Adoption is Hard Work

About two years ago we began the process of adopting two boys from Ethiopia. My wife has since read many an adoption blog, but they seem to all be from a woman's perspective. We're near the end of ours (unless getting them home is really the beginning) so mine won't be much in depth except on the tail end here. But I think it interesting to write down even if only for my own sake.

You first need to know that basically there are the following steps in adoption from Ethiopia:
1) apply to an adoption agency
2) pay exorbanent fees for a home study
3) turn in all kinds of crazy documents which are all difficult to obtain
4) recieve and accept a referral (pairing children with you)
5) fly to Ethiopia and attend a court date
6) fly back and pick up your kids

We were stalled between 4 and 5 for almost exactly one year. And it stank to high heaven because you start praying for your children the moment you begin the process, but once you've accepted a referral you know your kids are out there in an orphanage just waiting for you to go pick them up. And you want to. Quickly.

Some people wait a long time for a referral and then get their kids quickly thereafter. We did not have to wait long for a referral but our process since then has been long. And now we're stalled out between steps 5 and 6. We attended court two months ago and there has been no progress on our case. Basically we're waiting for one government office to issue approval and then we'll be weeks away from getting our kids home.

But this same approval is a large part of why we waited a year for our court date. It's surprisingly hard to obtain this approval.

So two weeks ago, sick of waiting with continued promises that it would be sorted out by "next week", I bought a one way ticket to Ethiopia and I got here on Wednesday last week. I should also mention a big part of my motivation to come is that all of our paperwork with the U.S. side of things will expire at the end of the month. Those documents can be renewed but its a long and expensive process.

So when I arrived on Wednesday the first thing I did (after swinging by to say hi to my boys of course) was head down to said government office and hang out for a while. I sat around, showed some pictures of my boys and my biological girls, and was able to convince them to move my file out of the archives and start working on it.

I know what you're thinking, why was it in the archives? I have no clue. Nor was I happy. But what can you do?

Well then they began work and then Thursday they requested a document that I obtained a year and a half ago but no one ever asked for. I had it faxed in and then it took two days to get it translated. But it turns out to get it authenticated I'll need to go get a new document and then have it processed through four different places all in different cities on two different continents.

Anyhow, if this really is needed then all our documents will expire and I'm out of here to head back home and get working on my documents. If for some reason they show mercy I may have my boys home in a few weeks.

So that's my situation. Let me tell you about my heart.

This process sucks. Royally sucks. I hate that I'm away from my wife and daughters for an ambiguous amount of time and that I can go see my boys, I can look at pictures and tickle them. But I can't Rambo them out of here. Not legally.

I've been praying the Lord would be at work in their hearts and minds and it seems He has been. I've been praying that the Lord would save them, because ultimately I'm not their savior. And I've been begging God to bring them home. And he hasn't yet. And I hate it. And I don't get it.

I feel like I've known a lot of people in places of waiting who say they feel like God is absent. But it's never felt that way to me. I feel like He is answering my other prayers. I feel like He's close and hearing me. I even feel like He's saying He has this situation under control. But it sure as stink doesn't feel like it to me. And I don't know what to make of it.

I heard a sermon that said "read God's promises back to Him", so I've been reading John 14:18, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." And I've been trying to remember Phillipians 4:4-7, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

And occasionally I get peace from God. And then other times I'm flipping out so bad I need a shot of alcohol just to fall asleep at night.

Tomorrow morning I'll be pleading. And pleading. And I have so little hope. I have faith that God CAN do something. I just am so unconvinced that he WILL. Because His timing in this has never lined up with mine.

But He did get my file out of the archives. He did get me here to be with and play with my boys. He did give me the two most awesome boys ever. And He has been working in their hearts and minds. I also believe that He will release them eventually, but I really really want it to be now. I want to stay a few more weeks with them and take them home. I don't want to leave them here.

This morning I read a bit in Deuteronomy 7,
"If you say in your heart, 'These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?' you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the LORD your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the LORD your God brought you out. So will the LORD your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. Moreover, the LORD your God will send hornets among them, until those who are left and hide themselves from you are destroyed. You shall not be in dread of them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. The LORD your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you. But the LORD your God will give them over to you and throw them into great confusion, until they are destroyed. And he will give their kings into your hand, and you shall make their name perish from under heaven. No one shall be able to stand against you until you have destroyed them."

I'm supposed to trust the Lord and watch Him provide. I'm supposed to remember all He has done before because He is awesome. And I'm supposed to recall how He holds the whole world in His hand. But too often I forget. And right now remembering doesn't set my heart at ease. It makes me believe absolutely that He has the power to do this. But I still question if He will or not. What I really want is for Him to open the gates to let my kids out, and to send hornets on anyone who stands in the way.

It's hard to wait. It's hard not knowing what the future holds. And part of what's been so hard about this adoption is we have been promised time and time again that there will be progress "next week" and unmet expectations are really tough.

So I pray, Lord give me grace to ponder and understand what you're doing. Because I don't get it. I don't want to wait until you do something to believe you're at work. But I don't know how to believe when I see no progress and my heart so vulnerable again and again. Have mercy on me and my boys and don't make me leave them again. Please please please please please.

(I should note this post was written about two weeks ago, but I just now have gotten around to posting it. Follow up soon.)

A Monologue with Matt

I've got this friend named Matt who has played a pretty significant role in my life. Matt and I met when we lived overseas in Jr. High. Our parent's both worked for the U.S. Embassy in a... um... very difficult country.

We pretty much spent every day together for two years, and I was massive liar before I knew Matt. It was during those two years that I really came to own my own faith as I was going through all kinds of crap in life. I started seeking the Lord pretty intensely and Matt was a big part of helping me figure that out.

Recently we haven't seen each other much. I saw him once right before I got married seven years ago, and he supported my wife and I for several years while he was still in school. Problems cropped up when through a bad connection and incompetence on my part I called to ask for some support and ended up being kind of an ass. We didn't talk for a while as I was still trying to figure out how to repair things and then a few months back I finally found him again online through his wife and apologized.

Intially he forgave me and then when I found out he wasn't really walking with the Lord anymore I got grumpy with him and probably burned whatever bridge we had just repaired. It was a knee-jerk reaction. How the heck does the guy who in a large part is responsible for me walking with the Lord, stop walking with the Lord? It's like a friend who talks you in to switching from Hanes to Fruit of the Loom undershirts and then a few years later you find out he's wearing Hanes.

Okay bad comparison, but you get the point.

So this is titled "Monologues with Matt" because I anticipate it being much more a monologue than a dialogue. I will also drop what I write up in to an email and send it his way, but I don't know that I anticipate him actually reading it, let alone engaging with it. I post it here because whether he interacts or not, we all have friends who have wrestled with their faith. I hope my processing some of these things will be helpful to your process in loving on your friends.

On the to the meat. First of all you should know Matt is brilliant. Like probably one of the most brilliant people I've ever known (if not THE most brilliant). Even when I'm seven miles in to a run and having wonderful delusions of granduer imagining myself as president of the United States, I still imagine hiring Matt as my main advisor because even when delusional, I still know he's brighter than me by a substantial margain.

To be honest I think a large part of his wrestling with his faith is probably due to his brilliance. That said I simply don’t buy the argument that some people are too smart for faith. There may be a large number of intellectuals who do not seek God, but there are also an awful lot who do. Some scientists find excuses for the lack of God in their work, but others see his outrageous artwork in creation. In my opinion it’s not that much different than the world of teachers or soccer players. There are believers and non-believers everywhere.

Romans says, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” - 1 Corinthians 1:22-24.  My understanding of this is that we all have our own excuses for what we want to see God provide, but frankly it’s just going to be foolishness to us unless we are called. Then it’s brilliance.

Part of what I wrestle with over this thing with Matt is that he was one of those people who found wonder in God everywhere he looked. Everything in life was informed by his love for the Lord, especially his intellect. Christ was the wisdom and power of God.

Recently I read a book about missionaries who lost their faith in the field. I also read a book about a former believer who fell in to mormonism. The thing they had in common was they stopped reading the Bible. I know that sounds simple, but in the latter the lady says very clearly that this is the reason she points to for her being confused (when she latter came back to the Lord). Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

The word is living and active. That is to say, the Bible is pretty tough. It has absolutely been my experience that reading the word is essential to continuing in my life in Christ. I may be way off, but I wonder how much of Matt’s questioning has come from stopping reading the word. And which actually came first? Matt, if you’re reading this I challenge you to spend some time reading the Bible and see anew what you think. The book is ridiculously brilliant. Maybe being in grad school and then post-grad school just made very little time for the Word. I don’t know.

Whatever you choose to do, please know buddy that I press this issue only because I really do genuinely love you, and it’s hard for me to hear what was once of utmost importance to you is now just a thing of your past. I tell people about Jesus for a living. I live in an uncomfortable place to do so. And you were an essential part of making me chase hard after the Lord. Miss you man.

I have every intention of buying you a beer in heaven. I don’t want you to just get there. I want to someday again see the Matt that would have stormed the gates.

The Worth and Cost of Humility

I've been chewing lately on the idea that the worth of humility really is worth the cost. I need to learn to pray more for it without fear.

Humility is something I've prayed for but only in fear. Fear of what the Lord would have to do to humble someone as prideful as me. Fear of being broken frankly. But the more I'm reading the word the more I'm seeing humility as an essential for any man of God. This may be obvious to you, but is just now slowly sinking in for me.

Is Your Church THE Church Universal?

Or a local expression of the Church universal?

And if the latter how should it look different from an isolated church that sees itself as the body instead of part of the body.

I think this is the root of frustration with a lot of ecclesiology I've seen. Have we ever even thought about what the church is? Or just how ours should be decorated and liturgically ordered?

Praying for the Lord's Work in Others

"I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him . . ." - Ephesians 1:16-17

A reminder that I need to be praying more for my new (and old) Christian friends that the Lord would give then wisdom and revelation. It's the Lord that grows them in to mature believers. Not me. My work is to pray.

So Long as God has Put it Into Our Hands - Fraser

I'm reading Mountain Rain, by James O. Fraser's daughter.
“A little thing is a little thing,” Hudson Taylor said. “But faithfulness in a little thing is a great thing.” 
At this time, James wrote: “It has come home to me very forcibly of late that it matters little what the work is in which we are engaged so long as God has put it into our hands.” 
He continued: "The temptation I have often had to contend with is persistent under many forms: “If only I were in such and such a position” for example, “shouldn’t I be able to do a great work! Yes, I am only studying engineering at present, but when I am in training for missionary work things will be different and more helpful.” Or “I am just in preparation at present, taking Bible courses and so on, but when I get out to China my work will begin.” “Yes, I have left home now, but I am only on the voyage, you know; when I am really in China, I shall have a splendid chance of service.” Or, “Well, here in the Training Home, all my time must be given to language study—how can I do missionary work? But when I am settled down in my station and able to speak freely, opportunities will be unlimited!” etc., etc. It is all if and when. I believe the devil is fond of those conjunctions. ... The plain truth is that the Scriptures never teach us to wait for opportunities of service, but to serve in just the things that lie next to our hands. ... The Lord bids us work, watch and pray; but Satan suggests, wait until a good opportunity for working, watching, and praying presents itself—and needless to say, this opportunity is always in the future ... Since the things that lie in our immediate path have been ordered of God, who shall say that one kind of work is more important and sacred than another?”

On Condemning Non-Believers for Their Sin (1 Cor 5:12)

"For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?
God judges those outside. 'Purge the evil person from among you.'" - 1 Corinthians 5:12-13

Here is specific instruction from the Lord that the sins of this world (sexual immorality in this context) are not acceptable to be found among us. But on the other side of the coin, and perhaps more importantly, we are not to be judging or disassociating ourselves with such people who are not in Christ. If we do not associate with such non-believers, who will love them? Who will demonstrate the love of Christ to them?

Yet the seeming standard of operation for believers these days is to do exactly the opposite. In the news, and even from the pulpit you see Christians denouncing non-believers for the sins of the world. When we should be loving and not judging them. Likewise American churches, especially small ones, seldom practice church discipline. If we don't, even a little sin can destroy us from the inside (see verses 6 and 7). Our judgement is to be inward focused, not outward. Our love is supposed to be in both areas, but outward focused love should be void of judgement.

Love those outside the Church. Judge and deal appropriately with those inside the Church. For those who God already has their soul, he now wants their whole. For those who he does not yet have, He wants their soul, not their sin first. If we do not know the Lord, what motivation have we to care about truth? We care to live lives honoring to God because we've seen His glory. But non believers need to see His glory and His love before they will desire to honor Him in their own lives (and thus mortify sin).

The inward focus, which includes discipline, is to encourage the Holy Spirit to be at work in the lives of those in the church — thus improving our witness. The outward focus, which does not include discipline, is to love without condition, so others may know how Christ has loved us.

Foolish Words

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. - Proverbs 18:21
I've been fond of words for as long as I can remember. It started out so bad that when I was 6 or 7 I went through a phase where I made every sentence rhyme; even if it produced nonsense as a result. This went on until my brother mocked me mercilessly out of the habit. But my love for words didn't die out.

Later I submitted a poem in fifth grade to a state competition titled, "Ninja Mom", for which I won some kind of rare stone I gave to my mother as a gift. In sixth grade my best friend and I started a small weekly publication called "The Stupidest Questions Ever" and we reached a circulation of about 50 between our two schools. We never made any money, but we were very impressed at people's interest in the things we wrote, no matter how seemingly unimportant.

With the discovery of the internet (I like to think of it as discovered rather than invented) by Al Gore, it is easier than ever to write and gain an audience.

About 5 years ago I began to blog right here for the first time with regularity. And six months later a good friend and I began The Sieve and the Sand, where many folks have been writing absurd amounts of mediocre poetry for years now. And I love it. Way more people than I ever imagined read my writing now (small beans by web standards but nonetheless). My most popular post of all time has become a write up I did on how to plant a church.

I am by far not the most qualified person to be writing about church planting, but people listen because I write regularly and therefore Google confused me with someone who knows something. And words have power.

A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. - Proverbs 15:4
And therein lies the problem, words have power. There is a good chance that girl I called ugly in front of my whole elementary school class never forgot what I said. After seeing the look on her face I never did either. Because while I meant very little to her, my words had power — terrible power.

This is why I am thankful for a little intervention my friends had with me yesterday. You can always be thankful before the Lord for friends who will call you out on your foolishness and do so lovingly.

These two friends sat me down to tell me I've been too fast and loose with my words. The tipping point was offending (unintentionally, but still) one of their brothers-in-law. But that was just the tipping point, the problem ran much deeper.

One friend said to me, "You desire to be known for your words. That will probably happen because of your personality. But what kind of words will you be known for?"

That hurt, in a good way, but nonetheless it's hard to be reminded I've been an ass with my words.

The other friend said, "You're overly bold because you think you can repair things later. So you don't worry about offending people now. And that's dangerous because someday you won't be able to repair things."

Both of these comments seriously hit home for me. I'm pretty fast and lose with my words because I am offended by so little I assume everyone else is the same way, even though I know that isn't the case. And I've always been able to repair things later if I messed up and been aware of it. But I haven't always been aware of it, and continuing to act like this will certainly hurt my witness.

Actually, the issue is not new. It isn't new to either of the friends who sat me down to talk about it, and it's been the primary issue in my marriage. My wife wishes I used my words better, and I often foolishly argue back that I do "just fine." If I were just a guy who didn't know Jesus I think I might be okay with that, but as a person seeking His glory and His Kingdom I want to get my act together.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. - James 1:26
I've written before about the hurt caused to me by a close friend in High School who basically told me he wasn't going to be my friend anymore. This happens to girls much more than men, but it nevertheless happened to me. And I was pretty devastated. In retrospect I think there is a good chance that it was my carelessness with my words (among other things) which drove that friend to frustration, and eventually ending our friendship.

Sadly, the very night my friend told me he was done with me, I offended another person. There was a girl hanging out with a bunch of us that night who was to turn out to be one of my best friends for many years. And I recall the look on her face that night, and it was not a happy face as I stood in a large crowd with many of my other closest friends — people around whom I completely let my guard down. Later that night she needed a ride home and I offered to drive her because I could tell I had rubbed her the wrong way. On the car ride home I was able to discuss some deep things with her and even pray for her a good bit before I got her home.

Years later she told me how angry she was with me that night, and how had I not driven her home and won her over, there is a good chance she would have never talked to me again. And she turned out to be one of my best friends! I've often looked at it as an example of being able to right my wrongs with my tongue, even arguing that it's better to make a mistake and apolgize than to never mess up. But especially after the discussion yesterday I no longer think that. Now I see it as a prime example of how I can mess things up with important relationships if I'm not careful.

Ever since that friend told me she almost never talked to me again, I have been much more careful with women than with guys. I work much harder to see that I've won them over before I proceed to make jokes with them.

But I'd like to shift gears, and care about the impact my words are making with everyone. It's true, I desire to be known by my words. I write terribly imperfectly, but I hope the words impact people and point them to Jesus. I speak terribly foolishly, but I hope my foolishness is exclusive to my attempts at loving people.

I definitely feel I'm called to speak boldly and often where no one else is willing. I won't always strike a good balance between speaking painful truth and doing it lovingly, but I certainly need to try. I'm incredibly thankful for my friends and their discussing this with me, and I hope I manage to take it to heart as well as actually change. I hope I understand the value of my words, the power of my words for good and evil, and I hope as a result I find better how to be like Christ with my words.

Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near - Philippians 4:5 (NASB)

On Praying a Whole Lot, and Confusing Seeking God With Selfish Pride

We pray our brains off, as a team, every day for an hour. We could pray even more I suppose. But this seems like a good balance as it is ridiculous prayer and then also leaves lots of time to go do the things for which we asked the Lord's help.

Sometimes, like many things though, it becomes about us. Yes, we truly do believe that a team of seven people can't begin to transform a city (our attempted vision) of seven million without serious intervention from the Holy Spirit. And yes, we truly believe what James Fraser said is right, "Solid, lasting missionary work is done on our knees."

And while we believe those things, we also get praised for praying so much. And then we start to think, "Yea, we're pretty smart people to pray." Or we look down our noses at the "less spiritual".

And it's embarrassing really to be so foolish. But thankfully we know the solution. Prayer. Talking with God is the solution to an awful lot, because God is good at convicting us of sin. And laughing at our foolishness; sometimes loudly enough we can't ignore the laughter.

We pray because we're not supposed to be anxious in anything, but rather, "by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [we want our] requests [to] be made known to God." (Phil 4:6). And we pray because we believe "the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven." (Jas 5:15)

We pray because we know it is powerful. We pray because we believe the Creator of the universe hears our prayers. And sometimes we pray because it sinfully supports our foolish pride. But the Lord ridiculously faithfully answers our prayers, even though we don't always have our act together.

And it's awesome.

Think and Smoke Tobacco, a Puritan Poem

In vain th' unlighted pipe you blow;
Your pains in inward means are so,
            'Till heav'nly fire
            Thy heart inspire.
      Thus think, and smoke tobacco.
We're as useless without the Holy Spirit as an unlighted pipe. The rest of the poem is fantastic as well.

Principles of Church Government

I recently finished reading two different books on church government, one from a Baptist (congregationalist) perspective and one from a Presbyterian. I know there are many views on church government besides these two. But while there are differing views on the big issues, in my opinion a lot of the differences arise because of how we define a "church"; i.e. is it in a city, or a one meeting location, or a district, or what?

If "church" is just a meeting location under one roof then it's government will clearly look different than if "church" is understood as all the believers in one city. If the former is your understanding then I can understand the Baptist system of government, and if the latter, then the Presbyterian conclusions make sense to me as well. What frustrated me about both of the books I read is that they both basically address the issue, then state that the Bible doesn't tell us specifically how to understand the local church, though it says a lot about the Church universal; but then both seemed to just ignore the ambiguity and draw the conclusions that make most sense to their understanding.

My opinion is that both are acceptable understandings if you understand how the conclusions are reached. Both sides truly believe they are being faithful to the word which is about as much as we can ask. Obviously at the end of the day you end up going with one method or the other. But in my opinion the more important thing is not attempting to find the perfect method (because there isn't a perfect method as long as there is fallible man), but rather, demonstrating love for others with differing views.

To introduce yourself saying, "Hi, I'm Bob and I'm a Presbyterian," is basically inherently divisive. It's a bit like saying, "Hi, I'm Bob and I thinking spanking children is unacceptable." Just by stating this viewpoint out the gate you're more saying what you disagree with rather than what you agree with. Identifying as a presby or a congregationalist is not a bad thing, in the same way having an opinion about disciple is necessary. When people ask you about how you discipline your children you absolutely have freedom to share, in the same way when people ask you about your view of government is appropriate to answer. But I think as believers we could be a lot more careful in how we look down our noses in our self identification.

That said, I think there are some principles which both views can (and in my opinion all views should) agree upon.

1) There should be multiple elders. A single person in leadership has much too much potential to go bad; if man were not sinful one leader would be fine. (Notice the plural nature of the word elders in Acts 14:23 and Acts 15).

2) Leadership is not be a lording-over-others leadership, but servant leadership. (Ezekiel 34:1-10, and Matthew 20:26 amongst others).

3) Leaders must be passionate lovers of Christ, His church (people), and the Word. (How can they lead if they don't obey the Great Commandment? Matthew 22:36-40)

4) Leaders must meet the Biblical requirements of character. (See the Timothys and Titus)

Notice this does not list education requirements for leaders or those in church government.

As an aside I'd state, Jesus didn't have an MDiv. You may argue he had a great education, but many people with great educations are not allowed in church leadership because they don't have a paper with those 4 letters hanging on the wall. If Jesus himself couldn't walk in to your church and be qualified for leadership I'd suggest you have some issues. 

Lessons on Leading

I've been in ministry now full time for several years, and have been leading for about 4 years. I'm shocked at how much I'm still learning about it, but how much I also think all of the main ideas can be boiled down to just a few a things. So without further ado...

Things I've learned and would say I believe about leadership at a relatively young age:

1) Numbers are only useful tools for evaluation and should never be the end in themselves. Frequently, even when used for evaluation, the heart of the issue is missed completely in favor of pleasing others above you with numbers. That is to say, having respectable numbers are easier to report your bosses, even if being completely faithful to what the Lord would have you be doing doesn't produce hardly anything for numbers.

2) My level of satisfaction with what I and my team are doing is barely related to what they are actually doing and directly related to my walk with the Lord. When I'm satisfied in the Lord I'm satisfied in my team and their ministry. I believe this is at least partially related to the fact that when I'm tuned in to the Lord I'm (a) setting a good example to them for dependance on the Lord (our number 1 priority as ministers) and (b) better able to love them out of the overflow I'm experiencing with the Lord.

3) My primary role as a leader in ministry is to love the people the Lord has entrusted me with. This starts with my team, and is secondarily followed by locals involved in the ministry.

4) Calling people to better chase passionately after the Lord is one of the most rewarding, effective, and awesome ministries which can be done just about anywhere with anyone.

5) My foolish pride (not that there are other kinds... but still) is often my biggest obstacle to leading well.

Set Free for Freedom's Sake — for Goodness Sake (Gal 5:1)

"For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." - Galatians 5:1

Last week I met a good buddy for lunch. He became a believer about 7 years ago, and then was involved with a cult for 5 years. Two years ago he left that cult through immense spiritual warfare (as you can imagine), married his girlfriend, got his life together and sought the Lord. He spent the first year out of that craziness telling me about how obvious it was that the church he used to be in was filled with lies.

Well when I met him last week he told me was considering going back. I was devastated... I love this guy. How can he go back to something he so clearly knew was wrong? I am reminded of the quotes I posted recently from the book "Out of Mormonism" where the author clearly states she was lured in to Mormonism because she stopped reading her Bible. And that's what my friend had done.

So for the last 7 days he and I have been reading through Galatians and I've been chewing specifically on this verse. Christ came to set us free. More specifically he set us free for the very specific purpose of freedom. How awesome is that?

And how foolish are we to return again to a yoke of slavery? In just mentioning this briefly to my friend yesterday he sort of laughed, "Yea," he said of his old church, "they have an absurd number of rules that don't seem Biblical at all." And they certainly aren't for freedom.

The longer I tell people about Jesus the more I'm convinced that one of the most significant ways we as believers are supposed to be different from the world around us is our lifestyle of freedom. We are supposed to be free indeed; that is, after all, why Christ set us free.

No one who is set free from prison runs immediately across the street to another prison and asks to be put back in the chains he's grown so accustomed to. And yet Christ releases us, and then we run back to enslavement because we're too foolish to stand up and dance, rejoicing in our liberty.

Teaching Pant-less Preachers

The following text is slightly modified from a recent prayer letter I sent out to our supporters, uniquely qualified to fill a space here:

A few weeks ago on a Wednesday afternoon a local pastor came down for an afternoon training. He walked in to our little office and took his pants off. Just laid them over the chair like it was nothing and sat down in his boxers to study. I've been walking him through one of the materials our team offers, hoping he can learn it well enough to offer the training in his church. But this is the first time I've been in the presence of a pant-less pastor while teaching.

While we've been here a while now, and less and less seems to surprise me, I suppose there are still a number of cultural things I just simply wont ever understand.

The next week I had the opportunity to preach at the same pastor's house church. This isn't actually something I've done very often. While I teach a lot, I seldom have opportunity to preach. One of the things I love about teaching the Bible is the way it requires me to really dive in to it for a while and pull out something that works on my heart. So that morning I spoke on Psalm 1.

I cant share everything I spoke about in this little of a space, but the part the Lord really used to work in my heart is related to the righteous person being planted by streams of water. While I've read this chapter many times, it had never sunk in just how significant it is that we as believers receive our life from a completely different source than the world.

Most people around us depend on themselves for everything. They're taught that this isn't just the way things are, but that it's also inherently good to not need others. Some people call religion, or even Jesus, a crutch. Something to lean on so you don't have to support yourself. It's such an apt description.

The beauty of this passage is that we are the righteous ones. We are not planted by the stream of water because we're awesome, but rather because Christ is awesome. We are righteous despite our unrighteousness because of the work of Christ (praise the Lord for the Gospel). And as a result this whole Psalm is not a burden-giving directive, but rather is a burden-relieving promise. We will bear fruit, because our life source is constant. We could attempt to live on our own strength, but it would be pretty foolish when our life source is the stream we were graciously planted beside.

The Holy Spirit lives in us, empowers us, strengthens us, and communes with us. And feeding us we have the Word of God; the life-breathing, liberty-giving, good news of our God's great love for His people. All because Christ is awesome.

I've been chewing on this truth for some time now. How the Lord uses us despite our foolishness, sometimes in hilarious pant-less situations. How He feeds us from His word despite our ignorance. How He gives us the strength to live, love others, and minister despite our constant weakness and baseless fear the stream will dry up.
Anyhow, I've been blessed recently as I've dwelled on my source of life being the Lord and His Word. I hope it's a blessing to you as well.

And if ever I find myself teaching a 60 year old man who has pastored a church for 33 years while he lounges around in his boxers again, I hope I'm just as humbled by it as I was the first time. I also hope the Lord continues to bless us with such ridiculous opportunity because of His grace, mercy, and willingness to bear fruit through such a strange looking tree planted by His stream of life.

Power and Weakness (2 Cor 12)

"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." - 2 Cor 12

I've been dwelling a lot on this verse over the last six months, largely because I've been so awful weak. I've been sick as sick can be, and often right in the midst of the sickness is when the Lord shows up and intends for me to do ministry. I hate it because I hate feeling week. I've been a missionary for some time now and frankly, while it isn't perfect, my language is mighty good. I can speak clearly. Communicate well. Speak encouraging words. Share what I've learned from the word. Even my prayers in the native tongue are more and more eloquent (yes I know this is ridiculous). So weakness is unsettling.

The first year I was here, back when I couldn't communicate anything more than a very poorly accented "hello", I still saw an outrageous amount of fruit. I was weak and God showed up because He had to, because I was too incompetent to do anything but stare at my friends and smile unless He was at work. He showed because I needed Him to.

Now I depend on myself much too much. Though, I have grown to see things like colds as opportunities to watch the Lord do significant things. And when my friends are sick, or otherwise weak for another reason, I almost look down at them for feeling weak instead of strong in the Lord.

I know, I'm an ass sometimes (read: frequently).

Then this week something new happened. I got an absurdly painful infection right in my manhood. (One of the advantages of blogging psudonymously is this is easier to admit when you don't know me). And you know what this infection did? Well, for one thing it didn't offer me opportunity to minister out of weakness. In fact it didn't hardly give me opportunity to stand up. If I wasn't laying down I was in excruciating pain.

Last night I got up from the couch to walk to the bedroom and I had to lay in the fetal position for about 4 minutes just to overcome the urge to cry.

This is a different kind of weakness. A much bigger weakness. I have no idea what Paul was struggling with (his "thorn"), maybe he couldn't even walk around without experiencing overwhelming pain. But I do know pain like this has certainly given me an appreciation for people who live with it chronically. It's also awaken me to my mortality a bit (though I still think of myself as young and invincible).

I'm trying to lean in the direction of looking forward to aging and the ways the Lord will use me despite my frailty. I don't know if I'm getting there though.

But I think I see the point. My strength won't last forever. And the sooner I can get good at leaning on the Lord instead of my own competence, the sooner the Lord will be accomplishing God sized things through me. I don't want to be 70 and falling apart before I start leaning on the Lord again.

That said, it sure feels like I'm standing in a gym looking at a heavy barbell I think I might just be able to lift, and the Lord's saying, "I got this." It's hard to let Him sometimes, but other times my balls hurt so bad I can't stand up to try. And then I stand back (or lay back, as the case may be) and watch God pick up the whole gym.

Goodness our strength is pathetic, our foolishness blinding, and the Lord's grace is outrageous. Praise the Lord for the good news of our undeserved salvation, for the gospel.

Out of Mormonism

I got Out of Mormonism on Gospel eBooks a little while back, but just now started reading it. Goodness. I'll quote a section here at length about the temple cleansing and the special underwear you get to wear as an lds. I don't know about you, but I get even more excited about Mitt Romney thinking of him wearing a special underwear that  he received from the momos.
A female temple worker told me to remove my clothing as she handed me a white garment called a shield. I stood naked in a private cubicle and slipped the shield over my head. It looked like a sheet with a hole in it for my head, open on either side. Other women wearing shields sat on benches waiting their turn in the washing and anointing room. We didn't look at or speak to each other. We stared straight ahead with blank expressions on our faces.  
At this point, I vaguely remember being told I would now be prepared, "cleansed from the blood and sins of this generation." The moments that followed are blocked from my memory. But after I listened to the actual tape recordings of the temple ritual, I now know that a woman temple worker wets her hand in water and ceremonially washes every part of your body. She reaches under the shield lightly touching each body part as she recites words of the ceremony. 
After the washing with water, I was led into another part of the room and seated on a throne-like chair. Another temple worker poured drops of oil from a large horn onto my head and into her own hand. Then she anointed each part of my body with oil to prepare me to become a "queen and a priestess unto the Most High God, hereafter to rule and reign in the House of Israel forever. 
I didn't feel like a queen-in-waiting; I felt defiled, ashamed, and bewildered. 
After the cleansing and anointing procedure, I received my special underwear. 
"Sister Robertson, having authority, I place this garment upon you," the temple worker's arms reached under the shield, pulling the nylon one-piece undergarment on me. "It represents the garment given to Adam when he was found naked in the garden of Eden, and is called the garment of the holy priesthood." 
The garment covered me from neckline to cap sleeves and down, reaching to just above my knees. I felt uncomfortable and claustrophobic. "Inasmuch as you do not defile it, but are true and faithful to your covenants, it will be a shield and a protection to you against the power of the destroyer until you have finished your work on earth." I was told I must wear this garment of the holy priesthood next to my skin, even under ordinary underwear constantly, day and night, throughout my life. 
"With this garment, I give you a new name, which you should always remember and which you must keep sacred, and never reveal except at a certain place that will be shown you hereafter." The temple worker whispered in my ear, "Your name is Augusta." 
The washing and anointing procedure was supposed to cleanse me from the blood and sins of this generation. And yet I had been baptized eighteen years earlier in a Disciples of Christ Christian church, in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins.
Needless to say the book is very very interesting. It gets better too, as it delves in to the actual temple ceremony. The author's background as a cultural Christian is fascinating as she vaguely recalls what the Bible actually says throughout hearing the slight twist on the truth as the story progresses.

Also, as a person who watched a very close friend in High School leave the mormon church, I can attest to the terror involved. My friend was near suicidal for weeks following because of the terrible pressure that was asserted on her after leaving.

In Theory....

In theory, you preach to the gospel to those who are willing to hear it, and there will be significant, long-lasting, positive change.

Best Books Ever

I moved my sidebar around a little bit, so the following will be a permanent feature. But I wanted to include a post about this.

The following are the books I wish I had written, they're are not just brilliant, but incredibly pointed, bold, and God honoring. They are all available free (except their Amazon Links), I've gotten them off of Google Books, or or elsewhere. The best I can tell they are all public domain books (if for some reason you think otherwise let me know, I'll just remove the link), and therefore you are also free to distribute them.

I'm a huge fan in a big way of all of these though I only posted briefly about each.

Do Not Say: The Church's Reasons for Neglecting the Heathen, by James Heywood Horsburgh.
A Serious Call to Missions
EPUB (iBooks), MOBI (Kindle), PDF, Amazon

This book is an in-your-face call to stop making excuses and just go!

Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours, by Roland Allen.
A Missionary's (or minister's) Handbook
EPUB (iBooks), MOBI (Kindle), Amazon, Online

This is the book I wish I had read before entering the field. I knew most of what he had to say, but unfortunately I learned it the hard way. There are also some wonderful principles about preaching, evangelism, etc... which would be applicable to every Christian, but especially the minister.

Secret Power: The Secret of Success in Christian Life and Work, by D. L. Moody.
You NEED the Holy Spirit
EPUB (iBooks), MOBI (Kindle), Amazon

I mentioned before that this is the book Francis Chan tried to write about the Holy Spirit, but didn't. Moody nails it almost all the way through (the last 3-5 pages are a little weird). We need the Holy Spirit for just about everything as Christians, and yet we ignore it.

I pray these books are as big of a blessing to you as they were to me.

Vain Discussion. Theological Crusaders. Morons Like Us. (1 Tim 1:5-7)

"The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions." - 1 Timothy 1:5-7

The point of Paul's teaching is love. Love. And yet there are those who study the word so that they can teach the word, and they don't realize the whole point is love. Love.

There are more than a few people who have wandered away from good teaching and instead have become caught up in vain discussion. I'm fascinated by how many people I know who come out of reading a book, or a seminary class, or whatever, and lose the whole point. Instead of them better chasing Christ — loving Christ — they instead chase foolish controversy or vain discussion. I myself am not above this, I have been caught up in the very same thing.

In almost every situation, or especially theological arguments, both sides of both arguments have much smarter and more knowledgable people than you or I. But we make confident assertions without understanding. This is fine if we're playing a game like RISK, and we're foolishly speaking confidently about a winning strategy. But this is life, eternity, and the love of Christ we should be preaching, it is not a simple game void of eternal consequence.

What is the aim of your charge? A few more Calvinists? Converting a church to congregationalism? The color of the walls in the sanctuary? Whether or not the pastor should be using notes, or the band drums?

Or is it like Paul who says, "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith."

Mmmmm.... Sound teaching. Love. Sincere faith.

Who Killed Men's Hats ➙

A hundred years ago — and that's when this picture was taken, in 1912 — men didn't leave home without a hat. Boys wore caps. 
A subject closer and closer to my heart, as I quickly grow more and more bald.

On Methodology

If you have to pick a method, pick one which enables you to leave at any time without adverse effects. The best model I know of for this leans heavily on the side of support. Support what already exists and focus immediately on raising up leaders under the leaders you're supporting. The next generation of leaders is of utmost importance, and calling people to focus on reproduction is never a bad call.

Lead leaders. Bless pastors. Encourage those already in ministry. If you feel called to plant your own church submit yourself to the authority of another pastor, and call others to do the same. In this you will knit together the church in an area, or in a country and begin to be a blessing to the church as a whole.

Methodology is of little importance. At the end of the day you will find you have to choose a "how". But I'm more and more convinced if you are consistently dependent on the Holy Spirit your method is of little importance. All of our methods are influenced by the fall. Some more than others — certainly. At the end of the day however, it's just a matter of how willing we are to allow the Holy Spirit to work through our foolishness. How much do we let Him in?

There is only one thing we can "do" which has nearly certain results, and that is to pray. Because prayer causes us to be dependent on the Holy Spirit. Prayer reminds us of our utter incompetence and desperate need for divine intervention in all we're doing. That's how we can be sure it is helpful.

If I were to write a history of what I've been learning over the last year or two it would be two or three pages on correct methodology, followed by one page of the Lord telling me my methodology will only ever be of secondary importance. The Holy Spirit. This alone is of primary importance.

To quote Ghoti Hook (in their brilliance)
"God god god god god god god
 God god god god god god god
God god god
Whoo hoo"

Leader vs. Elder or Overseer

My ESV only uses the English word "leader" twice in the New Testament. One is specifically in reference to Jesus:
"God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins" - Acts 5:31 
And the other is a warning to him who sees himself as a leader. That he should become as one who serves.
"But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves." - Luke 22:26
This is pertinent because when we read Titus, or the Timothys and read about the qualifications for elders and overseers, it's interesting to consider our cultural understandings (or perhaps misunderstandings) of these words.

A leader has authority over people. An elder is an example, not a leader. His role is to speak and live truth. How is that different from your concept of a leader? Or, perhaps more importantly, how proud are you to be a leader instead of an elder? And what do you find in the scripture about the kind of person you should be? Maybe the Bible is clear about it in Acts 5:31. Then again, I've yet to look at the original words to see how they're translated... Thoughts?

On Our Ways and Motivations (Proverbs 16:2)

The other day I was reading Proverbs (something which I do far too infrequently) and read this verse:

"All the ways of man are pure in his own eyes,
but the Lord weighs the spirit" - 16:2

It had me thinking of how we make our plans and think what we're doing is wise when in fact, our motivations are seldom (if ever) good.

For most of us we believe what we are doing is good or we would not do it, but only the Lord can know, weigh, and judge our spirit. To know where our hearts truly are.

Then later, in verse 7 it says, "When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes his enemies to be at peace with him."

Outside of a time of war this may seem insignificant, but what it says is that a man's ways CAN please the Lord. So at least occasionally man can do something out of good intention. Probably not without the help of the Lord but nonetheless, I found this to be an encouragement.

Maybe Your Church Sucks Because It Lacks the Holy Spirit

I just finished Francis Chan's Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit. To be honest I wasn't overwhelmingly impressed. I think the premise was good, but I also think people who are neglecting the Holy Spirit needed more of a kick in the back-side than he provided...

That said the interesting part of the book was in the introduction:
“If I were Satan and my ultimate goal was to thwart God’s kingdom and purposes, one of my main strategies would be to get churchgoers to ignore the Holy Spirit. The degree to which this has happened (and I would argue that it is a prolific disease in the body of Christ) is directly connected to the dissatisfaction most of us feel with and in the church. We understand something very important is missing. The feeling is so strong that some have run away from the church and God’s Word completely. 
I believe that this missing something is actually a missing Someone – namely, the Holy Spirit. Without Him, people operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-sized results. The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation. And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit. But when believers live in the power of the Holy Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.”
I've read many books lately which argue, "There is something wrong with the church today and we all know it." Of course then each book attempts to address the issue from a different angle. Some think our preaching is lacking, either because it's not expository preaching, or because it's over 20 minutes long. Some think we shouldn't be "preaching" from the front at all, but rather our problem is that we aren't doing church like the first century Christians.

I've entertained several of these ideas and think many of them pose helpful suggestions. But at the end of the day I'm not completely convinced. However Chan's argument that what the church today is missing is God Himself (or more specifically the Holy Spirit) well... that's a pretty convincing argument. We do attempt to do church on our own strength. We preach methodology and more methodology when it might be that all we really need is the Lord.

The evidence for this being the case, in my opinion, is in the fact that the Lord is using churches with all kinds of methodologies. The guy from the inner city preaches to the church in the suburbs about how the Lord would use them if they would just move to the inner city. Or the minister from nowhere Africa says, "If you guys would just do church like the folks in the desert in Africa, then you would understand."

But the truth is the Lord is using all sorts of churches. Granted many are failing as well (perhaps those void of the Holy Spirit). But all over, in just about every broken model of church, God is at work.

God is at work and I think this is because the Holy Spirit is big enough to work through our broken models. But are we big enough to allow Him in?

For the record I'm not convinced you have to be a charismatic church to let the Spirit work. I think the Spirit is even big enough to work with people who are quite uncomfortable with Him. Just so long as they're aware of the fact that they're uncomfortable, and open with God about their understanding — seeking Him anyhow.

He is Risen Indeed

Lest I let Easter pass without mention: how stinking awesome is it that we worship a God who was willing to humble Himself enough to come live with us? To put up with our foolishness face to face, eat our fallen food and use our stinky toilets? How awesome is it that He gave up His life as the ultimate sacrificial lamb for the sake of offering us again a relationship with Him?

How amazing is it that Jesus conquered the grave? Rolled the stone away and walked out in an act so ridiculous many never believed Him? How awesome is it that Christ led the way and now we have hope for life even after death? For our sins to not be counted against us?

Holy snap this is good news.

He is risen!

The Newspaper is Dead

I don't write about tech stuff often (ever), though I read about it a lot. For that reason I considered submitting the following post elsewhere, but then I realized my opinion is not revered enough, nor are my thoughts innovative enough to warrant much for readership. And with that wonderful disclaimer, have yourself a treat:

The newspaper dead. I know you know this because you've read about it. Probably online. But I don't just mean the tree-destroying paper-pile we all loved as children because the print stuck so clearly to Silly Putty. I'm not talking just about that. I mean the news as we know it is dead. And here's how I know. I subscribed to The Daily for a week. The Daily is awesome, but at the end of the day it's nothing more than a reminder of a broken system.

The problem with the news is all the articles I don't care to read. And more than that, just about any writer worth reading is writing for their own website these days. I get my significant tech news from Techmeme, or Hacker News. And I listen to the NPR broadcast in the morning because it's under five minutes and keeps me tuned in to the world outside of tech.

But my RSS feed brings me Grubes, Shawn Blanc, a few theology writers, a poetry blog I read (and write for), and one or two friends of mine who happen to be excellent writers. I also have a feed from a Diigo account a friend of mine posts interesting articles to. And I read my RSS feeds ravenously every morning, several times throughout the day, and right before bed.

Reeder is the best publication I've ever known. Because it's 100% tailored to me, and because for (what is for me) the first time in RSS history, it is as beautiful as a regular publication; not to mention much much cleaner.

And Reeder isn't the only app. My wife doesn't know what RSS is, but with 15 minutes of my setting up a Google Reader account, and linking it to her Flipboard, she has never looked back. My wife adores Flipboard, and I'm sure she isn't alone. She subscribes to 0 paper magazines. To her credit she does occasionally buy some used magazines off some friends, but thats just so she can give our daughters something to cut up and glue when they're playing. She used to still need a few around for decorating inspiration, but Pinterest filled that final need. You could almost say it was the final pin in the coffin (publications may be dying, but cheese is still going strong).

But back to The Daily for a moment. This was the shining last hope for the news industry old guard. And it really is very very good — good looking, well written etc...  But no one who has an opinion I actually care about writes for them. Maybe I could grow attached to a writer or two over time but what is the point of trying? We have become loyal to people, and no longer loyal to publications. It's a strange shift, but very real.

Also, did I mention The Daily takes forever to download unless you're on a great network connection? Reeder takes about 15 seconds even when connectivity is slow.

The news industry is out. News is here to stay. The writers will stay, their publishers are simply no longer needed.

The news is out because:
1) There is too much fluff in the old news we don't care about and it's no longer necessarily bundled with the parts we do.
2) We've switched our loyalty from publications to individual writers. Tailored news includes writing from many different sources, including our friends.
3) RSS is a strange acronym, but things like Flipboard have made an understanding of it unnecessary. And apps like Reeder challenge 'big news' in beauty and usability.
4) RSS is fast. 
RSS has been around for a long time and people have been predicting it's takeover of the old news for a long time. It's actually happening now, and we're just now figuring out how to make the details invisible to the folks doing the reading. And it's brilliant.

Pride in Sharing the Gospel or, My Foolishness On Glorious Display

Recently I was sharing the gospel with a couple of church leaders at a church which was in pretty bad shape. Actually sharing is probably the wrong word, I was almost yelling to be perfectly honest. I had asked them their understanding of the gospel and they shared their explanation — all of which was correct, but completely lacking heart. FYI: if you can talk about how Jesus' death and resurrection affect your life without being moved by it, there is a good chance your church is in trouble.

Anyhow, there I am yelling that the gospel is supposed to be good news — the best news — not a drab story. Because its not about us, it's about how we can do absolutely nothing because it's already been done. I'm telling these pastors it's okay they feel like they aren't good enough because they genuinely aren't. But Christ is! And that's the good news. I rant for a while and I think what I said was encouraging.

So then I turn to my teammate and he looks at me and says, "That was awesome", and then I light up. "Man I'm good at preaching the gospel," I think! Oh my foolishness. I'm preaching the gospel one second, and truly believing it. Then the next second I'm denying it in my heart by thinking prideful thoughts. How can you (and by "you" clearly I mean "me") find pride in telling someone it's all about God instead of man?

There is no room for pride in the gospel, because the heart of the gospel message is our insufficiency. And the sufficiency of Christ alone.

I'm not sure I've been this embarrassed by anything I've done in ministry since I got a D in Gospels at seminary.

Thank goodness my foolishness is atoned for. Praise the Lord for the Gospel.

What Kind of Leadership Does It Take?

The other day in talking with a friend this discussion came up. It is admittedly a bit odd, but I wanted to write it down more for my own sake than anything.

Do you ever wonder about what kind of a leader it takes to do a certain thing? For example, and this is a terrible one, Saddam Hussein. Sometimes it seems like you just need a Saddam in order to run Iraq. No other kind of leader can do it. It has to be someone with an iron grip, and little or no morals. Does this mean you leave him in control just so things can stay somewhat under control (I recognize this is relative at best)?

Or what about the leader of our organization? Maybe our company has succeeded at mission as much as it has because we've had overpowering leaders. Maybe they were walking with the Lord but it was actually their faults or sins that lead to the growth we've seen, because the patterns they set in place allow for growth in numbers, but not necessarily success in the Lord's eyes.

What would you do if you were a leader of a large organization and you discovered that making changes in your organization to be more Christ-like meant that your organization would lose people? Shrink? Produce smaller numbers? Does the organization you work for have the balls to make such changes?

The real question boils down to what you or your organization are willing to sacrifice to be in Gods will.

I sometimes wonder if our organization is as "successful" as it is because it's not as holy as it could be.

Business vs. Ministry: Legacy

Steve Jobs passed away recently. Apparently what he left behind is the most valuable company in the world. I'm thankful for his impact. I love my iPhone. I love my Mac. And my Apple stock is the only thing on which I haven't lost money in the last 6 years. His legacy is his products. His legacy is the company. And his legacy is his fame. He will forever be known as one of the boldest, craziest, most driven leaders in history. He basically invented the personal computer, and then what will probably be the future (or demise) of the PC — the tablet.

But what should the legacy be of one who is in ministry? I'd argue that what we'd love to leave behind is one or two Timothys. Maybe a Titus. Our ministry may have minimal impact (in contrast to Apple), but would still have been of outrageous success if it produced one man who would seriously carry the torch for Christ. If we can be even a small part of raising up someone who will dramatically impact the Kingdom, it is a huge deal.

The thing which makes these two different from one another is who recognizes the legacy. For the businessman, he needs the world to recognize him. For the minister, if no one in the world ever knows his name or his impact, that is no big deal, as long as Christ knows what he's done.

The minister lives to glorify his Savior in eternity. The businessman live to be glorified themselves, preferrably before they die.

The legacy the businessman seeks is tangible. A product or an impact that can be seen and felt, and most importantly, recognized my man.
The legacy the minister seeks may not be tangible. It is a person or an impact that will be recognized by his Savior.

Business vs. Ministry: Leadership

Maybe the differences are obvious to you when it comes to leadership in the business and leadership in the church, but the books on our shelves in the local libraries and the books in our churches don't make it clear that people are aware of the distinction. What makes the two different?

In business you need a visionary leader who is driven and passionate about what he's doing. In ministry vision casting is great, passion is necessary, and leadership isn't inherently a dirty word, but the two look very different.

The businessman needs to rally others to his cause. He needs his whole company to catch a similar vision and get on board so they're all driven to the same thing. If people aren't on board with what the company is doing then they need to be pushed out the back door.

In ministry the leader needs to be rallying everyone to Christ. Casting vision for specific ministries is great, but when someone isn't on board they aren't pushed out the back door (or at least shouldn't be), but are instead encouraged to pursue their calling. Sometimes this means sending them elsewhere. The difference is someone engaged in ministry across town targeting the same people is not in opposition with us, in fact we're in this together. A leader in business draws people to himself and his vision. A leader in ministry releases, equips, and enables people to do what the Lord has gifted and called them to do.

I think of this quote:

"At present the military and economic might of Western nations is struggling to counter the threat of international terrorism. It is proving difficult to defeat an enemy made up of local cells working toward a common vision with high autonomy but shared values. They are flexible, responsive, opportunistic, influential, and effective. Together they seem to have an impact on our world far beyond what they would if they formed themselves into a structured, identifiable organization. Churches can and should adopt the same model with a greater impact as we 'wage peace' on the world." - Total Church by Chester and Timmis

Leaders can and should adopt the same model in the church. Ministry is about giving people large amounts of autonomy. Business is about drawing people together to be the biggest and best organization around.

The business leader leads from above. The ministry leader is a servant leader, he leads from below. The business leader's objective is to create confident, bold, self-sufficient leaders. The ministry leader's objective is to encourage humble, Christ-dependant, followers of the Lord.  He must share his life, sins, fears and weaknesses with those he shepherds so they can learn how to lead in weakness. The business man must hide his sins, fears, and weakness so his people can learn how to fearlessly, boldly lead.

"But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. " - 1 Corinthians 1:27

"So the last will be first, and the first last.” - Matthew 20:16

Things are different in the Kingdom of God. They should therefore appear different.

Business vs. Ministry: Bottom Line vs. Obdience

This probably should have preceded the last post. But no one has ever accused me of being a great maker of plans, so here you go.

Business is about money. Any corner you can cut to earn more money without affecting your product or business you cut because the goal is money. Now admittedly there are exceptions to this (those who live for affecting change in an industry), but the majority of folks are doing business for the sake of earning money. Money is the bottom line.

Ministry can't nearly so easily be measured in numbers. The number of people in your squishy chairs on Sundays, or the number of people you've shared your faith with this week. What do they represent? Numbers. And that is all. I can't find anywhere in the Word where we're commanded to have the biggest ministry we can have, can you? But obedience is demanded throughout. And you know what's really difficult to measure? Obedience.

I think of the advice David gave to his son Solomon before his death, “Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.” - 1 Kings 2:2-3

I encourage you to show yourself a man and live a life of obedience, rather than a life in pursuit of greater numbers. If you're in ministry, your life is not about the bottom line.

‘A God-Sized Vision’ and Billy Graham’s ‘Modesto Manifesto’ ➙

To be honest, I am scared to death of what ministry success can do to me.

Social Awkwardness and Sanctification — an Observation

A lot of social awkwardness is covered over by Christ-likeness slowly over time. Most holy men are not too swift too speak nor too slow to listen. And this alone solves the vast majority of social problems.

Gay Marriage and the Future of Human Sexuality ➙

In effect, if marriage is now understood as a lifelong sexual contract between any two adult human persons with no specification of gender, then the allowance of gay marriage renders allmarriages “gay marriages.” Given such a situation, were it not for the space afforded by canon law (namely, the possibility of church marriage) a resort to cohabitation - which has hitherto been understood as “common-law marriage” - would be the only logical path for clear-thinking Christians.

via Matt D. Invincible

The Christian Blogger's Dilemma

Option A: Write more and gain a bigger audience so as to affect more lives.


Option B: Write less and only about things you're genuinely impressed upon to write about, so as to affect fewer lives in a more substantial way.  

I'll let you guess which seems more kingdom-minded. 

The other problem is that sometimes you just feel like you should write. And sometimes you have no idea what will affect people and what won't; often it's the things that seem least significant which end up really having an impression on people.

What Will I Be Known For?

One of my favorite reasons for running is the inevitable delusions of grandeur. I always feel like I'm the fastest guy in the world. Or at least the best looking with a beard.

Today as I was almost home I thought about how some things had gone today and how much I enjoy casting vision with our team. Then I thought about how I'd really like my bosses to know I'm good at casting vision. And then I immediately was convicted.

What should we be known for? Being a visionary? A great leader? 

I'd like to be known as a lover of Christ who pointed others towards him. I like casting vision but I hope I'm not remembered as a visionary. I love to encourage people, but I hope I'm not remembered as an encourager. I want to be first and foremost a man who is ridiculously (to the point of embarrassment if needed) infatuated with his savior.

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Cor 10:31

It's for this that we live. Not vision casting, but the glory of God. Vision casting itself is not bad, but it should only ever be means to an end, not the end itself.

"So that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'" - 1 Cor 1:31

Imagining what I'll be known for is really just boasting to myself about how awesome I am. Which is pretty lame (pathetic/embarrassing/shameful) for a worthless sinner to be doing at all. I hope if ever I boast, even if in my head, it'll be about my love for Christ.

I hope if ever I'm known (and I wrestle if it's even possible for me to be known and keep my head on straight — hint: it's probably not), it'll be as a person who was ridiculously infatuated with his savior, and as one who sought the glory of God.

Business vs. Ministry: Man-Hours vs. Prayer

I have a few colleagues who have degrees in business management, and as good as they are at running meetings sometimes, I'm also impressed with how much they can miss about what makes ministry different from business. I want to spend a few posts highlighting the difference between two — particularly as it relates to methodology. I admittedly have a very limited (at best) understanding of business practices, and so most of this is mere inference or pulled from what I have heard my friends suggest.

This first post I want to talk about man-hours. I have read enough online to know that it is not an infallable maxim that more man-hours means greater productivity. Even the business world has recognized that tired people are ineffective people. Some people work crazy hours and get nothing done and some few hours and accomplish much. However at some point there is a real basic understanding that what you're doing in the business world is dependant on the work of man. Therefore more man-hours = more productivity.

Ministry is very different. It is still true that some are more effective with their time than others, however it never boils down to what you're doing being dependant on man. In fact it boils down to the fact that what you're hoping to accomplish is absolutely dependant on God. You can, like in the business world, increase man-hours and notice a change in output. But numbers are never the goal of ministry. Obedience is. Doing the will of God is the point of ministry.

You may see X number of new believers (or church members, or whatever you do), and with increased man hours X+100 new believers, but numbers do not say anything about what you're doing. Some of the most faithful people of all time may have seen very little fruit, but nonetheless faithfully labored exactly where the Lord wanted them to. Obedience is difficult to measure.

In ministry the only thing that you can add more of (and even this only to a point) and see a direct relationship with your rate of success is prayer. More prayer will produce greater results. And not because we control God and His will when we pray. But rather because prayer makes us submit to God. In prayer we are declaring our dependance on Him and what He is doing, prayer makes us obedient to the Lord's will.

By setting aside more time to pray we essentially tell the Lord, "What we're doing is worthless with you." And in doing so, we are simply proclaiming the truth to ourselves — I assure you this is no surprise to Him. In tuning in the heart of the Lord we are much more likely to do the things he would have us do. This means minstering to the right people, and in the right ways. Unholy people do not make holy disciples. Passionate followers of Christ make others in to passionate followers of Christ.

I say there is a point where this no longer holds up. And that is when you pray all day and do nothing else. I'm not arguing that the Lord cannot use that. After all, true missionary work is done on our knees (James Fraser), but at some point we need to be hands and feet as well. However this, in my opinion, is really a mute point. I seirously doubt anyone who spends serious time in true prayer can avoid being convicted of his need to get out and do the will of the Lord.

Business: More man-hours will yield more productivity.
Ministry: More man-hours will not yield more worthwhile productivity (though it may increase numbers). More prayer will yield obedience, which means more of God's work being done.

After Birth Abortion Article and the Value of Life

This article about after-birth abortion was making its rounds on Twitter and Facebook recently. The abstract states:
Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus' health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.
Now what's particularly interesting about this is really this article makes the same argument a Christian does. And that is: nothing miraculous happens to the baby (i.e. its becoming a human) simply because it passes out of the the womb and in to the world.

The conclusion drawn is the same as the Christians. They argue, there really is no moral difference in killing a baby right after it is born than there is in killing one right before it's born.

We agree.

The difference is in the conclusion drawn, the article states there is therefore certain circumstances where it would be appropriate to kill the baby just after birth. Medical Ethics have finally agreed with us. If life has no value then killing is really of no consequence. There is also no point (post conception) where a life inherently gains value and is therefore more valuable than it was previously.

The difference is in how we live out this value. If there is no point at which the baby gains value then killing should never be morally wrong. The writer of this article thus does not live out his worldview if he is ever opposed to murder.

But the Christian believes that life, because it is a unique creation of God, has an inherent value. Therefore, if killing is ever wrong, the conclusion can be carried backwards that it is always wrong. Even when still in the womb.

Fascinating how blind we are apart from Christ. Shockingly fascinating. Although I almost find myself wondering if the writer of this article was a Christian and was going for shock value to make his point. Well played if so.

Middle Class Churches

"One of the reasons we have middle-class churches that are failing to reach working-class people is that we have middle-class leaders. And we have middle-class leaders because our expectations of what constitutes leadership and our training methods are middle-class. Indeed working class people only really get into leadership by effectively becoming middle class." - Total Church
Seminary costs a boatload of money. And then it uproots people, puts them in a place away from their ministry and "trains" them purely in an intellectual knowledge-transmission method. Then it ships people back home and is surprised when many find they are ill equipped.

What if we put doctors in school for 3 years with books and lectures and then put them in hospitals and gave them scalpels? Why does the medical industry better train their people than the Church?

The saddest part of all of this is that ministry training can and should be cheap. Jesus did it for very very little.

Our Dependance on the Power of God for Everything - Jonathan Edwards ➙

Men are dependent on the power of God for every exercise of grace, and for carrying on the work of grace in the heart, for the subduing of sin and corruption, and increasing holy principles, and enabling to bring forth fruit in good works, and at last bringing grace to its perfection, in making the soul completely amiable in Christ’s glorious likeness, and filling of it with a satisfying joy and blessedness; and for the raising of the body to life, and to such a perfect state, that it shall be suitable for a habitation and organ for a soul so perfected and blessed. These are the most glorious effects of the power of God that are seen in the series of God’s acts with respect to the creatures.

It is my hat! - C.S. Lewis ➙

Jack's clothes were a matter of complete indifference to him: he had an extraordinary knack of making a new suit look shabby the second time he wore it. One of his garments has passed into legend. It is said that Jack once took a guest for an early morning walk on the Magdalen College grounds, in Oxford, after a very wet night. Presently the guest brought his attention to a curious lump of cloth hanging on a bush. "That looks like my hat," said Jack; then, joyfully, "It is my hat." And, clapping the sodden mass on his head, he continued his walk.
I listened to the first part on the biography of C.S. Lewis on iTunes U where this was quoted. The professor that is lecturing from RTS recently passed away, but he was a great lecturer.

As a person who is rather indifferent to how I look, this gives me something to strive for. If you don't know, "Jack" was the name by which most of Clive Staples' close friends called him.

First Corinthians Three, with a Slight Modification so as to Make a Point

If 1 Corinthians 3 had been written to students of Reformed Theological Seminary:
But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Calvin,” and another, “I follow Wesley,” are you not being merely human?
What then is Wesley? What is Calvin? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. Calvin planted, Wesley watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Calvin or Wesley or Luther or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
Seriously. I cannot accept that our splitting has been anything but sinful. I have no solutions for our reconciliation, only frustration at our incompetence to do so.

When I had first started my degree a friend in class was talking about Arminians and how he as a Calvinist could never hope to work together with them. I asked him if he was serious, to which he replied, "What has light to do with darkness?" And while he was sort of joking, he wasn't really.

And the Calvin/Wesley argument is just one of many. The Calvinists think everyone lives and dies on predestination. The dispensationalists on something else, the Pentecostals on something else etc... But "all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."

Suggestion for ESV Section Name Change

In my ESV Bible about half-way through verse 4 of chapter 16 in the Gospel of John is the following section title, "The Work of the Holy Spirit." I suggest it should be changed to, "The Holy Spirit is Going to be Awesome."

Seems to me that would have much better described what Jesus had to say.

An Organizational Priorities Paradigm Shift

There has been a trend in Christian circles towards emphasizing getting our personal priorities straight. Basically the argument goes something like this:

In the past, people have valued ministry before their families and often their families suffered as a result. Now people have recognized this as foolishness and are arguing that the family is the most important ministry anyone can have. Our families are our most important disciples. Therefore our priorities should be in the following order: 1) God, 2) Family, and finally 3) Ministry.

Ministry is very important, but only God should be valued above family.

Okay, maybe you've heard this. Now I'd like to propose a similar paradigm shift in the way our churches and missions organizations order their priorities:

In the past, organizations have valued their mission before their people, and their people have suffered and been burned as a result. Now people should recognize that their people are the most important part of their mission. Our people are what God cares about far more than our idea of what our "mission" or "vision" is. If people aren't on board they may not belong with us, but we can at least send them off in love. We are foolish if we ever believe our calling is the whole of God's Kingdom. And more than foolish when we risk burning out wonderful men and women of God. If someone comes through our ministry and discovers they are called to something else, it is absolutely our responsibility to release them to do what God has called them to do even if it means losing one person on board with our mission/vision.

Our mission is very important, but God's mission is much more important, and his method is people.

Our mission is important, but only God should be valued above God's people. 

We must value the people God loves over our thin view of what we're called to do in God's Kingdom. Love them, send them out lovingly. If we can help a follower of Christ love Him more even in another area of ministry then we will have contributed greatly to the Kingdom of God. If we give one follower of Christ so horrible of an experience in ministry that they burn out and never serve again, then we will have some answering to do when it comes time to account for our contributions to the Kingdom of God.

Our priorities should be ordered thus:

Personal: 1) God, 2) Family, 3) Ministry.
Organizational: 1) God, 2) Our People, 3) Our Mission.

Violence Victorious ➙

"From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,[a] and the violent take it by force." - Matthew 11:12. One of my favorite verses. And somewhere, something I read pointed me towards this. Brilliance by Richard Sibbes.
Again God will have this violence and striving, as a character of difference, to shew who are bastard professors and who are not; who will go to the price of Christianity, and who will not. If men will go to heaven they must be violent, they must be at the cost and charges, sometimes to venture life itself, and whatsoever is dear and precious in the world. A man must be so violent, that he must go through all even death itself, though it be a bloody death, to Christ. This discards all lukewarm carnal professors, who shake off this violence. In all estates of the church, it is almost equally difficult to be a sound Christian; for God requires this violence even in the most peaceable times. Now, the truth and religion are countenanced by the laws, yet the power of it is by many much opposed. Therefore he now that in spite of reproach, in spite of slander, will bear the scorns cast upon the gospel, that will 'go with Christ without the gate, bearing his reproach,' Heb. xiii. 13, such a man may be said to be thus violent. It is an easy thing to have so much Christianity as will stand with our commodity or with pleasure, &c.; but to have so much as will bring us to heaven, I say it is equally hard in all times of the church, it requires violence to carry us through these lesser oppositions. . . . So that it be violence that hath eyes in its head, violence guided with judgment, from the knowledge of the excellency of the good things of the gospel, I speak of such a violence as that.

On the Origin of Cyrus ➙

I'm reading Ezra as our house church moves in to studying the book. I am moved by how the Lord worked through Cyrus, and even his humility in declaring that he knows his authority and power have come from the God of Heaven (Ezra 1:2). So I got to wondering who was this guy? Apparently there are several different versions of his origin. But this one is pretty amazing. Click the title above to read the rest from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. This reads like a Sophocles tragedy. In fact I can't believe there hasn't been a movie made with this as it's premise.
Several versions of his birth and rise to power are recorded. Herodotus (i.95) mentions three. In that which he quotes (i.107), it is said that Mandane was the daughter of the Median king Astyages, who, in consequence of a dream which he had had, foretelling the ultimate triumph of her son over his dynasty, gave her in marriage to a Persian named Cambyses, who was not one of his peers. A second dream caused him to watch for her expected offspring, and when Cyrus came into the world Astyages delivered the child to his relative, Harpagus, with orders to destroy it. Being Unwilling to do this, he handed the infant to a Shepherd named Mitradates, who, his wife having brought forth a still-born child, consented to spare the life of the infant Cyrus. Later on, in consequence of his imperious acts, Cyrus was recognized by Astyages, who came to learn the whole story, and spared him because, having once been made king by his companions in play, the Magians held the predictions concerning his ultimate royal state to have been fulfilled. The vengeance taken by Astyages upon Harpagus for his apparent disobedience to orders is well known: 
his son was slain, and a portion, disguised, given him to eat. Though filled with grief, Harpagus concealed his feelings, and departed with the remains of his son's body; and Cyrus, in due course, was sent to stay with his parents, Cambyses and Mandane. Later on, Harpagus persuaded Cyrus to induce the Persians to revolt, and Astyages having blindly appointed Harpagus commander- in-chief of the Median army, the last-named went over to the side of Cyrus. The result was an easy victory for the latter, but Astyages took care to impale the Magians who had advised him to spare his grandson. Having gathered another, but smaller, army, he took the field in person, but was defeated and captured. Cyrus, however, who became king of Media as well as of Persia, treated him honorably and well.
Humble beginnings as a son of a shepherd would certainly help.... but wow. The people in this world available to do the work of God's Kingdom never fail to amaze me.