Lament

We ask a lot of God. There are times that we are so lost in what we want, when we want, and how we want it that we lose sight of God’s Greater Story. And I am not just talking about outright rebellion. Sometimes we cloak our own desires and demands carefully in the veils of faith and passion. We see life the way we see life and anything outside of that is just plain wrong.

Take Habakkuk for instance. He was sick and tired of Judah getting away with breaking the covenant time and time and time again. He decided to force God’s hand. He wanted answers. He wanted action. Do something! Sounds good and all. But he wanted it done now. And he wanted it done in a way that made…sense.

The prophet writes, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2-4, ESV).

Wait a minute. God had already answered his prayer? Before the prophet even asked for it? But he just could not see it yet. An Empire was on the move. But still quite a distance away. And not quite ready for the siege.

And could God really be right in using Babylon? Aren’t they worse than Judah? How is that justice?

Here are the struggles. God is often doing something that we cannot yet see. God is often doing something we might not always agree with.

Habakkuk was learning a valuable lesson. It is really easy to honor those we agree with. It is really easy to be obedient to a plan that we helped devise. But do we trust God enough to do what he will – even when it does not line up with our own timing and expectations? And what is a prophet anyways? Isn’t Habakkuk supposed to be a mouthpiece? A scribe? A messenger? There are definite times to make requests. And ask questions. Even share our own concerns and complaints. But when it is all said and done – share the message and trust that your message is just a part of the Message.

Lament

Chittister

I love to occasionally read books that are far outside of my denominational tradition. And no matter if we embrace or endorse those events and methods that have gone before us in the Christian faith, it is crucial to have somewhat of an understanding of our Church history. This was one reason that I recently picked up Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year.”

My favorite chapter was titled “The Sanctoral Cycle.” In it she writes, “The Irish parish had a St. Patrick’s day festival. The Italians had a street fair for St. Joseph’s Day. The Polish celebrated the feast of St. Stanislaus with a great parish dinner of potato pancakes and pierogi. The Slovacks celebrated St. Francis with a parish dance. The Germans had a pretzel sandwiches nand beer in the church parking lot on St. Michael’s Day. The Greeks celebrated St. John; the Russians, St. Vladimir; and years later, the Hispanics and Vietnamese and French I knew, all did the same, with some figure unknown to us” (254).

I am not encouraging today’s Protestant church to implement modern-day version of sainthood. But I do wonder…what is it that our churches are celebrating? What brings us together? That we gather together for meals and anniversaries for? What stories are we telling to our children and our children’s children? Why aren’t we talking about those who have gone before us? Who lived lives worth following? Those who followed Christ no matter the cost? Those who gave everything for the mission in their day and in their time? Those same characteristics that we want to see displayed in the people of our era? Do we recognize that this Story has existed far beyond us and will go on long after us?

The author suggests, “In the lives of the saints, we see in our own time the qualities that make life possible (259).

Chittister

Suffer

We simplify suffering. We want to explain it (probably in hopes that we might predict it or even avoid it altogether). But in so doing, we probably misrepresent God and mislead people.

The Bible reads, “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, ‘It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.’ Thus Job did continually” (Job 1:1-5, ESV).

There are times that people suffer for the Cause of Christ. It can be the most righteous believers who are persecuted and even killed for the sake and furtherance of the gospel. One of the most unexplainable aspects of faith is this – why is it often those who have the least are also those called to give the most? They do everything right – and everything wrong happens as a result.

Then there those who suffer because of their own doing. They literally bring it upon themselves. Sin produces destruction, division, and death. The reward for rebellion is too high a price to pay. And yet, those who are caught in such dysfunction, are the very ones who wish to blame anyone but themselves. They refuse to take responsibility let alone a posture of repentance. They are so wrapped up in the crisis and chaos that they have no idea that they are to blame.

To make matters even more complicated, sometimes bad things happen for no reason at all. We simply live in a broken and bruised world.

So how do we tell the difference? When do we know when we are suffering due to God’s purposes? From our own actions? Or just in the midst of a larger tragedy?

And if this is how complicated suffering is – then could the same be said of blessings? We can’t just name it or claim it. We can’t just do all of the right things and expect all the right things in return. We are not in control. We do not deserve certain things because of who we are. Remember – grace and mercy. God is God and we are not.

But here is what we can do…we can comfort those who are suffering. We can pray and defend the persecuted church. And not resist persecution ourselves. We can ask that God search our heart and cleanse us of any destructive attitudes and behaviors. We can be there in times of trial and turmoil and do what no one else is willing to do. That much, I am certain of in the midst of suffering.

Suffer

Desolate

I often wonder what Jonah would have thought if he was alive when Nahum prophesied? So much had changed in the one hundred years that separated them. Nineveh was finally about to get what they deserved. They had repented…but not for long. And their conquest would have to come to a chilling end.

The Bible reads, “Desolate! Desolation and ruin! Hearts melt and knees tremble; anguish is in all loins; all faces grow pale! Where is the lions’ den, the feeding place of the young lions, where the lion and lioness went, where his cubs were, with none to disturb? The lion tore enough for his cubs and strangled prey for his lionesses; he filled his caves with prey and his dens with torn flesh” (Nahum 2:10-12, ESV).

There are several lessons to be learned here. Far too many to be contained in just one blog. But one thing is certain: God does the right thing, in the right way, and all in the right time. Though he sounds similar, Nahum could not be any more different than Jonah. Jonah wanted what Jonah wanted. Nahum wanted what God wanted. Jonah wanted Nineveh to pay. Nahum wanted God to reign.

We must trust God with judgment. Never wish it on someone. Never celebrate it (though I do suspect that a part of Nahum did seem to enjoy it).

Above all else, we must keep our motives in check. Assyria was guilty of conquest. Taking what they did not deserve because they were convinced that they did deserve it. They thought that they could scare the world into believing that they were as strong as they thought themselves to be. They believed that the world was their’s for the taking. They refused to worship the One who had created it all.

We must refuse to believe similar things. Nahum did not cheer himself on. He did not even cheer his own nation on. He gave all honor and glory to God and to God alone. There is a tendency for us to want to use God in the ways that pagans have used their own false gods – for what they have to gain out of the relationship. Do we take satisfaction in our enemies’ defeat? And why do we do so? Because it “proves” that we are right and they are wrong? Or do we look on the suffering and hate the sin that causes such division, destruction, and death? Do we realize that it is only by God’s grace that we are considered his people?

I pray that the repentance in our day and age lasts a whole lot longer than the one in Nineveh’s era.

Desolate

Underfoot

Micah the Prophet lived in a day and age when God was looking for people of action. For a remnant of believers whose trust would translate in obedience. Micah promised Israel, whether they knew it or not, that God would be a God of action. That he was about to do some incredibly difficult things…but that he was going to do such things in the right way and in the right time and all for the right reasons. And that discipline would one day result in restoration.

The Bible reads, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all ourt sins into the depths of the sea. You will show faithfulness to Jacob and steadfast love to Abraham, as you have sworn to our fathers from the days of old} (Micah 7:18-20, ESV).

Here is what I love most about Micah’s prophecies – he always said things such as, “Who is like our God?” We need to ask that question again. May he reveal himself in such a way in our lifetimes that people again take notice. That they know that he is alive and on the move. May it not be judgement. But salvation. May he show himself in and through his church.

Micah was calling Israel to be people of love, justice, compassion, and humility. Not much has changed. As we live that way, I am convinced that people will ask, “Who is like our God?” How great is he. I see his goodness and glory in the hearts, minds, and hands of his people.

Underfoot

360

I would recommend John C. Maxwell’s “The 360-Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence From Anywhere in the Organization.” I was fortunate enough to be provided a copy in a special re-release directly from the publisher for review purposes. You can purchase a paperback copy for under $12 at Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/360-Degree-Leader-Developing-Organization/dp/1400203597/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319656151&sr=8-1) or directly from the publisher at http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=9781400203598.

My favorite section was on “They Myths of Leading From the Middle of an Organization.”
1. The Position Myth: I can’t lead if I am not at the top
2. The Destination Myth: When I get to the top, then I’ll learn to lead
3. The Influence Myth: If I were on top, then people would follow me
4. The Inexperience Myth: When I get on top, I’ll be in control
5. The Freedom Myth: When I get to the top, I’ll no longer be limited
6. The Potential Myth: I can’t reach my potential if I’m not the top leader
7. The All-or-Nothing Myth: If I can’t get to the top, then I won’t try to lead (22)

The “inexperience myth” hit me the hardest. Effective leaders actually give away control as they gain influence and gain influence as they give away control. There is so much that is out of your hands anyways – we might as well embrace it. Maybe the limitations of an organization are more often a reflection of our own limitations? Maybe there are people who can do what we are trying to do at a high (or even higher level)? I am not saying that we shouldn’t be held accountable for what happens…we must always answer for the results and consequences. However, to think that if we always were able to do what we wanted that everything would turn out exactly as we hoped? Are we thinking of ourselves higher than we ought?

Maxwell suggests, “In leadership – no matter where you are in an organization – the bottom line is always influence (13).

That being said, my one frustration with Maxwell’s resources often is that I feel that much of the content has appeared in his other works. It almost gets to the point that if you have read three to four of his works that you have read them all. He needs to be intentional in using new information.

For more on 360-Degree leadership (influencing others no matter where you are in the organization), I would recommend Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson’s “Leading from the Second Chair.” This work comes at the issues from both angles – from the one who sits in the first and second chair. Great resource.

Official Book Description: New York Times best-selling author John C. Maxwell shows anyone how to lead, regardless of their level in any organization. In his nearly thirty years of teaching leadership, John Maxwell has encountered this question again and again: How do I apply leadership principles if I’m not the boss? It’s a valid question that Maxwell answers in The 360 Degree Leader.

You don’t have to be the main leader, asserts Maxwell, to make significant impact in your organization. Good leaders are not only capable of leading their followers but are also adept at leading their superiors and their peers. Debunking myths and shedding light on the challenges, John Maxwell offers specific principles for Leading Down, Leading Up, and Leading Across. 360-Degree Leaders can lead effectively, regardless of their position in an organization. By applying Maxwell’s principles, you can expand your influence and ultimately be a more valuable team member.

360

Fish

If there is one thing we learn from the Book of Jonah, it is that more often than not a pagan will be saved before a prophet. The sailors repented at the sight of a storm. The Ninevites at the sound of one warning. Jonah? It took three days in the belly of a fish…and he still did not want God to get his way.

The Bible reads, “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days’ journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s journey. And he called out, ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (Jonah 3:1-3, ESV).

Maybe this is why Jesus spent so much time with sinners and seemed to be harder on the religious elite? Because he knew so many were just one warning away. That they needed help – they just did not know how to ask. Or where to turn?

Contrast that with people like Jonah. They act as if they are better than the Ninevites. And on many counts, they are. But they are not good enough. Sure, the Ninevites were treacherous people and were guilty of terrible crimes – many of them towards Israel. But who was Jonah, really? Someone who could not believe that God’s grace was sufficient? Or that obedience should be immediate and without limit? That he could think that he could outrun or outsmart the One True God? Is that any less pagan?

Or the Pharisees who would come years later. Those who claimed to know God better than anyone else but who would kill him when they saw him face-to-face. Maybe we do need to spend more time with the “pagans.” Maybe that is where the change all begins.

Fish