is always in repentance and faith.  If this makes you angry since I must be a "chauvinist pig" for saying it, repent and believe!  I am an imperfect person and often shallow thinker, what do you have that is better?  Share it with us!  

If you find that you have not lived as a man, repent and believe.  Confess to God, to others, and to yourself that you fall short.  Ask Jesus to help you live an authentic life.  Also, share this idea with others.  Perhaps others share your frustrations!  Let us press on to know Jesus and what He has for us.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Prideful Center of all our Sin

We will encounter all of these evils in various forms in the other sins.  But is only when we know the working of pride in us that we see how deeply the sins are interwoven.  Here is the keystone of the arch, and once we recognize that it runs through almost everything that we do, everywhere in our natures, we are in a better position to fight the other sins.  This is the importance of the warning of Dorothy Sayers, that "the devilish strategy of Pride is that it attacks us, not in our weakest points, but in our strongest.  It is preeminently the sin of the noble mind."  Not only of the noble, but also of the righteous.  Self-rightesouness is a common and peculiarly loathsome form of Pride.  When we encounter it in the noble mind, Pride is like a taint or flaw.  It suffuse the whole character of the person, even where that character is apparently noblest or strongest.  If it lies so pervasively in the best, it must lie at least equally so in us.

Pride is in our Envy, persuading us that we deserve better than we have, even to be other than we are, and so inciting us to pull down whatever we perceive to be superior to us.  Pride is in our Anger, in which we adopt a position of superiority from which our scorn and obstinacy, and even our elation, will not let us be budged.  Pride is in our Avarice, prompting us to display ourselves in 'an extravagant array of clothing,' as the Parson puts it in Chaucer's tale, and in 'keeping up great households,' which we do not need.  Pride is in our Gluttony, in the display again of an 'excess of divers meats and drinks; and especially in 'certain baked meats and made-dishes,' as the Parson says with his usual spirit, 'burning with spirituous liquors and decorated and castellated with paper, and in similar waste.'  Pride is in our Sloth, in our assurance that we may get by with a minimum of effort and find achievement and reward by sluggishness.  Pride is in our Lust, in our scant regard for the flesh and feelings of others, and our belief that we may dehumanize them and ourselves and still be regarded as human.  Pride is the sustainer of our sinning, the reinforcer of all its motives.
Henry Fairlie, The Seven Deadly Sins Today ,44.

I have to say again that I have truly enjoyed re-reading this book!  As I get older, I find that I am less concerned with reading all the new and exciting books.  I find that I know what most of them say from their dust jacket (how's that for pride!).  Truly Solomon was right that there is nothing new under the sun.  By application there is really nothing new written about the Christian life and the Church that has not been thought of before.

Increasingly I am enjoying deep and thoughtful books and writers who make me slowly think through what is written.  I guess somewhere along the way I got old and boring!

Our culture promotes and encourages misplaced pride in all of us.  From our consumerism to our view of government and its role in "promoting the common good" (whatever that means to you) our Western Culture promotes, encourages, and lives by feeding our pride.

Is there any wonder why most of us do not see it?  Is there any wonder why Americans are known as the most pompous, foolish people on the planet?

Take some time to think and pray through the above passage.  How is your life marred by pride?  How does pride feed those sins that you just cannot seem to shake?  How does pride keep you from walking with God in humble reliance on the Holy Spirit?

We need grace!  Lord, I need grace.  Help us to see our sin so we can repent of our sin against You and find our rest in Jesus Christ's love and righteousness.  Truly He is enough!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Transference in Ministry and Life

This morning I have several appointments that will keep me engaged all morning.  I know myself that by the time I get time to write I will not have the brain power to do so.  One of the great problems with being a morning person!

This is a post from June I believe concerning a great ministry danger.  In my pastoral ministry, and even as a professor, I have seen this psychological state several time.  Each time it scared me.  Why?  Because it is so unhealthy for all involved.  I know most pastors or those in ministry who make it 20 years have seen this happen multiple times.  Yet, so few in the pew seem aware this condition exists.  

What am I talking about?  The problem of transference.  In our fallen world, people often latch on to an authority figure and transfer their feeling about another relationship onto the one in authority.  Such transference is not conscience.  Yet, it is all too real.  Let me explain it by quoting at length a section of David Hansen's The Art of Pastoring.

I'm gun-shy of people who like me too much.  I like compliments, but when someone starts treating me like I'm the best thing since indoor plumbing, I step back.

They get this look in their eyes when they say thank you.  It isn't adult gratitude or childlike delight.  It isn't a fair exchange of human love.  They're thanking me, but their eyes are focused past me.  They're thanking someone or something else.  Maybe an ideal I've resurrected.  It's unreal.

The relationship can appear normal.  Then, without warning, it shifts.  Their talk gets contradictory.  They thank Jesus but give me the credit.  Their speech is thick with spiritual lingo, but they treat me like I'm their savior.  I don't think they're talking about me or Jesus.  They're talking to someone or something I symbolize to them.  Psychologists call this transference.

Psychotherapists recognize that their relationship with patients run on a "double track."  "All feelings in relationships as we know understand them run on a double track.  We react and relate to another person not only on the basis of our conscious experience of the person in reality, but also on the basis of our unconscious experience of him in reference to experience with significant people in infancy and childhood- especially parents and other family members.  We tend to displace feelings and attitudes from these past figures onto people in the present, especially if the person in the present has features similar to the person in the past."

Pastors like therapists, evoke feelings in people that go way back into people's pasts.  "Feelings toward the therapist therefore stem not only from the real, factual aspects of the therapist-patient interaction, but also from feelings displaced onto the therapist from unconscious representations of people important to the patient early in his childhood experiences.  These displaced or transferred feelings tend to distort the therapist, making him appear to be an important figure in the patient's past; they create in one sense an illusion." ...

It is of no little consequence that in some traditions pastors are called "Father."  We are authority figures with love, so like it or not, we symbolize parents to people.  For adults who have had positive relationships with their parents, this creates little problem.  They have respect and love for their parents.  Likewise, they have a natural respect and love for pastors.

But in cases where the relationship with the parent was deeply faulted, people develop something like an ideal parental construct and transfer this to anyone like a parent- and especially someone who gives them love as their parent should have in the first place.  Parishioners can superimpose this ideal parental figure over the pastor; they "fall in love"- not with the pastor, but with the pastor as the incarnation of their ideal parental figure.  Then they shift the monumentally important childhood desire to please their parent, which was never satisfied by their natural parents, onto the pastor.

The compliments come fast and thick, and they express a strong and unreasonable desire to "help out any way they can."  They try to work harder than anyone else- and make sure the pastor knows it- to earn the pastor's love.  They want the pastor to appreciate them more than all others.

Parishioners caught in this unconscious process may undergo "conversion" experiences.  They may experience romantic changes and testify that they have been touched by God (never forgetting to add that it was through the pastor's ministry).  In psychotherapy this is called a "transference cure."  They do experience dramatic change, but it is motivated by the desire to please the pastor.  The results of these "conversions" diminish with time, especially once the period of intense positive feelings toward the pastor wanes.

And those feelings do disappear.  Alongside the deep reservoir of childhood desire to please the parents there exists a deep reservoir of anger at parents for all the hurt they caused.  This anger has no fixed object.  It is anger at parents, but children are not psychologically able to be angry at their parents for long.  Children cannot divorce themselves from the parental love they desperately need by showing or even admitting that they are angry.  But they can cut loose on someone who represents their parent.

Things can do along for quite a while, even years.  These people are accustomed to forgiving parental figures, so pastors can fail them now and then and they will forgive.  In fact, they will vehemently defend their pastor to others, even when the pastor is dead wrong.

Until something snaps.  There is no way to predict what will set it off, but suddenly, without warning, the pastor violates some code.  The pastor must pay.  These people's anger at their parents is unleashed on the pastor.

The pastor still symbolizes the parent, but now the parent being symbolized has shifted.  The pastor is no longer the ideal parental figure the parishioner loves.  The pastor is now the failed parent the parishioner hates.  Without warning, the pastor who yesterday represented all that was right in the world today represents all that is wrong in the world.  From Jesus to the devil in one hour.
Hansen, The Art of Pastoring, 124-127.

I told you it was a long quotation!  I think it is also an important point: in a fallen world, all is not as it appears or should be.  Even the most basic of relationship can become twisted and contorted.  We must be aware of this potential or we run the risk of ramming our life and ministry upon the shoals of brokenness and being ruined in the process!

Because of transference, most pastors, particularly ones who survive in ministry, are rather guarded about people who like them too much.  How do we judge "too much?"  There is no easy answer.  It is a weird feeling that something is wrong.  Often after being burned by the switch turning to "counter-transference" the pastor or leader is a bit gun-shy of people bringing too much praise.  Through time and experience, one begins to recognize that "look in the eye" of a broken person.

If you have been in ministry and you have been hurt by this process, please realize it was caused by brokenness and it is not all your fault!  I know the first time I experienced transference, I thought it was great.  I had made a friend and someone who truly appreciated by effort!  Then, when I experienced that "something snapped" moment, I wondered what I did wrong.  I really beat myself up over it!  You might react the same way.

If you do experience transference, I strongly recommend that you find an experienced pastor or leader to talk it over with.  It is likely they will share similar experiences.  Most importantly, learn from it!  A wise leader does everything possible to avoid the same mistakes.  Love but do not be anyone's savior.  Only Jesus can fulfill that job!

So, what do you think?  Do you struggle in your relationship with "authority figures" because you engage in transference?  Ask the Lord to give you some wisdom with this.  Find someone to talk to if this is your tendency because relationship wreckage will mark your life if you do not!

Transference is real.  It is a consequence of living and ministering in a broken world.  May the Lord give wisdom and grace to live through it, grow past it, and see true healing for those suffering with its consequences.