Tag Archives: Spirit

Church Leaders and Our Hard Hearts

Tuesday Re-mix:

So, as the Holy Spirit says:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
    though for forty years they saw what I did.
That is why I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”  Hebrews 3:7-11; Psalm 95:7-11

heart of stoneAs it turns out, hard hearts come in a pretty large variety of shapes and forms…even among church leaders.  It is rarely as overt as Israel’s rebellion at Meribah.  More often, it is a mild arrogance or self-reliance or pride at the heart of our hard-heartedness.  So, as I study the above passage, I am reflecting on some of the less obvious (but more common) ways I have seen leaders “harden their hearts”…including me and my own heart.

Hardening our hearts to the power of God’s Word.  Every time we catch ourselves thinking, “what this text needs is a little more of me…a little of my flash and polish will go a long way in helping it hit home in this sermon…” our faith in the power of God’s Word diminishes just a little more.  Every time we receive a compliment for a lesson well-taught and we fail to acknowledge that it was God’s Word and not our communication skills that caused the real transformation, we steal God’s glory, and our heart hardens just a little more to the miracle of His living word.

Hardening our hearts to the power of prayer.  When the priority we give gathered prayer meetings falls somewhere between  repairing the hems of the …

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 …

Being the Orange

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect… Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Romans 12:2, 9-13

Apples and OrangePaul seems clear enough in his letters to the churches…the community of believers (Christ-followers) should look different from the other communities in our world. We should not conform to their ways. Rather, our community should stand out in several ways. The church should stand out in several ways. Here’s a partial list. See how we’re doing…

Our love should be genuine. I read that as real. Not fake. Not conditional in any respect. It is true agape. I do not love you because of what you do or don’t do…nor because of who you are or are not. My love for you does not depend in any way on you or on circumstances surrounding you. I love you for one very simple reason: because Christ lives in me. And as long as that is true, I will keep loving you. Period.

Abhor what is evil…cling to what is good. This is much more than just a moral compass. Morality, in fact, just scratches the surface of this calling. This is about recognizing the work and influence of our one and only spiritual enemy among us and standing against it. And it is about recognizing the work and influence of God’s …

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 …

Why We Reconcile with Each Other

As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court; and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the temple.  Ezekiel 43:4-5

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:12

broken heart reborn

Do you know what it feels like to temporarily lose access to God? Are you familiar with the loss of not being able to find God today in the exact same place you found Him yesterday? Then you know something of the pain of the exiles to whom Ezekiel spoke.

I cannot even imagine a world where “the glory of the Lord” is geographical, i.e., in a particular place, such that it leaves that place and then returns to that place. To those of us living in the age of the church, that concept is rather foreign, because, for us, the Spirit of God quite literally resides in every believer. But we trust God’s Word to nonetheless have a word for us through this very vivid imagery of Ezekiel’s prophecy. What, then, is our contemporary take-away from Ezekiel’s visions about being “in” and “out” of the presence of the Lord? Surely, these visions speak about truths on multiple levels…one for the exiles in Babylon, one for us today, and yet another for those in the end times (to name a few).

For us today, if it is true that the Spirit of God resides in every believer (Col. 1:27; John 15:5; 1 John 4:12), then the easiest way to be “cut off” from God is to be “cut off” from the brother in whom He resides. Broken relationships, you see, are a contemporary version of living outside …

The Heart of Your Conflict

Tuesday Re-mix:

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them.For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23

If you’re a peacemaker, you need to have read The Anatomy of Peace, a publication of the Arbinger Institute. My first time through it,  I also happened to be working through the gospel of Mark in my church’s regular Bible study. As so often happens, both lessons converged for me.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAeF-pGoAxM&w=560&h=315]

By far the most difficult task before me in any mediation of any conflict (church or otherwise) is getting a conflicted party to quit pointing to all the flaws in the other party and to look inward, at his/her own heart and how he/she has contributed to the conflict. So difficult is it, in fact, that when it does happen it almost always represents an important “a-ha” moment in the peace process.

I think that, for people who value the Holy Scripture, it has the power to bring about that kind of reflection. Words like Jesus’ in Mark 7 can cause us to reflect a little deeper than just our surface “position” on a given issue, and rather consider our “heart” and how we have chosen to express that position. The writers of The Anatomy of Peace refer to it as our “way of being” or as a “heart at war” as opposed to a “heart at peace”.

I see it in every conflict. It is not so much a party’s position or stance on an issue which causes conflict to escalate. Our position is external to us. What escalates the conflict (what “defiles” us) is our …

Our Own Undercover Boss

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”  Matthew 25:41-46

Have you seen the reality show, Undercover Boss yet?  I have not, but I think  the concept is brilliant.  What could be more entertaining than seeing a bad employee treat someone badly who turns out to be the CEO of their company?  It’s one of those concepts that makes you stop and imagine…the horror!

Jesus was pretty good at coming up with those concepts as well.  There were times when you just know the disciples sat speechless, looking at one another…in horror.  I think the passage above is one of those times.  I think when Jesus spoke these words, all of the disciples’ minds went to the exact same place yours and mine do…to that homeless man or woman in the street earlier today with whom we would not make eye contact, because we just did not want to speak to them or otherwise get …

Preparing for the Wind

Tuesday Re-mix –

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.  1 Corinthians 16:1-2

wind-in-the-sailsI am not a sailor.  Maybe you are.  So, forgive my ignorance of the whole experience, and please forgive my stealing of this illustration…but it seems to me that sailing involves a whole lot of hard work and attention to details, on the one hand, and a lot of being still and waiting on the wind to blow, on the other hand.  In that way, it is a lot like the church.

I once heard one of the important spiritual mentors in my life say: “I don’t like 5-year strategic plans for the church…I am always afraid we will reach the 5-year goal and have missed out on what God wanted for us.”  When I was a young leader in the church, that truly spoke to me.  It pretty much rocked my world.  I learned that God  does want God-sized things for His people.  He does want to show us great and amazing things of which we cannot even conceive.  We really do get so wrapped up in our planning and our business-like approach to spiritual things that we end up missing God completely…sometimes.  I think those were valuable lessons for me to learn as a young leader.  I definitely needed to expand my vision of God and of His sovereignty.

But there is another side to scripture.  There is a very practical side to it.  There is Jesus asking the question, “What kind of man sets out to …

Leaders Wobble But They Don’t Fall Down

Tuesday Re-mix –

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Corinthians 4:7-9

weeble3Is it just me?  Does anybody else read these words from the Apostle Paul and remember those silly Weebles ads about “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” (with apologies to all my international friends who all think I have finally lost my marbles!)?  Weebles are those cute little Hasbro/Playskool toys with the weighted bottoms so that they literally cannot be knocked over.  They are a near-perfect illustration of this revolution we call Christianity.  No matter what the world tries to do to stamp it out, it just gets back up and keeps growing.

And it is that same “struck-down-but-not-destroyed” spirit which inhabits you and me as church leaders today.  That is the encouraging word here from Paul to us.  We are filled with this same indestructible spirit.  The question is, does it feel like that to you?  And if it does not, how can you recapture it?

It seems clear to me that this spirit of “indestructibility” which Paul talks about in verses 8-9 is very much tied to his “jars of clay” illustration in verse 7.  In other words, it is only when we lose sight of our position as flawed and fragile vessels that we begin to set ourselves up for destruction.  When we, as leaders, begin to believe people’s scouting reports on us as “amazing communicators” or “extraordinary people”, when we begin to see ourselves as being just a little bit better than most of those around us, when we tend to forget that …

The Lies About Church Unity

Tuesday Re-mix –

“…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3

I am now more than a year past the half-century mark on this earth.  Quite the accomplishment, it seems to me.  When I was a teenager, I honestly never wanted to still be alive by this age.  It just seemed unbearably old to me then.  I have recently changed my mind about that.

I see a lot of things differently now.  I have developed a patience…a longer-term perspective on things.  I have learned that many of the things I thought as a young adult were just lies.  Here are some of the lies I have checked off my list as “learned” over the years:

If you can afford the mortgage payment, you can afford the house.

If you can afford the car payment, you can afford the car.

No matter how old you get, you’re never more than 90 days from getting back in shape.

You can work long and hard, or you can get lucky…lasting success can come either way.

When two good people get married, good marriages always result.

Lies, lies, lies…all of them.  In all these ways, I have learned that the same God who created the world in six days expects us to take significantly longer and work significantly harder to accomplish anything of real worth.

It makes perfect sense to me, then, that our job of “preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in the church is a tedious, difficult, long-term job which we cannot expect to happen overnight.  Because we are talking about real, human relationships, this job is messy and complicated and takes lots and lots of intentional effort.  In short, our responsibility of preserving the unity of the Spirit …