Tag Archives: truth

Pastor Sisyphus’ Bad Day

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
    how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you are so trusting,
    what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?  Jeremiah 12:5

sisyphus

Church leadership, especially the pastorate, can feel a little like the plight of Sisyphus…forever pushing that boulder up the hill with little or no results to show for it.  They won’t pray…they won’t listen…they won’t volunteer or help…they won’t commit.  But, oh, how they will complain! Sometimes you just feel like giving up.

I think every pastor who feels oppressed and burdened and stressed to the point of giving up should take a break and study Jeremiah’s ministry…really try to crawl around in Jeremiah’s skin. I promise, you will feel much better about your own circumstances!

Jeremiah spent 40 years obediently delivering a message nobody wanted to hear. Nobody. At all. He pushed and he pressed. He obediently spoke, again and again. He was ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned, and his own family scoffed at him. And through it all, to the very end, he was so very, very alone. And at the end of 40 years of these tireless efforts, he had not a single conversion to show for it. None. Jeremiah prayed and he begged God to change his assignment. He cried and he pled. He wished he had never even been born. And at one particularly low point of his depression, God’s response to him was something along the lines of “You think this is bad? The hard part hasn’t even started yet!”

But Jeremiah’s plight teaches us something important about how we measure our “success” in answering God’s call (and, just as importantly, how we should NOT measure our success). Maybe there will be amazing results to …

Speaking Without Seeing

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?” “I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied. Jeremiah 1:11

“Learn that simple lesson well, O you who try to speak for God! You must be seers before you can be speakers.” Charles Spurgeon

It’s the first rule of communication: know what you want to say before you start saying it.  Few things are more frustrating than trying to listen to someone who is trampling on this rule…their mouth is moving and the words are flowing and they have no idea where they are trying to go.  That, I believe, is where the prophets of the ancient days set themselves apart.  They were called “seers”…because they could see what was unseen by all the rest of us.  It was not so much a gift of SPEAKING, as much as it was a gift of SEEING and then simply speaking the truth about what they saw.  That calling was made so very clear in Jeremiah’s case.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I do not study scripture in the original Hebrew. But Charles Spurgeon did. And he notes that the Hebrew word for “almond” actually comes from a root word that means “awake” or, more specifically, “wakeful”.  That is because the almond tree started to blossom very early in the Spring (even late Winter), while all the other trees were still sleeping.  So, in the Hebrew language, this tree was known as the “wakeful tree”.

The imagery would have been clear to Jeremiah.  His assignment was to see, first and foremost. If Jeremiah will remain wakeful to see, God will remain wakeful to perform His word just as Jeremiah sees it. God’s assignment came with a promise. It always does, doesn’t it?

And isn’t that the church’s assignment as well? Are we …

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 …

Loving Against the Grain

Tuesday Re-mix –

You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”…While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.  Acts 7:51-53, 59-60

Learning to show love to a lost and broken world is hard enough for us as individuals…that challenge is magnified a hundred fold for the church corporately.  We, the church, must live in the tension between standing for holiness (separateness, not giving in to the ways of the world) and loving the broken people around us, who are still well-entrenched in the ways of the world.  It is tricky, isn’t it?

When I read Stephen’s amazing sermon in Acts 7, and I see him brilliantly making the case for the pattern of rebellion throughout the history of the Jewish people (it is very much like an intervention…laying out all the evidence in a rational and indisputable way) and then leveling his charge against the church leaders of his time by associating them with that same pattern…I think to myself, “Now THAT is definitely going against the grain and calling out an entire culture!”  I have seen churches who have no problem with walking against the grain…railing against our culture, screaming at all the sinners in the world and telling them they’re going to burn in hell, even telling them that …

Parting and Going Our Separate Ways

Tuesday Re-mix –

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.  Acts 15:36-40

I honestly cannot even imagine how difficult being on a mission trip with the apostle Paul would have been.  It seems to me you would be hard-pressed to find a more driven, intense “missionary” in the entire Bible than Paul.  He seems to have worked tirelessly through very long days and he seems to have pushed himself and his fellow laborers to extremes.  Being on mission with Paul would not be for the faint-hearted.  So, just between you and me, I don’t blame young John Mark one bit for bailing on Paul in Pamphylia.  I am sure that young man felt utterly overwhelmed by it all.

But oh what I wouldn’t give to have been a fly on the wall during that later conflict between the two teachers, Paul & Barnabas, over this very incident.  Paul would have argued vehemently that the mission field is no place for quitters and that he had no time to be babysitting when he could be out teaching.  He would have pointed out that John Mark literally left them holding the bag when he quit on them in the middle of that mission trip.  Barnabas, ever the …

Eye Contact with God

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Come, let us discuss this,”
says the LORD.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be as white as snow;
though they are as red as crimson,
they will be like wool. Isaiah 1:18

“Cross-examination is the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.” John Henry Wigmore

As an attorney in America, I am part of a legal system which assumes the adversarial system is the surest means to finding the truth. That assumption contemplates two parties, face to face, exchanging arguments in such a way that the truth somehow wriggles out. It does not have to be litigation–it can be arbitration or even mediation–but there is something about standing (or sitting) and looking someone in the eye which just lends itself to more truth and to less manipulation. I have come to believe in that process, when done correctly, as one which works…most of the time.

Interestingly, litigants in our culture have often never taken this opportunity. They just go and hire lawyers and file cases and it may be years before they actually sit down face to face and exchange contentions. Most jurisdictions today actually require it (i.e., some form of mediation) before you can proceed to trial. I think that is a good thing.

eye-contactGod requires it as well. When we have gotten things horribly wrong and have rebelled against Him and continue to get deeper and deeper in trouble, what He waits for, LONGS for, is the conversation. He waits for the moment when we will sit knee-to-knee with Him (so to speak), make eye contact with Him and Him with us, and talk with Him. If you have parented teenagers, you know this feeling…when they are rebelling and refusing to listen, what you want more than anything else …

Stumbling over the “Stumbling Block” Metaphor

Tuesday Re-mix –

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.  1 Corinthians 8:9

I do not drink alcohol.  I do have plenty of friends who believe I should…and there was a time in my life when I did.  But when I got out of college and got married and began my “grown-up” life, I made the decision to not drink alcohol.  I did not make that decision out of any moralistic reasoning, or because of any misguided belief that God frowns on alcohol…I do not believe that at all.  I made that decision because, in my particular “flavor” of Christianity (the Southern Baptist church), there are still plenty of people for whom alcohol is a major “stumbling block” issue…people with whom I would lose my testimony if I did drink alcohol…so it seemed like a small price to pay to retain that ability to be a Godly influence in their lives.  Thirty years later, it still feels like a very small price to pay.

That issue (alcohol in the Baptist church) is about as close as I can come to a contemporary example of the “meat sacrificed to idols” issue Paul dealt with in the Corinthian church.  In that community, there was meat for sale in the market place at a discounted price, because it was surplus meat from pagan temples, i.e., meat intended to be sacrificed to pagan gods, but which was surplus and therefore sold into the market place for resale.  Given the Jewish history with pagan gods and all, there were plenty of “traditionalists” in the New Testament church who refused to purchase or consume that meat and who were fairly judgmental towards those who did.  These are the “weak-minded” people whom Paul is protecting when …

Finding Focus in a Church’s Grief

Tuesday Re-mix – 

“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” Hebrews 3:1

I have been blessed with only a limited amount of genuine grieving in my life.  Frankly, I’ve done a whole lot more consoling of others than I have needed consoling myself.  But you don’t have to be an expert on grief to know that it has a profound effect on our ability to see truth.  In fact, a part of the healing process is learning to look through the pain to some larger truth which, difficult as it may be to grasp in spite of the pain, still has a way of guiding us.

But did you know that the grief process is not reserved only for individuals?  Churches grieve also.  They grieve the loss of a much-loved leader, the loss of a ministry or program, the loss of a “way of doing things”, the loss of unity…all of these can cause a type of grieving process for a church.  And like the grieving process for an individual, a church’s grief can be unpredictable and unrelenting.  It can last a few days or a few years, perhaps even an entire generation.  It can cause the church to do and say things it doesn’t mean to do and say.  But most of all, just like the grief process for anyone else, it is painful…unbearably so.

Moreover, grief has a way of disorienting us, both as individuals and as congregations.  It turns up into down and right into left.  It leaves us not even knowing which way to look for direction.  It is chaotic and complex and confounding.

So, it is in the pain of real grief where we are often left with little orientation …

Can You Handle the Truth About Your Church’s Conflict?

Tuesday Re-mix –

I’m a bit of a movie buff, I’ll admit.  It’s been over 20 years since I’ve seen a movie with an “R” rating, so I have definitely missed a few otherwise good movies since then.  Nevertheless, I’ve seen plenty of great ones.

My favorite “lawyer” movie?  That’s a tough one for me because there have been some really great ones.  12 Angry Men, The Verdict, The Juror…to name a few truly great ones.  But my favorite single cross-examination scene is a no-brainer: Tom Cruise cross-examining Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. (I apologize for the profanity at the very end of this clip…I do not endorse that portion of it, nor do I know how to edit it out).  Remember this scene?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5j2F4VcBmeo&hl=en&fs=1&rel=0]

So often in church conflicts, one side or the other (or both) fight under a banner that says, “We just want the truth to be told.”  Maybe you have been a part of that group before.  It seems right enough.  After all, only a guilty party would be against telling the truth, right?  “We just want the truth told about the pastor.”  “We just want the truth told about that group of people.”  “We just want the truth told about us.”  Etc., etc…you get the picture.  But here is what I have learned about pretty much every church fight (including yours): there is the very shallow truth involved in your particular issue, and then there is a much deeper, more profound, larger truth about your conflict.  And in so many cases, a church either cannot or will not handle that larger truth.

The larger truth about your church’s conflict is an ugly truth about the relationships in your church.  They are not what God wants them to be.  The larger truth is, …