Thursday, August 12, 2010

Do We Believe What We Preach?

That is the question Wesley Duewel asks Christian leaders. He is afraid that we don't. He challenges us by quoting George Whitefield who said, "I am persuaded that the generality of preachers talk of an unknown and unfelt Christ. Many congregations are dead because dead men are preaching to them (Ablaze for God, 121)." I guess Whitefield did not soft peddle the truth.

This quote challenges me. And so does the story that Duewel goes on to share.

A notorious British murderer was sentenced to die. On the morning of his execution the prison chaplain walked beside him to the gallows and routinely read some Bible verses. The prisoner was shocked that the chaplain was so perfunctory, unmoved, and uncompassionate in the shadow of the scaffold. he said to the preacher, 'Sir, if I believed what you say you believe, even if England was covered with broken glass form coast to coast, form shore to shore, I would walk over it--if need be on my hands and knees--and think it worthwhile, just to save one soul from an eternal hell (Ibid.).

Lord, help me to remember that I am preaching in the shadow of the scaffold this weekend. Guard my heart and touch me so that I will not be guilty of preaching an unfelt Christ as a dead man. Lord, I love the people that you have called me to lead. So keep me from that kind spiritual deadness that so often kills congregations. And let us become the kind of people who will crawl over broken glass to save one soul from hell.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fears, Tears, and Hard Grace

Today was the big day. My youngest son started school. We had taken all the necessary steps to prepare him. We bought supplies. We took him to school. His brother even gave him the "inside scoop."

And so the day came. We loaded up in the car and laughed all the way to school. We talked about the fun they would have and congratulated the new man to our "going to school" crew. When we arrived at the school, all was well. Their teachers welcomed them in, and other students laughed and greeted each other. Finally it was time to leave--the time I had secretly dreaded all morning. I walked out the door and saw it, I saw the tear start to drop out of his eye. Everything in me wanted to pull him out of school and take him home. But I fought back the urge. I walked over hugged and promised that I would not be far away. Then I walked out, leaving him with fears and tears.

Why did I do such a thing? Am I a hard-hearted, cold-blooded dad? I left him in the uncomfortable place, because I love him. I know that while he is there new worlds will open up to him as he learns to read, write, add, subtract, and think. He will discover hidden glory behind pictures through words. I left him because he will meet new friends and know the joy of playing together. And I left him because one day he will be the big brother, helping his sister on her first day. I left him because I love him. One day he will see that staying was a gift of hard grace.

As I rode to work, I thought about the scene. I realized that the way I had just expressed love to my son is like the way my Heavenly Father expresses love to me. Sometimes I find myself in an uncomfortable place. I am not sure what is going on or what will happen next. I sometimes find myself in an uncomfortable place of fear. And sometimes I push back a tear and wonder if anyone cares. Then in a wonderful time of grace God puts his arm around me and reassures me that he is near. And then he leaves me there. Sometimes I am tempted to question his love. But it is at that moment that God shows his love. He knows that through enduring this new worlds of faith will open up before me. He knows that new vistas of joy come alive in new places. And he knows that on the other side of this I will be able to comfort others with new insight and power. He does not leave me there because he has forgotten me; He leaves me there because he loves me. It is a hard grace, but it is still grace.

Thank you Father, for your unending love that seeks my good in all situations. Teach me to follow your ways, because your ways are filled with love and I will find rest for my soul.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Artifical Rest and the Peace of Christ

I am tired. I mean I am really tired, and I am sleepy too. Ironically I am tired after I tried to get some help for sleep. You see last night I had a sleep study. It was quite an experience. After an introductory video, I was take to a room that looked a lot like a normal bedroom. I waited until the technician hooked me up to what seemed like a thousand electronic leads. Plastered across my head and face were little to help monitor my sleep. When all this was finished, I was supposed to go to sleep.

I tried. I really did. But it took forever to go to sleep. Besides the unnatural feel of the wires I was out of my element. The place was strange compared to my home. It was comfortable, but it was not the comfort of home. In addition, I saw a little light facing me. It was a camera. Now I was not only hooked up to a bunch of wires in a strange place, but I also had the extra pressure that comes when sleep becomes a performance. In the end I slept, but I did not feel like a slept. So today I am tired.

Something similar often happens in our souls. We found ourselves in a world of evaluation. People judge; people watch; people talk. All of this conspires to rob us of rest. In response we often live the life of a performer. We forget authenticity and play for the camera. All the while peace is gone while we put on the show.

The good news is that Jesus offers us a different path--a path soul-rest. He calls us to come to Him when we labor and become heavy laden and promises rest. He removes the yoke of critical eyes and replaces it with a yoke of joyful submission. He relieves us of the rest of playing for the crowed by shrinking the audience to one. And that audience of one is please with us because we are covered in the performance of His perfect Son. Now we do not have to play the part. We simply trust in the part he played for us. And in the end we find rest for our souls (see Matt. 11:28ff.).

Today I am tired, but today I feel at peace. My body wants sleep, but my soul has found rest. I am sleepy but happy. Praise God that artificial rest can be replaced by the peace of Christ.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Follow-Up

Have you ever read something and thought, "That's just what I was thinking?" I had one of those moments today.

One frustration that many leaders have is the foreboding sense that you spend most of your time oiling squeaky wheels. From time to time you think, "Just let the wheel squeak. I have work to do." While reading the book Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne, I came across this quote:

The fact is, oiling squeaky wheels can be hazardous to your church's health. Leaders who place too much emphasis on keeping squeaky wheels happy risk abdicating leadership. Instead of initiating, the leaders end up reacting. Instead of asking, 'What does God want us to do?' they ask, 'How will the squeaky will react?'

It also sends an unspoken message to the rest of the congregation. It tells everyone that the best way to have influence around here is to complain, and the louder and more often you complain, the more power you'll have. It's no wonder, then, that leadership teams that try to oil squeaky wheels end up having the most wheels to oil (page 81).

When I saw this I had one of those moments. I thought it but had not said it. Now I have, and now I want to live by it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Someone Must Lead: Part 2

Leadership is God's tool to motivate people for good. Nehemiah is a good example of this. The book opens with Nehemiah receiving bad report from homeland. The people are disgraced; the city is in ruins; and the walls are torn down. Grief stricken he went first to God and then before the king. Before one he was on his way to rebuild the walls. Upon arrival he inspects the walls and then assembles the people. He points to the walls and says, "You see this trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned (2:17)." Had they missed this feature of their home town? Of course not. The rubble was there for decades. The problem was that they got so used to seeing the mess that they no longer yearned for a better day. They adjusted to the statues-quo and needed a leader to call them to a better future.

Nehemiah issues such a call. He says, "Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision." Now with clear leadership and a big vision in front of them the people respond with the words, "Let us arise and build." And they strengthened their hand for the good work (2:18).

Groups rarely see the need and respond to the call without such leadership. Groups without leadership often adopt a comfort mentality that sees the normal as good, whether it is or not. That is one reason God provides leadership.

That is why there is a real need in the church for proactive leadership. All too often leaders are reactive and are moved only by complaints. Thus leaders spend most of their time putting out fires instead of leading the charge. The net result is a loss of mission and vision as people lead the leaders.

This is deadly for a church, because it gives authority to those who complain the loudest. In such cases, it is impossible to move forward. Obvious problems are rarely addressed, and if they are, they are addressed with the speed of a turtle running uphill. In such environments everything--and I mean everything--becomes a negotiation (Southern Baptists read this as business meetings). And when everything is a negotiation nothing--no matter how bad it is--nothing becomes a matter of urgency.

To combat this God calls out leaders to lead with urgency. Veteran missionary J. Oswald Sanders is right to say,

Churches grow in every way when they are guided by strong, spiritual leaders with the touch of the supernatural radiating in their service. The church sinks into confusion and malaise without such leadership. Today those who preach with majesty and spiritual power are few, and the booming voice of the church has become a pathetic whisper (Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 19).

We need such leaders if our voice it to rise above a whisper. God gives leadership to promote his mission. Let us not be among the number who sink into confusion and ineffectiveness. Let us lead, because someone must lead. God said so.

Someone Must Lead: Part 1

In our day words like "leadership" and "authority" are dirty words. We are individuals. No one tells us what to do. We have no authority, and we do not like to be lead. From the cradle we made demands and attempt to chart our own course, and we expect others to see it the same way.

To make matters worse, we witness abuses of authority that makes us resist all leadership. The banker who abuses connections, the politician who abuses power, and countless other examples leave us less than enthusiastic about the idea of leadership.

This is certainly true in the church, especially congregationally governed churches. Each individual has both an opinion and a vote, which often makes the will of the masses the guiding light of the church.

But God has ordained that churches have leadership--that leaders lead as others follow. He appoints leaders to push God's people toward God's mission. Thus he gives leaders as a gift to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Eph. 4). In short, leadership is God's idea for the advancement of his glory and the good of his saints.

So what is a spiritual leader? A spiritual leader is one who sees God's direction and uses God's means to influence others to accomplish God's mission in reliance on God's power. They are a tool in God's hand, a tool that is both necessary and good for the church.

They are necessary, in part, because nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of godly leadership, leadership by consensus often leads to disaster. Consider, for example, the children of Israel in Ex. 32. Moses was, at this point, their leader. He was God's agent to lead the Exodus through the Red Sea. Now God calls him up to receive the law, which took some time. Hence, Exodus 32 opens by saying, "When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down the mountain." Here is the beginning of trouble. With Moses gone, the people want to fill the void themselves. They persuade Aaron to build a golden calf for worship, making this event one of the lowest in the nation's history.

The point I strike under is this: a short time without leadership proves disastrous for the people. Without leadership to point the way, the people naturally find the path of sin. Once off mission, they find disaster. The same can be true in our day. Leaders must constantly keep the mission of God before the people of God. Without this people drift from God's plan. It is true that people will often resist and resent leadership in the church, but they will hate the consequences of its absence much worse.

What is Zeal?

J.C. Ryle gives us a classic description of zeal when he writes:

Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do His will, and to advance His glory in the world in every possible way . . .
A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies--whether he has health, or whether he has sickness--whether he is rich, or whether he is poor--whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence--whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish--whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise--whether he gets honour, or whether he gets shame--for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance his glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it--he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn . . . (Quoted in J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 173)."