Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Ten Self Management Principles that will Impact your Leadership

 



Healthy leaders have learned the art of self-management knowing who they are, how they act and react, and the model they set directly impacts those who work under their leadership. Let me suggest that there are eleven critical self-management principles that all leaders should pay attention to.


Our Attitudes

Leaders do not have the luxury of being careless with their attitudes - toward people, situations, or life. One of the jobs of a leader is to inspire others toward healthy action, encourage the staff and be able to maintain a positive outlook on life, even when life is not cooperating. Their attitudes impact everyone around them.


Our Emotions

All of us have emotions. Leaders learn to manage their emotions so that their emotions do not cause them trouble. Think of how angry eruptions and words spoken in the heat of emotion cause harm to people. Leaders who cannot control their emotions cause uncertainty for the staff they lead. It has been the downfall of many otherwise bright leaders.


Our Empathy

Without empathy, leaders are not seen as caring individuals but as cold and lacking concern. Some people have a lot of natural empathy. When that is not the case, leaders must cultivate the practice of empathy. Empathy is a key in healthy relationships and relationships are a key to leadership.


Our Self Awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to discern how we are perceived by others and how our actions, attitudes, and words impact others. Lack of self-awareness causes great misunderstanding and assumptions by others that we don't care. When a leader is not naturally self-aware they need coaching and feedback from others if they are going to lead successfully.


Our Focus

Focused leaders developed focused staff while the opposite is also true. Good leaders choose to hold themselves to a high standard of discipline in their work including eliminating those things they should not do and focusing on the most strategic.


Our Empowerment

It is easy to control. It is harder to properly empower but that is the key to a healthy team and healthy leaders are rigorous in empowering others within boundaries to accomplish their work.


Our Boundaries

Boundaries are the things we do not allow in our behavior and in the behavior of others because it is hurtful to the culture we want to create. In effect, leaders set the boundaries for what is out of bounds within the organization or team.


Our Example

We lead most powerfully be example. When our stated commitments and example are not in alignment the result is cynicism. When they are in alignment, staff know that we are serious. Examples speak louder than words.



Our Humility

Everyone thinks they are humble but that is the insidious nature of pride. Humility comes when we know our strengths, are acutely and equally aware of our shadow side and our need for others. Humility is cultivated through time with God and a great deal of introspection.


Our Service

Few things speak louder than our commitment to serve those we lead and help them be all they can be. For leaders, life is not about us but about others and the mission that binds us together. The more we serve, the better leaders we become.


Each of these ten areas of a leader's life must be practiced with intentionality for successful, healthy leadership.

Monday, May 9, 2022

A, B and C Team Members

 




Potential or current team members can be categorized as A, B or C Team players. This is not about being a good or bad person, but about being able to play well on your team.


A team players have qualities such as being self-directed, highly competent, committed to the team and hard working. They are committed to your values and mission, require little management, and are results-oriented. A Team players have high EQs, work well with others, and have good self-awareness. They live and breath the culture and the mission.


B Team players are committed to the team, work hard, buy into your values and mission, are results-oriented, and have high EQ, but may require more direction. Generally, B team players are not as creative or entrepreneurial as A-Team players, but given concrete direction, they will do their work diligently and faithfully.


C Team players may or may not be competent (some are very competent and may even be  'stars'). But they have a fatal flaw that disqualifies them from serving on your team. Disqualifiers include lack of tangible results, laziness, lack of buy-in or adherence to your mission or values, low EQ that disrupts relationships on the team or elsewhere, inability to work productively as a team player, or immaturity requiring constant management. 


Let me say what many in the Christian world are unwilling to say: C Team players do not belong on our teams no matter how 'nice' they are or how long they have been with you. To allow them to stay is to condemn the rest of the team to frustration and to compromise the mission of the organization. Remember, we are using God's resources to further God's Kingdom. We have a responsibility to our donors, to the Kingdom and to the mission of the organization to ensure that we deliver on the mission.


The question one needs to ask about C Team players is whether the fatal flaw can be dealt with so the individual can move from a C Team player to a B Team player. It is possible that people operating at a C Team level in terms of results are in the wrong job (wrong seat) in which case you may want to do some testing and try an alternate job if one is available. What is not wise is to leave an incompetent person in place. Your credibility as a leader will be legitimately tarnished with the rest of your team if you do not deal with performance issues - or other fatal flaws.


No matter how competent an individual is, if they don't live your values or believe in your mission, they don't belong on your team. Your culture and mission is sacred and those who don't live both do not belong on your team. Culture is fragile and critical. Those who don't live the culture are hurting you no matter how smart and competent they are. This is evidenced in many ways but especially how they treat other people. No one who violates others should be on the team. They will destroy your team. Anyone who uses people like objects rather than appreciating them as people will help you build a healthy culture.


Before you decide that someone is a C Team player, ask the question of whether they have ever been coached or mentored. And, whether anyone has ever been honest with them regarding issues that are problematic. If not, you owe it to them to put them through a process to see if they can be retooled and brought up to a B Team level.


A and B Team folks are the heart of any good team and organization. In some higher-level jobs, you will need A-Team players. In many jobs, a solid, faithful B Team player is exactly what you need. Know that you need and work to fill positions based on that need.


One of the realities of organizations is that someone who is an A or B Team player at one phase of an organization's life can slip to a B or a C at another. Most people have a built-in "capacity ceiling" where they cease to be effective.  Thus a youth worker who was a star when she had 20 youth in her group (she could personally relate to 20) starts to slip when she has 60 (she cannot relate to 60 and is not able to build a team to help her).


It may be a case of not being able to multiply themselves so that they can lead a larger number of people or it may be they have just quit growing (an all too common scenario). If coaching and mentoring do not solve the issue, you may have to move them to another seat on your bus or help them, redemptively, find a seat on another bus. What you cannot do is allow someone to function at a sub-standard level without directly impacting the rest of your team and the results of your ministry. At any stage of your ministry's life, having the right people in the right seat is critical if the ministry is going to develop to the next level of effectiveness.


Your first responsibility as a leader is to ensure the health of your organization while always acting redemptively when a change is needed. People who are not doing well are usually not in their sweet spot, and they often know it. To leave them there is not fair to the organization, to others on your team, and in the end, is not in the best interests of the one who cannot play at the level they need to play at.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

What the Gospels teach us about how we should relate to and treat others

 



I am convinced that an understanding of how Jesus related to people is critical to our own interactions - at least as believers. There are four Gospels which is maybe a sign that we were to pay attention to them.

It is intriguing that we read in John 1:14 that Jesus came full of grace and truth: in that order. My observation is that those who claim to be Christ-followers love "truth." Just read social media and listen to those who share their thoughts in social media spaces. There are plenty of our versions of the truth. I say versions because not everything we call truth is actually God's truth. But absent all too often is grace.

Unless he was speaking to the Pharisees who were serial grace killers and legalists, Jesus negotiated conversations with amazing grace. Take the woman at the well in John 4. She was an individual with a broken life, living in immorality and deeply in need of truth. Jesus engages her without judgment and with amazing grace. He acknowledges her brokenness but did so in a way that did not scare her off or shame her. 

In fact, even though he acknowledged her brokenness, she promptly went and called her village to come and meet this man. She said  “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him." Now she would never have done this if Jesus had not led with grace rather than a harsh truth.

Truth without grace is not Jesus yet we practice it all the time. We judge others for their sin, we say things that lack the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we treat people poorly as if we have the moral right to do so and we do it in the name of God. I suspect that when we do so we are not speaking for God, and certainly not like God. Those of us who know Jesus only know Him because He showed us grace - amazing grace and invited us to Himself.

The lack of grace and the focus on truth and our requisite judgmental attitudes is a large reason that people are not attracted to us, to our congregations, and ultimately to Jesus. He came to us full of grace and truth. People may listen to truth but generally only when that truth is full of grace. As Gandhi famously said, I like Jesus but I just don't like Christians. He did not see them as nice people.

I have been the recipient of harsh truth as well as amazing grace by others. Which of those do you think healed my heart? Which of those do you think encouraged me to look again at Jesus? I would guess that you have had the same experience. I would also guess that you can name those who treated you like Jesus did and those who didn't.

Growing up in an evangelical tradition that majored in truth at the expense of grace, I have been more and more attracted to Jesus and His example in the Gospels of speaking truth saturated with grace. Remember, He came full of grace and truth - in that order.

How are you doing in relating to others on the basis of grace before truth?

Saturday, April 16, 2022

The day between Good Friday and Easter Morning

 


What do you think it was like the day after the crucifixion of Christ? Did Pilot wake up with a guilty conscience and wonder if he had done the right thing? Did the guards, who had mocked Jesus and then seen Him on the cross, wonder if an innocent man had died? Did the crowds, who had called for His life, keep an embarrassed silence in a quiet Jerusalem? Someone was nervous,  for they asked the Roman garrison to post guards at His tomb. On the day after, Jesus' friends mourned, the Romans were nervous, and some who had watched the execution were sure He was the Son of God.


It had to be a day like no other in Jerusalem. It had to be a day of quiet and consideration. It had to be a day of sober doubt after a day of impetuous action. I'll bet there were many disturbed consciences that day. The day between death and resurrection. A day of uncertainty and guilt. A day of hopelessness and sadness. But it was done and there was no undoing the events of the night before.


We have days like that! I have experienced whole periods of life that hang between hope and despair. Uncertainty reigns. Sadness is prevalent, maybe dominant. It is the time in between life as it was and life as it will be - but not yet knowing what will be. It is the dark night of the soul with all the questions, uncertainties, and unknowns. It is those times of personal chaos when we have no idea and little hope that life will become whole again. It is the loss of hope most of all.


It is the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It is real and it hurts and all of us experience it just as the disciples did, only in different ways. But there is another day coming...we know and we look forward to that day of hope. Always remember in the day of despair that morning comes, and it comes with hope and resurrection power and salvation. In the in-between times, we need the words of Habakkuk, "Be still and know that I am God." Easter comes and so does Hope.


There is a whole book in the Old Testament devoted to those in between times. It is the book of Lamentations. To lament is to mourn and to be in sorrow. Jeremiah is literally walking through the burnt out ruins of Jerusalem after the Babylonians had destroyed the city. The city is largely deserted, the temple in ruins, most of the population had been taken into exile into Babylon. Think of the pictures you have seen recently of the cities destroyed in Ukraine and you get the picture. People living in the middle of rubble, hope gone, lives destroyed, bank accounts empty.


Jeremiah is deeply distressed as he wanders through the ruins and then these amazing words. “Because of the Lords’ great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’”


In the time of pain and hopelessness Jeremiah says, “your mercies are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.” Great is your faithfulness.


Jeremiah was living in that “in-between time” as we also experience. Where life hangs between Hope and Despair. It is the dark night of the soul with all the questions, uncertainties and unknowns. It is those times of personal chaos when we have no idea and little hope that life will become whole again. But we know from Easter that there is another day coming. Jeremiah knew that there was another day coming because he knew the character of God, who is always faithful. His mercies are new every morning. Tomorrow, as we celebrate Easter, we are reminded once again of His faithfulness and mercies toward us.


Always remember in the day of despair that morning comes, and it comes with hope and resurrection power and salvation. In the in-between times, we need to remember. Easter comes and so does hope.


On Easter morning:


The evil one was defeated once and for all

Our sins were paid for on the cross

Jesus rose victorious from the grave

We received hope of our own future resurrection

Death was defeated

Hope was restored

The world was forever changed

The Holy Spirit came

No matter what you are going through today, remember, Easter comes and so does hope. With God it is always so. The in-between times are not the final word. Easter and Jesus and the resurrection are the final word.


Father, thank you for the hope you give us daily in spite of our circumstances. Hope that is grounded in Easter when you rose victorious and our sins were paid for once and for all. Great is your faithfulness. Amen.


The word for today: Hope. His mercies are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Good Friday: Things are not always what they appear

 


Things are not always what they appear to be!


One of the lessons of Good Friday is that what appears to be true is not always true. On this day, the cosmic battle between Satan and God culminated in what Satan thought was his greatest victory. That battle had been waged from the time of the fall when God made it clear that one day Satan would be defeated (Genesis 3:15). But on this day, Satan knew he had won. The Son of God is on the cross, alone, abandoned even by His Father, who didn't seem able to rescue Him. Thirty pieces of silver were all it had taken, the best deal ever in the history of evil.


The disciples knew it was over. Jesus' friends knew it was over. The religious authorities knew it was over - their problem solved, a rival gone. Not only that, but evil had won over good and righteousness for those who cared. For the followers of Christ, this was the ultimate sadness. They had expected righteousness to triumph, but instead, evil had prevailed. The one who had called Himself the Son of God, dead on a bitter cross. The dreams of a new kingdom were shattered. Hope itself in the person of Jesus. Gone.


Little did they know that what appeared to be the final chapter was only the beginning of a new chapter. Out of the jaws of apparent defeat, Christ would not only be resurrected, but in that resurrection, he sealed the fate of Satan, evil, and unrighteousness for all time and made it possible for the created to have a relationship with the creator. The apparent defeat was only the prelude to total victory! Things are not always what they appear to be. 


Not for one moment had the events of Good Friday been out of the control of the heavenly Father, even though it looked like the Father had lost all control. He is always sovereign, and nothing under His control can ever be out of control. The world learned that on Easter Sunday but on Good Friday it could not understand.


Think about your own life for a moment. Where are the areas that seem to be out of control? Where does it feel like evil has won? Where are the areas where you feel apparent defeat, discouragement, sadness, or pain? It is easy to see the Good Friday moments in our lives when it is clear that God has not acted, and we need His help. However, it is harder to wait for the resurrection moments when God shows up, as He always does, and redeems what we thought was unredeemable - often in surprising and unique ways.


I have had whole seasons of life when it seemed that the darkness prevailed over light. I remember leaving my pastorate years ago, depressed, defeated, and convinced that I had failed. I had been caught in a power struggle where the "bad guys" won, and the rest of us left the church. I was out of a job, out of hope, clinically depressed, and even, at times, suicidal. Yet out of that experience came a new journey to understand God's grace, and a new passion for helping hurting churches so that leaders could lead with greater health and less pain. What looked like Good Friday to me, where life was hard and hope was scarce, turned out to be anything but. I came out of the experience with greater faith, wisdom, and understanding. Yes, it took a while, but it happened. I now realize that what seemed out of control was always in His control, and what seemed like failure to me was part of the building blocks of future ministry.


Whatever your circumstance, you can be sure that Easter is coming and that things are not always what they appear to be. In the end, nothing that is in His control can ever be out of control. 


How do we deal with the Good Friday moments of life when life is hard and hope is scarce? Sometimes you have to borrow faith from others. When my faith is thin and fragile, I can borrow faith from someone whose faith is strong. That is why relationships are so important in the Christian family. We don’t exist alone. We need one another. When I am weak I need someone who is strong and when I am strong I can lift up the weak. Never be ashamed of needing to borrow the faith of others.


We also need to keep our relationship with Jesus current. If He is the vine and we are the branches (John 15), then we need to stay connected to the vine. There are plenty of times in life that we don’t know what God is up to and times when we are discouraged and perhaps even despair. But there is never a time when we cannot stay connected to Him, knowing that He is the source of life and hope. 


Remember in the Good Friday moments this truth: “Christ Jesus who died - more than that, who was raised to life - is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:34-39). 


Clearly things are not always what they appear because behind the realities that we see, there is a spiritual reality that is always present and God is always up to something. While life may seem to us to be out of control, nothing under His control can ever be out of control. That is the lesson of Good Friday. And that is true today in those areas of your life where life seems out of control.


Father, on this day the world thought that evil had prevailed. We now know that You prevailed against evil once and for all. Remind me often that life is not always what it appears and that nothing under your control can ever be out of control. Even in my life today. Amen.


The question for today: What things in my own life do I need to remember are under God’s control today?

Thursday, April 14, 2022

How Jesus prays for you


 


We pray for a lot of things and we are invited to do so on a regular basis. We have a heavenly Father who loves to hear from us and if you listen, He also loves to speak to us. But have you considered how He prays for you? In John 17 on the night of his arrest, Jesus prayed for His disciples and He prayed for you and me. In this prayer, we see the heart of God for us and it reveals what He cares about for us.


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


What does Jesus want for you? He wants you to have eternal life and to know the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom He sent. He doesn't call you to a religion, a church or a denomination. He invites you to know Him and to know the Father and this is eternal life. Knowing God and being in relationship with Him is the most precious gift we could ever have. This is why He died. This is why He took on Himself our sin. So we could genuinely know Him and live in a loving relationship with Him. It changes everything.


Then Jesus prays for His disciples. “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.


“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”


Did you catch what he prayed here for us? That we would have the full measure of joy within us. Even though we live in a broken, crazy world He says that we can live with the full measure of joy because the joy is found in a person - Jesus Christ. Not in our possessions, success or any other place, but in the person of Jesus. Then He prays for our protection from the evil one. You and I know that the evil one’s greatest desire is to derail our relationship with Jesus and our joy. So He prays for our protection and for our sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit changes our character into His character.


And then He calls us to a mission in our broken world. “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” His mission to bring the Good News to the world is now our mission. His work is now our work. We are now His ambassadors to a broken world. This is why he wants us to be sanctified. So that we represent His character and love to a world that is in desperate need of both.


But then He prays for you and I who will believe the message because someone was faithful to share it with us. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”


What does He pray for us? He prays that we would be one. That just as He and the Father are one he prays that we as His children would be one. In fact He says I have given to them the glory that the Father gave me so that we could be one, “I in them and you in me” so that we would be brought to complete unity.”  I am fascinated that Jesus would pray for our unity together as members of His family. Why? Because our oneness is proof to the world that the Father sent the son and has loved us as the Father loved Jesus.


There is something supernatural about the unity of the Father and the Son. And there is something equally supernatural about the unity of you and I together. Only the Spirit of God can take people from different ethnicities, social classes, political persuasions, disparate backgrounds with all our personal baggage and dysfunctions and make us one. That is the proof to the rest of the world of the divinity of Jesus. Unfortunately all too often we don’t live as one but that is what He calls us to and that is what He prays will be the case.


Finally, He prays “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.


“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”


We will be known, Jesus prayed for our love. 


Father, remind me today that I have been called into a living relationship with you and a supernatural unity with my fellow believers. May I love you well and love your family deeply. Amen.


The Question for today: How is my love quotient for my fellow believers?

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Jesus and the upper room discourse

 


John 13 through 17 are some of the most significant chapters in the Gospel of John. They are called the upper room discourse, where Jesus shares some of the most intimate moments with the disciples just before his arrest and crucifixion. Last words are important words, and these constitute his last words to the disciples before his death. 


I love how John 13 starts. "It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own, who were in the world, he loved them to the end." Here is Jesus staring death in the face, and despite His imminent suffering, He loves his own to the end. That is Jesus, and hopefully, we will love and serve to the end of our lives as well.


We read, "The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him."


No one had washed the feet of the disciples when they came into the upper room for supper. In fact, there was no one to do it. That was the job of lowly servants, and no one was going to humble themselves to wash one another's feet. Except for Jesus. The God of the Universe who had left heaven for Bethlehem, who had lived among us for a season. The one who would shortly give His life on our behalf. He was humble enough to do what no one else would do. He loved them to the end.


'When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. "You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”


He calls us to a life of service toward one another with these words. Can you imagine what relationships would look like among God's people if we had the same humble, sacrificial and loving attitude toward one another? It would transform our relationships and bring a new level of humility and service to one another. He loved them to the end and tells us to do the same. If it was not beneath Jesus, it should not be beneath us.


And if you think that washing the disciples' feet was significant, remember that Jesus also washed the feet of Judas, who would shortly betray him. And he reclined at dinner with the same. What can we say to this except that Jesus loved them to the end?


What does it mean to wash one another's feet? It means that we look for ways that we can serve one another. It may mean that we share resources with one another. It may mean that we give up precious time to help someone and even those who we don't naturally gravitate to. It may not be convenient, but it is about loving one another well. It is not loving others when it is convenient but when it is needed. 


One of my favorite authors is Henri Nouen. His writings on spiritual transformation are amazing and insightful. Where did he get his insights? In large part in ministering to special needs people who lived in spiritual communities for them around the world. His life was transformed as he ministered to and served people that most of the world ignores and marginalizes. It was humbling, and it was a far distance from his speaking at Ivy League schools and rubbing shoulders with the important and learned. And it changed his life, and the insights he gained have transformed many other lives. But it started with humble service. He would say that he was the recipient of the blessings of that service and that those he served taught him the most profound spiritual lessons of his life. 


A bit later on this evening, in John 15, Jesus said this: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for I have made known to you everything that I learned from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name, the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.”


Notice how Jesus directly links our love for Him with our love for each other. And He connects the fruit that we bear with our love for Him and for one another. "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." Follow my example. Show the same love to one another as I have loved you, and by the way, I no longer call you servants but friends, and I have chosen you to bear fruit so love each other.


The church and Christians, in general, need a reformation of love toward one another, and it must arise out of humility and be grounded in the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated to his disciples and us. Jesus loved them to the end, and let us do the same.


Father, would you give me the humility to wash the feet of those around me in practical acts of service? Teach me to love as you love and to care as you care. And thank you that you call me your friend. Amen.


The question for today: How can I better love those around me?

Monday, April 11, 2022

What is your greatest aspiration in life?

 



What is your greatest aspiration in life? It is probably what you think about the most. It may be treasuring our family - something all of us should do. It may be whatever version of success we are shooting for. For some, it is the pursuit of meaning through all kinds of various avenues that span the healthy and sometimes the unhealthy. All of us are searching for something and that something becomes our aspiration. Our goal. It becomes our focus.


As we have seen repeatedly in this Lent Series, Jesus had a way of turning conventional wisdom on its head. And on this question of life aspiration He does it again. In fact, He says that if you love this life you will lose it but if you hate your life in this world they will keep it for eternal life. So much for our aspirations, but let's look more closely at a conversation Jesus had after he came into Jerusalem on the week before His crucifixion. It is found in John 12:20-28.


Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.


Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”


What did Jesus' words have to do with the Greeks who came to the disciples and asked to see Jesus? These Greeks wanted to get close to Jesus. Many wanted to get close to Jesus. He was a popular guy, especially as He healed and taught in parables. Lots of people like to get close to Jesus. We want all the advantages that He brings. We want His blessing and often we don’t know what we are actually asking, just as these Greeks didn’t know what they were asking.


Let me tell you what it means to be close to me He says. In fact, the hour has come for me to be glorified. I tell you that “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. He is here predicting His coming death. But He goes on to say that “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” 


If your aspirations are anchored in this world and this life says Jesus you will lose your life. This world is lost and the aspirations that are focused on this life are not about life. It is a fallen world and its focuses are sinful rather than righteous. But if you love me and my kingdom and my values and my work as the goal of your life, then you will also experience eternal life. In fact, He is saying that just as I will die, you too must die to the values and focuses of this world. In fact, whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”


If you want to be near me. If you really want to know me. Then you need to follow me and part of that following is dying to all the sinful ways of this world and becoming alive to the life that I give. This is called the cruciform life. A cruciform is something in the shape of a cross and following Jesus means that we embrace the cross in our own lives. The cross is a symbol of death and there is no life in Jesus without a death to self and a transfer of the leadership of our lives from ourselves to Him. With that transfer we learn to embrace His cruciform life, centered on the cross and the life that He gives to us. 


This is why those who follow Him look so different from those who don’t. They have embraced Him and in doing so have embraced our own death to self to be made alive in Him. The cruciform life.


Then Jesus makes this amazing statement. “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father save me from this hour? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Knowing the cost of the cross where He took on Himself every sin you and I have ever committed” He is deeply troubled. But rather than run from His cruciform assignment he says, “Father, glorify your name.”


Jesus is declaring that His sole aspiration in life is to glorify the name of the Father. It was all about the Father. That was his aspiration even knowing what the cost would be. It was a kingdom aspiration not an aspiration of this world. It looked forward to eternity rather than being planted in this world. Whatever would glorify the father, He was in. This is the cruciform life. This is the vision and aspiration that Jesus calls us to. This is what it means to know Jesus and to love Him and this is when we experience life that is truly life.


So we come back to the original question. What is your aspiration in life? What drives you? What are you willing to give in order to join Jesus in a cruciform life? Remember the words of Jesus: “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.” But then these words. “My Father will honor the one who serves me.”


Father, I don’t like death to self but I want to follow you. Where you go, I want to go. Where you are I want to be. Help me to live the cruciform life. Glorify your name through me! Amen


Question for Today: Is my goal in life to live the cruciform life and glorify the name of the Father?


Thursday, April 7, 2022

Becoming practitioners of grace

 




There seems to be a dichotomy between how Jesus practiced truth and treated people and how believers practice truth and treat people. I am always fascinated by the interactions that Jesus had with people whose lives were far from Him. That is until they met Him. Think of the Rich Young Ruler exchange or the conversation with Nicodemus, or the conversation with the woman at the well or the many people He healed. 


Here are some observations. First, Jesus was a magnet for people who needed grace. Second, Jesus had a way of sharing truth that was not offensive to those who heard it. Third, Jesus was infinitely gracious toward those He interacted with.


Now I contrast that with what I see in many Christian circles today where we lead with our truth and the Bible and judgements around the lifestyle choices and situations of those we come into contact with. Gandhi put his finger on the issue when he wrote “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Even though I don’t want to admit it, I believe Gandhi is right. I speak for myself, and many I know, and admit that we often don’t look like Jesus.


What are many Christians known for? We are known for all the things we are against. We fight culture wars and target sins we think are the most egregious (which usually means they are not our sins, which are many). We can be critical, judgemental, and even harsh in our words. And we cloak it all in Scripture, using the Bible as a hammer to prove our point. I find this really interesting because this is not how Jesus engaged those who didn’t know God. He didn’t use Scripture as a hammer. He entered into relationships and dialogue and did so in an amazingly grace filled way. He connected with people. He was for the people He connected with. Rather than condemn those who were in sinful lifestyles he had empathy and compassion for their situation and engaged with them. 


Jesus especially loved dinner parties where he mingled with whoever wanted to show up. In fact, the very people that we often won’t hang with because their lifestyle is sinful. And then we wonder why they don’t show up for church. I wonder if we have not been more conditioned by the church experience we grew up with than we have the Gospels and the example of Jesus. We have prioritized truth over grace and acceptance and relationships and love. 


There is a foundational verse in John 1:14. This verse ought to inform our understanding of how we approach those around us. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Where the text says that He made his dwelling among us, the literal translation is something like He came and pup-tented with us. He came and camped with us. This fascinates me because there is so much emphasis among some Christians of being very separate from the world. That was not Jesus’s style. He came to live among us. That is why He was able to identify with people. He was the most approachable individual who ever lived and I want to be that way. He was a magnet for people and I want to be that way. 


John further says that Jesus came full of Grace and Truth. So let's talk about the order of those two words. Grace comes before truth. That is because truth without grace is harsh and hard. Yet many believers try to lead with truth (this is what the Bible says) and in the process they push unbelievers away. And even fellow believers. Think of the many moralistic messages that are posted on social media. It may be truth, but it is often lacking in grace and usually not understood at all by unbelievers. In the process we lose the very people that many of us would like to reach.


The grace that Jesus exhibited was magnetic. It drew people to Him and He didn’t lead with social media (OK I know there was none in the day) but He led with relationships. This was in contrast to the teachers of the law who were usually in the business of condemnation rather than  grace, acceptance and love. The teachers of the law were known for all the things they were against, for calling out sin and judgmental attitudes. In contrast, Jesus was known for His love of people, compassion for their brokenness, and great tenderness in how He dealt with them. It was always grace and truth in that order.


As I read the Gospels I am more convinced than ever that we need a new movement of grace in our day that is for people and that is like Jesus. The more grace we possess, the more people will gravitate toward us and Jesus. The less grace we possess, the more we repel people and we become the barrier to them finding Jesus. 


At the heart of being a practitioner of grace is the practice of accepting others rather than judging others. It is easy to judge. Especially because it makes us feel better about ourselves. If I can judge others I can ignore my own ubiquitous shortcomings. Yet, the only reason we have a relationship with Jesus is because He accepted us with grace. He didn’t tell us all the things that were wrong in our life but invited us into relationship knowing that, over time, His Spirit would change us. He didn’t try to fix us but brought us into a relationship. Rather than judging, He loved and rather than condemning He showed mercy and compassion. I want to look like Jesus and I bet you do too. 


I have a vision of a people of God who are so gracious and loving and full of grace that we are magnets for both believers and unbelievers. I have a vision of a people who look and act with the grace and love of Jesus. In this Lenten season, as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, let's live that resurrection life out with His grace and love. 


Father. Save me from judgmentalism and harshness and give me a vision of a life so characterized by your grace that people are attracted to me and then to you. For you are the source of grace. Amen

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Embracing His Grace

 



If there is one word that describes Jesus it is the word grace. John describes Jesus this way in John 1:14. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, Full of grace and truth.” He says further, “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” 


Jesus was a person of Grace who offers us grace and invites us to live in His grace. It is the greatest gift we could ever have. 


I had a favorite uncle. His name was Warren. The thing that was so wonderful about Warren is that when you were with him you always felt absolutely accepted and loved. There was no judgment. It was pure acceptance and love. It was very different from a lot of Christians I knew who were critics and legalists rather than lovers and acceptors. To be in Warren’s presence was to feel totally accepted. That is grace.


In the passage we read from John above, it says Jesus came full of grace and truth. Phil Yancey writes this in his book, Vanishing Grace, “The church has worked tirelessly on the truth part of that formula: witness the church councils, creeds, volumes of theology, and denominational splits over minor points of doctrine. I yearn for the church to compete just as hard in conveying what Paul calls the “incomparable riches” of God’s grace. Often it seems, we’re perceived more as guilt dispensers than as grace dispensers.” 


To be a grace dispenser we need to live in that amazing grace ourselves. Perhaps our problem is that we don’t understand grace. Paul writes this about how we come into relationship with God. “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved…and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can  boast.” (Ephesians 2:4-9).


How did we come to God? By grace. We did nothing except choose to believe. And even this was grace. We didn’t come into relationship with Him out of any goodness on our part. In fact, we were dead in transgressions but by His grace we were saved. In fact, there is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you can do to make Him love you less. We exist as Christ followers in His grace from start to finish. We live in His grace.


We often think that we need to live up to some standard in order for God to accept and love us. That is not true. He loves us regardless with an amazing love. He calls us out of that place of love and grace to follow Him which means changes in our lives but it is not out of earning any love from God. You cannot earn His love. He offers it freely along with his forgiveness and salvation. Period. Full stop. 


This is what I experienced when I was in the presence of uncle Warren. He exuded love and acceptance and grace. He was like Jesus. Unlike a lot of other people I have encountered whose acceptance you needed to earn and whose critical spirit wounded you and you never felt good enough. Many churches are like that but that is not Jesus.


It is no secret that we Christians can be the most critical and unloving people, both with each other and with those who we perceive to be antagonistic toward God. When we are critical and unloving to fellow believers we miss the point of grace which is that it cannot be earned. If God accepts them I need to as well. In our critical spirit we kill the grace of Jesus, and in effect, require others to earn our love even though Jesus freely gave us His love. 


When we are unloving to those who don’t claim to be believers in the name of defending truth we miss the spirit of Jesus as well. Henri Nouwen, one of my favorite authors, prayed this about those who he could see as enemies or ungodly. “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.” 


In a New York Times Opinion Piece, Peter Wehner wrote this. “If you find yourself in the company of people whose hearts have been captured by grace, count yourself lucky. They love us despite our messy lives, stay connected to us through our struggles, always holding out the hope of redemption. When relationships are broken, my wife Cindy told me, it’s grace that causes people not to give up, to extend the invitation to reconnect, to work through misunderstandings with sensitivity and transparency.


You don’t sense hard edges, dogmatism or self-righteous judgment from gracious people. There’s a tenderness about them that opens doors that had previously been bolted shut. People who have been transformed by grace have a special place in their hearts for those living in the shadows of society. They’re easily moved by stories of suffering and step into the breach to heal. And grace properly understood always produces gratitude.”


That was my uncle Warren. That is Jesus. That is what we all long for and that is the gift of grace. As Philip Yancey says, we can be guilt dispensers or grace dispensers. I pray that God would make me much more of a grace dispenser as I understand how God loves and accepts me. 


Grace dispensers are like magnets to others because they exhibit the character of Jesus. Churches that are places of grace and acceptance are all too rare and so beautiful when found. So here are two questions for us today. Are we living in the grace of Jesus rather than trying to earn his love? And, are we like Jesus in dispensing his Grace to all those around us. Even those we consider ungodly and our enemies?

Monday, April 4, 2022

Living with fewer spiritual distractions

 



God put you on earth for a purpose. Think about that. You are not just a random human. God created you for a specific purpose. Paul says this in Ephesians 2:11: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” You are God’s handiwork. You were created in Christ Jesus to do good works and for an assignment that he prepared in advance for you to do. That is what Paul says.


Too often, however, we don’t live life on mission but simply allow those around us to define our mission for us. Here is something to consider. Everyone has a plan for your life. Your parents, your kids, your employer, your friends and sometimes even your church. We have more opportunities to fill our calendars than we have time to do it. Our lives are full and busy and what often gets lost in the process is time for those things God has called us to. We are too busy and distracted to live out our purpose.


How do we know what that purpose is? How do we know what those good works are that He prepared in advance for us to do. The answer to that question usually revolves around how He gifted us and how He has motivated us. For instance, one of my close friends is in His sixties. He is a successful investment advisor in Phoenix. For his whole life, he has mentored others. He mentors kids in the hood who don’t know their potential. He mentors men at church who are looking to grow. He just loves to mentor and develop others. It is what he does. It is what he is good at.


He also mentors non-profit boards. He sits on a number of boards and helps those ministries do what they do better. Wherever he finds himself he is in a role of developing others. These are the good works God prepared for him and this is what God gifted him to do. I have known him for at least two decades and his commitments have not changed.


What makes Roger unique, however, is that he understands the kind of ministry God has for him and he intentionally makes time to do what God gifted him to do. This means that there are other things that he needs to say no to. In fact, no is one of the most powerful words in any language and rather than being a negative word it can be very positive. When I graciously say no, I am doing so because what has been requested, good as it is, would take me away from something more important. No leaves me an opportunity for yes. Otherwise, we are too distracted with all kinds of good things and miss the most important things. 


In the Gospels, even Jesus said no to his disciples. After a particularly fruitful couple of days when there was a great deal of healing and teaching, the disciples found him one morning and said, “Hey, this revival thing is working well. We need to keep it going.” OK that is the Addington rendition  of the text. But it’s pretty much what they said. Jesus, though knowing His Father’s priorities for His life and ministry said no. I need to preach to others who have not yet heard. He said no in order to say yes


Remember that the most precious commodity any of us have is not money. It is time. Money can come and go. You can lose it and get it back. Time just goes! You can never get it back. Every  time we agree to do something we are writing a check. A time check. And if we are not careful we can write too many time checks and in the process lose the ability to do those things that God created us for. We allow good things to get in the way of the best things.


I know that God has called me to write. It is why I am writing these devotionals and actually write five a week even when we are not in Lent. That means that I must leave time for the writing. I am up early this morning doing that very thing. 


It would be a real bummer to get to heaven and realize that God had gifted and equipped us for some really powerful stuff but that we missed it because we were too distracted and just didn’t pay attention. The truth is that each of us has a very powerful role to play in His divine drama in this world. We have the opportunity to be players on His divine stage for a period of years called life, joining Him in what He is up to in our world. That is an amazing thing. In His kingdom, there are no little people and there are no little assignments.


Walt pulls people together to get stuff done. Steve preaches in a way that captivates our hearts. Eric has the ideas and vision to chart a course. David organizes the church board. Saray makes sure the details are taken care of. Charmon captures the hearts of kids - and the rest of us because we are still kids. Bob uses his voice in these devotionals to communicate well. Loren lifts her voice to lead us in worship. Carrington creates worship experiences. Steve creates opportunities to mentor at-risk kids. Think of the beauty of that multiplied by many others, each of us as we play our role for Jesus. It is an amazing symphony of ministry that we do on behalf of Jesus as we join him in His divine plan for this city, at this time. That is powerful and beautiful and effective.


Think through your life today and ask yourself the question, “Where is my place in His divine drama?” Then consider whether you are giving it the time that you should be. After all, you are unique and you were created for a unique purpose. Don’t allow distractions to keep you from the mission He created you for.


Father. Thank you for how you have gifted me and for the passions you have planted in my heart. Would you keep me from distractions so I can best fulfill the work you put me on this earth for. Amen.


The Question for Today: Am I living out my God-given purpose or am I too distracted?

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Third Culture Christians

 



I am what is considered a “Third Culture Kid.” As a missionary kid, I grew up in a country that was not mine and then came back to a country that was not mine. I questioned, where do I fit? How do I go home? Where is home? It is said that third culture kids are most at home in airports. Maybe that is why I have flown over three million miles in my lifetime. The other thing about third culture kids is that they tend to look at their own culture from the outside since they grew up on the outside. There is a sense in which they never feel like they fit in. They exist between two cultures. So, if you think I'm strange, you have a good reason!  


You may not have thought about it, but you are a third culture person. In fact, you have two passports. The first passport is from the country in which you were born. The culture in which you live. The second passport is from heaven, the country you now owe your highest allegiance to, and where you are going. This means that you live in a dynamic tension between your birth culture and the family of God into which you have been adopted.


This is why 1st and 2nd Peter call us aliens and strangers in this world. For instance, in 1 Peter 2:11-12, Peter writes, "Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."


Peter is reminding us that many of the values and practices of the culture around us are different from the values and practices of our Kingdom, Jesus' culture. That is why I say that we live in a dynamic tension between our home culture and our newly adopted culture in Jesus. 


In adopting us, we are now citizens of God's Kingdom while still living in our home culture. Here is how Peter describes it in 1 Peter 2:9-10. "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy." 


So what are the implications of having two passports as Christians? The first is that we need to recognize that the values and practices of our home culture and our kingdom culture are not identical. They are vastly different. This is why those who genuinely seek to follow God stand out. They are different. 


For instance:


They are humble when others are proud

They forgive when others hold grudges

They treat their enemies well when others treat them as enemies

They are people of grace where others make you earn their love

They stand up for the helpless where others take advantage of them

They are people of truth, whereas others use truth selectively

They care about justice, where others care mainly about themselves

Here is the point. When the values of our home culture are different from the values of our kingdom culture, we must always default to the kingdom culture. That is what it means to follow Jesus. We live in a dynamic tension between two kingdoms but must always default to God's Kingdom.


A second implication is that we will not always fit in. When I came from Hong Kong to finish high school as a teenager, I didn't fit in. I had come from a school with 21 different nationalities represented. Now, everyone was from the east side of St. Paul. I had traveled the world and lived in a world-class city. My classmates' definition of travel was going to Wisconsin deer hunting. I was used to candid dialogue and now found myself kicked out of my social studies class for challenging the teacher. 


I didn't always fit in. And, neither do believers who live in a pagan society. Again Peter, in 1 Peter 4 says, "For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do - living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you." We won't always fit in, but that is OK. As Peter said, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."


The life of Jesus was a life lived against the grain. Against the cultural trends that kept people in bondage. It was a life of freedom, which our Kingdom passport gives us. We are free to live like Jesus and no longer bound to our old way of life. We will be different as we live out our Kingdom values that are counter to many of the values of our world. 


Embrace your third culture status as people who have two passports and belong to two kingdoms. Just be sure that when you must choose between the two's value systems, you select the Kingdom values even if it makes you stand out. You are, after all, a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God's special possession. 

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Dealing with distractions in our spiritual lives

 



Jesus was a master storyteller. His stories, or parables, were intriguing, sometimes shocking, but always very personal in their application. They speak directly to our lives. One story that describes each of us in some way is the Parable of the Sower found in Luke 8:4-15. Pay close attention to this parable because you are there.


While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seeds fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still, other seeds fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”


His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’


“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way, they are choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering, produce a crop.


Since we know Jesus and want to follow Him, I will focus on two kinds of soil that apply to us. The first is the seed sown among the thorns. These are people who hear, but life’s worries, riches, and pleasures choke them as they go on their way, so they do not mature.


All of us fall into this trap at times in our lives. Perhaps we live most of our life here, or maybe it is a particular season/s of our life. We want Jesus, and we want to grow. Still, we are distracted, majorly distracted by the worries and anxieties of life, by the pursuit of wealth and stuff, and by our desire to experience the good life (our pleasures). Here is the individual who is so busy in their work, busy with life, and so consumed by activities that God gets marginalized, and space for God becomes scarce. Too often, we run on fumes in our busyness and what gets lost is space for God in our lives.


There is a cost to this kind of lifestyle. Jesus says that the result is that people living in this zone don’t mature. Instead, life’s worries, riches, and pleasures choke their spiritual growth. 


In all honesty, one of my greatest fears in life is that I don’t mature as a Christ-follower. I fear not getting to a place of spiritual maturity and continued growth throughout my life. One of the most strategic things we can do is be honest about how much space we are giving God in our lives, how much growth is actually occurring, and how intentional we are about becoming more like Jesus. Whatever picture we paint for the outside world, we know in our heart of hearts how serious we are about maturing in Him.


Jesus contrasts the seed that falls among the thorns with the seed that falls on good soil. “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” 


Here is where we want to be. Notice how Jesus describes those who are good soil. They have noble and good hearts. Why are they described this way? Because they hear the word, they retain it and apply it, and the result is a crop of righteousness in their lives. 


So what is the critical difference between those whose spiritual growth is choked out and those who are good soil? Three simple things. First, those with good soil are not distracted, and they have space and time for God. The word of God intentionally nourishes their lives. They learn that word, retain that word, seek to understand it, and then apply it in their lives. None of this happens without intentional effort. It is an arrangement of our lives so that God is not lost and we have space for Him. We make space for Him. We intentionally find time for Him and His word, and we apply that word equally deliberately to our lives. That is good soil, and it bears a generous crop of spiritual maturity and righteousness in our lives.


Which of these two kinds of soil describes you today? If you are not entirely in the good soil description, do you want to be? If the answer is yes, what changes do you need to make to your life so that God is more central, so you have more space for Him, and what can you do to better understand and apply His word to your life?


Father, I pray that you would help me live with Good soil that hears your word, understands your counsel, and applies it to my life. I want to experience the harvest of righteousness. Help me experience more of you, Jesus, and fewer distractions. Amen.


The question for today: How do I need to rearrange my life to give more space and time for God and His Word so that I live in good soil rather than among the thorns?

Lessons I have learned in working with church conflict

 

After many years of working with churches that find themselves in conflictual situations, I have come to the conclusion that there are six non-negotiable principles if there is to be a successful outcome.



First, an outside facilitator is usually necessary. The nature of conflict is that people take sides so it becomes very difficult for anyone from within to play the role of a neutral mediator. In fact, the larger the conflict the more critical it is that the individual you bring in is trusted by both sides to have the best interests of the church at heart. The sooner you bring someone in when it is clear that the situation is dangerous the better.



Second, the issues that are fueling the conflict need to be brought into the light. Conflict thrives in the shadows, in gossip, in cliques, in assumptions and behind the scenes. Bringing all the competing agendas, attitudes and positions into the light and allowing all members of the congregation to understand what is being said, what is happening and what the issues are takes the mystique out of the situation and allows everyone to respond from a position of knowledge. It also removes the power of those who have an agenda but have not been willing to make it public but have instead been putting on pressure from behind the scenes. Getting everything on the table allows all stakeholders to understand what is going on and to have a voice in solving the issues. Ironically, those who are most vociferous in their opinions overplay those who agree with them when in fact, if all facts were known, the majority would not agree. 



Third. Reconciliation is always preferable to disunity. This is actually a hard concept for many who have taken a position in church conflict. First, our natural tendency is to take a hard line and once we have told others about our own line-in-the-sand it is humbling to change our position. Second, the longer conflict goes on, the more we see the members of the opposing side as evil, dishonest, disingenuous, people with bad motives and once we demonize people it is hard to ever think that reconciliation is possible. 



To not be willing to consider reconciliation is to make a mockery of God's reconciliation with us and His call for us to be reconcilers. Speaking of church conflict, this is what Paul had to say to the Corinthians. "I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:10)." 



In Ephesians 4:1-6 Paul writes, "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Having said that, I acknowledge that sometimes it is not going to be possible to reconcile and stay together. Sometimes it means that we part ways and speak well of one another.



Fourth, ground rules need to be established. One of the most incendiary fuels in all conflict is the absence of ground rules - what is acceptable and what is not. For a list of the ground rules that I recommend, see my blog, Negotiating church conflict in a healthy manner. Or if you want to keep it very simple, look back at the passage in Ephesians 4:1-6 where he says be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. When you think about it, these characteristics are almost always lacking when conflict is taking place. What gets in our way? Pride, wanting to get our own way, anger, and our emotions.



Five, you probably will not convince everyone. There are people who don't want to reconcile. There are people whose pride is far greater than their humility and they have no desire to seek a win/win solution. In working with churches in conflict, I don't do very much to try to convince the unconvincible even if they have the loudest voices. I am looking for people of peace and reason who are willing to work together to see the church come together in unity. This does not mean that the issues that have caused disunity are swept under the rug. To the contrary, as principle two states, they are all on the table and those that need to be addressed are addressed. To do that successfully, however, it requires men and women of peace and reason, whose personal agendas do not cloud their emotions.



Who is most likely to leave in church conflict? Those who have taken a hard stand and cannot or will not compromise that stand. Frankly, it is good for them to leave because they will simply contribute to ongoing conflict if they are not willing to come together with the rest of the congregation.



Sixth: It is a process. Church conflict does not start overnight and it does not get settled overnight. It may take a year in some cases to bring the church back to health. The benefits of doing so far outweigh the trauma of either a church split (which damages churches for years to come) a powerplay by a faction in the church (which causes huge trauma to a church and a significant lack of trust) or not dealing with it at all which dooms the church to later issues.



What is needed for a healthy process is a willingness of the congregation to work together recognizing that how they handle their differences will either enhance or diminish the reputation of Jesus. If His reputation is at stake - and it is - I will do all I can to enhance it.





Additional blogs on church conflict:

Negotiating church conflict in a healthy manner

8 Reasons in my experience that churches experience major conflict

Church conflict: Finding the core issue and the common source

Seven things to understand about church conflict

Church conflict, christian character and the reputation of Jesus