Vocation

I recently completed a reading critique of Samuel D. Rima’s Leading from the Inside Out: The Art of Self-Leadership. Here area few of my observations:

What is the author’s main purpose in writing this book?
The author’s main purpose in writing this book is “to assist leaders, as well as aspiring leaders, in doing the all-important foundation work necessary before leadership of integrity can be exercised and maintained” (Rima, 17). In other words, before one can lead others he must be able to lead himself. No principle is more crucial in today’s climate than the art of self-leadership. Resources over the last few decades have too often focused their attention on developing abilities and aptitudes (i.e. administration communication) while largely neglecting the importance of exemplifying vision and values (i.e. spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical attributes). The economic system is now in recession, the political climate is as divided as ever, and even several prominent religious figures have recently been exposed to have been divided in their convictions. As the culture grows darker the church must be steadfast in being all the brighter. This is one reason why the Apostle Paul wrote, “. . . But if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5, NASB).

List two items of information this book provided of which you were not previously aware.
The author’s section on emotional self-leadership, most notably the portion titled We Are What We Think, was extremely helpful information (Rima, 193). When coming up against opposition or obstacles, leaders can too quickly resort to the toxic leadership trap of blaming – either of themselves or of others. Current career performance often overshadows the responsibility to be obedient to Jesus Christ. Either the failure becomes “the individual’s entire fault or he instead resorts to claiming to have “nothing” to do with the mishap. There is also the danger of overgeneralization. The natural response of a leader can often be to approach any and all conflicts with the expectation that the outcome will be negative (largely due to any hurts that have taken place in past experiences). This approach stems from a mistrust that will only compromise and eventually destroy the relationship. The concept of mental filtering, when too much attention is placed on every minute mistake, goes along with this idea of emotional leadership. While evaluation is healthy and necessary, awareness of one’s limitations should never paralyze a person but rather propel him to train daily and intentionally.

Along with that, a crucial aspect of honest assessment is also to take time to acknowledge what was done well. One should be careful not to disqualify the positive but instead learn to take a compliment. Last but not least, a leader must be careful in reaching a conclusion. Every leader must be grounded by godly counsel and careful consideration. It is rarely the timing of the decision that matters, but rather the motive and process that led to the result. Asking for the perspectives and prayers of trusted advisers will often reveal and override one’s fears and misconceptions.

Another item of instruction that was appreciated was the chapter dedicated to Measuring Your Life’s Motivations. The author countered the mantra that “knowledge is power.” The general consensus in today’s culture is that the natural outcome of obtaining more information is that one will then gain an equivalent amount of influence. The author warns that knowledge left unapplied is simply powerless and that such consequences as procrastination, fear, deception, and lack of motivation quickly arise (Rima, 95). This is a valuable and vital warning to leaders of the Information Age. No generation has had more access to knowledge and data than this one. Technology has altered and expanded at a faster pace than ever in human history. The church must never mistake information (a.k.a. knowledge) as discernment (a.k.a. wisdom). Knowledge has the ability to direct attention to the person while wisdom rightfully directs acclamation to the Creator (not to mention that understanding will give the organization the needed courage to carry out Christ’s purposes on earth). The bible warns, that “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins (James, 4:17). Our world has enough information to know what is right and to know what is wrong, yet they continue to ignore their conscious. The church has the opportunity not only to demonstrate the loving truth of Christ but also to invite the unchurched to join them on the journey.

What was the most helpful part of this book and why?
The most helpful part of the book was the author’s “Self-Leadership Workshops” located at the end of each chapter. These exercises will be a complimentary piece to the assessments located in Aubrey Malphurs’ Maximizing Your Effectiveness which will be used in the formulation of the Personal and Ministry Profile at the end of the semester (Rima, 119-124). The following is a rough sample of those initial responses:

Values (Rima, 53)

  • Community: Relating in truth and love with God and others
  • Commission: Responding to Christ’s call to make more disciples
  • Communication: Reflecting Christ in all attitudes and actions
  • Commitment: Representing humility and longevity in all relationships

Calling (Rima, 74-77)

  • Vocation (calling or mission)
    Embodying the teaching of Titus 3:3-8 by fulfilling the great commandment and the great commission by engaging seekers, enabling followers, entrusting ministers, and encouraging leaders
  • Current avocation (role or position)
    Connecting the millennial generation to the love of Christ
    Complimenting/cooperating with the local church and leadership
  • Ideal avocation (future career or dream)
    Transitioning an existing church which is programmatic and attractional to be missional and intentional in focus and thus pastoring a people who aim to connect others to the love of Christ, to the life of the church, and to the need of the world
  • Ideal avocation becoming a reality:
    Continuing to be mentored by pastor and other key role models
    Continuing education (Masters of Arts in Ministerial Leadership)
    Continuing to strengthen talents and utilize gifts

Goals and motivations (Rima, 92 and 117)

  • Devoted to a lifetime of love and loyalty towards my family – Showing my wife affection via quality time and acts of service and giving my children provision, protection, direction, and recreation
  • Devoted to partnering on Christ’s mission by pastoring a local church – Staying in a significant shepherding role in a local church and keeping accountability and affiliation with a governing body
  • Devoted to loving everyone regardless of age, beliefs, gender, etc.
    – Reaching out through kindness, conversation, and invitation
    and connecting to the community (neighborhood, sporting events, etc.)
  • Devoted to more effective communication (writing, speaking, etc.) – Investing in continued education (whether formal or informal)
    and by growing in all areas of my reading, writing, and speaking abilities

Action steps for spiritual self-leadership (Rima, 150-151)

  • Praying – Dedicating time at home and at office (15-30 minutes a day)
    Journaling – Studying and meditating on Scripture (15-30 minutes a day)

Action steps for physical self-leadership (Rima, 172-175)

  • Diet and nutrition – Limiting meal portions and sugar intake
  • Physical fitness – Exercising five days out of the week (30 minutes a day)
  • Weight management – Getting down to and maintaining 215 pounds

Action steps for emotional self-leadership workshop (Rima, 199-201)

  • Fear
    Stopping the all-or-nothing thought pattern
    Believing that one’s call is not based purely upon performance
  • Anger
    Stopping the mental filtering process (expecting the negative)
    Believing that the leader, followers, and situation can improve

Action steps for intellectual self-leadership (Rima, 219-220)

  • Continuing education – Completing Masters of Arts by Spring of 2011
  • Improving exposure to the arts – Experience variety of music and painting

Copy one quotation from the book that seemed particularly important to you and interact in your own words with the portion you quoted.
One particularly important quotation from the book was located in the portion concerning Connecting with Your Life’s Calling. The author went on to write, “To effectively master the art of self-leadership, a person must develop a strong connection with a sense of calling that guides his actions and elevates his daily activity above the mundane, imbuing all efforts with an intrinsic, metaphysical value” (Rima, 55). To illustrate his teaching, he told the story of the Alaskan Airlines CEO who retired in order to serve full-time in the area of global missions. The man’s experience testified to the fact that no title or position (a.k.a. career) will ever bring true significance or fulfillment to one’s life. Rather, one’s vocation (a.k.a. calling) will bring true significance and fulfillment to whatever position one has been entrusted with. He was careful to define vocation as being what God has selected and positioned for one to be. In contrast, an occupation is merely the stage for that calling to be played out upon – he referred to this venue as an “avocation” (Rima, 59). The Apostle Paul spoke of his vocation when he wrote, “But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased” (Galatians, 1:15).

Many leaders commonly misplace their vocation with their avocation. Some are tempted to receive their significance by their performance (attendance, appreciation, or awards). Others are guilty of confusing their calling with their position. These leaders are quick to grow frustrated when their people cease to follow based solely upon a title. In order to effectively maintain and intentionally expand one’s influence, a leader has the responsibility to approach his calling with humility and honesty – understanding that his vocation was entrusted to him as an act of grace and that his position demands a measure of accountability and responsibility (and not merely one of privilege).

Vocation

Meaning

I would reluctantly recommend Steven K. Scott‘s The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived: Secrets of Unparalleled Success and Unshakable Happiness from the Life of Jesus. I was fortunate enough to receive two copies in a special pre-release (which I shared with one of our ministry interns). Copies are available at Golden Gate Bookstores for under $13.00 a piece http://www.goldengatebookstore.com/rel/v2_viewupc.php?storenr=333&upc=1400074649&affnr=-2610).

Though the author might have good intentions and several solid bits of instruction, I have difficulty with the general premise of his book. Christ is not concerned with our success and happiness as much as with our trust and obedience. For works on Christian leadership, I would rather one read books like Andy Stanley’s Next Generation Leader or Reggie McNeal’s Practicing Greatness. They not only are more effective in calling leaders to have integrity and influence but also to exhibit those characteristics for the correct reasons.

Even so, many of his teachings and thoughts were helpful – especially his chapter on “Meaning that Motivates: Finding Your ‘Whys.'” The author proposes that “understanding changes minds – action changes lives.” He calls all Christ-followers to be intentional in identifying and deepening the reasons why they do what they do. Most people do what they do for one of the following reasons . . .

  • Personal gratification, money, or material possessions
  • Approval and applause of others
  • Fear of failure, criticism, consequences, or loss
  • Survival or significance
  • Love
  • Family
  • Connection to God

I keep returning to the passage that reads, “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: ‘Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began'” (John 17:1-5).

Official Description: In The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, Scott guides readers in a step-by-step application of the life-changing principles, skills, and methods that Jesus used throughout his earthly life. Although believers may spend a lifetime learning from Jesus’ teachings, it’s easy to overlook the powerful lessons demonstrated in His life. But when these incomparable lessons are learned and put to use, they enable ordinary people to achieve extraordinary success and happiness. From Jesus’ earthly life readers will learn: How to break through the barriers that prevent them from achieving extraordinary success at work and relational success at home. How to experience a level of happiness and fulfillment that nothing the world offers can duplicate. How to use adversity and opposition as a springboard for greater success. How to love others in a way that increases their love as well. No matter what a person’s area of expertise and in what setting a person influences others, living by the principles of Jesus’ life on earth produces extraordinary success, unprecedented achievements, personal fulfillment, and blessings for others.

Official Biography: Steven K. Scott is the best-selling author of The Richest Man Who Ever Lived, The Greatest Words Ever Spoken, and Mentored by a Millionaire. After failing in nine jobs, he started reading a chapter of Proverbs every day—and the wisdom of Scripture changed his life. Scott and his business partners have built more than a dozen multimillion-dollar companies from scratch, achieving billions of dollars in sales. He is the co-founder of Max International, Total Gym Fitness, and The American Telecast Corporation. He is a popular international speaker on the subjects of personal and professional achievement and the application of biblical wisdom to every area of life.

Meaning

Peak


I would highly recommend David Pierce’s Don’t Let Me Go: What My Daughter Taught Me About the Journey Every Parent Must Make. I was fortunate enough to receive two copies in a special pre-release (I plan on possibly using the book as supplementary reading in a parenting class). Copies are available at ADB Booksellers for under $11.00 a piece (http://www.abdbooksellers.com/si/9780307444684.html).

After their first climb together, Pierce referred to a song written by King David which read, “His lightning lights up the world;the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,before the Lord of all the earth” (Psalm 97:4-5, NIV). I was challenged by an aspect of the author’s parenting style. He was intentional in creating opportunities to not only spend time with his child – but equally purposeful in conversing with her about her understanding of God, life, and love. As a father I need to begin to think about I will offer similar atmospheres with my children. I already know that Julia gives and receives love through quality time (“So Dad, how was your day?”) and Jace responds better to physical touch (“Dad, let’s wrestle”). That being said, as they get older, how can I best capture those mentoring moments and compelling aspects of their journey with Christ?

Official Description: One day after reading a book about a wilderness adventurer, David Pierce’s fifteen-year-old daughter Chera announced that she wanted to climb a mountain. What David heard behind that wish was a bold declaration: “I’m growing up, Dad—what are you going to do about it?” A few weeks later they bought matching backpacks. Over a three-year period they climbed five mountains and ran in two marathons. Together they suffered sore muscles, bitter cold, sprung knees, shin splints, and broken spirits. But they also reveled in blazing sunsets, glissaded on a glacier, and celebrated numerous victories great and small. And in the process, they built an unshakable father-daughter bond that will stand the tests of time. In this book, the author—the husband of popular Christian comedienne Chonda Pierce—offers a down-to-earth, funny-yet-serious book for parents with the same universal appeal as Bob Carlisle’s heart-tugging song, “Butterfly Kisses,” only with well-worn running shoes and an ice axe.

Peak

Understanding

Have you ever been lost in the dark? How did that happen? What did you do?
Sometime during the summer following my Freshman year in high school I attended a church camp-out with my student ministry. The adult leaders announced late one night that they wanted to take us to a special spot that they had discovered earlier that afternoon. They proceeded to let us know that they had all we would need – namely that they had flashlights to lead us through the path. That they did. The leaders took us far away from the campsite and far off the designated path. Our anticipation grew at the thought of what we were about to see. Suddenly they stopped and triumphantly announced that we were close. Just as we were getting ready to finally lay our eyes on the surprise that awaited us – they turn off their flashlights and run. There we were, about twenty high school students, with no idea where we were or how to get home . . . did I mention that it was pitch black and we had no light?

On another camp-out with a different student ministry, this time as an intern, I followed the advice of our interim youth pastor who had the genius idea of playing Capture the Flag on the beach (full of debris) in the pitch black (I was the only one allowed a flashback). While officiating, I remember hearing a suspicious laughter coming from the distance. As I grew closer it became apparent that the laughter was really a muffled cry. Our music pastor’s daughter was lying on the sand – with a bit (and I by “bit” I mean a lot) of a concussion. She was in shock. There was a gash on her forehead – on top of a bump the size of my fist – with blood dripping down her face. Yeah, our leader did not feel the need to tell the parents until we arrived home two days later – not recommended.

Where do we get our advice? Who do we trust as a reliable source?
Bad things happen when you cannot see where you are going. Much like life when you have the wrong directions – or no direction at all. Middle and high school students are infamous for listening to the wrong counsel. The Barna Institute claims that adolescents trust the advice of their friends first and foremost (even though they lack the experience and expertise that they are searching for). They also rely upon the information given by the news and entertainment industry – regardless of the fact that every organization brings a bias and honestly is more concerned with selling a product than helping a person. Five and half million people die due to tobacco every year – and looking for new customers all of the time. The average household has over $8,700 in credit card debt – and the banks are actively recruiting naive college students all of the time. Some students have the maturity to actually consult their parents for guidance (but most are too embarrassed, or worse, dishonest).

This is another reason that our student ministry and church are taking the next few weeks to explore life’s great questions about God. We asked, “Why was the world designed (because God is creative and relational)?” We wondered together, “Who is Jesus Christ (he is intentional and missional)?” In tonight’s student gathering, we examined a topic that was discussed at a previous Sunday morning gathering, “How do I read the bible and why would I want to?” Like the Apostle Paul, Peter wrote his final letter just a few years before his death. He too was martyred by the Emperor Nero around 67-68 AD for claiming that Christ was Lord rather than the Caesar. He wrote his second letter to the believers located in Asia Minor in order to encourage those who were fearing martyrdom and to protect their faith from the false teachers. Who did Peter rely upon in his darkest hours? None other than the words of Scripture.

The bible is written by the hand of humanity and by the heart of God.
He wrote, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:11-16).

Maybe you can relate to his description of the feeling of helplessness – as if all you can do is sit back and watch as the world falls apart. However, the Apostle called the church, even in such dark and dreary times, to live holy and godly lives (exemplifying both integrity and influence). He joined them in anticipating the return of Jesus Christ – even though he would not come back in his lifetime. He joined his good friend and counterpart in the ministry who prayed for his Master’s return on a regular basis (i.e. “Come Lord, quickly!”). He did not, however, propose a passive faith – but instead encouraged the church to share the truth with others. He was reminding Christ followers to be ones of compassion, conversation, and invitation. Great idea Peter – but how in the world would they ever face the challenges of the day? How could they stay light in a dark age? How did the church manage to add new believers on a daily basis? Look at today’s Western church – full of comfort and prosperity – and we are shrinking! Peter realized that there was timeless wisdom and revelation found in bible. Too often people claim to be overwhelmed with the bible – that it is just too difficult to grasp. Maybe the real reason they are distance from the bible is because of what the book calls them to? Mark Twain, far from a follower of Christ, once said, “It isn’t parts that I can’t understand that bother me but the parts that I do understand.”

Why should the bible matter to you?
Like I wrote in a earlier blog, the bible is consistent in its message – no small task for a compilation of sixty-six books divided into chapters and verses (made up of thirty-nine Hebrew books in the Old Testament that were written between 1900 BC to 400 BC which include history, poetry, and prophecy – as well as twenty-seven Greek books in the New Testament written between 46 AD and 90 AD including genres such as history, letters, and prophecy). No other book has been as widely circulated (the single most published book in history after all). Billions have been printed to date and ens of millions are sold year after year. No other book has been as widely translated (whether it be dynamic equivalent, literal, or paraphrases). No other book has been more durable (loved by some, hated by others, and ignored by most). Think of all the debate that surrounds the bible. It has been burned, battered, and banned not to mention those who have believed in its message have been killed. Yet, most of today’s Western Christ followers take their copies for granted. They treat it as nothing more than a holy relic or worse yet as ancient, boring, and holding no relevance.

Little do we know, if read and applied, the message can be absolutely transformational. Paul, writing in 2 Timothy 3:14-17, is clear that the bible is Showing perfect – inerrant and infallible – no blemish, imperfection, or defect. God breathed. The bible demands a decision from its hearers. You will either devote yourself to the One True God or choose to disregard him. The bible has the potential to bring correction, comfort, and courage. Christ used the bible to speak directly to his disciples (past, present, and future).

Where should we begin with the Bible?
I continue to challenge those I know to start studying in Mark and Romans – and to actually keep a daily journal where they ask the following questions:

  • What is this passage is saying? What does this passage mean? What type of writing genre is this? What is context and setting? How does the verse relate to the entire chapter? How does the chapter relate to the book and testament?
  • How can this passage be appropriately applied to my life?
  • How can I pray in response to this passage (take notes on messages)?

Take advantage of online resources such as YouVersion.com. Be bold in sharing your studies and struggles by blogging or tweeting on a regular basis. I am looking forward to hearing your insights and ideas!

Understanding

Matters

I recently completed a reading critique of Dr. Mark Rutland’s Character Matters: Nine Essential Traits You Need to Succeed. Here are a few of my observations:

What is the author’s main purpose in writing this book?
The author’s main purpose in writing this book is to make an attempt in recovering the pursuit and preciousness of character development in the life of a leader. He defines character as “the composite of virtues and values” that will ultimately determine a person’s impact and influence on others (Rutland, 1). There is great concern that the moral fabric of the cultural landscape is quickly deteriorating. It is not that people lack values but rather that they hold to the wrong ones all together (Rutland, 5-6).

By no means does the author propose that humanity can succeed without faith in Jesus Christ. On the contrary, he begins with the precondition that “by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, he does caution and correct much of the church which has reacted excessively to “works-righteousness” by neglecting one’s responsibly to respond to God’s grace with gratitude which only leads to spiritual maturity (greater trust and obedience) – especially in the context of leading others in following Jesus Christ. He sums up the idea by saying that “God’s willingness to help must be met with our willingness to be helped” (Rutland, 10).

List two items of information this book provided of which you were not previously aware.
The author’s characteristics of a meek leader were extraordinarily helpful information (Rutland, 122). First, he proposed that quiet strength assuredly leads to great achievements but will never take sole credit but rather shares that victory with the entire team. Second, meekness will often result in the transformation of many people but never the dependency of those individuals upon the leader. Third, it is crucial for followers to recognize and respect their leader’s talents and teachings but equally important that the leaders release those teammates to discover and develop their own strategies and passions. Fourth, a meek leader welcomes the weight of leadership but will likewise refuse to resort to reminding others of his position or privileges. In an age of Empires, when everyone was looking for a Messiah who would deliver Israel and destroy her enemies, Jesus came to serve and to suffer (John 13). Who would have thought that his Kingdom would quietly (and meekly) outlive the Caesar?

Another item of instruction that was appreciated was the description of honest leadership. For example, this section brought clarity and correction to the issue of gambling by defining it as nothing more than “exploiting the passion and lust for chance in life of another in order to take his goods with nothing in return” (Rutland, 98). On the topic of truth, he also spoke to the issue of candid communication. Some intentionally use simulation (seeming to be something that they are not) while others use dissimulation (seeming not to be what they are). Both are misleading and a misuse of power (Rutland, 102-104).

What was the most helpful part of this book and why?
The most helpful part of the book was the author’s instruction on the importance of every leader practicing frugality. His teachings could be summed up by Brian Schudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, who was once quoted as saying, “You are what you can’t let go of.” Jesus warned his followers that, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matthew 6:24, NIV). What greater witness can the church have as the United States finds herself in the midst of economic uncertainty that is largely due to people’s greed rather than their necessity? Some studies claim that the average American household has over $8,000 in credit card debt. Too many Boomers and Busters wanted what their parents had but without the willingness to work persistently or wait patiently.

The government’s own solution is to bail out Wall Street in hopes of saving Main Street – essentially giving more to those who have already wasted much. Both political ideologies are lacking in their economic approaches. One claims to be fiscally conservative but has too often settled for thriftiness, which according to the author, only results in “stinginess, lovelessness, judgment, and a withholding hand” (Rutland, 81). One apostle warned his church to, “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5). Christ followers must be intentional in valuing the valueless of the society. On the other hand, those on the left side of the aisle have been equally guilty of “reckless wastefulness” (Rutland, 82). Government relief and welfare programs seem to be only effective in developing dependency rather than financial liberty.

The church must preach and personify conservation in a time infatuated with consumption. In other words, Christ followers must be the first to repent of their fiscal gluttony and instead respond by exemplifying a holistic faith that “earns all it can, saves all it can, and gives all it can” (Rutland, 90). That being said, there is one point of constructive criticism that must be pointed out in this chapter. The author used the analogy of the millionaire who arrogantly “burnt away” his money by buying cigars as a sign of position and power. His challenge that “conspicuous affluence gives no glory to God, and it helps no one” is a valid one (Rutland, 88). That being said, he might also consider confronting the masses who have thrown away thousands of dollars on Super-Sized meals and Grande coffees. There are so many unnecessary comforts that could be better shared with those who are truly in need.

Copy one quotation from the book that seemed particularly important to you and interact in your own words with the portion you quoted.
One quotation from the book that was particularly important was, “If loyalty is understood only in terms of isolated relationships, disillusionment and bitterness are inescapable. That is to say, a disloyal man is disloyal in his character rather than in respect to particular relationships” (Rutland, 29). This postmodern culture is searching for a loyal and loving community of leaders and followers who demonstrate cooperation, vision, and grace regardless of circumstance or challenge. Christ followers cannot continue to be selective to whom they are loyal. For example, too often one is guilty of praying for only the politicians that share the same viewpoints when biblical instruction is clear on praying for all those appointed to places of authority (1 Timothy 2:2).

In the context of ministry, second chair leaders (such as pastors to youth, children, etc.) must be careful to display the same loyalty to their lead pastor as they demand from their respective leadership teams. Great attention must be invested in assuring that their particular ministry department cooperate with and compliment the greater mission, values, and strategies of the local church rather than simply further one’s own agendas or achievements. Organizational alignment is of much greater value than mere divisional success.

Matters

Paths

When did I sense that there was more to life than this? How did I feel?
A new movie was released recently called, Phoebe in Wonderland. The film tells the story of a young girl who, no matter how hard she tries, won’t (or can’t) follow the rules. In describing her dilemma, she says, “I’m Scared.” Her drama instructor took a moment to reassure her that everyone, at one point or another, reaches the place where they realize that they are not normal . . . and that is just okay. Likewise, there are moments in each of our lives, if we are honest with ourselves, where we conclude that there just has to be more than all of this. We actually want to believe in someone or something that is larger than ourselves . . . and that something about our world is just not right . . . that we just don’t fit . . . and that we need to begin searching for the answers . . .. and that this thought absolutely scares us.


A crucial part of my journey began in October of 1992. My Grandpa Father passed away . . . my first relative that I knew fairly well to die. I was not even close to being a Christ follower at the time. I will never forget hearing my grandfather’s favorite song, “I’ll Fly Away.” I was amazed that, even when everyone had lost someone that they had loved, they managed to have hope. I began to consider that day the question, “Where would I go if I was to die?” I began to take serious personal inventory – I was not a good person. I was selfish. I was angry. I did not trust anyone but myself (and look at where that was getting me). How was I going to fix this mess? How was I to get back to God (and who was he anyways)? This is one reason why we our church and youth ministry are exploring life’s great questions about God. Is God real (just study the cosmos, the creation, the life of Christ, and our connection with it all)? Last week I asked, “Is the Bible reliable (and challenged the church to join me in taking the first step of faith – to listen)”? There will come a time in every one’s life where they began to seek – the question is, “who will we seek after?” A question that many have wrestled with is, “Do all roads lead to heaven?”

What are the different world religions that we have come in contact with?
Some have found Buddhism (a religion that was founded about 500 BC and currently followed by 376 million people in our world). Buddha claimed to be enlightened with the Four Noble Truths. Life is about suffering. Craving is the root of all suffering. The only cure for suffering is to eliminate all craving. One can eliminate craving by following the eightfold path which include:

  • Right views (embracing the four noble truths)
  • Right resolve (renouncing all of the pleasures)
  • Right speech (avoiding lying, slandering, and cruel words)
  • Right behavior (not killing, stealing, or participating in any sexual misconduct)
  • Right occupation (seeking gainful employment)
  • Right effort (seeking human perfection)
  • Right contemplation (being alert and observant)
  • Right meditation (experiencing deep detachment from all earthly things)

A tall order to say the least . . . an attempt that many have made. Another faith is Islam (founded in 610 AD and followed by 1.3 billion people). Muslims are devoted to the Five Pillars which are:

  • Reciting the Shahada (Allah is the one true god and Mohamed his prophet)
  • Praying five times a day
  • Giving to the poor
  • Fasting during the month of Ramadan
  • Visiting Mecha

Then there is Christianity (founded in 33 AD and followed by over 1.5 billion people). The beginning of this faith might surprise. you. The Hebrews were suffering through five hundred years of political oppression and four hundred years of prophetic silence. There ended up being rumors of a man who was investing all of his time and energy into untouchables, unlovables, and unlikelies. Eyewitnesses saw him give sight to the blind, legs to the lame, and life to the corpses. Jesus was as comfortable conversing with the religious elite as he was with the cultural outsiders. He spoke of his mission being to seek and save the lost – calling others to love God and love others. This was not exactly what people were looking for in the Messiah (aka the Christ, the Anointed, the Chosen). Many had it in their minds that he would be one who would deliver their nation and destroy their enemies. Instead, Jesus actually went out of his way in serving others (like washing their feet). In response there seemed to be a rising opposition and an inevitable suffering (anything to stop him and ultimately silence him). Nevertheless, he made some pretty courageous claims to his nature and mission.

Jesus clearly claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life.

The bible says, “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him'” (John 14:5-7). Thomas was confused by what Jesus was teaching, That he would have to suffer? That he cane to serve? He asked, ‘How can we follow if we don’t know your direction?'” You have to admire his honesty (not to mention relating to his pessimism and uninhibited approach). Have you ever felt that Jesus was taking you down paths that you did not fully grasp? Unlike you and I, Thomas refused to suppress his feelings and actually chose to openly voice his despair. Thomas gets a bad rap . . . his doubting self and all . . . but remember that he was also the one who had one point boldly declared a willingness to follow Jesus all the way to Bethany (even willing to die alongside him if at all necessary).

We sometimes have the tendency to make this bible characters out to be more than human – forgetting they were not much different than us. Who has not been confused by life at one point or another? Who has ever gone without feeling as if life’s riddles would never be answered? Jesus’ answer (on being the way, the truth, and the life) confounds, confuses, offends, and transforms to this day. He was referring to his personality – claiming to be the Answer to the human problem. Not an answer – not a way – not a road . . . but the answer – the way – the road. He was not offering a formula to be imparted to the ignorant . . . not more pillars or mere noble truths. It was not about what we must do – but who he is. He was not offering a recipe for us – but a relationship with him. Second, he was speaking of his authority. Jesus is the one with the intimate knowledge of the Father and thus boldly stands above reason and experience (a relationship does include those pieces but is not enveloped in them). He is the Life – not subject to death – but he actually went on to make it his subject. Jesus would intentionally die on our behalf – accused of crimes he did not commit. The third day he would rise again – conquering death, hell, and the grave. He was not just the founder of a movement – he was the movement. Finally, he spoke of his identity – being the sole access to the Father. Jesus is the only revelation of God in human form and the only authorized representative of humanity to God. No one else could make the reconnection between the Creator and his creation. No one. We can follow the teachings of Buddha or Mohamed . . . some of their teachings even slightly resemble biblical truth . . . but none of those efforts could ever reconcile us with the God whom we rebelled against. He came to us. He reached out to us. He loved us before we could ever love him.

How can you begin a relationship with Jesus Christ?
Don’t get me wrong, following Jesus is not easy. He even warned us to count the cost. He said in Matthew 7:13-14, that “Wide is the gate that leads to destruction (but many enter) while small is the gate that leads to life (and only a few find it).” Peter, one of his most trusted disciples, said in Acts 4:12 that, “Salvation is found in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. I encourage all to receive what God has given us – so much more than we could ever deserve. Respond to his grace by admitting that you have rebelled, believing in that salvation through the cross, and committing to following his leadership.

What steps can we take in building bridges to all generations? How so?
We must begin believing in the teachings of the Bible – that even though many are sincere in their faith – sincerity is not good enough. Salvation is through Christ alone. This is not meant to be exclusive but inclusive. “For Christ died for sins once and for all” (1 Peter 3:18). The question is, “Will all respond?” He has opened up eternal reconciliation to everyone – despite age, gender, experience, or nationality. He offers so much more than Nirvana or Paradise. He offers relationship. He gives away the life that we could only hope for or begin to imagine. “He will wipe every tear from your eyes” (Rev. 21:4). May his church respond in being about the mission on a local and global level. Speaking of the world, I have seen this truth lived out on a very real level. My visit to Swaziland last November changed my life. I realized that God is working in other nations before we even get there . . . but we still need to get there. May we send and support missionaries consistently. May we give and go in our community through compassion, conversation, and invitation. People are looking for the path. Let’s show them the way.

Paths

Inspiration

When was a time that I received bad information? What happened?
I remember what it was like to purchase my first personal computer (and not knowing what to do with it). You quickly run out good to do – so then you turn to the evil potential. My brother, who was thirteen at the time, was incredibly gifted at baseball. I decided to write a counterfeit scouting letter – getting my brother’s hopes up that he had be chosen to be a part of an elite recruiting program. I mailed the letter and awaited anxiously for his response. It was about three days later when my brother met me at the door . . . practically leaving his shoes with excitement. He was telling me all about the letter, the organization, and the opportunity to play at a higher level. I waited until he could get any more happier before I proudly announced that I was the author of the letter. Gotcha! For some odd reason he did not find the joke all that funny.


Where do we receive our direction? Who do we trust as a reliable source?
It is not as if most people are playing a cosmic prank on us. I emphasize the term “most.” We just passed a season largely devoted to listening to politicians for policies and procedures. No matter who is elected – not one of them will ever live up to all of their promises all of the time. Not only that, but even when one is elected – it seems that forty five percent of the populace is unhappy. Then there is the economic environment that we find ourselves in. Life is now full of insecurity and instability. We have all sorts of people telling us when and where to invest our wealth . . . but no one really knows what tomorrow holds. We always have the news and entertainment industry. Who doesn’t want to know what the latest twenty year old pop star is doing with her children? Every news medium holds bias (either with or without intention). And when it all comes down to it – they really are trying to sale a product and gain advertising dollars. Finally, some seek answers from religious leadership. Even that route has proven to be hazardous – so many have been misunderstood or tragically misused their position.

This is one reason why our church and student ministry is exploring life’s great questions about God. Last week we tacked the question, “Is God real (looking at the cosmos, creation, conscious, Christ, and the possible connection)”? This week we ponder, “Is the Bible true?” We are not alone in our confusion. Paul needed counsel in the midst of his own uncertainty. He was a murderer turned missionary . . . a terrorist who experienced a radical religious conversion and thus devoted his entire life to help those who he had previously hated – planting churches and developing leaders. He thus became an enemy to the Empire. He was imprisoned yet again – but this time by Emperor Nero in or around 67-68 AD. Nero was infamous (he used to use Christ followers has human torches to light up his personal parties). The apostle found himself chained and isolated – knowing that his death was just weeks away. The great majority of his closest friends had left him when he needed them the most. Only Luke (author of one Gospel and Acts, Tychicus (a messenger of many of his letters), and Timothy (his protege and young pastor in Ephesus) stood by him now. 2 Timothy is his final known letter and full of concern for the future of the movement. What would you say if you only had weeks to live? Where would you turn for assurance? Paul submitted to sound biblical instruction.

God asks us to take the first step of faith – to listen.
Paul wrote to his protege saying, “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:10-17).

The bible was written by the hand of humanity and the heart of God. There is so many manuscripts and archaeological evidence that confirms the validity and claims of the Scripture . . . and I encourage you to study those sources for yourself. However, we must also search after the bible itself. You will find continuity. There are sixty-six books divided into chapters and verses. Thirty-nine Hebrew books in the Old Testament (ranging from 1900 BC to 400 BC). The genres includes history, poetry, and prophecy. The epic includes creation all the way to the rebuilding of Israel. In addition, there are twenty-seven Greek books in the New Testament (written between 46 AD and 90 AD). Genres include history, letters, and prophecy. The epic include the birth of Jesus all the way to his prophesied return. No book has ever come close to the circulation of the bible (the single most published book in history). Billions of copies have been printed to date and tens of millions are sold year after year. No book has ever been as widely translated (from dynamic equivalents, literal use, or more paraphrase in emphasis). I study out of several types (NIV, NASB, and ESV). I tend to do some of my devotions even out of the New Living. I would recommend the NIV Study Bible (because it is easy to read and easy to understand). New believers would love the introductions (which speak of the author, the date, and the cultural setting). You will have access to relevant notes, maps, concordances, and indexes which will compliment your own study. You can purchase a high quality copy on Amazon.com for under $30.


No book has been more durabile (loved by some, hated by others, and ignored by most). The Scriptures have created more debate than any other book in history. Some have burned it, battered it, and banned it. Believers of the bible have been martyred all throughout the centuries (including now). People are threatened by the content and the community. Even now, a large portion of our culture just plain takes the bible for granted as the key to discovering God. We treat it as a holy relic that takes the center of our coffee table. The bible is perceived as ancient, boring, and holding little to no relevance. However, if only you would open the bible, study the bible, and apply its teachings – you would experience transformation. The bible demands decision from its hearers (you either devote yourself or disregard all it claims). The bible could very well develop character and conviction – changing our beliefs and behaviors. Many have been rescued from their rebellion and liberated to finally live. The bible brings about correction, comfort, and courage. This book actually allows Christ to speak directly to his disciples.

Where should you begin with the Bible?
I encourage everyone to take seven days to begin journaling on Mark or Romans. Ask the following question . . .

  • What is this passage is saying? What does this passage mean? What type of writing genre is this? What is context and setting? How does the verse relate to the entire chapter? How does the chapter relate to the book and testament?
  • How can this passage be appropriately applied to my life? Take notes of what is misunderstood (humility and awe) Ask parents, pastors, leadership (and read up on the topic)
  • How can I pray in response to this passage (take notes on messages)?

What do we believe about the Bible? How has that shaped our church?
The First Fundamental Truth of the Assemblies of God is that the Bible is inspired. The Scriptures have shown itself to be perfect (inerrant and infallible). There is no blemish, imperfection, or defect. The epic story reveals Jesus as Savior, Baptizer, Healer, and Coming King. I end with the words of Proverbs. 30:5-6 which read, “Every word of God is flawless. He is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar. Continue in your journey for the truth . . . continue to allow the bible to speak to you. Listen.

Inspiration