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The Lure of Approval

And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, “Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord.” And Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?… Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 1 Samuel 15:13-14, 24

Am I the only leader who struggles from time to time with disappointing people? No. I didn’t think so. My guess is, it is a relatively universal struggle. We tell ourselves that, in order to be a Godly influence in people’s lives, in order to be able to say the hard things to people, we need their approval. And we tell ourselves that, as shepherds, that is what love looks like. There are some seeds of truth in that thinking. But the rest of that truth is, for leaders of God’s people, approval ratings (i.e., how much everyone likes you) are insidiously addictive and massively overrated. That was the lesson for Saul (Israel’s first king) and it is likewise the lesson for all of us as Christian leaders today.

As I read 1 Samuel, God clearly did not want a human king for His people, Israel. But when they insisted on one, God relented and gave them one. And Saul was His choice…and was the people’s choice as well. He had the look. He had the demographics. He had the attitude. In short, he was (to use today’s parlance)…presidential. But he was also unbelievably insecure, on so many levels.

So, when he and his rag-tag group of soldiers walked up to the school-yard bullies (the Philistines) and punched them …

My Rules for Politics

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:14-21

politicsWe are on the front end of a season of presidential election politics here in the U.S. Our social media feeds are already filled with it. The deep division in our country between two ideologies has a way of bringing out the worst in us. We stop thinking, for the most part, for an entire season, and we start arguing over issues about which we are either completely ignorant or, in any other time of year, completely complacent.

Every issue, it seems, becomes colored by our political persuasion. Politics has hijacked some of the most important moral and ethical issues of our lifetime and has a way of disposing of them with much callous and little regard for truth or for fairness. The media outlets will be busy full time spewing out opinions that will somehow pass for journalism (at least in their minds). And, what is most disturbing about this season, virtually all other world …

Foreigners in Our Own Country

Tuesday Re-mix:

…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.  1 Peter 1:17

Every year my ministry takes a team to South Africa. It is always a Spirit-filled time with old friends and new friends alike.

SA FlagOver my years of making this trip, I have come to know some things about that country…things about it’s people, it’s society, and its politics.  I’m still learning the right questions to ask and the ones not to ask…when to ask them and when not to ask them.  In so many ways, it is not unlike here in the U.S.  Like here, there is within the church a degree of discontent with the moral and political directions that country seems to be headed.

When our team finds ourselves in those conversations, there is always some “freedom” in being able to say, “We’re not from here.”  We can still have an opinion, even a Biblical perspective on the issue, but we are not in any position to impose those opinions on a country where we are only visitors.  We have now grasped what it feels like to be “ambassadors for Christ” in a foreign land.  We have the freedom (and the responsibility) to speak the truth, but no freedom (nor responsibility) to try to force it or to impose it on anyone.  That is not our business.

In the end, the distinction between those two postures can be a thin line. Somehow, being foreigners in that land, it is an easier distinction to grasp.  Speak the truth, in love, but do not seek political power to impose that truth on a country where we are mere visitors.

US FlagAs I meditate on Peter’s words above…live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fearI feel just a little more clarity about …

Let’s DO Have Hard Conversations…but NOT On Line

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

We have said here over and over again that “the church” really must be especially effective at communication. After all, “go ye therefore and make disciples” is pretty much ALL about effective communication. We should not be the ones learning communication from the world…we should be the ones blazing trails in effective communication.

One fundamental concept of effective communication is truly understanding the limits of any particular vehicle. Every form of communication has its limits. We do not use post-it notes to write a doctoral thesis. We do not use texting to break-up a relationship (please, agree with me on that one). We do not use video to make a grocery list. Every form of communication, every vehicle, has its ideal purpose and use as well as its limitations.

difficult conversationSocial media is no different. You want to capture a fun moment in a photograph or video and then share it with friends instantly? Social media is ideal. You want to make the world aware of your opinion, even wisdom, on a recent cultural or political event? Social media works great. You want to reach out to a demographic and get some quick feedback on a particular subject or do some quick and low-cost marketing analysis on a product or service? Social media can help there as well. Even spewing your own spin on controversial topics is easily and effectively accomplished through social media.

But what about difficult conversations? What about the kind of conversations every Christ follower is called to be a part of from time to time, where emotions are running high and where genuine understanding of the other side is running very low? What about conversations that have been …

Due Respect for the Word of God

Now after the king had burned the scroll with the words that Baruch wrote at Jeremiah’s dictation, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll, which Jehoiakim the king of Judah has burned. And concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah you shall say… I will bring upon them and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and upon the people of Judah all the disaster that I have pronounced against them, but they would not hear.’”  Jeremiah 36:27-28, 31

praying hands and BibleIn these recent days of Christians arguing over same-sex issues, we see a lot of lip service given to how much we love and honor God’s Word and how much we love each other (the sinner), while hating the sin. I am taking an opportunity today and next Monday (in my Monday Morning Quarterback post) to ask some hard questions about our sincerity on both counts.  Today’s question: do we really respect the Word of God?

Young King Josiah, when he first heard the words of the long lost Book of the Law, tore his clothes in grief over the message (2 Kings 22:11). Years later, his son (King Jehoiakim) heard the Word of the Lord and responded very differently…he burned it.  They both heard God’s Word and it was not what either of them wanted to hear. But their responses were very different. One showed immense respect for it. The other, utter disdain and disrespect.

A proper respect for God’s Word means we do not bring any of our own bias or phobias or agenda to it when we seek its truth. We do not start with what we want and then go looking for an interpretation that fits that agenda. We do not google the …

Let’s Not Be Bullies with our Movie Critiques

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

This year will see an unusual number of “Hollywood” versions of Biblical stories.  Son of God releases later this week.  One month later, Noah hits theaters.  And more will follow.  The Christian bloggers will, of course, be all over these movies with their critiques.

bulliesYou know what is annoying?  Have you ever been in a situation where a small “clique” of insiders who have developed their own expertise on a subject sit back and make fun of those who are on the outside and who do not seem to know nearly as much as they do?  You remember, don’t you?  It was a favorite middle school or even high school past time: the GT and AP students sitting together and making fun of the ignorance of other students…the athletes ganging up on the non-athletic types and making fun of them…the snobby musicians looking down their noses at the pop music lovers at prom.  And do you know why this is annoying? Because it is just a form of bullying.

So, I am wondering if we can make a sincere attempt to guard our testimonies in how we offer our critiques of these upcoming “Biblical” movies?  Let’s not become bullies in how we communicate. Let’s keep the snarky, judgmental, arrogance out of our comments and posts. In talking about these movies, here are a few questions we might ask ourselves before we click the “publish” button on our social media screen:

1. Did I actually go and see the movie…all the way through?  If not, then say that clearly right at the beginning of your critique.  And then stop and don’t bother finishing the critique, because nobody is going to read …

Bright Ideas Doomed to Fail

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

I’ve not failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  Thomas Edison, on his experiments with prototypes for the light bulb

broken lightbulbIf I call myself a Christ-follower, and I’m not afraid to wear that label publicly, then it seems right to me that I should have some pretty strong buy-in to the great commission in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  It is why we, as Christians, are still here…still breathing.  Even after our salvation is secured, God leaves us here in order to fulfill this commission.

If that is all true, then our messaging on social media becomes purposeful, doesn’t it?  We want to use our very public, very searchable, very permanent social media posts to point to God in some fashion…or at least to preserve our privilege to do so with readers in the future. So, in the spirit of Thomas Edison, here are some messages for us as Christians, which are guaranteed NOT TO WORK:

1. The candidate you voted for is… [an idiot, a liar, a lunatic, a buffoon, a criminal, a bigot, a murderer, etc.].  I don’t know, call me narrow-minded, call me naive, call me a bad American…but I’m pretty sure my starting our conversation with this message is not a good strategy for getting you to listen to anything I have to say about Jesus.

2. You are… [an idiot, a liar, a lunatic, a buffoon, a

Get Outside Your World

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

baby and worldOne common problem with conflicted congregations (a dynamic I can almost always count on being present) is what I call the “shrinking universe” phenomenon.  It is a simple concept, really.  When the only people we choose to listen to are the ones we agree with and who already think like we do, our “reality” becomes smaller and smaller and becomes more and more biased.  If I stand squarely on one side of a conflict and I surround myself with others on that same side, and we continue to have our little “pep rallies” where we spout off the same version of the “facts” over and over again, that version eventually becomes the only version I can accept.  My universe has shrunken down to accommodate my bias.

Social media not only has its own version of this phenomena, it is philosophically (and brilliantly) designed to further it.  You have already experienced this if you are a Facebook user.  Using some of the most sophisticated analytical tools the marketing world has ever known, Facebook has become remarkably intuitive, reading all your preferences (from the pages you like to the friends you message…from the type of computer you use to the cookies you may permit it to see in your cache…from your demographic info to your career info).  Facebook is constantly analyzing all of that information about you and then it is deciding for you which friends’ posts to show you and which friends’ posts to hide from your newsfeed.  So, if you have “liked” Fox news and you tend to message your conservative friends mostly and your posts are full of links to conservative blogs, etc., guess what posts Facebook is going to …

Best Not to Comment on Things We’ve Never Read

Monday Morning Quarterback – Encouraging God’s people to be responsible, encouraging and uplifting in their use of social media.

I could probably spend the entire year using the recent “Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty” social media frenzy as illustrations for this series of posts.  I think we, as the church, probably showed a broader range of “how not to use social media” with that outbreak than with any other popular issue in recent memory.  We may come back to that well often for these Monday Morning Quarterback posts!

One of the embarrassing things I saw happening (often) in the posts and comments, even from Christian leaders, was arguments which made it obvious the person had not even read Mr. Robertson’s actual comments.  As an attorney, setting out to either attack or defend something I have not even read seems, well, a little crazy.  But what I read was worse than that.  I saw arguments posted that were just plain ignorant.

Constitution

For example, I saw Christian leaders couching Mr. Robertson’s statements (and the A&E Network’s backlash) as being a “free speech” issue.  And that’s when all the lawyers and genuine journalists (and other students of the United States Constitution) cringed with embarrassment.  That is because people who have actually read the First Amendment of the United States Constitution know all about the requirement of “state action” in order to trigger a First Amendment argument.  Here’s the actual pertinent language of the amendment, with appropriate emphasis added…

Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech…”

When we, as church leaders, go public with our discussions of important issues (like the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights), we really do make the church look foolish when we do not do our homework.  I’m not contending here that we …

Social Media, New Wineskins and Church Unity

Tuesday Re-mix –

Social media is here to stay. You may have sworn against Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, and SMS (much the way you may have sworn against e-mail back in the day), but you may as well get used to them and do your best to embrace them…because social media is the communications vehicle of choice for at least the three youngest generations in the church today and is making pretty significant in-roads into the older generations as well. It is one of those “new wineskins” Jesus talked about which are necessary to communicate the gospel in our ever-changing world. As churches, we have moved way beyond asking whether or not we should engage this language. Clearly, we must. The only remaining question is: what impact will it have on our relationships, i.e., church unity?

I first started discussing this question here and here in previous posts. Now that I am a little further along in my own experiment with social media, I want to further explore the question about its impact on church unity. So, here are a few more observations:

1. A flood of testimonies of what God is doing. One of the things that builds unity the quickest in a body of believers is sharing testimony of what God is doing in our lives. Social media gives churches the opportunity for anyone to share that testimony through the written word, through video, through audio and then put that testimony out there for anyone to see/read/hear. It has never been easier to find out in a couple of minutes what is going on in someone’s life–someone with whom you may not have a close relationship, but from whose testimony you can still benefit.

2. Prayer concerns (and other needs) made easy and accessible. Yes, if you are able …

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