Furious

The bible reads, “When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar” (2 Samuel 13:21-22, ESV). Sin paralyzes. David had the responsibility as both father and king to punish Amnon for the rape of Tamar. He did nothing. Why? Could it be that he still held deep-rooted grief and guilt for his own sexual immorality with Bathsheba. Did he believe that he had no right to speak with righteousness on the matter? Much like the present-day parent who fears the idea of raising the sexual standard of purity in fear that they will discover that they themselves failed to live up to such standard when they were young.

On the other side of the spectrum is the person who condemns the pagan for immoral acts while he himself hides his sin in his heart. Either he overcompensates for his shame or he takes some sense of sick pride in the fact that he is not as “evil” as someone else. One lacks truth and the other has no grace. One fails to confront and other cannot forgive. One breeds complacency and the other brings conflict. One brings an unending cycle of dysfunction and the second brings hypocrisy. May neither be said of us. Will we, in the midst of failure, decide to discipline in order to bring repentance and restoration while still offering grace and humility?

Furious

Flirt

My good friend and fellow youth pastor, Ryan Smith, said something quite profound during a recent leadership seminar for students at a summer camp. He spoke of our tendency to want to flirt with sin – being curious about rebellion. He used the illustration of wanting to see a movie that he knew would be filthy in content. He did not necessarily flee the film. He even seriously considered ways he could justify viewing such a movie. He finally chose not to.

How often I am guilty of such a mindset. I usually clothe such curiosities in humor. I kid. I mock. I use slang. I justify. But I rarely do is what David did – confess. The bible reads, “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die'” (2 Samuel 12:13-14, ESV).

What we rarely do is call out sin. What we are rarely able to do is suffer the consequences for our actions. Here is the struggle – the more relativism sinks it’s claws into our culture, the harder it will be for us to hold onto our righteousness. The more immoral or amoral our society becomes, the more we have to guard our own character. And yet, how often this is not our initial response? Our typical take is to see how close to the fire we can get without being burned. So we want it both ways. David found out the difficult way that that we are not able to do that. Sin hurts. Sin separates. Sin kills. Sin is all the things that God is not. So why are we so curious? What makes sin so tempting? Even as we sit on the other side of cross? Even after we have been down the road of repentance? Let us be content with who are and with all that we have been given by grace. Let us respond with righteousness.

Flirt

Strangers

While on vacation, I had the opportunity to visit a church located on the Oregon Coast who was in the midst of a series based on Hebrews. The lead pastor did a phenomenal job of interpreting and applying the Scriptures. He asked an intriguing question of his congregation: What do pagans think of the church? He was speaking of Christ followers being different that they might make a difference. The bible reads, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:1-3, ESV).

We as evangelicals claim to defend the sanctity of marriage and yet we ourselves only see one in every two marriages last a lifetime in our own communities. Are we really any different than those we are attempting to reach? Likewise, much of the church prides herself on being pro-life. But are we really? Are we so concerned with winning the courts back and attempting to legislate morality that we miss the key opportunities to value life such as encouraging adoptions, volunteering at local pregnancy centers, and rediscovering healthy and holistic sexual relationships? Or what about valuing ALL life? No matter if they are unborn or not? No matter what they have done or have not done? Whether they are guilty or not? No matter their age, gender, status, or nationality? All life. Will we go out of our way to defend those who cannot defend themselves? Or who no one else will? What will our world think of us then?

Strangers

Guilt

A prophet once proclaimed, “Have you utterly rejected Judah? Does your soul loathe Zion? Why have you struck us down so that there is no healing for us? We looked for peace, but no good came; for a time of healing, but behold, terror. We acknowledge our wickedness, O Lord, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you. Do not spurn us, for your name’s sake; do not dishonor your glorious throne; remember and do not break your covenant with us. Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things” (Jeremiah 14:19-22, ESV).

It is so fitting that Jeremiah is often referred to as the weeping prophet. He cried over the disobedience of his people and the impending judgement that would take place because of it. He did not look on the people with a self-righteous contempt or shake his fist in blame towards God. He chose instead to stand amongst them. He thus joined in their suffering. He even went as far as to plead for their repentance and their restoration. In fact, he repented on their behalf. He prayed that God would find it in his grace and mercy to forgive them yet again. That he would forgive their anscestors for the generation after generation after generation of wickedness. He did not pass blame. He owned their sin as if it was his own. And he asked that it would all change.

Where does that leave us as the church within the context that we find ourselves in? Do we own the shortcomings of our communities and plead on their behalf? Do we hope for transformation? Are we as the church truly willing to stand in the middle of the crisis and the chaos of our culture (or even in our congregations for that matter) and own their sins and sufferings? Rather than compare ourselves continue to pass condemnation? Do we bring God’s grace into the situation ordo we secretly rejoice at the downfall of others? Do we take pride in the false idea that those on the outside are worse than we would be without Christ? Will we have the heart of Jeremiah and weep rather than scoff? Stand close rather than stand far off?

Guilt

Olives

I recently had the opportunity to visit an interesting and thriving church in the Portland area by the name of Imago Dei. The teaching pastor had some very interesting things to say about peace in the context of the first chapter of Revelation. She said something that really stuck with me – she compared the fact that the first century Hebrews, though incredibly knowledgable of the first covenant writings, had a difficult time wrapping their minds around the Messiah as Suffering Servant. As a result, they were wrong on many counts and responded incorrectly because of it. We, being on the other side of the cross, are absolutely shocked as to how they could not see the obvious. How they could be so blind!

She went on to suggest, however, that we make similar mistakes and are equally troubled concerning the Messiah as Soon as Coming King. We often claim to have it all figured out. The movies. The books. The charts. The politlical positions. This country and that country. And yet, I wonder how far we will indeed be off. The bible states, “As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?'” (Matthew 24:3, ESV). We either choose to avoid the issue all together and miss the missional urgency of the matter or we are so caught up in the theories that we become no earthly good to anyone else. The Return will be one of consumation. One of completion. Trasformation. Celebration. I pray that we as his church will be expectant but not litharthic. Reverant but not fearful. Come, Lord Jesus. That is our prayer.

Olives

Establish

The bible reads, “Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house'” (2 Samuel 7:8-11).

The Lord will establish a house for you. A house. Though his covenant would indeed include a temple as the centerpiece of his land, his law, and his leadership – the covenant that he was reconfirming was never meant to be about a man-made structure. The covenant was passed down to King David that he might fulfill the promise that was made to Abraham years prior – that God himself would indeed dwell amongst his people. That he would call a people out who would respond in devotion and revelation towards him. That they would commit to know him, be known by him, and make him known to others. He even instructed David that he would not be the one to build his house because David happened to be a man of war and as a result happened to have blood on his hands. And yet, God’s real house would be the very dwelling place of Christ in the hearts of humanity and would indeed begin because of the blood on his wrists. The house of David would one day be established through his lineage . . . through Jesus Christ. God wishes to make his home in the midst of his people and dwell through his people.

I wonder if one of the shortcomings of today’s church is her desire to build cathedrals and complexes to gather in. Buildings often can become the mission. Buildings often can keep the church on their property and away from their divine purpose. The building makes it far too easy to gather together rather than scatter abroad. The building forces the leadership to spend far too much time trying to plan events to keep the building full and spend too much money to keep the building lit. Our house is not a structure but the kingship of Jesus Christ. What could be done with the money that often is spent on the mortgage? Could it be better used for local and global missions? Community kindness projects? For the poor and the sick? Even if it means paying a school district or local movie theatre – at least then the money is going to someone who is not yet part of the Kingdom. These are difficult questions for us all to attempt to answer. There are no easy answers. There is not one answer or strategy that works for everyone. But a discussion is needed nonetheless.

Establish

Contrarian

The following blog is a critique of Steven B. Sample’s “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership.”

What is the author’s main purpose in writing this book?
The author’s main “purpose of this book is to get [one] to think about leaders and leadership from a fresh and original point of view – from what [he] likes to call a contrarian perspective . . . just as [one] cannot become an effective leader by trying to mimic a famous leader from the past, so [one] cannot develop [one’s] full leadership potential, or even fully appreciate the art of leadership, by slavishly adhering to conventional wisdom (Sample, 3). He goes on to propose that leadership is incredibly relative and dependent upon the time and place of that surrounds it. The debate continues as to “whether leaders are the architects of history, or history is the architect of leaders” (191). The Scriptures state, “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:42-45, ESV).

What insight from the material will be the most helpful to you in ministry? Why?
The author’s description of between a good leader and an effective leader was the most helpful information to apply to a ministry context. Sample counsels, “Know which hill you’re willing to die on, and realize that your choice may at some point require you to retreat from all the surrounding hills” (190). Often, leaders invest all of their time to articulating “clear and compelling vision; inspiring trust, commitment and self-sacrifice among [their] followers, choosing capable lieutenants; keeping [their] eye on the goal; and pushing themselves and others relentlessly” (107). Yet, goodness is not as easy attribute to distinguish. There was one aspect of his argument that might be called into question. He states, “Once [a leader] knows which hill [they’re] really willing to die on, keep it to [oneself]. If [they] as a leader reveal to everyone the areas of moral behavior on which [they] are absolutely unwilling to compromise under any circumstances, [their] adversaries will almost surely use this knowledge to ensnare or undermine [them]” (112). This is the ongoing tension between the attempt to be transparent before one’s followers and the necessity to protect oneself from adversaries.

That being said, leaders could and should learn from those who surround them – namely those who hold differing experiences and ideas. The author suggests, “From time to time it is necessary for a leader to forthrightly condemn a colleague’s or a follower’s beliefs as being morally repugnant and just plain wrong. But almost as frequently, the contrarian leader will find that one’s own beliefs are being reshaped in part by the differing moral views of those around them” (118). This is why it is crucial for churches to have a solid leadership pipeline beginning with new converts. Often it is the new believers who have a fresh perspective and fervent passion for the mission of God.

What idea(s) in the material do you struggle with? Why?
One of the most difficult ideas to apply that arose from this material was when Sample proposes, “Listen first, talk later; and when you listen, do so artfully” (189). This skill demands that the listener looks for ways to pull out supplementary particulars, precious content, and shows ongoing discernment. Sample suggests, “Active listening, with relevant and probing questions, can help the leader find out if the speaker is being slipshod or meticulous in his reporting, and can create an atmosphere of accountability in which the speaker realizes he is expected to offer defensible information rather than mere pontification” (28). Along with, a leader must “know when to stop listening. At some point the leader must either make a decision himself or delegate it to someone else, and then move on” (31). One might either error on the side of acting too quickly or in the other extreme of not acting quickly enough. One might indeed wait far too long to act – being caught up in the endless cycle of processing, planning and preparing.

Along with, leaders must foster a climate of collaboration while simultaneously maintaining a clear leadership structure. In other words, under this rubric, everyone in the organization is free to communicate directly with everyone else in the organization, with the explicit caveat that any and all commitments, allocations, and decisions will be made strictly through the hierarchy” (32). The point leader needs to be willing to listen to the creativity and convictions of those on their team – but they must also carefully and continually guard the vision of the organization. To balance between the two takes a considerable amount of trust and humility on behalf of all who make up the team.

What results do you believe would occur following the implementation of this philosophy in the typical Pentecostal/charismatic church? Why?
One quotation from the book that was particularly important was when Steven B. Sample states, “Experts can be helpful, but they’re no substitute for your own critical thinking and discernment” (189). Church leaders have to continually wrestle with the tension of building a bridge between biblical truth and cultural relevancy. They can often get caught up in the trap of being recent – where they watch all of the right movies, read all of the right books, and go to all of the right places – and yet they fail to bring any discernment or transformation into the process. Sample writes, “It isn’t just the text of a news story that can mislead us; it’s also the choice of which stories get covered at all, and by whom, and where they’re placed in the paper, and whether or not a particular story is accompanied by photographs, and if so, by how many and which ones” (62). Each leader has to decide what portion of their calendar they will dedicate to study and what type of literature they will indeed read during that time (67). He goes on to suggest, “But failing to make conscious choices about to read is one of the worst things a leader can do. It’s far better for him to make than it is to permit bestseller lists, editors, or literary critics to make his choices for him” (70).

Along with, communicators of the gospel are largely responsible for the task of equipping and engaging their congregation in the spiritual discipline of discernment. They should find ways to share with the people ways that they wade through the changes and challenges of the surrounding culture. This also will play into what is shared and what is not shared form the Scriptures, whether the series are largely topical or textual, felt-need or unfelt-need, and how the series are branded or not branded.

Contrarian