When should I fight? Part 2

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If you are already past the point of anger and still dealing with conflict, then it is time to put away the fists and dial back the dialogue into the language of values. To be fair, this is, in part, an attempt to distance ourselves from the tension and objectify the problem – which is more possible in some cases than others. As an example of the absurdity that proves the rule, let us look at one of the most volatile places on the planet: the Little League Baseball Bleachers.

Can you imagine a parent standing up and shouting,

Coach, you need to put my son Derek in because building his confidence in playing sports is more important to me than whether the team wins or loses.”?

Or how about,

Come on Ref! Can’t you just give him that run? My kid is the only one on the team who hasn’t made it to home plate yet!”?

I doubt referees ever hear

That was a really tough call to make. Keep up the good work!”.

Why? Because although we don’t usually say the things above, we usually are thinking or feeling them at some level. We talk about the importance of fair play, but most of us have values that sometimes contradict and even overshadow fairness, justice, and our sense of right and wrong. We are not machines. Having other values does not have to be wrong. Where we get into trouble is when we have them by deny it to others and even to ourselves. This denial creates a tension and dissonance in ourselves similar to the feeling we might have in debate class if the teacher asked us to switch sides with our opponent and argue their case instead of our own. It’s hard and sometimes there is something inside us that wants us to lose, because the deeper truth is that, while we may believe the words we are saying, there are other words we are not saying that we believe even more. So, by not saying what is truly important to us, we are only sabotaging ourselves.

Of course, we may be keeping those values quiet because, although they represent our true desires, they are either socially unacceptable or something we are ashamed to say out loud. The letter from James in the New Testament has some powerful words to move from anger into speaking the truth to ourselves and to one another. He writes:

”What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” James 4:1–12

”Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16

It is those hidden desires that get us into trouble every time. God knows they are there, and if we take the time to look, we will see them there as well. James tells us that we can find healing and forgiveness between one another if we are willing to confess the truth of what is really going on inside us. But, if we have not yet come to the true values and desires within us, we will not find that resolution… and if we are not yet at peace within ourselves, it is not yet time to fight.

When should I fight? Part 1

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When should I fight? Part 1

This question is inspired by a blog post from Kevin Parido, a friend of mine and fellow writer.

I deeply desire to fight for the right things. I want to fight for the good, the right and whole things. I want fight the battle that needs to be fought not skirmishes that help no one.

But I need to be led to where the real battle lies.

We all know what it is to be angry. Some of us feel that emotion more often and at a deeper level than others. Your vision takes on a reddish tinge, your muscles contract, your heart races and your blood pressure rises. You are spoiling for a fight. Even if you never raise your fists, your verbal filters fall and your very communication takes on weaponized qualities. Men and women alike fall under the curse of our fight or flight instinct.

Anger is one of the easiest ways to manipulate people though. Stress is induced to push them into fight or flight mode in which flight (fear) causes them to run away from you while fight (anger) makes them run toward you. Scaring people can be used to try to herd people into a certain place or attitude, but it is unfocused and messy. Anger, on the other hand, is attractional and focused, so you can pinpoint the exact spot you want them to be and make them come there. Don’t believe me? Take a moment to watch this: (Warning! Violent content below!)

Ok, so that is a bit extreme and fictionall, but it makes the point. Kevin was able to lead Larry and Marv on through a series of painful experiences (literally lead them) through their anger. At any time, they could have turned away and gone home or picked another place to rob, or gone out for a pizza. Instead anger clouded their vision, leading them right to the next painful experience Kevin had prepared for them. Two grown men were outsmarted by a grade school kid because Kevin conquered the fight or flight instinct and they did not.

It is not just in fictional movies though. Leading through anger is one of the primary foundations of bullfighting.

The bull is lead to his death because the matador conquers his fight or flight response and the bull does not.

James 1:19–20 says this:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

It is a warning to avoid anger. So when should we fight? Not when the only reason is that we are angry.

Why read the Bible in a year?

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Why read the Bible in a year?

Are you keeping up your New Year’s resolutions still? Many of us have given up by now… after all, it has been a whole 2 weeks. I’m reading through the Bible in a year as a plan put together with some daily devotions by Nicky and Pipa Gumbel. I made it about 5 days in a row before getting behind in the reading and having to catch up. I’m listening to Nicky read the reading for today right now. I also found out that this particular plan does not go through every single verse of the Bible, but only gives an overview. I haven’t checked and I’m not going to… That would take as much work as just reading through the entire Bible, so I’m going to plunge ahead and read through another day’s scriptures.

Mine is a fairly common story. We start off with the familiar wonder of Genesis 1,2, and 3. Day 4 and 5 the blood starts pouring and by the end of the week, the rain is falling and flooding the earth with Noah on a boat trying to save some samples of the gene pool. By the beginning of next week though, moving on to the stories of Abraham, things begin to get weird, and repetitive, and weird. Abraham travels a lot and when he finds himself in a large city, he tells the rulers that his wife Sarai is not his wife at all, but only his sister. It is not long before the king attempts to seduce Sarai, at which God sends a curse upon that kingdom until Abraham’s scheme is found out. The king, glad things did not go any further with Sarai, sends them both out and tells them they were wrong for lying to him. Lesson learned… well almost. A few days later, I could swear I’m reading the same story, only the name of the king has changed. Apparently not lesson learn. This week comes to an end, and Isaac, Abraham’s son is caught doing the exact same thing that his father Abraham did twice. Now I know where the HBO nighttime drama writers got all their material.

At this point we are barely halfway through the first book of the Bible. At this point it does not look like it is going to get better. These Old Testament readings are paired with passages of Hebrew poetry which sometimes sound like goth-emo wailings against some unnamed enemy interspersed with some brief glittering gems of God’s majesty revealed in creation. (Please note, I don’t have anything against Hebrew poetry, I’m just trying to emphasize the spectrum that exists in these biblical examples.) There is also New Testament readings from the Gospels, which starts off with the familiar stories of the birth of Jesus and the beginnings of His ministry. By the time, the violence and family drama starts in Genesis though, the Pharisees come onto the scene in the Gospels, and the war with words begins between Jesus and the Jewish leaders of His day.

Point being: the Bible is one messy book.

Why would you want to read it in a year? I’ve never heard anyone say they had a plan to read all of Shakespeare in a year, or all of the Harry Potter books (although I’m sure the latter has been attempted by many). What is it about the Bible and the span of one year that encourages these kinds of reading plans?

The Lectionary

First of all, there have been collections of Bible readings used by churches for weekly and daily use. Weekly Lectionaries that take you through the whole Bible in the course of about 3 or 4 years and Daily Lectionaries that take you through them in a year. Most Lectionaries include readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels + Acts, and The New Testament Letters. This all came from the Roman Catholic Church originally, so it is nothing new. It was based on their work at having the whole Bible preached and taught regularly and in ways that continued to relate to the seasons of the Christian year (Christmas, Easter, etc.).
Does reading through the Bible in a year make you a better Christian or help you grow more? I don’t know – I’ve never done it. I do know that reading the Bible on a regular basis helps you stay rooted in your faith and closer to God. I also know that it helps if you don’t just read John 3:16 on the way out the door to work every day, but branch out to other passages in the Bible as well. The more of it you read and the more times you read it, the more you will begin to see how one God worked through 66 books, thousands of lives and ten thousand stories that bring us to where we are today. If nothing supernatural happens in your Bible reading, it will at least be like hearing stories about your favorite grandparent and the adventures they had before you were even born. You begin to recognize the God you know and love in the lives of others, and then it begins to open your eyes to see more of God in and around you. Yes, the reading gets weird and messy sometimes, but so do we. So read your Bible and stretch yourself a little more this year than you did last year.

  • What is your favorite part of the Bible to read?
  • How often do you choose to read your Bible?
  • What pulls you away from spending time reading or listening to the Bible?

Does God make disciples or do we?

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I am an Enneagram type 5 which means that almost every time I’m faced with two choices, I will look for a third option. Many times, that third option is not a compromise between the two, but something else that re-frames the question itself. If that doesn’t make sense to you, just think about the recent presidential election and that is my first reaction whenever I get asked an either/or question. I feel like it probably doesn’t matter which choice I choose and have suspicions that there is a bait and switch going on. If you have a few months to spend on this rabbit trail I’d recommend reading Either/Or by Soren Kierkegaard. I started reading it about ten years ago and finally discovered the message of the book, about 3/4ths through not in the text, nor the subtext, but in between the chapters, essays, and stories there. But enough chasing rabbits…

This question about God’s role and our own in making disciples was raised yesterday in a leadership retreat we had at our church. When asked how to make disciples, one of the people there said that we could not… only God can do that. I think a few people there may have felt like that was something of a cop out answer, but I, for one, was glad for this response. While many of us may not think it is an appropriate answer to the question of How to make disciples, I know it is something that many of us think. Perhaps in not so blunt and bold a way, but it hides under the surface of much of our ministry and service.

Let me put it another way.

We may not question whether or not we have a role in making disciples, but I would guess that many of us do not have a very clear understanding of what that role is. So we “make disciples” like agnostics – trying to do whatever random thing comes across our path in good intentions, but not really knowing or believing that it is bringing anyone closer to a relationship with Jesus. Agnostic might sound like a harsh word to use for people who may consider themselves, and may indeed be mature Christians, but Jesus died for us and asked us to do only one thing before He returned to heaven, and when I meet Him face to face and He asks me if I made any disciples for Him, I’m not going to be comfortable giving a theological treatise about how I didn’t feel up to the job and that really He was the only one who could do that right anyway. So yeah, agnostic disciplemakers is putting it lightly. Some of us go through the motions of making disciples, but inside we can be more like functional atheists, not believing that anything we do really makes a difference. That is not what Jesus asked us to be, nor is it what He die for.

What it means to partner with God

Something happens to us as a civilization when we separate ourselves from the land and the work involved to provide food and shelter on a daily basis. Farmers understand partnering with God better than most of us. They know how much work it is to plow the land, plant the seeds, and fertilize the ground. They understand the work of weeding and protecting the fields from scavenging animals. They know how it is a work that you either live on a daily basis or not at all. But they also know that the final say in the outcome is not their own. No matter how much they do to prepare the field, it is God who either provides or withholds the rain. They work together with God to provide the fruit of the harvest. Paul writes:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
He rightly understood that God has the power over the the specific outcome, but he also realized that all of us have a responsibility for raising up new disciples. Does it matter whether we take up that responsibility or not? More than you can know. God can and will send the rain on the good disciplemakers and the bad disciplemakers alike… but one faith farmer will reap a harvest in the field she has prepared and the other will just have a big, muddy, field of weeds.

  • Who has God used to show His love to you?
  • How did they do that?
  • How are you helping people discover a loving relationship with Christ?

What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

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This is a somewhat common saying and rhetorical question that some people use to make the point that the last statement made in the discussion is off-topic and not related to the issue at hand. I however, am one of those people who always have to wonder and wander and often chase rabbit trails, so… what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? And what does the price of tea in China have to do with anything.

I doubt very much that this is a Chinese saying. There is a note of sarcasm and bluntness to it that is absent from most polite Chinese conversation and especially business conversations. So I’m going to blame the British instead. If you want blunt sarcasm, you will be hard pressed to find people wielding it with more expertise than the BBC, where banter is a sport like the NFL in the US.

I think there is an underlying point to this though. If we wind the clock back a century, we would discover the time when it was boasted that the sun never set on the British Empire. All across the globe, they had colonies and nations purchased by blood and gold. One of the more important places was China, which, along with India and other places in Southeast Asia grew an enormous amount of tea. This tea was then shipped off to Europe and England specifically, to supply millions of residents during their obligatory tea-time each day.

That is a bit of an exaggeration, of course – I’m sure there were many people whose jobs did not afford them a “tea time”. But perhaps not. As you may recall, Boston Harbor, in 1776 was not filled with British oil or lumber, nor the native corn, blueberries, or pumpkins. They filled it with tea – most of which was probably not grown in England at all, but came to the colonists by way of some of those Asian countries who so expertly produce it. The price of tea went up (through some political taxes levied) and suddenly we have the birth of a new nation. So, the price of tea in China really does matter.

We’ve been told that we live in a global economy today, and that globalization seems to grow with each passing year. England did not invent this. The Roman Empire had this going 2000 years ago and the Persians and Babylonians dealt with this in their own ways before that. Ironically, it was Great Britain that decided to leave the economy last year with the popularized (Brexit) from the European Union, months after they denied Scotland the right to independence from the United Kingdom. Looking through history, it seems that those who have power want everyone to be unified, while those who are without want to be left alone. No one wants to be controlled, but many will jump at the chance of being the Controller themselves.

Jesus has some clear teaching on how we are to interact with this globalization within His Kingdom. In John 17, Jesus prays:

““My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” – John‬ ‭17:20-23‬ ‭NIV‬‬

‭‭We hold that desire of Jesus for unity in line with Paul’s teaching to the Church in Corinth when he writes to them:

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I donʼt need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I donʼt need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” – 1 Corinthians‬ ‭12:12-27‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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The biggest issue we face in a globalized economy is the issue of control. Who is in control? Are all parties being treated fairly (because equally is not always the same as fair or right)? Are all parties being supported? This question is at the heart of our trade politics, our immigration policies, and the recent changes (as well as the former changes) in healthcare insurance. Are we living up to the biblical standard in Christ’s Kingdom? Are we trying to?

  • What group of people do you have authority over in your life?
  • Do you weep with them when they weep and rejoice with them in their celebrations?
  • What do you need to do or who do you need to support for God to be glorified more in the body of Christ?

Fun Friday: What is your favorite John Wesley (or your favorite Christian Writer) story?

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Among Methodist pastors, it seems like everyone has to have a favorite John Wesley story or quote. It doesn’t even seem to matter what kind of theological leanings you have… all the Methodists want to draft Wesley in on their side. On particularly radical occasions, sometimes we go for Wesley more than we go for Jesus… but that’s another story altogether.

So what is your favorite Wesley story? There are so many to choose from. His experience of assurance at Aldersgate St. is a very popular one. So is his failed mission to America and his co-creation of the Oxford Holy Club. Some of these put him in a positive light, although many of the most famous Wesley stories emphasized his weakness and struggle with faith. We learn much from not only his mistakes, but more specifically, from the way God worked in his life and changed him.

My favorite story is John Wesley’s Christmas season in America, 1736:

“Wed. 22.—Mr. Delamotte and I, with a guide, set out to walk to the Cowpen. When we had walked two or three hours, our guide told us plainly, he did not know where we were. However, believing it could not be far off, we thought it best to go on. In an hour or two we came to a Cypress Swamp, which lay directly across our way: There was not time to walk back to Savannah before night; so we walked through it, the water being about breast high. By the time we had gone a mile beyond it, we were out of all path; and it being now past sunset, we sat down, intending to make a fire, and to stay there till morning; but finding our tinder wet, we were at a stand. I advised to walk on still; but my companions, being faint and weary, were for lying down, which we accordingly did about six o’clock: The ground was as wet as our clothes, which (it being a sharp frost) were soon froze together; however, I slept till six in the morning. There fell a heavy dew in the night, which covered us over as white as snow. Within an hour after sunrise, we came to a plantation; and in the evening, without any hurt, to Savannah.

Tues. 28.—We set out by land with a better guide for Frederica. On Wednesday evening we came to Fort Argyle, on the back of the river Ogeechy. The next afternoon we crossed Cooanoochy river, in a small canoe; our horses swimming by the side of it. We made a fire on the bank, and, notwithstanding the rain, slept quietly till the morning.

Sat. Jan. 1, 1737.—Our provisions fell short, our journey being longer than we expected; but having a little barbecued bear’s flesh, (that is, dried in the sun,) we boiled it, and found it wholesome food. The next day we reached Darien, the settlement of the Scotch Highlanders: A sober, industrious, friendly, hospitable people; whose Minister, Mr. M‘Leod, is a serious, resolute, and, I hope, a pious man.

On Monday evening we left Darien, and on Wednesday, the 5th, came to Frederica. Most here were, as we expected, cold and heartless: We found not one who retained his first love. O send forth thy light and thy truth, that they may guide them! Let them not yet follow their own imaginations!

After having beaten the air in this unhappy place for twenty days, on January 26th I took my final leave of Frederica. It was not any apprehension of my own danger, though my life had been threatened many times, but an utter despair of doing good there, which made me content with the thought of seeing it no more.”

It is important to know that John Wesley had a tremendous passion to preach the gospel to non-Christians. His whole motive for coming to America was to preach to the Native Americans here, something he only had one or maybe two opportunities to do. As a second choice, he opted to be a traveling evangelist to the many colonies that were stationed in the present day states of Georgia and the Carolinas. The one thing he did not want to do was to stay in Savannah and be a town pastor there (something he would ultimately get in big trouble for and the major cause of his departure from America for good).

In this story, he had heard of a village called Frederica that was in need of some spiritual direction. However, there were no cars or smooth roads back then, so traveling between these colonies meant trekking through forrests and swamps. He set out initially before Christmas, but the guide he took got lost and they had to spend the night in the swamp – where he awoke the next morning frozen to the ground.

After heading back to Savannah and eventually getting a better guide, he finally made the two-day trek to Frederica. The people were not interested in his preaching or teaching and, although he stayed there several weeks, no one wanted anything to do with him. Finally he left, frustrated and in despair for the community, but happy to put the whole misadventure behind him.

It is a favorite story of mine because it reminds me that good intentions do not make good ministry or faithful service to God. Even if I sacrifice my wealth and health, to the point of sleeping outdoors and being frozen to the ground, that will not make for better results. Compared to the revival Wesley experienced himself and then led in England several years after this event, this almost seems like a different person altogether.

One of the biggest changes in his life and faith was that he stopped trying to take God into new places and started looking for where God was already at work. I’ve never been one to jump on the latest bandwagon religious fad that comes my way, but I have to admit that there is no mission field that I can go to and get there before God does. God always goes first, and if we keep going back to the very first call He placed on the disciple’s lives “follow me”, we will find that we are not alone sleeping on the frozen ground – God will be right there with us, leading the way.

That was John Wesley’s last words. “The best of all is, God with us”. At the very end of his life, which was all as much of an adventure as his holiday trip to Frederica, the thing he remembered last and wanted to pass on to his friends praying around him, was that the best thing of all is, we are not in this alone.

  • What is your favorite story of a Christian servant or teacher?
  • What is your favorite story of your own adventures following Jesus?

What is a disciple and why are churches talking about them today? (part 3)

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Tuesday I defined a disciple as: a student or apprentice who follows, learns from, and imitates a master or teacher.

I also pointed out that there are two points of being a disciple (and doing any other kind of work): Philosophy and Praxis.

Why are so many churches talking about disciples today?

The Short Answer:

Because, across the board, we have not done a good enough job of making them.

The Longer Answer:

So much of this question is tied into several dozen other questions about dealing with change, getting with the times, being relevent… as well as remaining faithful, saving the next generation, honoring our heritage, and all that “gimme my Old Time Religion” perspectives as well. All of that mess and clamor really comes down to one singular concept: Passing on values.

What?

How can all those people from all those different places and perspectives… people who often cannot stand in the same room with one another, all be dealing with the same problem? Like a great many things in life, we overcomplicate things with our own opinions and motivations. So lets oversimplify things to make the point.

If there (hypothetically) were only one church in the world, and every few years that church raised up new leaders who were trained in both the Philosophy and Praxis of that church (so they would not only do all the same things, but understand why they were doing them that way), you would see no change in the church other than names and faces of people over the years. The worship would be the same, the potlucks would all have the exact same foods every time, every week they would teach the same lesson that they did last year at that time, and everyone would understand why they were doing it that way. There would be no need for change as long as they could keep teaching new leaders the Philisophy and Praxis of the church. Change would not be necessary as long as those values continued to be passed down from old to new.

However, this is not the reality. Because we are creative and individualistic people, we take the values we are given and we mix them with our own values – sometimes creating new values that are not part of our heritage. Someone brings porkchops to a cookout that had been exclusively hamburgers and hotdogs, and it is a big hit with the community… suddenly things have changed and we have to raise extra money to afford more pork chops next year, and while we spend time worrying about food costs, we take our attention away from the guest speaker who always comes to present at this event and we cut the band out altogether to save money for extra food. Soon, something that may have started out as a informal outreach to preach the gospel to a community becomes a new tradition focused on bringing extravagent food. A few years later, the leaders realize it would be easier to have this inside the church rather than outside. In five years what began as preaching to those outside the church becomes a party the church people throw for themselves.

No one intends for this to happen. It happens because we are not aware of the original values – they do not get passed down. We replay our traditions of last year over and over and don’t even know why they were made traditions in the first place. It is not a question of good or bad, right or wrong… it is a question of understanding and intentionality. Change is good and Faithfulness is good as well, but each can only be good when you understand the values (the Philosophy and Praxis) beneath those tasks.

Somewhere down the road, many of our churches forgot how to make disciples. It was, and is, simply easier to just go through the motions and keep doing things, helping people, teaching bible studies, and let God do the work of actually mentoring people and walking with them as they make decisions each day that change their lives. It is easier to say that is God’s job, not ours.

Yet, we find ourselves surprised when these people do not share the same values as us, and we are frustrated when they want to be in leadership, but they want to change everything that we spent so many years trying to fix ourselves. After all, you cannot get rid of the previous generation’s traditions overnight – it took us hard work to do that to our forefathers and foremothers and we want to enjoy those changes ourselves for just a little bit before someone comes and changes things on us.

It feels easier to control the church than it is to actually pass on our values and raise up new leaders. Sadly, the opposite is true. We are never truly in control, and our best means of keeping our values safe is to pass them on intentionally to new leaders we raise up ourselves.

– What values have been passed on to you?

– Who are you passing your values on to?