Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Fourth Priority- Leave Each Place Better Than You Found It

Standard

“And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

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. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”

And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.”

Mark‬ ‭1:29-45‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There was a lot that Jesus did during the course of His ministry that may not have fit right into His mission of delivering us from the spiritual bondage we were held under. For example, Mark tells us that the second challenge He faced in His ministry, after facing down the evil spirits that approached Him, was helping relieve the physical sickness and injury that the people faced.

Physical brokenness often seemed to go hand in hand with spiritual brokenness, and many people believed that they were intrinsically linked. If you were sick, it was because you were a sinner. If you got hurt, it was because you were not good enough for the blessing of God. This has been a perennial belief that keeps coming back like a bad patch of weeds. Jesus had healing for the asking and He rarely gave any behavioral stipulations to those He healed. On and individualistic level, it may seem perplexing and contradictory to say that spiritual problems and physical problems are closely related, but one does not necessarily cause the other. If they do not share a causal relationship, how are they related?

The truth is, they do share a causal relationship, but not on and individualistic level. We live in a world full of billions of other people and their spiritual problems reach out and touch us causing us problems as well, both spiritual and physical. Likewise, our own sins have consequences for more than just us. They touch everyone. We all live in the same mess, no matter who or where we are in this world. So, when you look at the big picture, across the entire world, and across all of time, then yes, there is a causal relationship between sin and physical brokenness – but it’s all wound up like a wad of string the size of our world that we will never be able to fully unravel.

Jesus didn’t try to unravel it all. He started at the heart of that mess, dealing with the spiritual malady we all are affected by, and then He began to untangle one small piece at a time. Jesus did not finish the job, nor did He intend to. Instead, He showed us how we too, once we find the origin of our own sin problem, can begin unraveling the consequences around us, in the lives of those whose own lives connect with ours. Like the old Boy Scout motto, Jesus taught us to leave each place a little better than we found it.

We rarely can find the root sin cause of suffering in the lives of those around us, but we can be a witness to our own, when we find those links… But even then, our own sin is the the root cause of our suffering. The root cause originated in the Garden of Eden and had multiplied and compounded over time, long before it ever reached us. Again, it is not our job to unravel the whole thing. Jesus has dealt with the root cause and as we receive healing in our lives from the consequences of sin (whether or not that sin was of our own doing or not) we can pass that healing along to those around us. Jesus didn’t heal everyone and neither does He expect us to, but I think He will hold us responsible for those He brings into our lives. Our fourth priority is to work to clean up this collateral damage that sin has caused in our world, wherever we find it, and leave this world better than we found it.

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Third Priority – Find the Root

Standard

“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” – ‭‭Mark‬ ‭1:21-28‬ ‭ESV‬‬

It is only after preparing yourself (Priority #1) and recruiting a team to help you (Priority #2) will you be ready to start making waves in the world. So, once you get yourself ready, how do you go about bringing about the change the world needs?Jesus faced many oppositions in the course of His ministry, but Mark proposed a particular order of priority in which Jesus engaged those foes. The first foe He faced was spiritual oppression.

Moses, in the days of the Exodus from Egypt, faced many challenges in trying to lead the Hebrew people from a place of slavery in Egypt to being faithful servants of God – a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They had lots of changes to make to get to that point, but the first and foremost was freedom from the oppression of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Not much else could be done before that was accomplished. Jesus faced a similar foe in his attempts to bring Israel (and through His disciples, the rest of the world) back into that role of kingdom of priests and holy nation. He was not facing a foreign king and army though. Jesus faced Satan and all of his fallen angels that had the people in another kind of bondage – sin.

A person who is truly enslaved has no ability to choose for themselves. Not only is it impossible for them to change themselves, it may actually be rather cruel to ask them to do so. The standards to which Jesus was asking His people to live by were, and are, impossible for those who are slaves to demonic spiritual oppression. So, whenever his teaching was challenged by those under spiritual oppression, Jesus did not chastise the challenger – He delivered them from bondage. More than simply asking people to change – Jesus made change possible for them.

Jesus looked at all the mess in this world and located the root of all of it and cut out the root first before trying to clean up the fruits of evil. As we work to make a difference in this world, if we have not discovered the root of the problem, we need to do more digging before we start cutting things down. If the experience of Jesus is any kind of guideline for us, we may have some spiritual battles to win before we can make any lasting change in this world.

This may drive us right back to Priority #1 if we find ourselves unprepared and unequipped to handle the root cause of the problems we face, and that could be quite frustrating. Think though of the cost of moving ahead while leaving the root of the problem to fester. The same problem will only crop up again somewhere else, perhaps somewhere nearby. How many political rebellions against tyrant dictators have resulted only in a new tyrant dictator on the throne? What is truly saddening is the number of times those who raise up the revolt end up being as bad or worse leaders once they win. If you truly want to bring change into the lives of others, sin must be factored in, and until you can give people freedom from it, any change they experience will be short-lived at best.

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Second Priority

Standard

“And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17, ESV)

It is worth consideration that the Son of God chose to work with imperfect people rather than to work alone.

“It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow him. This revealed immediately the direction his evangelistic strategy would take. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before he ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public. Men were to be his method of winning the world to God.” – Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism

We have heard pep talks about teamwork from little league all the way through the current presidential campaigns. You’ve probably heard every bumper sticker slogan about teamwork that is out there. Chances are, you’ve heard at least some of the statistics that show that teams that communicate well and share responsibility typically outperform even the most gifted individuals. You may even have first hand knowledge of that yourself.

Instead, let’s take a different perspective. Let’s ask ourselves the question: Why do we choose to work alone? In the light of all the knowledge we have leading us toward teamwork – why do we so often ignore it all and just do things on our own? I’ve got a few ideas (excuses).

  1. Personality type
    Some of us with high ‘I’ scores on the Myers Briggs test claim our tendency towards introversion keeps us working alone. We may use the phrase, “I work better this way”, when in fact we mean “I’m more comfortable this way”. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert – I’m one myself, but there is something dishonest about claiming comfort as the deciding factor of work quality. Work is not meant to be comfortable in and of itself, the way rest or play might be. Work is essentially about getting a particular task done efficiently and with good quality. If our work quality would improve by having a second or third set of eyes going over the project with us as a team, then we probably ought to do that and if the work would go more efficiently if the project were divided up between team members into smaller, interrelated tasks, then we should put our introverted preference aside and work as a team.
  2. Distrust of others
    Getting a little more honest, we sometimes use a distrust of others as our excuse to avoid teamwork. Distrust is often not a natural, but a learned response we pick up from having one or more significant experiences of betrayal. It is a defense mechanism whose purpose is to protect ourselves from relationships and the possibility of hurt that comes with them. Again, like the personality type, there is a time and place for distrust… mostly short-term situations we can either find some kind of reconciliation or leave. Distrust does not help us in the long term and it won’t help us lead.
  3. Need to be in control
    Insecurity over most any issue often creates a need to be in control. Unfortunately, the reality of our situation is that the greater our position of authority in any organization, oftentimes the less actual control we have over the organization, and sometimes our own lives. It becomes a downward spiral where the need to be in control actually pushes us into places where we have less control over our own lives, causing more insecurity, causing a greater need to be in control, in a cycle that never ends.

Jesus could have used any of those excuses. I don’t know whether Jesus was more of an introvert or extrovert, but He demonstrated enough of a desire to spend time alone or with small groups of people that I probably could have used that reason to do things on His own. He had plenty of reason to distrust others because He was more aware of our sin than we were ourselves. While He did not seem to be insecure, He, being God, really was in control and so He could have used that as a legitimate reason to just do things Himself.

The bottom line is, if anyone had good reason to just take care of things themselves, it was Jesus, and He chose to recruit help. Our second priority, after getting prepared ourselves, is to find others to join us in our work, for the harvest is plenty but the laborers are few.

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Main Thing

Standard

Upon his return from the wilderness, and after John was arrested, Jesus began preaching this message:

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15, ESV)

This is the announcement. This is what the Jews had been waiting for. This is the gospel.

The message Jesus preached was set in two functional parts: a announcement and an invitation. The pronouncement of Jesus here in Mark is about as basic as you can make it. The time is fulfilled. One of the things that aided the authority of Jesus was the fact that He did not enter into our world of politics as a detached or entirely original entity. He did not just pop up out of nowhere.

Matthew and Luke both make a great significance of his birth 30 years earlier, and John’s gospel takes his origin back to the very creation of the world. In this way, Jesus was not presenting something new, but something very old. Curiously, some of the criticism He faced was from those who did not believe His person, and thereby His message predates the thirty year lifespan of His body. So, prior to making any request, Jesus first announces that He is not only part of a long line of people involved in God’s work in our world… He declares that the timeline has reached fulfillment in Him.

Not only has the timeline reached a culmination point, but the physical presence of God’s Kingdom has arrived. We could not reach heaven, so heaven came down to us. Jesus describes it’s location as being “at hand” which means has come near. The ‘hand’ part of that translation makes me think that the Kingdom is something you can reach out and grab. While it may be true that there are handles that we can take ahold of ourselves, I think a better way of thinking may be that the Kingdom has come within diving distance – so jump in with both feet! You won’t be able to pull it around, but it will move you from the place your life is now to the new eternal life God has prepared for you. This is the announcement of the Kingdom of God.

Next comes the invitation. You’ve heard about the Kingdom… Here is how to get there. Repent and believe the gospel.

Repenting almost always involves turning around. Sometimes it literally means doing a 180 and facing the very things from which we run. Is there something you are continually avoiding that you suspect should be reconciled? You won’t get far into the Kingdom unless you face it. Other times it means turning just a few degrees to the left or right. When trying to put together a wooden shelf with screws, if they require a flathead standard screwdriver and I am holding a Phillips screwdriver, repenting does not mean throwing down the screwdriver and getting a hammer to pound the screws in. It means getting the right screwdriver for the job. If we are constantly trying to use the wrong tool for the job, simply because we like the tool or feel more comfortable with it, we will not get far in the Kingdom. Repentance always means turning, always means change, and always, always means submitting to God’s authority for our life instead of living by our own standards and preferences.

Then Jesus asks us to believe. This is where I think this is more than reaching out and grabbing. True belief involves investment. It involves putting your weight upon God’s promises and trusting that God will hold you up. It’s not knowledge or feeling – belief is an action. There will always be some parts of our lives that will remain invisible to all but God and ourselves, but if your ‘belief’ is entirely invisible, I would question how valuable and how real it is. If someone tells me they love their family, but I never meet them, they never show me pictures of them, and they never tell me stories about their life as a family…it makes me doubt the truth of their claim. If we believe the gospel and are part of God’s kingdom, there should be some kind of evidence of that in our lives that others witness. We are called to be witnesses of God, but those around us should be witnesses of our love for God and God’s love for us.

This is the gospel. This is the main thing. It was not the only thing. It was the first piece that needed to be set before any other ministry would be done. The teaching, healing, deliverances, and forgiveness extended all grew out of this first piece. All of those ministries and all of our ministries find their root in this gospel announcement and invitation when Jesus came to tell us the Kingdom had arrived and there was a place for us if we were willing to turn and join Him.

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The First Priority

Standard

Jesus changed the world. There is not much debate around that. He is perhaps the most commonly recognized name from the last 2000 years and probably most of written history altogether. While He did not compete for political office of any kind during his life in the first century, He attracted an enormous following that continues today in a way that has political implications all over the world. He changed the world, and He is still changing the world today.

Those of us who claim to follow Jesus have a mission to change the world by making new disciples of Jesus. Sometimes our zeal for leading change and our lack of wisdom and discernment in doing so have caused as much harm as good. This problem has been most prevalent in political issues and most of the criticism surrounding Christianity has been related to politics. In the last century, we have tried to counter this criticism by distancing ourselves from politics. With the recent cultural engagement with Christian Faith, in comparison and contrast with other world religions, distancing ourselves from politics is no longer a viable alternative, if it ever truly was. I propose instead that we try something else. I propose we look at Jesus and His values and priorities as He lead the way in changing the world around Him.

Mark’s gospel has often been referred to as the first gospel, because it contains more shared material than the other gospels and because it is shorter. The focus of Mark’s gospel is on the actions of Jesus and details the ministry of Jesus from His baptism at age 30 until his crucifixion and resurrection three years later. So, for a short, concise, focused look at the actions of Jesus, we will look at the Gospel of Mark.

Mark’s gospel skips the birth narrative and the first 30 years of Jesus’s life, choosing instead to focus on the 3 years of His ministry and journey to the cross in Jerusalem. Unlike Moses, in the Old Testament, who has a special birth narrative (as Matthew compares to Jesus in his gospel account), Mark writes the story of Jesus more like the stories of the Judges of Israel who were “raised up” by God during Israel’s time of need, delivered them, and then disappeared into the depths of history.

Mark begins with a scripture reference from the prophet Isaiah and identifies John the Baptist as the fulfillment of this prophecy. John has his own role to play in this narrative, but he never overshadows Jesus and never steps into the role as conqueror himself. He is a witness, “a voice crying in the wilderness”, just as Isaiah described. He provides the introduction to this action-packed drama, points out Jesus as the main character by baptizing Him, and then quickly steps aside. Even though Jesus has a powerful introduction onto the scene, His transition from anonymity to celebrity status is anything but easy.

Mark says, immediately after being baptized, the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness where He was “being tempted by Satan”. No time to pack a bag or get prepared – no the first enemy that Jesus is to face in this work is the greatest evil of all, Satan himself. From the very first chapter, Mark makes it clear to us that this is a spiritual war that Jesus is waging on our behalf and that everything else flows out of this. Nor is this a quick battle. It says Jesus is out in the wilderness for 40 days, fasting and praying, while being tempted and being ministered to by the angels. Luke provides a longer account of this, but Mark focuses on the point that Jesus went into battle the first day on the job.

The first priority of Jesus was getting himself spiritually prepared. This was not a fundraising campaign or time of gathering followers. He was tested to see if He could live according to the very standards by which He would soon be leading others. This should really not be any kind of surprise to us. Indeed it seems like a pretty American-friendly notion that all people are created equal and that the laws of one apply to the laws of all. So Jesus, about to set out on a huge campaign of teaching people how to live in the Kingdom of God, started out by proving that He could live that life Himself. He was tempted to use His own power to benefit Himself, but instead of using privilege for His own personal ends, He fasted and sought God’s provision instead.

One of the best lessons I learned in seminary, learning to be a leader of the church, was that new leaders are often given a kind of “honeymoon” period during their first several months or perhaps even a year. Typically a congregation during this time will give you about one, two, or perhaps three free requests, or things they will follow you and do, before deep trust has been established, simply because you have a claim of authority over them. The challenge is: will you use these free requests for your own benefit, for theirs, or for God? It is tempting to try to wiggle a way to at least partially do all three…but that is not the leadership to which Christians are called. We are called to serve God and others and to do so trusting in God’s provision for us all.

Jesus prepared and practiced this first priority before He ever preached His first message. If Jesus is our model, how do we prepare ourselves for leadership? How are we tested to be sure we are truly relying on God’s provision and not being led astray to use our own authority – in whatever form it may come – for our own benefit instead of to serve God and others? Do we hold ourselves to at least the same ethical standards as those to whom we intend to lead… or will we find ourselves as hypocrites – just acting as leaders – before we even begin?

See this article on Leadership and Ethics

Also Aristotle’s emphasis on Ethos (Ethics) on persuasion (and leadership)

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Model

Standard

I was challenged by a question a few weeks ago: Who are your heroes?

I know the purpose of that question was to help illuminate the people I try to immitate. Immitation may be a the sincerest form of flattery, but it also happens to be one of our most important means of learning as well. In fact, I bet we copy the behavior of those we respect long before we truly understand why they behave that way. This creates intense defensive mechanisms that we employ when our imitated behavior – that of our heroes or the same behavior we do ourselves, is brought into question. This may be what makes our current political climate so interesting right now. Something has happened that is causing us to move beyond our defensiveness and really start to question those heroes we have and the behavior we have been modeling.

The subject of Christian Politics is moving. Some of the former concepts about Christian Politics (that the term may be an oxymoron and that the concepts of Christianity and Politics inherently corrupt one another) are being challenged. The identities and affiliations of Christian Politicians is being questioned. There is a disturbance in the force and we are all trying to figure out what the answer is. Unfortunately, we may all be jumping the gun, looking for answers, when we do not know what questions to ask.

I want to begin with a few postulates that may seem obvious, but I think will help us uncover some false assumptions we have later on.

  1. Jesus did not speak about nor institute the United States of America. Any talk about the USA being a “Christian Nation” does not bear the same legitimacy of Israel and have only been borrowed by analogy – an analogy that can be used by any nation at any time in our world with enough logical argument.
  2. Jesus taught very little on politics directly. There are only a few statements He made in the gospels that speak directly on the subject of authority of one person over another. What He did teach about was many of the issues that politics deal with such as economy, justice, relationships, and duty.
  3. While Jesus did not speak to a large extent on the issue of political authority, He modeled in it His actions significantly throughout all four gospels. He did in fact, teach by example.

Back to the question of heroes… Often when we speak of Christian politics, we choose our models from the founding fathers of the United States (such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson) and great leaders from our history (such as Abraham Lincoln). We then scour the historical documents of these leaders in attempt to prove their faith and justify our support of one or more of their political efforts. I suspect that this is due in part to postulate #2, that Jesus did not teach much on politics directly. Today it probably has to do with maintaining a kind of religious separation or objectivity, knowing that the name of Jesus invokes enough cultural irritation today, the same way I expect a political leader invoking the name of Mohammad or Buddha would. I expect this is why there is a also a lack of church leaders cited as political heroes. There is little mention of Augustine, Patrick, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, or any others.

The net result of this shakiy foundation and distancing from Jesus Himself creates a dillution of the values that truly embody Christian politics. It is at this particular juncture that I ask the question: Can we base Christian politics on Jesus Himself? If we considered Jesus one of our heroes of Christian politics, what behaviors would we find ourselves modeling?

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – the Problem

Standard

In the span of less than a year, a significant portion of Christians in the United States have left their political party and have found themselves lost, confused, and disturbed by the political arena today. The liberal portion of the church that has remained relatively untouched are, I suspect, primarily people who believe in a strong division between church and state and who do not look to our president (or any other government officers) to be a religious leader. Indeed, we have even questioned the relevance of their moral authority over us at least as far back as President Nixon. I think it is wrong however to claim that this disappointment is purely a Republican or conservative Christian problem in light of the many supporters of Bernie Sanders who were disappointed by his loss to Hilary Clinton in the primaries. 
It is certainly a problem for conservative Christians though. The Republican Party has enjoyed a history of appealing to the Conservative Christian’s on issues, one of the most significant being their Pro-life/anti-abortion stance. I won’t pretend they have ever been perfect. While I have been impressed by some of their members, I’ve not been a supporter of either party. I’ve seen enough non-Christian and anti-Christian values mixed into the politics of both major parties throughout my lifetime, and I’ve never been one to put my faith in human institutions in general. 
The way party politics has not changed. Money still leads the way to the seats of authority in our country, the same way it has for generations. Compromise is still the key to get ahead in politics – a tactic that probably predates the United States and that we all probably learned from the many nations from which our ancestors originated. In many ways the issues that we face today are the same issues we faced last year, fifty years ago, and a hundred years ago. 
What has changed is the rhetoric. Today, it is more socially acceptable to be impolitely honest. We have social media that allows us to hide behind invented handles and user names which gives us the illusion of anonymity. That has invited us to say what we think without considering the ramifications of our “free speech”. We are calling out the ‘Good Ole Boy’ networks that have maintained our national status quo for years – and not just in the political realm. This has begun to dominate the business realm as well. Cable TV companies have been given a run for their money by the upstart Netflix who has effectively changed the game on them. The publishing companies and bookstores all across our country are going out of business and in disarray with the advent of digital books, and Amazon’s Kindle in particular. More and more people are beocming self-published authors today, bypassing the publishing companies altogether as they find new innovative ways to market their products. Kickstarter, Ebay, Craigslist, YouTube… the list goes on . The secrets of the game of succeeding in American Capitalism are out, the cheat codes have been published, and now we are rewriting the rules of the game.
The world is changing, the wheel is turning, and many of us have more power at our fingertips than we realize. Having power though, is not the same thing as having the wisdom and morals to know when and how to use it… which brings us back to our current situation. Power can be attained, but when it is easily obtained for one, it is easily obtained for all, and the repercussions of that mean that those who command the hearts of people are also at the mercy of their jealousy. Anyone going into leadership should first learn the lesson that humans often crucify their saviors. My suspicion is that our current political disarray as well as some of the cultural violence that is plaguing our nation is due to the consequences that we have tried to sweep under the rug for far too long. Now we have people with power, both publicly and behind the scenes, who have been freed from the accountabilty of moral teaching and who got where they are today by stepping on all those behind them. In short, our own desire for personal freedom from obligations and responsibility has set the stage for these political actors we have before us today.
What can we do now? Stay tuned for more.