Who do you really want to be?

I often remind myself that Jesus did not die on the cross so we could remain the same. Jesus died, rose from grave, ascended into heaven and is coming again in order to make us new creations who are living into that new life now and for eternity. Through faith in Christ, we are new creations.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17 New Living Translation, NLT).

Is that true in your experience? Are the old ways changing? What does that new life look like? Another passage from 2 Corinthians makes a breath-taking assertion and affirmation:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18 RSV).

The key to change is not simply knowing we “should” change, but firing up our emotional engagement to desire and seek change. That starts with vision. We are being changed “from one degree of glory to another!” Like Moses’ face when he experienced God’s presence (see Exodus 34:29-35). If you could really change things about yourself, what would you really like to change? If you could really experience a new way of thinking, speaking and behaving, what characteristics would be top on your list? Here’s the amazing promise of the gospel: God is actively pursuing change in us. This is not a DIY (do it yourself) project.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure”  (Philippians 2:12-13 Revised Standard Version (RSV).

We often have vague ideas of the person we truly want to be, but don’t take time to get specific. When you begin to see the person you really want to be, you begin to move toward that vision. Start a list of the qualities you hope to develop, those characteristics you sense God the Holy Spirit wants to shape in you. I began a list for myself and eventually compiled it into this format. I call it “PICTURE A LIFE…”

Picture a life in which…
Joy carries you through the day,
and laughter comes as naturally as breathing.
You are not lured by that which would destroy you,
but are drawn to that which builds you up.
You can trust yourself–
having control over your thought and words,
over your responses and reactions.
You live above the distractions and deceptions of the world,
being a non-anxious, very real presence to others around you.
You have no need to hide.
You can look others in the eye, valuing them for themselves alone,
not for what they would give you.
You find courage to face every conflict honorably,
and strength to fulfill every responsibility faithfully.
You endure suffering with courage,
able to live with the questions.
You can admit when you are wrong:
You can say, “I’m sorry,” and begin again,
and are gentle with yourself,
renouncing the chains of shame, and self-condemnation.
You are connected to God who created you as you,
and are becoming all that God created you to be.
You are at peace in all circumstances,
celebrating God’s faithful provision in times of abundance,
trusting in quiet contentment in times of want.
You are free to serve others willingly,
without thought or need for thanks.
You have the freedom to live for an audience of One.

Picture such a life–
For it is meant to be yours.

(Copyright, Dr. Douglas J. Rumford, SoulShaping: Taking Care Of Your Spiritual Life, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1996, pp. 60-61)

Energy comes from holy imagination. Hope comes from seeing that change is possible. Jesus Christ died so that he, by the power of God at work within us, could transform us into daughters and sons of God who live in freedom and joy, who serve in power and grace. Work in us, Lord!

Getting the Right Boss

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Copyright 2017 by Stephanie Curry

There was a time early in my ministry when I was overcome by the pressures of the congregation.  It seemed that I was encountering low-key opposition and resistance everywhere I turned.  The harder I worked, the more ineffective I felt. I was praying and journaling about my struggles for several weeks.  One day I began my journal entry, “Lord, I am so tired and discouraged. I know you called me to be the servant of this congregation…”

Suddenly it was if the Lord interrupted and seemed to say, “No I didn’t!”

“Excuse me?!” I replied.

“Yes, I called you to serve this congregation, but you are MY servant.  You are not to take orders from them, trying to please them in every way. You do not ultimately answer to them.  You answer to me.”

I immediately thought of the Bible verses that says, “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not [your masters], knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24 RSV).

Since then, I have learned to say to myself, “I am not the servant of this congregation.  I am the servant of Jesus Christ assigned to this congregation at this time.” That simple change in perspective has had a profound impact on my sense of direction and differentiation from the congregations to which God has called me.

Now, you may be thinking, “Well, that’s great for pastors, but in the Real World, it doesn’t work like that.” First, we could have a wonderful discussion about what “the Real World” is! What’s more real than God and spiritual matters and being a part of God’s continuing work in this world — where we pray God’s “kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven”??  Still, I know what you mean: In the “real world” of institutions and organizations and people who do not operate on the plane of the highest of spiritual values and principles, this sounds unrealistic. But let’s test it out.

Whenever we consider our place in this world, we have a choice about how we “frame” our understanding. In the case or work, we ask ourselves questions like,

“Does my faith affect my work in any way? If so, how?”

“How will I honor the Lord in the everyday routine and demands of this job?”

“How does this job affect my sense of self and my participation in God’s continuing work in this world?”

I’m focusing on just one aspect of a “theology of work” here– so realize this is part of a much larger conversation. The key question is: Who’s my real Boss? That’s not just a questions for pastors and people in vocational ministry, serving churches and parachurch organizations (like Young Life, CRU, World Vision). That’s one of the implications what Paul’s advice to the people in Colossae. In the verses immediately preceding the quote above Paul said, “Bondservants, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord” (Colossians 3:22 ESV).

This the exhortation to slaves or bond-servants gives us a framework for approaching our work. Our ultimate motive is honoring the Lord. That perspective brings relief, refocus and responsibility.

Relief. When this thought first came to me, I was relieved. My stress level went down because I suddenly “resigned” from having over 500 bosses to having One. I continued to give my best efforts, motivated by honoring God, not pleasing everyone.

In any workplace, it’s a relief to remind ourselves continually that we are serving the Lord and others in practical ways in and through this job. This will actually make us more effective workers, as we’ll consider in a moment.

Refocus. People-pleasing is a no-win strategy, especially when we realize the limitations of our earthly job circumstance and of our peers, subordinates and supervisors. Paul wrote in Galatians 1:10, Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.

When we live for an audience of One, we live differently. We have a different perspective on people. We value them as individuals created in God’s image without fearing them (Psalm 27:1) or giving them the power to define us. We value ourselves and work on appropriate assertiveness and boundaries. We tell ourselves, to paraphrase Rich Kriegbaum in Leadership Prayers, “This is not who I am, Lord. It’s just what I do.”

Responsibility. This posture does not make our job easier. It will likely make it more “difficult,” but in a healthy way. We actually will work more effectively and conscientiously when we keep our eyes on the Lord. We will ask ourselves important questions, beginning with, “Lord, why do you have me here at this time?” It may be as a healthy presence in the workplace, as an example of a different way to do things, as another voice to speak into the relationships. Instead of asking, “What can I get away with? How little can I do?” we will ask, “Lord, how can I do this in a way that will encourage people to think well of You?”

When we think this way, work becomes a ministry, not just a way to get a paycheck.

Ecclesiastes 3:22 says, “So I saw that there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy their work, because that is their lot.” Work is not a curse, but it is affected by the curse, and that affects our expectations. Remind yourself continually that, no matter where you are, you know you are working for the best, most gracious Boss of all.

 

Storms are part of the journey

Knowing where you are in a process can bring hope and keep you going when things look discouraging.

 

Form Storm Norm_slide geometric
This is my version of the process, with the graphic developed by Stephanie Curry Copyright 2017

We all know the feeling of starting a new venture or a new relationship with great expectations. Things go well at first. Maybe this time will really work, we tell ourselves. Then… well, some not-so-great stuff starts to happen and the questions begin: “What did I do wrong? Why are they so difficult? Will I ever find the right person, the right place, the right job?” What if I told you that when the questions and challenges begin, you are (most likely) on the road to healthy, fruitful functioning?

Life is a process. It is not always “upward and onward,” as much as we idealists may want it to be. Relationships and groups and projects go through a series of stages and phases. Each stage has its own order and meaning. When you step onto the balcony (a phrase from Professor Ron Heifetz) you can better observe what’s going on.

One of the concepts in organizational development is known as the Tuckman’s stages of group development. In 1965, Bruce Tuckman, professor of educational psychology at The Ohio State University, published a study [“Developmental sequence in small groups,” Psychological Bulletin63 (6): 384–399] that presented the model of group process going through the stages of form, storm, norm and perform. He stated that these phases are all necessary and inevitable in order for teams to grow, plan their work and work assignments, define problems, find solutions, and deliver results. These stages describe company teams in the workplace, but can easily be applied to other groups and personal relationships.

Form is the stage of introduction. In the workplace, a team forms to pursue a certain task, accomplish a goal, or pursue a new project. People are usually on their best behavior in this stage, and likely focused on their responsibilities and desires. On the personal level, forming is that initial period when you sense some connection and begin to learn and explore what type of relationship this will be.

Storm is the conflict-leading-to-clarification stage. Tuckman wrote, “…participants form opinions about the character and integrity of the other participants and feel compelled to voice these opinions if they find someone shirking responsibility or attempting to dominate. Sometimes participants question the actions or decision of the leader as the expedition grows harder…” It is also a time when the group’s competing values are exposed. There’s a lot going on at this stage which should be addressed if the relationship or group wants to move forward in a healthy, productive, satisfying way. The focus must be on developing trust, clarifying the issues and tension-points, and working through misunderstandings.

Norm is the values-and-process-agreement phase. Norm refers to the “norms” established by the group or the parties in the relationship. They have established clarity in core values, in the division of labor, best practices for conflict management, and other important aspects of the relationship and team so the work can proceed more effectively efficiently, and harmoniously.

Perform is the now-we’re cooking phase. The group has figured out how to work and function together in a mutually satisfying and proficient way. Having learned to manage the relational dynamics they are now able to focus on the project. Understanding each other strengths and weaknesses enables them to maximize their output by using their complimentary skills.

It’s important to realize that this process of form, storm, norm, perform continues at a mirco-level on an on-going basis. So don’t be surprised to find yourself storming and norming again and again as new issues emerge.

What has helped me the most in this model is learning to accept and anticipate the storms. Storms are part of the journey. I see this dynamic throughout the Bible. Adam and Eve in the Garden faced the storm of temptation in Genesis 3, but they didn’t handle it well. They found themselves with a very different norm for life in light of the consequences of their fall from grace. Likewise, Abraham and Sarah faced the storm doubt when they involved Hagar in their anxious plan to provide an heir (Genesis 16). Jesus went through a number of “storm stages” with his disciples as they struggled to understand their calling. In Luke 9:54, we read “When the disciples James and John saw [that the Samaritan villages would not welcome Jesus], they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’ 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them.” They had the wrong idea for managing rejection! Jesus’ disciples also “stormed” over their roles and value in regards to “greatness” (Mark 10:35-45).  In the early church, the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) provides a clear example of the “storm” of the basis Gentile inclusion in the Christian community being resolved by clarifying new norms rooted in the gospel of grace.

I see this cycle in relationships, in staff situations, even in my own growth and development. Why does this matter? Because it gives me hope and a framework for progress. When people are aware that they are “storming,” and that this stage is necessary for progress, they learn to lean into the issues with the goal of norming and performing. It helps them to “objectify” the issues, instead of personalizing and internalizing the conflicts.

As I said at the outset, life is a process. Our confidence is that God is in charge. God forms us, guides us through the storms, and reveals the norms that will empower us to perform, living in ways that honor God’s will, our neighbors and others.

3 Personal Benefits of Journaling

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Three of my earliest journals with my Bible open to Exodus 17:14

One of the first instructions God gave to Moses after the Exodus was “…write this on a scroll as something to be remembered…” (Exodus 17:14 NIV). Recalling the mighty acts of God was an essential element for sustaining the people’s vision of God. Just try to imagine where we’d be if Moses had neglected God’s command?

What about our own “holy histories?” Our spiritual journeys are too important to trust to memory alone. An invaluable tool for the preservation of God’s work and the application of God’s truth in our lives is a personal journal. To paraphrase a common proverb, “Weak ink is stronger than the best memory.”

A journal is like a spiritual diary. It is more than keeping a chronology of events characteristic of a traditional diary. Your spiritual journal is a record of things that happen to you or around you, with an emphasis on the responses of your heart, mind and soul. It’s a record of your prayers: of your “Yes” answered prayers, your still-waiting-for-God’s-answer prayers, and your honest wrestling with the prayers answered with “No.” It’s a place to reflect on your moods and your personal disciplines (or lack thereof) and what you plan to do about those. Your journal is the means to examine your temptations and failures, celebrate your personal victories, and record your biblical insights.

I think of my journal as a conversation with the Lord. You could say, in many ways, that your journal holds your prayers in ink.  In a future post I’ll share why I think paper and pen are important to the process and more effective than using a computer or tablet.

My own use of a personal journal began when I entered college and started keeping a notebook of insights gleaned from my personal Bible study. I prize those moments of illumination. The thrill of discovery is a gift from God. How is it that, when we pray for God to speak to us, and God does, we let that precious truth slip away like the tide erasing writing in the sand? Trust it to paper–not to memory. Over time, I began to include prayer requests and answers, problems and hurts, and hopes and plans for the future. Initially, writing came in surges, but it eventually became a consistent part of my quiet time and devotions. My encouragement is to begin where you are. You will discovers a pace that fits.

I’ve written about journaling for Leadership Journal and in my book SoulShaping. In future posts, I will share ministry benefits of keeping a spiritual journal and principles for maximizing your journaling. But let’s begin with three ways keeping a journal helps us.

Three Personal Benefits of Journaling

First, our journal gives us insight for our spiritual growth.

Our confidence as Jesus’ followers comes from knowing who we are in Christ. Trust and identity solidify when we pay attention to where we’ve been and where God is directing us. In his Confessions (a powerful illustration of journaling as a spiritual memoir), Augustine (an early church theologian and leader who lived from 354 – 430 AD) wrote, “I want to call back to mind my past impurities and the carnal corruptions of my soul, not because I love them, but so that I may love you, my God…that the bitterness may be replaced by the sweetness of you.” Augustine’s love for God grew as reviewed his life. He saw more clearly his spiritual condition and realized, in awe, God’s hand at work.

As we reflect on our spiritual pilgrimage, we gain understanding of the dynamics of our spiritual lives: the obstacles, the predictable crises, the doubts, and the means of grace God provides to overcome these. The preservation of these insights helps us grow in spiritual maturity. This is the practical out-working of Hebrews 5:11-14 (New Living Translation)

11 There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. 12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.

Keeping a journal is a tangible exercise for developing the skill of “recognizing the difference between right and wrong” in our daily experience. Paying attention to our inner life helps us become more aware of our patterns of thought and reactivity. As clarity comes, we can surrender these to the Lord and actively embrace God’s grace for change. At the same time, the memory of God’s faithfulness fuels an attitude of praise and thanksgiving.

Second, our journal helps us clarify our priorities.

Life always seems at least a step or two ahead of us. It’s easy to lose control of our time and resources. The urgent always crowds out the important– and we seem powerless to stop the cycle of postponing things we really value because of demands that press down on us. I often turn to my journal as the key to unlock the shackles of the time trap. Reflection enables me to sort out what’s important. The commitments that clamor and crowd in on me lose some of their urgency in the light of my basic goals and values.

Your journal is that place where you put your plans for the day on paper– first thing– and then pray for God’s grace and mercy to guide your steps minute-by-minute. Of course, you will face surprises and interruptions– but you will feel empowered by being more intentional through the day. At the same time, a clear perception of the important matters awakens a new resolve to get on with it.

Third, our journal helps in problem-solving.

Conflicts, problems and disappointments are part of life. We consistently face dilemmas that require wisdom beyond ourselves. Writing crystallizes issues. C.S. Lewis said, “Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing. Ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found long ago.”

In the process of spiritual direction, I ask a person overwhelmed by the number of problems she/he has to write them down. A simple list helps them see the scope of the issues in a more orderly fashion. Most often, they find that the actual number of issues is less than they felt. As the dust settles and specific details become clear, prayer and careful thought often open ways to progress. Our journal gives us a safe place to develop scenarios, practice conversations, and listen for God’s direction. It’s truly amazing how God fulfills the promise of James 1:5 in the context of journaling.

 “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking” (New Living Translation). 

When John began his profound experience with God, God commanded him “Write down what you have seen…” (Revelation 1:19). I believe God gives us the same call today. Just get a simple spiral notebook, put the date at the top of a page and begin writing a prayer, a letter to God, or a special memory of God’s work in your life. Remember, your “holy history” is too important to trust to memory alone.

Backstage Grace

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.  Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9 New Living Translation).

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Our backstage pass for the Eagles’ Concert authorized with Bernie Leadon’s initials (BL)

Grace is one of the most significant words in the Christian vocabulary. While it’s a good idea to avoid jargon, it’s simply a fact that all specialties have their vocabulary. In dealing with computers and data, I’ve had to learn megabytes, gigabytes, and terabytes. In caring friendships, I’ve had to learn about gluten-free and vegan. So what about grace? It’s not an easy concept to grasp. Before I share what it looked like once for me, it will be helpful to define grace and how it differs from mercy. The Apostle Paul used these two terms together in the greeting of some of his letters,

“I am writing to Timothy, my true son in the faith. May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace” (1 Timothy 1:2 New Living Translation, NLT).

In brief, grace is getting what we do not deserve. Mercy is not getting what we do deserve (usually in terms of consequences). Mercy is, well… merciful. It is pardon for breaking a law; it is forgiveness for an unkind word or act. Mercy cleans the slate so we get a new start. Grace is something added. It is a gift that blesses us. It is not only forgiveness, but reconciliation and restoration. Mercy removes the negative. Grace adds the positive.

So now let me share one of my special experiences of grace. Every once in a while I get an email that is quite understated. Here’s one that came out of the blue. I needed to read it twice to fully appreciate it:

“Doug, one of the board members in my motorcar hobby association is Bernie Leadon, founding lead guitarist of the Eagles (the rock group known for “Take It Easy”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Witchy Woman,” among countless other hits). They are playing at the Inglewood Forum in LA this week and next, and he has set aside 2 VIP tickets for next Wednesday for me and a guest. It also includes 2 back stage passes… Would you like to go with me? Just a thought.  Should be a great show.  (Signed) Bill.

Would I like to go??? Would I?! I play guitar and have enjoyed playing in a band with some church friends—and I’ve listened to the Eagles for decades. I told my wife, Sarah, the news… and let’s just say Sarah was fine with my attending—so long as she came, too! I didn’t want to presume on Bernie’s generosity, but we asked Bill if he could possibly ask Bernie for another ticket and backstage pass. (So you’re already seeing us pushing for more grace….). Bernie came through, “No problem!” he said.

It was an unforgettable experience. When we arrived at the Forum in Los Angeles, we went to a VIP entrance and were ushered to Bernie’s dressing room, where he greeted us warmly. Bernie really respects Bill and truly appreciated Bill bringing his pastor and wife. After some conversation, Bernie asked if we wanted to do anything special, and I asked if we could walk backstage and see his guitars. (I was thinking I might get some pointers for playing with my cover band, The Fabulous Edsels!) So Bernie took us backstage where we saw racks and racks of some of the finest guitars I will ever lay eyes on. In addition to Bernie’s guitars, we also saw two racks for Joe Walsh (of “Hotel California” fame), and guitars for Glenn Frey and the back-up band. Beautiful! (Sorry for all the exclamation points!). Most of the guitarists played a different guitar for every song. We also met the guitar technicians who continually tune and care for the instruments. Then there was the whole backstage set-up with the lights, computers, video equipment and so on.

After that tour we went back to Bernie’s dressing room and “hung out” for nearly half an hour, meeting some of Bernie’s family members and other friends he’d invited to the show. It was such a relaxing time. About 10 minutes before the concert began Sarah, Bill and I were ushered into our seats in Row Six, just to the right of center stage. I have never had such seats before—and never will again, I’m sure. I could watch all the chord progressions and lead-solo fingerings of Bernie and Joe Walsh—a guitarist’s dream! The concert was a blast—in more ways than one—and we felt a connection that really enhanced the whole experience.

The next day I wrote an email to Bernie to thank him. I said, in part, “Last night was a great illustration of grace for me. Grace is getting something we don’t deserve, and there’s no way Sarah and I deserved the VIP treatment we got last night. We ‘coat-tailed’ on Bill’s friendship with you, and you accepted us. That’s a lot like God’s grace toward us. Just had to let you know how deeply it touched us.” Bernie wrote a very thoughtful reply, and we’ve actually corresponded a few times since.

There are many grace-gifts in our lives every day, but some certainly stand out—like this backstage, behind-the-scenes experience. Thanks, Bill. Thanks, Bernie! And thank you, Lord, for your mercy and grace.

When All You Can do is Weep

When we feel powerless in the face of tragedy and wickedness, there is still one thing we can do.

“Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it” (Ezekiel 9:4).

The fall of 2017 has been a cascade of catastrophe. Hurricanes have devastated significant areas of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, other Caribbean islands, and most recently, Mexico and the Gulf Coast of the US. An earthquake in Mexico City claimed 200+ lives. In Southeast Asia over 1,200 lost their lives and over 41 million people have been affected by monsoon rains that have brought flooding and landslides. Even more troubling than natural disasters are those tragedies that have resulted from human aggression. Terrorist attacks and random acts of violence continue, seeming to escalate in scale. For a list that will take your breath away, look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_terrorist_incidents_in_2017 for a compilation of day-by-day attacks around the world. Then there was Las Vega massacre of October 1 when Stephen Paddock killed at least 58 people and wounded over 500 in the worst mass shooting in United States history.

Some would interpret all these events as signs of the End Times. While, indeed, Jesus could return at any moment, I see these as signs that our world needs Jesus’ followers to pray and serve as we never have before. God’s people have often been at the forefront in giving their time, money and caring compassion to help in times of crisis. That is good, and it must increase. It may be, however, that in certain circumstances, all we can do is weep, grieving over the heartache and suffering the world inflicts on humanity, crying out to God over the brokenness and profound alienation that wreak havoc on human hearts, minds and bodies.

I’m not one given to passivity or inactivity. I want to “fix” situations. My dad always, “Don’t create problems. Solve them.” There are many situations, however, where I don’t have the power, the authority, the resources, the intelligence, or the influence to do anything. And who can “fix” the human heart bent on evil? Who is able to see into the deeply, deeply troubled minds behind these random acts to bring healing and wholeness? We cannot create enough “security arrangements” to prevent all those who truly want to do harm from perpetrating their wicked schemes. What now?

The situation described in The Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament shows the power of continuing to care in the face of a heartless, cruel, and often godless (or worshiping-the-wrong-gods) world. Around 597 B. C. the prophet Ezekiel was taken into exile in Babylon (over 900 miles from Jerusalem) at the time when God was finally bringing judgement against his idolatrous people. Their persistent disobedience and continual refusal to repent was resulting in the logical and natural consequences God had warned would come. What gives me hope as I read this passage, however, is that God would have mercy on those who continued to honor and love him and who continued to show compassion, yearning for repentance and new life for their loved ones, neighbors and friends. We read this in Ezekiel 91-4:

Then I heard [The LORD] call out in a loud voice, “Bring near those who are appointed to execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.” And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. They came in and stood beside the bronze altar. Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the Lord called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side 4 and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”  (NIV)

The man in linen was to mark those weep. What has always moved me most deeply about this passage is that the Lord notices our tears. There are many verses that have this same message.

“Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll; are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8 New International Version NIV). The King James Version says, “…put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”

“For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17 NIV).

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4 NIV).

In Ezekiel 9 we read that in the midst of judgment, the Lord instructed his executioners “…touch no one on whom is the mark” (Ezekiel 9:6). This echoes the Passover account in Exodus 12 when the Angel of Death passed over the homes of the Israelites who had offered the sacrifice of the lamb and put the blood on their door frames. In Ezekiel, God’s mercy extended to those who grieved over the godlessness, idolatry and disobedience of the people around them. Those who grieved did not retaliate in anger against those in sin. They brought their broken hearts to the Lord.

We cannot control the world that has rejected God and gone its own way. We cannot control other people who’ve done the same. We can, however, continue to keep our hearts soft.  Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision, said, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” That is a powerful prayer. It may, as in Bob’s case, move us to action. At the very least, it moves us to bearing the burden of the Lord’s heart in our hearts in this fallen world.

Many of us respond more quickly with anger than with an anguished heart.

Or we fall into despair instead of turning to God in “desperate devotion.”

Or we want to take action against people in public instead of bringing our righteous indignation in humility before the Lord in prayer.

Sometimes all you can do is weep, letting your tears fall in prayer. Sometimes all you can do is weep—and that is doing something.

Gilt by Association

So who are you all-by-yourself-all-on-your-own?

 

No—I did not forget to do spell-check before publishing this post. I do mean ‘gilt,’ not ‘guilt.’ Decades ago, I coined this “pun” to describe a tendency I have—that I’ll tell you about in a moment. You’re likely familiar with the phrase “guilt by association,” when the people associated with a guilty person are judged guilty because of their association—even if their “guilt” is unfounded. “Gilt by association” is just the reverse.

Gilt is gold leaf or gold paint applied in a thin layer to a surface. It is a decorative feature, meant to give the impression of value and even “solid gold” beneath the surface. “Gilt by association” is the effort of trying to shine in the glow of another person’s importance. It’s all about impressing others. I fall into this when I “name drop” about people I know or who attend our church; or “place-drop” about places I’ve been in my travels. You get the idea. You can recognize it quickly in others but not see it in yourself so clearly. There are many dynamics at work in this “gilting,” but I want to focus on two.

First, let’s show ourselves some grace because this is one of the most natural tendencies we all have—to draw a sense of identity and worth from others. This is what being a sports fan is about, or being a part of a club or a special group. The danger lies in making that layer of gilt a primary factor in our self-worth and identity. If we do that, we make it part of our mask, our false self, our facade. It’s important to remember I am not who I know, or where I’ve been, or even what I do. In Christ, I am God’s child and all that means in being part of God’s family. Every other association pales in comparison with that!

Second, we dare not try to do this in the area of faith. Fake-faith, in-name-only faith, is a dead-end road. There’s a fascinating story about this in the Acts 19:11-16

God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.  (Acts 19:11-16 New Living Translation).

In my book Questions God Asks, Questions Satan Asks, (Tyndale House Publishers)—here I go my-book-dropping!!! – I spend a chapter on Acts 19:15, “…the evil spirit replied, ‘I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?’” The sons of Sceva made a tragic assumption in this passage. They assumed that knowledge of Jesus was the same as knowing Jesus.  Those are two very different realities. They tried to use Jesus’ name without believing in Jesus, without trusting Him, without relying upon Him.  The evil spirit challenged their presumption. When I let my imagination go, I picture this demon sitting back, kicking up his legs on a desk, folding his hands calmly across his chest and saying, “I know Jesus… and I know Paul,…. but (and now Demon takes his legs off the desk, looks right into the eyes of every single one of the sons of Sceva, and shouts) but WHO are you???!!!” Then Demon leaps on these guys, overpowering them.

Now, I don’t claim it happened that way… but that’s kinda what I’m picturing. There is no gilt by association with Jesus. Either you know Jesus or you don’t. And people, even demons, can tell the difference.

So who are you-all-by-yourself-all-on-your-own?

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12 New Living Translation NLT).

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure  (1 John 3:1-3 NLT)

The Punt

Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:29-31 New Living Translation).

The Punt
Photo by David Cobb /Chattanooga Times Free Press. This article implies nothing about this athlete or his team!

When I was in the 8th grade, I played on our junior high football and basketball teams. I had fun, though I wasn’t a starter. Still, I did get some playing time and had some experiences I will never forget– no matter how hard I try!

One of my most memorable experiences was playing in the football game against our arch rival, Mt. Healthy (or Oak Hills– since we had a number of arch rivals!). I was a safety– which meant I guarded against the pass and the long run– trying to tackle the guys everybody else missed. (It always bothered me that I got in so much trouble for missing a tackle when the bigger guys should have brought him down long before he reached me…).

Anyway, in this game, we kept them from getting a first down, so I went back to receive the punt. This was one of those dream situations for an eighth grader because, as I judged the distance he was likely to kick it, I ended up standing right across from our cheerleaders. There was, literally, a little red-haired girl that I had been interested in for some time.  (I hasten to add that Sarah and I grew up in different towns in Ohio and didn’t meet until my junior year in high school).

Like most junior high boys, I really thought the way to a girl’s heart was to impress them with some manly achievement like catching a dramatic pass and running for a touchdown, or getting knocked out, or suffering a severe injury that would require a transfusion– something like that. Little did I realize that the girls hardly ever noticed because they were talking– or else they just thought we guys were stupid.

So here, I thought, was my opportunity to make an impression. I hadn’t drawn blood on any tackles yet, but now all eyes were on me as the punter kicked the ball.

It was a high kick going right toward the sidelines in front of our cheerleaders. Oh, this was perfect! I can still feel it– the adrenaline pumping, the fans screaming wildly (or maybe that was just me!), and the thundering sound of tacklers bearing down on me like ferocious beasts.

The ball hung in the air forever. I waved for a fair catch. You do that when you know you can catch the ball but can’t run because the tacklers are too close. It’s really a smart move– as opposed to getting chased backwards, or just getting creamed when you catch the ball and are “unguarded.”

So I waved my hand for the fair catch. But– you probably guessed it– the one thing you must never do on a fair catch is drop the ball, because then all’s fair as far as tackling goes. You can get creamed and you can lose the ball…

and you can blow your chances of ever impressing the little red-haired girl…

and you can lose all confidence in ever putting on a football uniform again…

and you can decide to join the marching band instead…

and you can still have nightmares of dropping the ball…

Oh, sorry… got lost in my thoughts there for a moment. Guess you know what happened.

I did learn a basic lesson in life: Without the ball, you can’t do anything.

I also began to realize we cannot expect to be great or even good at everything. In Corinth, various church members were struggling with envy of others’ gifts, and some with pride in their gifts. It was dividing the community. As you may recall, Paul continued from the passage quoted above into “The Love Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13 where he wrote,

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

No matter what else we do– or are unable to do–we are to demonstrate love as our way of life. That has implications not only for how we treat others, but how we treat ourselves. I am not loving myself when I condemn or devalue myself for not being “the best” at everything.

The key is exploring the opportunities God brings our way. Try as many things as you can. Takes some risks. Not everything will be a fit; not everything will be life-giving and fruitful. But all those experiences provide valuable information. Over time, we discover our gifts, talents and places where we’re more effective.  Along the way, we’ll have some amazing – and perhaps embarrassing and painful—adventures. But it’s worth it. Just think of the stories you’ll be able to tell.

Authority is the Force of Presence

Authority is much more about our person than our position.

 

Leadership Corner office benjamin-child-17946
Photo by Benjamin Child at Unsplash.com

Those not in official or formal leadership positions tend to think that the power is in the position. That’s true only to a limited extent. It is true in the sense that a person “in power” can exercise certain rights and authority and claim the perquisites (“perks”) of privileges and benefits that come with that position. But there’s another dimension of leadership that is more significant to the health and well-being of the organization and the individuals leading it: integrity. I mean integrity in the fullest sense of the term: being integrated (inwardly unified) in values and behavior. Living a life congruent and consistent with your vision and calling.  That’s why I say authority is the force of presence not the presence of force.

I’ve noticed that a person’s credentials (their resume of degrees, positions and accomplishments) have a shelf-life of, perhaps, 60 seconds. I’ve been privileged to meet many people in leadership positions in government, in community life and in Christian ministry. They held what I thought were enviable positions of influence. Before meeting each one, I had formed an impression of them by reputation and exposure through books or other media and contacts. After my personal encounter with them, however, I had a strong sense of the difference between those who had true authority and those who just knew how to “work the system.” I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in just working the system. I want to be “the real deal” (with all my flaws and shortcomings) so that people value me and appreciate me for me.

In my book SoulShaping (Tyndale House Publishers) I wrote, “Our authority grows out of our integrity. Without integrity, we are never more than placeholders; with integrity, we can be life-shapers” (page 358). What I’m really talking about is character. It’s about the old-fashioned concept of virtue. And it’s about the credibility of having faced the real trials and tests of leadership in particular contexts. For instance, in sales, there is a credibility that comes only from years of perseverance in the face of rejection as well as with the demonstration of having made some “big deals.” Both are necessary for a leader. People are more ready to follow a person who demonstrates both genuine empathy for the difficulties we face as well as the vision, competencies and determination to triumph over them. That’s how leaders win hearts and minds.

We can force compliance—but that’s not our goal as leaders. We want to win commitment. Honest heartfelt commitment, not just grudging compliance, is our aim. And that means connecting at the level of personhood, not operating out of position.

Jesus was, indeed, the ultimate demonstration of the authority of presence. He shows us that God is not detached from the human situation. In Christ, God plunged into the human circumstance in a way that gives a credibility that is beyond question. The Book of Hebrews in the Bible says this so clearly:

14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death… 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. Hebrews 2:14-18 (New Living Translation)

What’s the basis for your authority? Instead of relying on outward position and achievement, consider the development of “presence,” of your inner person. And think about those in which you see this reality.

Ctrl+Alt+Del

“Ctrl+Alt+Del” can be a powerful daily cue for spiritual focus.

keyboard

Ever go through a routine for the umpteenth time and suddenly ask yourself, “Huh, I wonder why we do this?” That’s what happened recently when I turned on my computer and the “Ctrl+Alt+Del command” appeared on the screen (Ok, so now you know I’m a PC user, not a hip-and-cool MacBook guy). So I did the search thing and found an article in Wikpedia (it was adequate for this) that explained it this way:

Control+Alt+Delete (often abbreviated to Ctrl+Alt+Del) is a computer keyboard command on IBM PC compatible computers, invoked by pressing the Delete key while holding the Control and Alt keys: Ctrl+Alt+Delete. The function of the key combination differs depending on the context but it generally interrupts or facilitates interrupting a function.

This is known as a “soft reboot,” or re-start function.

Well, enough nerd talk. Looking beyond it, I see a message for spiritual health. One of the keys to spiritual vitality is learning to become aware of God and pay attention to our spiritual welfare throughout the day. In my first blog post, “Stop, Look and Listen,” I shared the concept of Cues and Clues: Cues and clues to life’s deeper meaning and purpose surround us in every moment. But it’s so easy to miss them. This is one of them: “Ctrl+Alt+Del” can be a powerful daily cue for spiritual focus. The keyboard can “interrupt” our normal, too-often-nonspiritual, functioning so we can spiritually reboot.

First, “Ctrl” or Control reminds us to “release Control to God.” One of our greatest burdens in life is thinking we have control and that we have to make things happen. On the flip side, one of the most discouraging things in life is feeling powerless and out-of-control. Faith brings us back to the awareness of God’s kind, loving oversight of our lives. I draw great strength from Jesus’ words,

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7 New Revised Standard Version NRSV).

That kind of reassurance takes me a long way toward trusting God more and more with more and more. I could list many more passages from the Bible, but let’s move on.

Second, “Alt” invites God to “Alter our mind, heart, soul and way of living.” I believe Jesus’ followers want to live differently. We don’t want to be stuck in the same dark thoughts, the same lousy habits, and the same undisciplined, worldly-driven lives. And, praise God, we don’t have to stay stuck. God is in the change business. That change starts with the fact that we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). God has given us the Holy Spirit to change us completely from the inside out. But that doesn’t happen automatically. God has designed us to mature by inviting the Holy Spirit, God’s power within us, to lead us into the fullness of life in Christ. The Holy Spirit helps us think like Jesus. The Holy Spirit empowers us to act like Jesus. The Holy Spirit is shaping the life of Jesus within us. Here is the staggering description of what God is now doing in us:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:17-18 New Revised Standard Version NRSV).

That is life-altering, friend! “From one degree of glory to another.”

And third, (you can see where this is going, right?) by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, God “Deletes the sins that still preoccupy our thoughts.” Many of us live with a low-grade depression because of regrets that weigh us down and because of thoughts and behaviors we can’t seem to release. A daily (or more frequent) spiritual reboot reminds us that God is not surprised by our sin. In grace and mercy, God’s Spirit continues the work of healing, restoring and strengthening us to overcome sin’s power.

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 1:9-2:1 New Revised Standard Version NRSV).

So when you log on to your computer, let “Ctrl+Alt+Del” be your log-in to Jesus and the Spirit’s power.