Transitions

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When we hear about transitions in Methodist denominations, we typically think about pastor moves. However, congregations are in a state of flux themselves as well. Many of our Hispanic congregations expect to lose 25% of their members each year due to relocation for work and family purposes. A large portion of our older Anglo congregations may be looking at losing that many to death, health concerns, or retirement relocation. Indeed, some of our congregations with a majority of members in their 70s and 80s may be looking at losing much more than that. Everything and Everyone Everywhere is changing… Except our mission.

Jesus raised up leaders after Him to carry on the process of making new disciples. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking our job is to get people saved and God’s job is to take them from there. Instead it is just the opposite. Only Jesus can save and He commanded us to go and make disciples and feed the sheep He brings into the fold.1 We all fall prey to this misunderstanding from time to time. Both churches young and old get mixed up regarding their mission and God’s part in that.

Perhaps it is because the specifics of God’s mercies are new each morning and He is not entirely predictable. Our egos cannot control Him and plan for Him. So instead, we plan around Him, leaving Him out of our plans. Ultimately, He is the one making the plans and we need to constantly realign our own lives around His vision. Perhaps it would make a difference if there were leaders set aside to specifically seek God’s vision and help align the ministries of their church in obedience to God. Normally, the main task of those leaders is making sure the bills get paid and the building does not fall apart.

Often this transition is experienced in a slow decline. A few members move away. Each year a few more pass away. We experience the normal passages of life as we lose more through graduations, marriages and divorces, and more. This is normal. This is life.

The problem arises when we realize that it has been several years since we have brought in new people to our family of faith. The births do not compensate for the deaths, and we hemorrhage out our graduates, who often never return. Essentially, our babies do not stay and become fully-functioning members… so where will our new members come from? When was the last time we had a visitor to church? When was the last time someone joined our congregation from outside our church families? These are some of the questions that do not get asked until we are already on the downward slope and losing our balance.

Sometimes, transitions occur because of new growth. Growth, which often seems to be the entire goal, brings changes itself. Many churches can tell stories of experiencing a period of great growth, followed by loss, and then ending in slow decline. Why is that? They were not equipped to handle the growth.

They may have run out of seats or parking spaces. It is likely they were no longer able to know everyone by name and people felt neglected. Ultimately, the church was able to grow in numbers, but not in disciples because all the energy was being directed to bringing in more people and keeping them there, instead of truly making them part of the family of faith and raising them up to be followers of Jesus… and that problem probably found its root with an insufficient number of leaders/teachers within the congregation. Where the leaders are few, decline is right around the corner.

There is another part of this story that may have occurred as well. Somewhere in the middle of that growth, a few people may have realized that some of the members (with longer standing in this church) were given more influence and input into the way the ministries were run. There is a certain justice to that, but when new people do not have clear ways (and clear filters) into the leadership of the church, everyone gets frustrated, lines are drawn in the sand, and conflict grows into a schism in the house of God.

This kind of conflict is never easy to resolve and almost always means losing not only attending people, but often losing good leaders within the church. It kills the morale of the congregation far more than the death of beloved leaders, because this kind of separation feels so unnatural. It feels like the church kicking people out rather than welcoming them in and it often takes years for a church to recover.

How do we hope to help? It may seem counterintuitive that an outsider could bring any practical help to congregations facing these issues. (Although, ironically, most of these congregations believe that bringing in a new (better) pastor from outside will solve the problem.) I am a pastor myself and I know that we pastors make our fair share of mistakes. Generally speaking though, removing people from the congregation is not the best place to start. Healthy congregations have ways of gracefully correcting us for the benefit of all, and that health can be modeled to a congregation through the intervention of outside leaders. These kinds of things are primarily helpful with churches in conflict though. What about the majority that are simply experiencing slow decline or a burst of growth they are unprepared to adequately disciple?

We invite the leadership into a discussion about Ability, Willingness, and Vision. It is not helpful to discuss major property renovation if the resources are simply not there to make it happen. Likewise it is useless to discuss the addition of major programming if the current property is unable to support it. We have to have a conversation about the current reality of the congregation so we can begin to chart a course to the place we need to be. Sometimes that kind of conversation is easier when you have a more objective outside presence in the room encouraging the conversation.

We also talk about willingness. Some congregations have leaders that are simply exhausted and do not have the capacity to lead the people into the next few years, let alone the next few decades. Lack of spiritual renewal often leaves them burnt out and when the church puts on revivals, they are often the ones left to carry the workload for the benefit of everyone else. Without willingness, a church cannot move forward.

Finally, we talk about the kingdom vision of the church. What do we know already that God wants us to be and to be doing? Do we know how to make disciples? Do we know how to reach people for Christ? Do we know how to call them to serve Him with their lives? Do we know why we exist?

These are all questions that every church should ask of themselves at least once a year. They can keep us on the path of faithfulness to God if we continue to check our alignment with His will on a regular basis, instead of waiting until we are halfway off the cliff. I am beginning to use these questions among my own church leaders and sharing them with other pastors, to help spread this opportunity to encourage good spiritual health within our congregations.

We are training regional pastor and laity teams (2 by 2) to be facilitators in this process. I do not expect to be doing much consulting with this particular process myself, but I have already been involved in helping to train up some of the first facilitators who feel called to this kind of ministry. Among the many plates I have spinning at the moment (and there is more to come), this was one I feel I can support more from a distance, as a consultant to the process. I am saving my presence and efforts to be more involved when those turns toward health are made and opportunities arise for discussions about Fresh Expressions.

  1. Matthew 28:16-20; John 21:15-17

Where have I been?

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Where have I been?

Some of you frequent readers may have wondered what ever became of the daily blogs you had been receiving during much of the first half of 2017. Some of the small seeds I have been scattering for the past few years have started to take root and begin to sprout. Like the mustard seed, it has been a few small things with much larger implications as they continue to grow and connect with others.

First of all though, a short word about writing… A couple years back I began reading Stephen King’s On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft. Along with several other books and experiences in life, I began to start calling myself a writer, and to write on a regular basis. The most memorable part of King’s book for me was his comment about writing at least 2000 words each day. At first that seemed daunting, but before long I was easily writing at least 1000 words per day, while keeping my day job. A lot of fruit has come out of that work, much of it found on my devotional blog.

I wrote something like 1200-1500 words per day for that blog, every day, for somewhere around 8 or 9 months. There were ups and downs in the excitement level, but in the last few months I noticed my writing quality dwindling and something inside me was begging for a rest from the routine. So I pulled back the reins and slowed to a halt.

At the same time I began to spend more of my ministry time planning and working with New Church Development, and a particular form of NCD called Fresh Expressions. The simplest way to describe Fresh Expressions is taking taking the means of making disciples to communities outside the church. Imagine you were going to start a new Christian community in a foreign country far away. What would you need to do? What would you expect as a result in your home congregation? Now imagine that you are doing that in your own community but with similar expectations and results. That is what Fresh Expressions looks like. It brings the core values of church to a new context, linking them primarily by the missionaries sent from the local congregation.

Fully functioning Fresh Expressions are built around 4 main components, designated by directions.

  • UP – Loving and worshipping God (Worship)
  • IN – Building up the body of believers (Discipleship)
  • OUT – Reaching out to others in the community (Service and Evangelism)
  • OF – Connection to a local congregation

The form and methodology of ministry in these Fresh Expressions can be as varied as the number of Fresh Expressions themselves, however they are not meant to be Church-lite. They are meant to be the church thriving in places and among people that traditional ministries are unable to reach.

I am excited about this particular kind of ministry because the accessibility of it is not dependent upon large financial resources, growing metropolitan areas, or groups of people with any particular backgrounds with church. In other words, any church has the potential to start a thriving Fresh Expression in their community with prayerful, thoughtful investment. It is mission work at the level of small groups. Instead of getting other to come to us, we go to them and take as much of “church” (at least the good parts of “church”) that we can pack with us.

My work this past year has primarily been in supporting New Church Development in the Central KY area. In October, I was asked to help form a team and oversee Fresh Expressions all across Kentucky. This fall, I have spent most of my work in this area speaking to groups of church lay leaders and working to recruit members of the new KYFX team.

Through all of this, I have been sharing my vision of the means and fruitfulness of Fresh Expressions. I am not a math or numbers person in general, but I have been working with a formula as a guide to the possibilities of Fresh Expressions. It looks something like this:

  • If every church in our conference (800 churches) attempts some kind of new ministry in the next 3 years,
  • and if 1/3 of them fail (which we will learn from)
  • and 1/3 of them never grow beyond a small new outreach (which we will celebrate)
  • and only 1/3 of them grow and develop into full Fresh Expressions
  • We will have 235 Fresh Expressions in 3 years!

What is more

  • If only 10% of our Fresh Expressions grow enough to require their own pastors and become church plants themselves, we will have planted 24 churches (more than the number we planned to plant in total) at a small fraction of the cost of normal church plants!

If that was not reason enough to get excited about, then think about this: In our time where the local church has not often been faithful in raising up new leaders and new pastors to fill churches, let alone plant new ones, Fresh Expressions is becoming a means of raising up and training new leaders who are able to reach those who cannot be reached in traditional settings. Laity who are willing and able to lead a Fresh Expression may become some of the better candidates for pastoral ministry in the years to come, and they can discover and practice those gifts and skills first without incurring large debts from theological education. Essentially, they get free on-the-job training for ministry. The conference and local church also get a method of testing the fruitfulness of these leaders before investing large amounts of resources into them.

To me, the possibility of raising up the next generation of church leaders is even more exciting than planting new churches. Buildings and programs come and go, but the people whose lives are changed and who give them over to the service of God can touch hundreds and thousands of others each. Fresh Expressions, to me, are not a means of changing or reforming the Church. It is a way of starting new ministries based upon the place where the needs of the people intersect with the commission of the gospel so that all may be saved, transformed, and given new life.

This hope for the future hinges upon the willingness of the local churches to try something new to reach new people, the ability of our district and conference ministries to give them adequate support to match their faith, and God’s grace to cover and lead us all. Failure is certainly an option, but giving up is not. God may not demand that we succeed perfectly every time on our own, but He does command that we seek His help and attempt to fulfill the mission He gave to us.

Tweet: Failure is certainly and option, but giving up is not.

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Leaders

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Leaders

Genesis 45:16–28

When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” Pharaoh and his servants were pleased. Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your animals and go back to the land of Canaan. Take your father and your households and come to me, so that I may give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you may enjoy the fat of the land.’ You are further charged to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. Give no thought to your possessions, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’ ”

The sons of Israel did so. Joseph gave them wagons according to the instruction of Pharaoh, and he gave them provisions for the journey. To each one of them he gave a set of garments; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five sets of garments. To his father he sent the following: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Do not quarrel along the way.”

So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. And they told him, “Joseph is still alive! He is even ruler over all the land of Egypt.” He was stunned; he could not believe them. But when they told him all the words of Joseph that he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.”

Matthew 8:1–13

Jesus Cleanses a Leper1

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him; and there was a leper who came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant2

When he entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, appealing to him and saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” And he said to him, “I will come and cure him.” The centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only speak the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and the slave does it.” When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.” And the servant was healed in that hour. “

A land is only as good as its leaders.Tweet: A land is only as good as its leaders.

Oddly enough, it does not always matter where they come from. One young lady managed to trace every US president except one back to one common ancestor in England. Who is the one with different roots? It’s not the one you think.

The great rulers of Egypt were no different. Some of their greatest were not Egyptian. Joseph, the Hebrew slave became one that put them head and shoulders above all the nations in the area during the time of great famine. They were fortunate to have got him and from what I gather, they got a great deal on him as well, paying the price of a slave for the benefit of a national savior.

Somewhere along the way, they got over the fact that he was Hebrew and that he had not grown up in a royal household. They respected him for his character and the results he brought, rather than his pedigree. Because they chose to follow him, including Pharaoh himself, they were blessed. Their faith in Jospeh allowed them to flourish as a nation.

Jesus also called for faith. Like Joseph, he asked for faith from those beyond the boundaries of his home nation. Again, it was the outsiders that ended up teaching Israel what real faith looked like. The lepers – cast out from society – turned to Jesus for healing and found it. The Gentiles came to Him for healing and trusted in His power without needing to see it themselves. In Jesus’s own words: “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” What does it mean when the unbelieving heathens trust God more than God’s own chosen people?

It means God moves. There is a hope that we have in watching God work throughout history. Jesus taught us to love our enemies, partly because we are called to be a blessing to the world and a witness of God’s love and grace. But there is a side note as well. God has a way of blessing His people through their enemies eventually, but that blessing only gets through if we can stop fighting long enough to see where God is working. The gold of Egypt furnished the tabernacle, the Philistines gave sanctuary to Israel’s greatest king, and Egypt again would later provide refuge for the savior of the world, when the king of the Jews wanted Him dead.

Good leaders come from being capable followers. Those who cannot follow, struggle to lead.Tweet: Good leaders come from being capable followers. Those who cannot follow, struggle to lead. This cannot be more true for a Christian society, in whose case the leader only has authority insomuch as they are following Jesus, the true leader. We have no king but Jesus, and the best our politicians can aspire to is the level of prince (or perhaps vice-president in US terms). The true leader will always be Jesus, because He has not died and left us to our own devices. He is alive and is coming back to reclaim His kingdom.

What kind of leaders have blessed your life?

What kind of leader are you?

Who are you following?

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  1. (Mk 1:40–45; Lk 5:12–16)
  2. (Lk 7:1–10)

Death

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Death

Acts 7:55-8:1

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

And Saul approved of their killing him.

Stephen would have made a great preacher.

He was willing to serve with his hands and feet, but he was not afraid to stand up and speak his mind when he was given the opportunity. In fact, I think his single greatest characteristic was his courage. He was also a foreigner. I think that gave him a huge advantage over the twelve apostles, who all hailed from Galilee and had much more distinguished Jewish roots. They were battling over 500 years of captivity and the political theology (yes, it is a thing) that plagued their worlds. For them, you could not talk about how God could be good and powerful without questioning why Rome still ruled Jerusalem. For Stephen, who grew up in the Roman culture, perhaps in a Roman family though, he did not see the problem.

So when he confronted the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, trying to speak truth into their lives on their home turf, they would not stand for it. He, a tainted foreigner could never understand what they had been tackling for generations. He, an undereducated, Greek-speaking servant could never teach them. He was as bad as the carpenter that they had crucified just a few weeks earlier. This time, they did not have to deal with the politics of Passover and winning the crowds over. This time, they had the upper hand… and they lifted up and heaved stones at him until he was dead.

Instead of keeping Stephen safe to teach a new generation of disciples (and possibly due to Stephen’s own rash nature) God took him home after that first sermon. Perhaps It was so good, there was no act to follow it. But something happened that day that was more important than a sermon and more important than Stephen himself. Luke tells us that there, in the midst of those angry Jewish scholars and leaders, a certain man named Saul was watching over the proceedings. Saul was also a passionate man who had been taught and groomed from a young age to become the next president of the Jewish Sanhedrin. (That is like the Jewish Pope, so to speak). Paul would have been excellent at it as well. He was well versed in the Jewish scriptures, but he also had a bit of Greek background himself. He probably stood the best chance of anyone at bringing peace to the Middle East in the constant battle between the Jews and Rome because he could stand in both worlds and speak both languages. Luke tries so much to tell us this in the Book. of Acts and sometimes we westerners miss the crucial fact of Saul /Paul’s identity.

This Saul, would have an encounter with Jesus just a few days later that would change the history of the world as we know it, and Luke shows us that this occurred in part because of Stephen. It was not his words, or presentation. In fact, there was nothing about Stephen’s last act that inspired Paul enough to even try to save his life. It was his death, in fact, the way he died, that I think left the biggest impression on Saul. He was a man who understood conflict, and one who would not have been surprised to face execution by the Romans himself if things got out of hand. He saw his job in part was to prevent things from escalating that far. But looking into the eyes of this dying man Stephen, Saul saw none of the fear he faced himself. Instead he heard these words:

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

No anger, no bitterness, not even a cry for relief. Instead, he saw compassion for Stephen’s enemies… for Saul himself.

We all face enemies. We all will face death. Every single one of us. How we do so may be the greatest act of leadership of our entire lives. Long after our words are gone. Long after our friends and family have moved on to new relationships and routines, those who were with us at the end will remember how we faced the moment we lost everything and showed our true colors.

Years later, Saul would follow Stephen, leaving his potential for bringing peace to the Middle East for a crazy mission of bringing Jesus to the rest of the world. He left the one place he fit in the most, to go where he never fit in, where politicians would pass him around like a hot potato, until he would speak before the emperor of the Roman Empire itself about the saving and life transforming grace of Jesus Christ. There, as Paul stood before one whom the early church would deem an anti-Christ figure, I can’t help but believe that he saw those compassionate eyes of Stephen again as the executioner walked toward him.

How do you face adversity in your life?

What, if anything, do you think would take away your fear of death?

What can we do today to prepare ourselves for facing our enemies and facing our own death?

Critics

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Critics

John 8:48-59

The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

There is nothing like a racial slur to get your blood boiling as you attempt to begin public leadership… but Satan really showed his hand when he could not hold back the religious attack about demon possession. That is the biggest problem with working for the devil. There is no patience, no thoughtfulness, only barrage after barrage of lies poured out like napalm in hopes of covering everything with the stick, stench, and burn, so that the truth becomes unrecognizable. It is not because the devil is stupid, at least I don’t think that is the case. It is because there is no other way. One single truth shines like a lightning bolt in the darkness, becoming instantly visible to all around. A field of truth growing makes those lies equally recognizable. The only way Satan can gain and maintain a foothold anywhere is by eliminating all truth, because any truth will eventually point back to God and to the devil’s downfall.

We live in this battlefield every bit as much as Jesus did. If you’ve not come across critics commissioned from evil incarnate you have not yet really started leading yet. Jesus told us that we are the light of the world. Our very existence testifies to the truth of God’s goodness, love, and redemption in the world because we are all frail, broken people who God works through and with from time to time. Everything good that comes from us will point back to God if you look far enough. Satan can lure us with lies that we created ourselves or are the source of our own strength and goodness, but those lies will not stand the test of time and eventually he will just have to eliminate us to keep his lies going. I think, if the devil really had his own way, he would destroy every single thing in creation, leaving himself last, empty, broken, and alone – the only one left to keep up the lie that God was somehow wrong or unjust. The only enemy he would have left would be himself. Sin truly carries the seed of its own destruction. Or so claim the some of the critics anyway1

So the first step in dealing with critics is to consider the source. That does not mean we should turn a deaf ear to anyone who is not a friend or claim allegiance to a friendly camp. Sometimes we can learn much from our enemies. But regardless of who they are or what they say, it is important to remember that everyone comes from somewhere, is shaped and informed by others, and have their own motivations in raising their concerns. Most of our heated conflict comes from trying to hide those origins and motivations.

Our politics, both church and state, about doctrinal issues get far more heated in times of economic crisis than in times of economic plenty. We go to war when we think those who do not share our values will take from our precious wealth. Likewise, we quit our internal squabbling when we have an external enemy to focus upon, to unite us against. Solutions are not found in either situation though. Indeed, scripture gives plenty of examples of these conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, between the Jewish people as a whole and the Romans, even between the disciples themselves.

In fact, you have to move through the gospels and make it into the book of Acts before you really start to see communal solutions. There, amidst strong divisions along ancient lines, the Holy Spirit poured out upon 3000 people who hailed form different cultures, spoke different languages, had different understandings of God, His law, and his teachings, and who would not normally associate with one another for fear they might “taint” each other with uncleanness. Within the following decade, that same Spirit would travel across the Near East and up into Europe, into places that had never heard of God before – in spite of a multitude of very active critics. Yes, it requires the Holy Spirit – but not everyone received the Holy Spirit, and not all at the same time. It takes several things for the Spirit to move a community forward.

First of all, it takes humility, which looks like confession and repentance. We love baptism, but we often miss the point that baptism had little to do with getting wet, and a lot to do with getting right with God and others. The confessions that were made at baptisms in the gospel were public and specific. There was no salvation without telling the community what we had done wrong and making amends for those wrongs. The story of Zaccheus is an excellent example of this, and that understanding of confession before baptism is what makes the story of Jesus’ own baptism so powerful… and weird. If we cannot divulge our own weaknesses and failures, we implicitly claim superiority in any situation, which means that if a problem exists around us, it is our fault. People are going hungry? Not my fault, I give to the food pantry! Apparently not enough to solve the problem. People struggling with sexual identity? Not me, I know what is right! And is that “knowledge” making any difference? Broken hearts that lead to self-destructive behaviors know no sexual boundaries. It touches every age, race, religion, political persuasion, and trying to pin it all down on one particular demographic or another is a category mistake.

Because we are human we make mistakes, and these mistakes hurt those around us. When we get hurt, we get defensive and lash back out, with intent to harm because it seems normal to us that if we destroy those around us, no one can harm us, and the devil leads that charge. The one thought that does not occur in those moments is that we need each other, and that the miracle of healing, reconciliation, and grace can only occur between opposite sides of a conflict – between enemies.

If we can get to that place of real honest humility ourselves, then we can start moving towards the next step: Examining how the relationships between us create the situations we live in and the thoughts and feelings we hold. Those who claim that children are not born knowing hatred and bigotry, but learn it from those around them are at least partly right. But it is not their parents alone who are their sole teachers. You and I, every moment we are around children are teaching them one example or another, and if we do not teach them another way, but settle on being passive, and not teaching them anything at all – we reinforce any bad teaching they have. A person’s (of any age) opinion will not, and should not accept as a rational truth of “normal” reality, anything that they do not experience significantly more than another opinion. If we want to claim that there is no division between rich and poor, but a person only sees the rich and poor eating together in public 1 out of every 100 times, you would be a fool to believe they are peers. If, on the other hand, they see people of similar racial, socio-economic, religious, and political backgrounds sharing meals together in public 99 out of 100 times, it makes perfect sense to believe we live in a divided society, and that the normal thing to do is to find the group into which you fit best.

Jesus, made Himself our peer. He even made connections (through Abraham) to His critics, and they felt threatened by that connection. Having thrown their worst words at Him, they could not allow Him to exist if He was indeed connected to themselves. So they picked up their rocks. I think, it was mercy that kept Jesus from defending himself, the way He defended the woman caught in adultery, “Let the one without sin throw the first stone.” That truth, set inside a question of who is worthy to dispense justice, stopped that conflict cold. Jesus would defend us, but not Himself, but it made no difference. The first to choose the stone is always the first to admit defeat and inability to lead.

Jesus does not needs stones. Stones are the way of lies. Jesus leads by humbling Himself, stripping Himself down to vulnerability, and washing the lies from feet of his critics as He invites them to join Him in bringing healing, reconciliation, grace… truth to the world.


  1. “You see, evil always contains the seeds of its own destruction. It is ultimately negative, and therefore encompasses its downfall even at its moments of apparent triumph. No matter how grandiose, how well-planned, how apparently foolproof of an evil plan, the inherent sinfulness will by definition rebound upon its instigators. No matter how apparently successful it may seem upon the way, at the end it will wreck itself. It will founder upon the rocks of iniquity and sink headfirst to vanish without trace into the seas of oblivion.”- Neil Gaiman, *Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

Blessing

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Blessing

Genesis 12:1-31

The Call of Abram

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.””

It is a fundamental law of nature itself that we are blessed to be a blessing.

We see it in forests, where tall trees, who block the sun from reaching smaller sprouts eventually fall pray to sickness, die, and then become fire hazards, whose ashes eventually nourish those small sprouts again. We see it in the fields who fall pray to swarms of locusts, who must then move on to the next field or starve because of their own insatiable hunger. We see it millions of examples of organisms living together and helping one another find food and safety… and it is the very foundation of agriculture, where we, human beings, protect, preserve, and nurture the land and animals around us so that we too might have food. Whatever blessing any creature possesses, it is made to serve in the natural order of life to bless those around it.

Blessing is both giving and receiving and it is made to be as simple as breathing. We give carbon dioxide to plants and they give oxygen to us. Without the relationship of blessing we share, both of us run out of air, but together, we bless that air for one another. Real leaders understand this not only is an important act of reciprocity (I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine) but it is an act of obedience (I will bless you even if you do not bless me).

In fact, Jesus commanded it if His followers:

Luke 6:27-36

Love for Enemies2

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

God Himself often takes our acts of praise and honor to Him to draw others to Him so that they too may receive life and blessing. He takes the idea of prosperity – success and happiness where you are – and turns it over on its head. Once prosperity is finally emptied of itself, you finally have generosity: the true goal of God’s kingdom. This is why God asked Abraham to leave the prosperity of his home kingdom and follow God into the wilderness. It was not only to receive a greater kingdom, it was so Abraham could bless all the nations around, not just his own.

Who blesses you?

Who do you bless?


  1. (Acts 7:2–5)
  2. (Mt 5:43–48)

Leading with Fear: Gathering or Scattering?

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Leading with Fear: Gathering or Scattering?

Jeremiah 23:1-81

Restoration after Exile

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

The Righteous Branch of David

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” Then they shall live in their own land.

Fear is a dangerous thing for leaders to employ. Goats own leadership involves a certain degree of fear, to be sure, but it is questionable whether we, as His human agents in leadership should employ fear.

Fear can be used to both scatter and gather. Usually we attribute it to only the former, but it is a powerful tool in shaping the behavior of those around us. Often, like a storm, a little bit of fear scatters us, each off to their own unique place of safety. However if the storm continues and the flood waters rise, we will leave our individual places of safety to seek out a focused, higher ground, especially if we believe that it is the only place that will remain safe.

What does that mean for leaders? Either you use fear sporadically to chase away your flock from a circumstantial place of danger, or you have to exert the effort to pour it on and keep them continually afraid and continually following you. This is brainwashing 101 and for the personality cults that employ it, some use charismatic attraction, but most use some form of fear to keep their members close. This is not Godly leadership, and the prophets and history of the Bible all attest that if we abuse our leadership by using fear tactics, there is a price to pay. God will take our leadership away and we will be seen for the insecure, over-reaching fools we are.

There is a place for fear and scattering though, as Ecclesiastesreminds us. Jesus used it, not only for occasional warnings to keep people safe, such as His warning about following the Pharisees but also to quell the ambition and pride of His own followers. Note though, that even in these instances, Jesus does not act out of a threat to His own leadership, but instead out of care for the well-being of His followers who have lost touch with the reality of their situation.

Matthew 20:17-28

A Third Time Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection2

While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”

The Request of the Mother of James and John3

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

I suppose, in the end, the greatest danger of employing fear is that, like working with poison or explosives, it is a weapon which often ones back to harm those who employ it, bringing us under its own control, eliminating our ability to choose wisely and freely, and thus crippling our own ability to lead. See pretty much any movie or read any story ever made… once the villainous fear-monger is overtaken by fear themselves, their end is near.


  1. (Cp Jer 16:14–15)
  2. (Mk 10:32–34; Lk 18:31–34)
  3. (Mk 10:35–45)