Saturday, October 25, 2014

A world filled with fear and a heart filled with peace

The acceleration of fear in our world has been rapid: Ebola, ISIS, shootings, terrorism, beheadings, conflict, chemical weapons, have all become the stuff of 24 hour news cycles and indeed are cause for major concern. Many are feeling that there is an increased level of chaos in our world and it is hard to dispute that. And it is magnified by the ability to report from any corner of the world so the accumulated fear factor has a magnified affect. 

Contrast this with the words of Jesus in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And then as Jesus was getting ready to leave and return to heaven he told the disciples, "Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you John 20:23).” One of the great benedictions of Paul is found in Romans 15:13, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

There is no question that we live in an uncertain and chaotic world. But as Jesus followers we are called to live with peaceful rather than fearful hearts because - we have the peace of Christ - and the person of Christ in every place and circumstance of our lives. Watch the news and the fear grows. Spend time with Jesus and His peace grows. 

There is no need to fear the world or live in fear - none - if we understand that Jesus brings peace to our hearts. It is the peace that comes with His promises and His presence. Yes, said Jesus you will have trouble in this world but take heart, I have overcome the world. Peace I leave with you. Live in His peace today.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I would appreciate your prayers

This blog is very personal. Some of you know that on December 4, 2007 I went to the hospital with a very serious condition that should have taken my life. In the aftermath of that 45 day stay (31 days in the ICU and most of those in a coma) I struggled to get back to full health. A year later I had another similar stay in an ICU in Thailand and then a third stay in an ICU in Montana this summer. 

After my first long stay, I put on a fair amount of weight which my doctor says is a life threatening condition because of my propensity for lung issues and three episodes of pulmonary failure. Thus this coming Tuesday I will have bariatric surgery to resolve the weight issue (hopefully my insulin dependency) and get back to full health.

I would covet your prayers for successful surgery and a quick recovery. I would love to be back in a position of robust health for the work I do domestically and internationally. I thank you in advance for your prayers.

For those who would like updates you may access those at this blog address which was used for all three previous hospital stays: www.reachTJ.com

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Don't wait for a funeral to say what you really want to say

Today I did a short video for a friend who is receiving an award and recognition for his life work to this point. It was a privilege to communicate just a bit of the huge respect and love I have for him. He is a man of integrity, love for Jesus, great compassion, and he lives to please his Lord Jesus.

It reminded me of something important. We all know people whom we love and admire and respect. It is a shame that we do not tell them of our love and admiration more often. What an encouragement it would be to share our observations and feelings. The apostle Paul did this all the time in his letters. He acknowledged people for their work and expressed his love. He called out individuals by name and told them why he did so. 

Our world is full of discouragement. We can bring huge encouragement to those around us by simply acknowledging the good and faithfulness we see. If Jesus was not shy about showing His love and appreciation for those who followed Him, we should not be shy in showing our appreciation for those who have followed Him well and who we deeply appreciate.

To the one for whom I recorded the video I say this: You are a friend, a brother and a great example to many of what it means to follow Jesus. Who can you say that about and will you tell them?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Some reflections on the Mars Hill situation

Those who read this blog regularly know that I am an advocate for healthy pastors, elders and churches. You also know that I regularly explore issues of dishealth because they impact others in a significant way. Like many, I have watched the situation in Seattle with Mars Hill Church and have some reflections on a number of issues it raises.

Reflection: Never give senior leaders a pass on behaviors that are unacceptable. I have seen this way too often. Boards often ignore behaviors in their senior leader either because he is getting things done or because he is "God's man" and we should not challenge him. Do we not get the fact that the qualifications for leaders are actually higher than for the rest of the church? If that is so, leaders are held to a higher standard than others yet we often give them a pass because we don't want to challenge them. Lets just say - there is no excuse for bad behavior toward others on the part of senior pastors. 

Reflection: Pay attention to trends and patterns. I worked with a church where a long string of people had been fired or let go as at Mars Hill. Yet the board had never challenged the pastor on why it had happened, nor had they done exit interviews on the circumstances that surrounded the staff who left. One may give leaders the benefit of the doubt but where there is a troubling pattern over time, good leaders must wake up and take notice. When I interviewed staff who had left from the church I mentioned, I heard horrified stories of abuse by a senior pastor. Yet the board had not paid attention to a pattern that should have given them great pause. (See my blog, When the bodies pile up).

Reflection: Bad behaviors when not addressed will spill over into the congregation. It would appear that Mars Hill leaders tried to keep the behaviors of their senior leader private. This led to severance agreements tied to non-disclosure legal documents. Rather than addressing the issues it would appear that they tried to hide the issues. Then when it started to go public in social media they seemed to blame those who made the allegations public. Think about this: If you don't listen to people who have been hurt and try to shut them up the issues will spill out because people have a sense of justice. In my personal view, the only reason that this went public in Seattle was that church leaders did not listen to those impacted by their senior leader, take them seriously or deal with the real issue. (See my blog, Eight dysfunctions of church governance boards)

Reflection: Sad as it is, some pastors are bullies and their agenda gets in the way of their treatment of people. One of the most read blogs on my site is entitled Abuse in the Church - When the Pastor is the bully. What is interesting to me is that this blog post gets consistent hits with a current count of well over 3,000. I can see the blogs being read in my analytics and it always makes me sad to see this one being read. Yet just today I received word of another situation that would indicate an unhealthy pastor who is acting like a bully. My question: Why do those around him allow him to get away with such behavior?

Reflection: Bad behavior on the part of senior leaders hurts the reputation of Jesus. Unhealthy leaders give those around them grounds to become cynical of the church. After all, when people are hurt, marginalized, mistreated, inappropriately treated or fired by the very people who are charged to be their shepherd - and are undershepherds of Jesus, what would one expect? Sometimes the very pastors that are trying to make their ministry accessible to unbelievers are the ones who sabotage those efforts by their own behavior. When public behavior is different than private behavior there is an obvious character flaw that must be addressed.

Reflection: When issues like these are not addressed in a timely fashion they hurt the bride of Jesus. We are watching Mars Hill let staff go, close venues, cut budgets and struggle to deal with the aftermath of the issues that have surrounded their former senior leader. They will be a wounded body for a long time to come and I lay the blame on the senior leader and church leaders who could have and should have done something about it a long time ago. All I can say is that it is very sad and a lot of innocent folks will be caught in the middle. 

The drama at Mars Hill is sad. We need to reflect on the lessons we can learn from their situation and ensure that it does not ever happen in ours. 

Words that should strike fear in every Christian leader

There are two statements of Jesus that ought to strike fear in every Christian leader. They are these: "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5), and "Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me" (John 15:4). The reason those are frightening words is that we are so used to doing things with the latest strategies, our fine education and great resources (in the west) and it is very easy to forget that eternal results only come from connection with the eternal God. That is the other side of the equation, "If a man remains in me and I in Him, he will bear much fruit" (John 15:5). The key is the closeness of our connection with Him.

What keeps Christian leaders from staying intimately connected with Jesus and dependent on Him in their ministries? I would suggest four common reasons:

  • Pride. We simply think that we can do great things by ourselves because we have an inflated view of our own abilities and we chase our agendas over God's agendas - of course with the appropriate spiritual language to give it legitimacy.
  • Busyness. We are too busy doing His work to really spend much time with Him. We begin to think that He will bless simply because we serving Him.
  • Resources. We have the training, education, money and personnel to get things done so we simply go for it.
  • Forgetfulness. We forget that the key to everything we do is our connection to Him.
We can indeed to much without God's help but we cannot do anything of eternal value without it. Fruit comes from Him alone and that is all about remaining in Him, in which case we will bear "much fruit." Ironically it is in doing less and abiding in Him that we actually see more because He is the the one who produces the fruit.

All of us would do well to regularly read and meditate on John 15. How are we doing in staying connected to the vine? How are we doing in "remaining in Him?" It is the leadership essential that we talk too little about as it is central to our success. 

My new book, Deep Influence: Unseen Practices That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.