Ballots

Three quick insights that I am taking away from the 2008 election . . .

  • I am grateful for the democratic process. No matter who wins or loses . . . it seems that nearly half the people are always unhappy with the outcome. However, at least we have the privilege of casting our vote. There are people all over the globe who can only dream of such a right. For the people and by the people. No matter how heated and personal the debate get . . . not matter how divided the nation seems to be . . . when it is all said and done . . . one person concedes and the other is sworn in. There are few countries in the world where one party willingly and peacefully hands over the reigns of power without one shot being fired. The constitution is quite the governing document. Now one party has the opportunity to capture and carry out their vision for our nation while the other has the challenge of rediscovering and redefining theirs by the next election cycle.
  • I am prepared to offer true and lasting vision. The votes are in and the situation is crystal clear . . . our nation is thirsting for leadership. They want someone to believe in. They are searching for such concepts as change, hope, and sacrifice. Everyone was designed with the desire to give their lives to something bigger than themselves. However, like any other elected official, Obama will never be able to keep every campaign promise that he made. He will fall short. He will fail some. Disappoint others. He is human (just like all the others on both sides of the aisle – or like you and I for that matter). The government can only do so much . . . they can never change a heart. The question is, what will the church do when the public realizes that not everything is going to get better overnight? That there are no easy answers. Will we ignore those who disagree with us? Will we rub it in their faces? Or will we actually present them with the One who can transform the world that we are a part of? Will we actually share with them the mission worth investing in? Will we offer them the Messiah? Jesus Christ. Will we be ready for such an opportune time in our history?
  • I am confident that the Kingdom will survive another Empire. I love my country . . . for much of what she has done, for much of what she is and for much of what she could become. However, my allegiance will always be with Christ and the Kingdom of God. I will never allow my patriotism to blind me to an opportunity of righteous. The launch of our movement survived Rome two thousand years ago – it can surely thrive in the midst of an ungodly and unchurched nation. Darkness is nothing more than the absence of light . . . so maybe the church just has not been bright enough? Jesus once said to the first followers, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34).

No matter how you voted this last Tuesday, no matter your party preference, or your political ideology – will you join me in praying for our nation? Will you join me in praying for our president-elect and other public servants? Above all else, let’s pray for the church . . . that she would be blessed to be a blessing. That we would be incredible lovers of God and lovers of people. That we would be committed to connecting our world to the love of Christ. That the Kingdom of God, in all his truth, love, grace, mercy, and justice, would transform the world that we live in . . . and that we can be a part of it!

Ballots

Inventory

When was a time that you refused to be teachable? That you falsely believed that you had all of the answers? There was a period during my high school years where I was not giving my best. I loved to read and to write – but only in my interests and only in my time. That just did not cut it with my teachers and I quickly found myself facing my father and forced to answer for my poor performance. He approached the challenge with a question, “Jud, don’t you want to be a pastor someday?” Without a hint of hesitation (and maybe a tinge of arrogance) I answered, “Absolutely.” He continued, “Don’t you have to go to college for that sort of thing?” I responded, “Usually.” He closed with, “Well, last time I checked you need to graduate from high school in order to get into a college.” Ouch. Talk about a reality check. I am forever indebted to my father for having the courage to have that conversation with me. For that very reason I gave him my tassel from my high school graduations (as well my college ceremonies).

What keeps us from growing? What happens if we do not take inventory on a regular basis? One of my favorite books of all-time is Reggie McNeal’s Practicing Greatness. He warns that the stagnant leader is in grave danger of losing three very crucial characteristics. First, they become prideful (forgetting the true Source of their strength). Second, they become ineffective (accomplishing the mission takes new methods as the times and teams change). Third, they become self-centered (forgetting that their responsibility is to leave people better off than before). Elton Trueblood says that “Deliberate mediocrity is a sin.” Grow daily or die gradually. Influencers take inventory.

God needs great leaders within the church. Just take Jesus’ conversations with his first followers. One of the most troubling conversations in the midst of the team took place when “. . . James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?’ ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’ When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'” (Mark 10:35-45).

The disciples did not understand what it meant to be truly great. They did not have the right direction . . . many of them were striving for political position and liberty. They had spent all of that time with the Master but still did not share his attitudes or actions. They lacked the righteous motivation . . . still all about themselves rather than about those around them. The disciples did not have what it took to be great. The followers needed to step back and become self-aware (assessing their tenderness and talents), self-managed (spending time listening and learning from their Teacher), self-developed (utilizing the right resources and depending upon the Holy Spirit), missional (living out the message with their words and actions), decision-makers (becoming wise and courageous), cooperative (complimenting instead of competing), and sanctified (being strategic in their spiritual formation).

Influencers take inventory. How can you develop as a leader (being one of integrity and influence)? How about taking a spiritual gift test or Gallup’s Strength Finder assessment? What about attending a workshop on time management or a health seminar? Read a few books on areas in which you can grow. Do you have enough friendships and accountability in place? Could you imagine how much more effective our churches would be in connecting people to Christ if only they were made up of healthy and growing leaders? First, we would be able to release implementers by the droves . . . seeing more creativity and courage in our people (teammates who understand the vision and are able to bring about the unthinkable). Finally, we would be able to mobilize the masses – placing each individual in their “sweet spot” to shine for Christ’s kingdom. Ask the tough questions and begin the process of becoming all that you were designed to become!

Inventory

BEfriend

What is your favorite family memory? I was five years old when my mother became pregnant with my baby brother. Every boy wants a brother. My response was a whole lot of anticipation mixed with a little bit of anxiety. As the labor grew closer my fear of being replaced became more apparent. One time, while being tucked into bed by my father, I half-jokingly asked, “Well, I guess that since we are having another boy, I won’t be your buddy anymore?” My father quickly responded with words of assurance that I would always be his buddy – that he would love both of his sons the same – just in different ways. I would not fully understand that principle until I had children myself. Then came the day we brought the little guy home . . . I could not wait to play with him! Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that all babies do is eat, sleep, poop, and cry A LOT! I was so mad at him for staying in the bassinet all day. I still have not forgiven him (twenty four years and counting). Needless to say, I was proud of my little brother . . . I was the only one there when he rolled over the very first time (I was watching Mouseterpiece Theatre on the Disney Channel in fact).

What is your most difficult family moment? Years after the birth of my brother, things began to change at the Farley house (or at least I became more aware of them then). My parents seemed to argue more often. Closed door debates became open room displays. My father was asked to leave for a day . . . for a week . . . for a month . . . until finally my parents had a big announcement to make – we were moving to Oregon – but my father was staying in the Tri-Cities. What a strange feeling to see your father help pack up the U-Haul but know that his stuff was staying there.

We all want long lasting and loving relationships . . . so why are there so few of them to be found? The harshest conflicts are largely between family and between friends. Forty percent of marriages end in divorce. Some break off because of poor communication or financial problems. Others call it quits due to a lack of commitment or a drastic change in priorities. Still others just cheat on their partner (which, by the way, is the least common of all the reasons listed). Just think . . . a husband and wife are supposed to be caring towards to each other and yet five million women are abused annually! Then you have the relationship between parents and children. Some children seem so hopeless and helpless that their only option (or so they think) is to runaway (two million annually). Other students choose to give up and give in when it comes to their academic pursuits . . . seventeen percent of students drop out of high school. Many lose interest or motivation. Others miss too many days or fail too many classes. Still others are overwhelmed with a dying relative or an unexpected pregnancy.

Is giving up, giving in, and going away the best option in relationships today? Maybe the most common. That is one reason we at Merge Ministries, the students of Maltby Christian Assembly, chose to take a few months studying the book of Ephesians (we call the Fall Focus “Be: the Church that God Dreams of”). We have begun a new journey, chosen to be below Christ’s authority, to believe in his grace, belong to his family, receive the beloved nature of our Heavenly Father, becoming united as a team, walking beside each other, and behaving along the lines of his instructions and ideas. All of Paul’s teachings really revolved around relationships . . . loving God and loving others. Relationships are all that really matter. Someone once said, “No one on their deathbed ever said, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at office.’” No one wanted more money, fame, or good looks. They want to be with their family . . . they wish they had done more for those they loved.

God calls his church to think of others before they think of themselves. Paul challenged the Ephesians to care for their spouses. He wrote, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church— 30for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband (Ephesians 5:22-33).

Wives are to submit to their husbands. I will be the first one to admit that this portion of Scripture has been largely misused and abused throughout history. People failed to admit that marriage is a covenant between three parties (the husband, wife, and God) rather than merely a contract between two consenting adults. The wife was called to obey Christ by obeying husband. Make no mistake though . . . the relationship is voluntary and never to be forced upon. By no means are women inferior to men. The instruction is spoken in context of a healthy and loving relationship. In fact, just the fact that Paul was addressing the ladies first was a sign of great respect (and went against the social norms of his day – the church was reforming the family structure). Marriage is supposed to be a reflection of Christ and his church – trusting his leadership and enjoying his relationship.

You think that the women received difficult advice . . . wait until you hear what Paul said to the gentlemen. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church. This completely shattered the Greco-Roman cultural norms (where women were seen as second-class citizens and holding no real rights). Paul even used the highest word for love in his language . . . calling the men to lay down their lives for their bride. He reminded them that they were one flesh (marriage was to be a partnership rather than a property exchange).

The apostle continued on by demanding that the church value their families. He went on to write, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—’that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (vv. 1-4). In other words, children are to listen to their parents (learning from their advice and example). On the flip side, parents are to care for their children (defending them rather than dominating them).

Finally, the church should be full of people who honor their employers and other authority figures. Paul finished this portion of his letter by saying, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him” (vv. 5-9).

This is a tough one for us to swallow or completely understand – slaves were to obey their masters. Let’s be clear on one point . . . by no means was Paul ever advocating or explaining away slavery. In fact, this was the only portion of his teaching on relationships where he did not use Old Testament texts . . . because there was no biblical basis for such an ungodly practice. However, the reality that Paul lived in was this . . . there were about sixty million enslaved individuals in the Empire. Sixty million. That was one in every three persons. Many of those were choosing to follow Christ (because the church was a safe place for the unliklies – the church was the only place where they could be treated as treasures rather than tools). Paul’s teaching was to love those who hate them – to respect those who disrespected them – to give what was undeserved – to turn the other cheek when being beaten. Do we harbor any unforgiveness towards another?

Likewise, masters were to respect their slaves. They were to treat people as they wanted to be treated. I don’t know why Paul just did not say, “Let them go.” I will probably never know. However, he did remind them that they might be a master over one life . . . but they were not the master of their own life. There would be a day that they answered for what they did . . . a higher authority indeed.

No one ever said on his deathbed, ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office.’ People wish that they would have put others before themselves . . . why not do it before it is too late. How do you express love to those you care about? What can you do more of? How about sharing words of encouragement (writing a letter or joining someone for prayer)? Have you thought of spending more quality time at home (planning a game night or enjoying a family meal)? How about giving gifts to someone without there having to be a special occasion? One of my deepest regrets, to this day, is a time that I did not spend Mother’s Day with my stepmother (whom I lived with at the time). The best I could come up with was buying a card at the end of the day, placing it in front of her, giving her a half-hearted hug, and going straight to bed. I even forgot to sign the card! What total disrespect . . . even after all she had done for me.

Have you considered performing an act of kindness (doing the chores before being asked or giving your parents the night off)? Last but not least, how about using appropriate physical touch? We don’t hug enough. Then there are some relationships where the physical touch goes to far and too fast. If you really love someone are you willing to make the sacrifice for a healthier relationship down the road?

What would our world look like with healthier relationships? What could the church accomplish? Would we not be more effective at connecting our world to the love of Christ if we actually showed the love of Christ? Just take note of what Jesus did as recorded in John 19:25-26. He hung on the cross, badly beaten, publicly humiliated, half-naked, and barely able to breath. Moments away from the end (talk about being on the death bed). It was then that he noticed his mother standing near the cross alongside one of his closest friends (the youngest of the disciples . . . the author of the Gospel of John). He took the time and energy to make sure that Mary took care of his friend and that his friend took care of his mother. Why? Because family and friends are important.

I write this message with a heavy heart . . . my stepfather has been told that he has two to four weeks to live. I am preparing to officiate his funeral. My sister, brother, and myself were able to go down to Portland to see him last weekend. He knows that time is coming to a close. He is full of regret, remorse, and repentance. He wishes that he would have lived much of his life differently. He wishes he would have lived for others. He hopes that he can be forgiven . . . and he can (the promise in 1 John is that God is faithful and just to forgive those who confess their rebellion). We have all rebelled . . . but will we choose to submit? Why not live a life of thriving relationships instead of waiting until the end?

For that reason I will never forget the birth of my oldest child. When Julia came out of the womb the doctor loudly proclaimed, “Whoa, she is big, it’s a girl, and she looks just like her daddy!” Why do people always connect “big” with me? That is another story. Anyways, it was that day that I set out to live my life by placing others before myself. I will respect my parents for their investment. I will love my wife and children like Christ loves the church. I will honor my employers and my teammates. Be a lover of God and a lover of people – you won’t regret it.

BEfriend