Thursday, August 2, 2012

Of Works, Worries, and the Word of the Lord

© Sankin | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos
I’m a planner. I am one of those leaders who enjoys strategizing and mapping the most effective and creative course forward. That kind of work thrills me.

So when plans go awry or I am in the middle of a mess or when I can’t figure out the solution, I grow frustrated. My frustration becomes a nagging worry. And in the middle of the night, that nagging worry seizes my whole body with panic: thoughts race, blood pressure rises, and sweat breaks out all over.

Too often when in the middle of these messes, we work and worry harder and harder. Like the youngster working on a tricky story problem, we often go around and around whipping ourselves into a frenzy disabling us from seeing the answer.

That’s when we most need to be still. To listen. To hear the Word of the Lord.

In my family, I find that the Word often comes through my children. Their minds are not yet cluttered and calloused by the world. The Scripture does not roll over them so easily while they fret inside. They have not developed the adult ability of shutting out “the still, small voice.”

That happened today. Evan walked up to his mom and said, “Mom, sometimes we have dark times, and we don’t know what to do. At those times, we must NOT be afraid. God will give the answer.”

When I don’t hear well the still small voice within, He uses the small voice of my child. And He bids me come as that child: remember “His Word my hope secures.” Trust in His faithfulness and power.

“Be anxious for nothing, 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 comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6, 7).

Are you listening for the Word of the Lord? Are you letting that Word anchor your soul?

Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Praying Through Aurora

When I heard the news of the horrific “Movie Massacre” in Aurora, CO, I shuddered: surely this perpetrator is diabolical, demonic, demon-possessed. After all, people like that have to be under demonic control.

Or do they?

We want these things to be the work of some otherworldly evil that takes control of a willing participant, because to face the alternative is too frightening. What is the alternative? That James Holmes committed such heinous work out of his own human evil.

This is a very discomforting possibility: every human has the capacity for immense evil. The wiser among us have always known this. The late Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn trenchantly explained: “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

The evil committed by James Holmes is not some special unique kind of evil. It was the outworking of a process wherein he gave himself over little by little to cooperating with evil within his own heart (or much by much - we can only guess).  His work was the bitter fruit of wicked seeds cultivated in human soil.

And what about us? We may console ourselves that we are not wicked. Or are we? Do we not also cooperate with evil when we participate in murderous slander? Do we not further evil when we erode the fabric of reality by spewing falsehood – even white lies? Do we not give a little over to evil when we allow the filth of our heart to be released in degrading words and actions? Do we not collaborate with evil when we abuse the weak and disenfranchised? Holmes does not have a special evil. Perhaps not even a possession. He simply yielded to that same battle within our own hearts.

This is the Christian message: “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Yet there is more to our message: “Behold I make all things new” (Revelation 8:5).

As we consider the tragedy in Aurora, we grieve, we experience anger, we pray, we consider the war in our own soul, we extend love, and we have hope.

Our hope is that this shattering massacre is not the end. Even in the midst of this situation the Spirit of the Lord is hovering over the broken chaos of the earth tying it all to another horrific blood-letting: the cross. That brokenness was remade in a resurrected glory.

Today, we share in that journey from bloodshed to re-creation. We all, with the families and friends of the victims in Aurora, to some degree share the sufferings of this world. We grieve and groan and hope for a day when all things will be new – where there will be no death or sickness or wars or massacres. We scream with creation in pain and frustration: “This isn’t right!” And as the most honest of us confess, we do not know what to do. We cannot put the pieces back together. We cannot replace the bullet to the gun or return the lives lost. We cannot undo the brokenness.

So we groan. We weep. We sigh. And that is not a bad thing to do. In doing that, we are sharing in the process of making a new world: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans…in accordance with the will of God” (Romans 8:26, 27).

The brokenness cannot be undone. The blood cannot be unshed. But it can be made new. Jesus is already there in the bloody mess. In prayer and love, we join him there with hope that this old order of things is already passing away and a new way is coming even in the middle of the distress. In God’s mysterious way, Aurora is found at Calvary. A new Aurora can be found on the other side of the tomb.

So let us pray.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What Is a Good Leader?

© Suravid | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

Recently I read an article by Rajeev Peshawaria entitled, “Who Defines Good Leadership?” (Peshawaria is the CEO of the Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.) The author contended that being an effective leader requires the leader “develop laser-sharp clarity about your purpose, a better future that you want to create based on the values you believe your company should embrace.” He then goes on to list a variety of historically effective leaders.

Peshawaria throws a curve to the standard leadership article when he asks, “Who should decide if a leader’s purpose creates the best future and what values should guide that purpose?” In short, the question is, “What makes a good leader?”

For example, Peshawaria claims, “In my leadership programs and seminars, people will ask if Hitler and Osama bin Laden were good and effective leaders. If we assess leadership only from the point of view of motivating people toward a desired end, then both men were extremely effective leaders. But were they good leaders?”

It occurs to me that some of the problem might be in the way we loosely throw around the word “good.” We use “good” to describe pleasurable chocolate cake, effective employees, dynamic movies, and so forth. But what if “good” means something else? What if it means, as the ancients thought, something that is beneficial, wholesome, pure? Putting the question that way changes the dynamic. Was Hitler a good leader? He effectively motivated people, but his desired end was abhorrent.

Returning to an original definition of “good” means that asking whether or not someone is a “good leader” is really rooted in whether or not they are a “good person.” A “good person” will make a “good leader” (remember that effectiveness is a separate question!).

Back to Peshawaria’s question: “Who defines good leadership?” For Christians, our answer is as follows: “The same as who defines goodness.”

Remember a similar exchange from the Gospels? A rich young man came to Jesus and said, “Good Teacher…” Jesus responded, “Why do you call me good? There is none good but God.” Jesus’ response was subtle: “If you truly see me as good, then what are you seeing?” There is none good but God. God is revealed in Jesus. Therefore, goodness is revealed in Jesus.

Who defines good leadership? Jesus. In Jesus we see the revelation of a new way of being human and thus a new way of being a leader. This way of being is based on the in-breaking Kingdom of God that is contrary to the rulers and empires and corporations of this world. The power of that way of being comes from the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit rather than from accumulated might, wealth, position, or other tools of seduction and intimidation.

Essentially, a good leader looks like someone who has learned and received life from Jesus. We have a lot of leadership models and a lot of leadership theories - “Of the making of many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12).

Maybe it is time for Christian leaders to start again with Jesus?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ash Wednesday 2012

For at least 1,300 years, Christians have marked the beginning of Lent, the season of preparation for Easter, with the observance of Ash Wednesday. The service is a time of the beginning of "Spring Cleaning" for the soul with verbal and physical acts of repentance. Part of that service involves imposing ashes on the head - a practice showing sorrow picked up from the Old Testament. As the repentant believer worships, ashes are placed on his/her forehead with the following words, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Stark words. Sobering words. Penetrating words. Helpful words.

The ashes remind us of the shortness of life. "What is your life but a vapor? It appears for a little while and then vanishes away" remarks St. James (4.14). If life is so brief, what is truly important? The ashes make us prioritize.

The ashes remind us of our humble origins. From the dust of the earth the Lord God made man. For all our mighty deeds and wondrous accomplishments, we are still dust - and our God knows it (Psalm 103.14). The ashes keep us humble.

The ashes remind us of our uncleanness. Like the prophet, we remember that we are unclean among an unclean people (Isaiah 6.5). All our best deeds amount to filthy rags (Isaiah 64.6). The soot on the face is only indicative of the filth that so often lurks beneath the surface. The ashes keep us penitent.

The ashes remind us of God's mercy and the incredible possibility. Though we are but a vapor, though our lives are no stronger than dust, and though we walk among uncleanness, our God is gracious. He offers the hope of eternal life. He strengthens our frame by His Holy Spirit. He cleanses us through the blood of Jesus. We can be renewed, and our repentance is the beginning of that renewal. The ashes give us hope.

May God's grace be with us all during this Lent - may our homes and hearts be cleansed and made fit for the presence of the risen Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What Happens When We Lose God?

Recently on a Sunday morning talk show in the United Kingdom, a shockingly horrific statement was made by so-called “advice columnist,” Virginia Ironside. The topic was covering a question about whether or not abortion could be considered a “kindness”. Other than apparently having some kind of advice following, I do not know the credentials of Ms. Ironside to speak on ethical issues. Nevertheless, she certainly considered herself authoritative and dived into the discussion with this argument:

“If a baby’s going to be born severely disabled or totally unwanted, surely an abortion is the act of a loving mother… If I were the mother of a suffering child – I mean a deeply suffering child – I would be the first to want to put a pillow over its face… My feeling of horror at suffering is much greater than my feeling of getting rid of a couple of cells because suffering can go on for years… If it was a child I really loved, who was in agony, I think any good mother would.” (You can see the whole thing here.)

We can be thankful that with that kind of horrific ambiguity, Ms. Ironside is not writing laws or determining cases before the court. One is left wondering exactly what kind of suffering Ms. Ironside would think worthy of murder. (Is she speaking only of abortion or post-natal existence as well? Should we limit it to a physical pain scale? How about the emotional distress of a teenager who had a bad prom date?)

Much of Virginia Ironside’s thinking on this subject should be attacked and dismantled. For the sake of brevity, I will address what is the foundational problem. Ms. Ironside’s argument is a logical outworking of a world-view in which God has been removed. Without the presence of a loving Creator, humans are left to determine life and death issues according to their own personal preference and whim. The sacredness of human life is swept aside in favor of a human nature that is essentially, “a couple of cells.”

In this worldview without God, the question of authority becomes one of power. Who makes these decisions for suffering children? The mother. Why? Because she is the only one with enough “might” in the situation to determine the course of action. Consequently what is exposed is that as a mother, Ms. Ironside would murder her suffering child not for the sake of the child, but because of her own “feeling of horror at suffering.” To put it another frightful way: “Your suffering severely distresses me. Since I am stronger, I will put a murderous end to that distress.”

We could go on, but the point is clear: without the presence of a loving, life-giving, governing Creator, humans are left without direction in the matters of greatest importance. Confusion on the very nature of life and authority ensues. Darkness shrouds the human existence making human purpose nothing more than to comfortably pass through life – and woe to you if you cannot comfortably pass through life for we will put a stop to your life!

As sickened as we might by Virginia Ironside, we must admit that she does not stand alone. Many others share her view – even some with governmental and social influence. Their ideas are the logical results of a worldview cut loose from the moorings of a Triune God. Ms. Ironside’s horror is a small taste of the challenges we face in our work of ministry in this world today.

Part of our purpose at Messenger College is to develop strong Christian minds who can engage these issues. We are called by God to shape Christian leaders who in spiritual maturity and power will grapple with the poisonous deception of our age and proclaim the truth revealed in Jesus Christ. This is and always has been God’s answer to a world gone mad. Pray with us that we will succeed in shaping the leaders who will carry God’s redemption into this mess, for with His power even this chaos can arise in new creation!