Category Archives: Discerning God’s Will Together

That the World Might See

 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 the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” Ephesians 1:16-19

chessIn Kiev, Ukraine, I visited the gallery of Mykola Syadristy’s microminiature art. That gallery (see the website) is perhaps the most fascinating art gallery I have ever experienced. Have you ever seen an entire chessboard (with movable chess pieces) on the head of a pin? Or a rose vine sculpted inside a hollowed-out hair? This Ukrainian artist was truly a master at creating beautiful things which could not even be seen by the naked eye. The gallery itself is simply a collection of microscopes, each one set up to help you see a tiny piece of this otherwise unseen microscopic world.

I see church leaders playing a similar role for those whom they lead. I believe it is up to us as leaders to provide a lens through which people can gain a glimpse of the unseen spiritual world all around us. Paul sometimes refers (in some English translations) to this unseen world as the “heavenly realms”. Scripture is replete with references to this unseen world which is more infinite and eternal and profound than any parts of the more fleeting and temporary physical world in which we otherwise live. Paul prays that God would give the church His spirit of wisdom and of revelation and that the “eyes of …

The Best Laid Plans

Thursday Re-mix:

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.  1 Corinthians 15:37-38

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—  1 Corinthians 15:51

TransformationI am no visionary.  I am the first to admit it.  I am envious of those who are visionaries.  I’m pretty quick to admit that as well.  I am impressed with the leader who says, “This is what we will look like in 5 years.”  I very much believe there are people like that…leaders who know exactly what they want to achieve and who know how to cast a laser-like vision to make sure their people make it happen.  So when that leader gets to that 5-year mark and is able to look back and say, “This is exactly where I said we would be in five years, and lo and behold, we did it…” I am impressed and awed.  And if it is a spiritual venture, like a church, I am a little bit sad.

I am sad because that picture seems to leave little room for God’s transforming activity.  You see, there may be some things about the God of the Bible which are predictable, but there is very little about His creative side which lends itself to even the best plans of men.  When God gets involved in something, huge, unpredictable transformations occur…things that are not a part of anyone’s strategic plan.  If we are planning correctly in the church, all we are really doing is structuring so as to enable the organization to respond quickly and efficiently …

Letting Your People Mess Up

Thursday Re-mix:

And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” 1 Samuel 8:7-9

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”  C.S. Lewis

Here is a fundamental truth for church leaders (including pastors): the church is not for you (not really), nor is it about you.  If you think about it, that is actually a rather freeing reality.  That means it is not your responsibility to manipulate every outcome.  Rather, it is your responsibility to speak God’s truth to the best of your ability and to love your people well…and love often means letting them mess up royally.

Asleep in ClassMost of my own best illustrations of this leadership principle come from parenting.  If you are a parent, you already know the phenomenon well.  There are times when a parent can see a wrong direction a child is headed and the very best way to teach this lesson is to simply warn them and then let them make their own decision (and live with the consequences).  Take bedtimes, for example.  Toddlers are simply told when they will go to bed.  But, as they grow older, we eventually get to a point where they must learn to use their own judgment about sleep …

Seeing Through the Flaws in Your Shepherd

Thursday Re-mix:

The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.  1 Samuel 16:7b

Most of the church conflicts into which I get called are swirling (at one level or another) around a pastor.  And most of the opposition parties I meet eventually get to a point in the conflict where they are saying, “We never should have called him as our pastor…we made a terrible mistake.”  And that conclusion is always based upon a (sometimes very long) list of flaws which, in their eyes, disqualify him/her as their shepherd.

finding flawsIt always reminds me of the life of Israel’s most effective King…King David, the “man after God’s own heart”.  So much of God’s story in this world was written through David’s life…so much scripture…so much poetry…so much history…it is hard to imagine anyone being used more profoundly by God.  His passion was extraordinary, his love for God immeasurable.  His leadership was undeniable, and his lineage would produce the Savior of the world.  Not a bad spiritual resume, if you ask me.

Did I mention his poligamy?  His adultery?  The murder?  The “divorce” from his first wife (she apparently had a problem with his dancing in the streets in his underwear), the attempts by his father-in-law to kill him, and the subsequent re-marriage to her?  Did I mention his eight other marriages (and that number is just the number of wives whose names we know…there were apparently many others whose names are not mentioned in scripture)?  How about David’s first son’s rape of his half-sister…followed by her brother’s murder of that same son in retaliation?  How about the attempt by that second son to overthrow David’s reign as king?  Did I mention that David’s own men …

Corporate Prayer as a Means of Focus

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. John 5:19

And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35

camera lensIf your church is anything at all like mine, there is a pretty limitless supply of human needs and desperation within a 5 mile radius of it in any direction. There are single moms struggling to make ends meet, there is poverty and homelessness, there are drug addicts and prostitutes, there are sick people and broken people…lots of reminders all around us that we live in a broken world. I wonder if all that brokenness causes you to lose sleep at night, trying to discern what needs are your church’s to meet and what ones are not?

You cannot meet them all. And even if you could, it is probably not God’s assignment for your church to meet them all. He is funny that way. Like a tornado which touches down on one house and leaves the one next to it standing, God’s assignments for us often have us meeting needs in one person (or one family or one group), without meeting the needs of scores of others all around them.

That was the disciples’ experience with Jesus in John, chapter 5 at the pool at Bethesda. A pool surrounded by a “multitude” of crippled and lame people. The disciples followed Jesus to the pool, watched him heal one man, and then watched him leave all the others behind. I don’t know about you, but that would have troubled me a great deal! …

Flying by Instruments

Thursday Re-mix:

…and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son.  Genesis 24:48

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. Hebrews 3:1

cockpit instrumentsFor pilots, learning to fly by instruments is an important skill.  It is what a pilot must do when all the other more conventional ways of “getting your bearings” fall by the wayside.  When darkness and weather and confusion and chaos make it difficult to figure out which way is up and which way is down, all a pilot has left is the cockpit instruments.

I was reminded of that when I found myself preparing a lesson from the story of Isaac and Rebekah.  It is a story chock full of ancient culture about betrothal and marriage and what seems to our modern world to be a horribly flawed and archaic and unromantic matrimonial system.  At first glance, it is not an easy task pulling relevant truths out of this story…truths which we can apply to our lives today.  It would be easy to read this unusual story about marriage and lose your bearings trying to find a lesson.

For example, Abraham sent his servant off to a faraway land to find a wife for his (Abraham’s) son.  O.K., not gonna learn from that…for so many reasons.  The servant chose a blood cousin of the groom to be the bride…this would become a pattern for this family.  Not gonna use that lesson either.  The bride’s family blessed her, saying, “May your offspring possess the cities of their enemies!”  Um…no.  Then there is …

Making Your Church’s Path Straight

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Proverbs 3:6

My GPS and I have a tense relationship. I often don’t understand her directions. I can be traveling 70 mph down the highway, and she will tell me “in a quarter mile, stay straight on.” What does that even mean? And why does she say “In 200 feet, bear left…” when what she means is that I should take the turnaround under the next intersection and head back the opposite direction? Sometimes, I just would rather have my old, folded map! I just want to get to my destination with as few mistakes as possible!

So, God has my full attention when he makes promises in scripture about “making my path straight”. With promises like that, who needs maps or GPS? The promise in Proverbs 3:5-6 is not only true for the individual but for the church as well. It actually resolves quite a few problems for the local body of believers. Not all problems. But quite a few.

straight pathHere are some thoughts about what the promise of “straight paths” means for us as church leaders as we lead our churches forward:

Be willing to go beyond what you can understand. If you think trusting in the Lord and NOT on our own understanding is scary as an individual, you just try it as a church! With all the added pressures of “worldly wisdom” and fear-based group think, finding our way forward as a church body can be daunting. Learning as a church body to trust in the Lord’s direction, even when we cannot see all the dots connect ahead of time requires a huge cultural shift for most churches.

Acknowledge him in all your ways. Part of “doing church together” is the learned corporate …

Defiling the Church

Thursday Re-mix:

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. Daniel 1:8, 20

Daniel was not a dietician.  He was no more prepared to offer a scientific explanation for his food choices than he was prepared to explain the theory of relativity.  All he knew was God’s Word and he was “resolved not to defile himself”, i.e., he was determined not to dirty his hands with the ways of the world.  He knew God’s law.  He trusted it.  And that was enough for him.

dirty handsIn my ministry of consulting with conflicted congregations, I have reached a conclusion about the church: it can be complicated.  This is true because people are complicated and because relationships are messy and the church, after all, is comprised fully of people and relationships.  It is not always easy to find our way forward through those complications.  It may be doctrinal issues or personality issues or governance issues or moral issues.  It may be generational issues or worship style issues or social issues.  Whatever the issues, the way forward can seem almost impossible to find, even for the most brilliant strategist.  I am reminded of that difficulty time and time again.

When we find ourselves in new, unchartered territory (like Daniel), it is always tempting to fall back on conventional wisdom of the world in which we live and work.   We want answers, and sometimes scripture does not offer us quite the full explanation we are hoping for, so we “defile ourselves” (and God’s church) by relying on strategies and processes from the world.

For example, we rely upon Robert’s Rules of Order …

Meanwhile, Until We are Truly “Abiding in Him”…

Tuesday Re-mix:

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.  Psalm 91:9-10

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

Holy Scripture is filled with amazing promises.  But almost all of them come with conditions.  You know the formula…“IF my people…will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, THEN will I hear from Heaven and…” etc.  Or…“Trust in the Lord with all your heart…and He will make your path straight.”  Most of God’s awesome promises come with a condition of some kind or another, or at least an assumption or implication.  It seems to be one of His many wondrous ways.

I read all the wonderful promises of Psalm 91 in that same light. Those promises of God’s protection and provision all hinge upon the very first line (repeated in verse 9): If you make the Most High your dwelling.

baby feet in heartWhen I deal with conflicting parties within the church, I often hear both sides invoke the name of the Lord for their positions.  I hear both sides claiming that God is on their side, that He will prevail and that He will bring about what they want.  But I also hear both sides in very much a “win/lose” mindset, wherein they will not be satisfied unless they win AND the other side loses.  I recall working with a church some years ago wherein one group was very much wanting to get rid of the pastor.  They were acting as “God’s agents”.  Midway through the process, the pastor accepted …

Pursuing Peace

Tuesday Re-mix:

Turn from evil and do good;
    seek peace and pursue it.  Psalm 34:14

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  Romans 12:18

dove

I am still thinking here about the very difficult debates raging through the church today over the same-sex issues and what scripture says (or what it does not say) about the issue. It occurs to me that seeking peace with each other around this issue has less to do with WHAT we have to say and much more to do with our HEARTS as we engage each other in this conversation.

Peace can be a tricky thing.  As high a value as scripture makes it, as many times as we are instructed to pursue it among God’s people, the way toward peace and the way toward conflict often move in the same direction.  That makes it tricky.

Peace, you see, is NOT necessarily just the absence of conflict.  As long as people are involved, there will be conflict…there will be disagreement…and there will be hurt feelings.  In the midst of those things, peace does NOT require moving away from each other.  Rather, peace requires moving toward each other.  It requires having difficult conversations…even painful conversations.  Avoiding those conversations may bring a temporary peace, at least it may feel more peaceful for a short season, but the long term result is just the opposite of peace…it is chaos and frustration and complication.

So, the first point here is that “pursuing peace” often requires moving toward the conflict rather than away from it…moving toward the difficult conversation rather than waiting in the wings and allowing the pain to fester over time.  The problem, then, is how to tell the difference between “pursuing peace” and fueling a fight.  Both are …