Neglecting the Gift

The Background

I’m currently reading the pastoral letters of Paul, what we call “1st & 2nd Timothy” and “Titus.” Timothy was a young pastor in Ephesus and Titus on the island of Crete and Paul wrote these letters to encourage these men in their roles. That said, the Bible is not just their story, but ours.

Realize

In 1 Timothy 4, Paul writes directly and personally to Timothy, warning and reminding him that in the future, people will abandon the faith, having been led astray from deceivers within the church itself. For Timothy, the way to avoid a) being a deceiver and b) being deceived, is the personal pursuit of godliness. Specifically, this pursuit of personal holiness is comprised of:

  • Setting an example in his:
    • speech
    • life
    • love
    • faith
    • purity
  • Devoting himself to :
    • public scripture reading
    • preaching
    • teaching

Paul concludes this section by telling Timothy that the above things are a gift, given when the elders laid hands on him, consecrating him to ministry and that he’d best live this gift out in diligence and perseverance. This would lead to his salvation, and the salvation of others.

Know

This, however, is not just Timothy’s story. We are in the midst of these later times. The faith is being abandoned because of the deceitful teachings of leaders. We are in need now, more than ever, of leaders devoted to personal holiness, leaders not just living and preaching a “one day” faith- something merely to be longed for, but a demonstrated faith today. Our individual holiness, our individual pursuit of Christ should be unified with the same pursuits of others so that we are a body living out these same things together as one. If we are not pursuing holiness, unity, forgiveness, reconciliation as individuals, we simply cannot bring those same things as a body. If my life is not marked by personal holiness, my church will not be marked by corporate holiness. Practically speaking, if this is the case, I have become the “deceiving spirit.” I am the “hypocritical liar.” It is my conscience that’s “been seared as with a hot iron.” The individualized, personal holiness of church leaders, and those in the church for that matter, is key to a church marked by holiness.

Accept

These things are a gift, delivered in a prophetic message. Growing up in a Presbyterian household, I was sprinkled as an infant. My parents stood before God and man, stating that my life was consecrated, dedicated to God. These were the things said about me. When I was 14, I was confirmed; again, a prophetic message was said about me, a gift given in a prophetic message not just about who I was then, but who I was to become. Follow this forward through my whole faith journey, immersion, maturing and growing in the faith, ordination, serving in ministry- these things were not only confirmation of the words and gifts said and given before, but they were a hopeful promise that I’d use that gift, that I’d not neglect, set aside, ignore all of the things spoken about and to me.

It’s not just me, though. It’s anyone who’s had the faith imprinted on them. Our parents, church leaders, mentors and peers poured hopes, dreams and prophetic messages into our lives about the good works that God was going to do in and through us.  Accepting these words as truth means accepting the gifts given and using them. Being diligent in them means we live within those gifts and we find our salvation in the perseverance given us by the Holy Spirit. This is the gift.

Be known for it.

A (not THE) Christian Response to World Vision

This post is in response to World Vision’s recent decision to knowingly employ Christians in legal homosexual marriages. I was originally not planning on a post about this topic, but it came up in a private Facebook group and I weighed in- here is that post, edited for public consumption.

Here are two things you need to know:

  1. Our family does not give financially to World Vision. We did up until a few years ago and this choice has NOTHING to do with the choice World Vision has recently made to hire Christians in Same-Sex Marriages.
  2. A topic like homosexuality is not a hypothetical exercise for me. As a student minister, I had students in our ministry were both bisexual and homosexual. I have friends who are homosexuals. This is important because I am not approaching this topic from an Ivory Tower. To that end…this post is NOT about homosexuality.

1- I believe that many organizations act without considering all of the consequences of their choices. The Susan G Komen Foundation lost supporters over a decision to halt funds to Planned Parenthood, and then lost more when they reversed that decision. World Vision is now in that same world. Certainly there was conversation and discussion as they made their choice, but the Law of Unintended Consequences is alive and well.

2- Some, perhaps many, will begin to say, “What about the kids?”, as people stop supporting WV. As soon as World Vision does this, those same kids are reduced to mere pawns. People are then no longer giving because we’ve been called to, but out of misplaced guilt and shame for not doing so. These are un-Christian motivations. This is why the WHY of what we do matters. In Scripture, we read about Jesus’ judgment on people who “did the right things.” Jesus told them that he never knew them. Christians are called to be new, not act new, or do new things.

3- Some, then, may ask, “Should the ministry be hindered because of this choice?” If we trail this reasoning out..where is a line drawn? What if WV changed their hiring policy to include polygamous relationships? Suppose a ministry is unethical in the way they handle their funds? What if a church is completely unbiblical in the way they deal with conflict…simply firing people and asking people to leave without cause? Should people affected by this simply be forced to stay on because “the church does ministry”?

The bottom line: WV has chosen to take a stand. And, like all stands taken, this will put them at odds with people. Those people will then have a choice, continue their support or find another organization. This choice should be made prayerfully and cautiously.

Those that stay are not necessarily gay-loving, anti-God, progressive denominationalists who believe that everyone gets to Heaven.

Those that leave are not necessarily homophobic, bible literalists that want to send all the homosexuals to an island and nuke it so we can return to the glory days of 1950′s America.

Whatever your choice…I’d encourage you to follow Jesus. If you leave, don’t be bullhorn guy, standing on a metaphorical corner telling us all how Christian you are because you aren’t a godless heathen like those people over there. And, if you stay, don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing…don’t throw your metaphorical coins into the bin so we all know how much of a Christian you really are.

Perhaps, and I’m just saying…the church (individuals and corporately) should stop using non-profits and go and care for these people on their own. But, what do I know?

I’d love to see and hear your thoughts on this. Do you support World Vision? Will you stop? Will you continue?

 

Dear Candidate,

As someone who has been seeking a new ministry position for over 4 months now, I thought it would be helpful to post some thoughts about it. In part 1, I wrote a letter to Search Teams from the perspective of a candidate.

I also asked those on the Search Team side the following question: “If you could say 2-3 things to a search team, what would it be?”
Here are the thoughts, distilled down for you:

  • Know Yourself.
    • Know what you believe and why you believe it. Yes, be teachable, but know where you are theologically. Know your grey areas, as well as your lines.
    • Know your spiritual gifts. Understand how God has gifted you supernaturally, as well as your talents and skill sets.
    • Know your strengths and weaknesses.*
  • Pray.
    • About the opportunity.
    • For yourself.
    • For the church and their Search Team.
  • Know What You  Are Applying For.
    • Read the Job Description carefully. What are the main responsibilities? Who reports to you? Who do you report to?
      • Pro Tip: Have a friend review it and look for soft spots. When  you get that interview, press hard on those bruises. Ask for clarification. Get them to update the Job Description.
    • Research the church. Look at their website, review their beliefs, look at their leadership page, read their position papers (if they have them). Read their online newsletters, and look them up on Facebook. They are looking at your social media presence…do the same to them.
    • Approach those 82 million page questionnaires with caution. DO NOT COMPLETE IT IN ONE SITTING. Take your time. Have someone else review it for errors, content and clarity. Pay close attention to the questions being asked. There is a reason for every single one of them. As with the Job Description, look for trends. These questionnaires provide tremendous insight into the organization.
    • Research the community. Perform a Cost of Living analysis. Housing, schools, the location of Starbucks…this all matters (especially that last one).
  • Be Professional.
    • Review your resume often. Check for typographical errors. Have someone else look at it.
    • Personalize the cover letter. If you saw something that really caught your attention on the Job Description or website, point it out.
    • Use a professional email address.
    • If you have a blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc (and you should) be mindful of what you post. This is your brand. Protect it (This is a work in progress for me). Also, be mindful of what others post on your Facebook wall. Adjust your privacy settings so that you approve what goes onto your timeline.

In closing, God’s got a place for you.

The Search Committee.

*Some churches will ask for them, others will not. I recommend these things because they are helpful in getting to know yourself.  As you see the responses, spend time in prayer asking God to reveal what you might learn about yourself. Spend time in thought asking yourself what may be true. Ask others if they see these things in you.

Dear Ministry Search Team,

You’re in the middle of an extremely important task that will have eternal consequences for you, your church, your community and the Kingdom of God. God is doing something and He’s called you to be a part of it. Exciting. Scary.

Over the past few weeks, I asked people that were looking for a calling in ministry to give me some feedback about the ministry search, specifically, I asked them this: “If you could say 2-3 things to a search team, what would it be?”
Here are the thoughts, distilled down for you:

  • Have a clear, concise job description. A candidate should be able to clearly see what you’re hiring for. If something like office hours is a value for you, include that in the job description.
  • Think hard about expectations and requirements. When your post reads, “Seeking someone in their late-20′s with children, an MDiv, 10 years of senior pastor experience in a church of 250 or more” the possibility exists that you are aiming a little high.
  • The Search Team: Cast a wide net and seek people with giftedness and skill sets in this area. Strongly consider including someone on the team with hiring/firing experience.
  • Pray.
    • The church
    • The search team
    • Those who will be applying
  • Create the email address that people will be sending their information to, along with an auto-reply that tells candidates the following:
    • Thanks for applying…
    • We’re accepting resumes through…
    • We’ll know more by…and then, we’ll tell you…
    • We are praying for you.
  • Communicate- As you remove people from the process, let them know quickly and with dignity. If you can provide any information, anything at all, please do do. If they made it to a next step (questionnaire, initial phone call, etc), let them down personally. I don’t mean “in-person”, I mean “personally”; if there is a skill-set mismatch, if something seemed off on the way that they presented themselves, please tell us. Because we cannot fix what we don’t know is broken.

In closing, please remember that we’re all on the same side here. Much of what we, as candidates as for, is simple communication, and communication takes two, one to say, and one to hear. In that spirit, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback. What might you add? What might you remove?

Yours,

Pastors seeking ministry

Your help requested

For almost 20 years, I’ve been on both sides of the hiring process- I’ve hired people and I’ve fired people. I’ve been hired, and yep, I’ve been fired. I’ve resigned and “been resigned.”

I’m not the only one looking. Your church is not the only one seeking. Having been on both sides in the church, this is easily one of the most stressful and important things that we do.

No matter which side you’re on, I’d like to help. I’m in the process of creating a brief blog series on the process that churches go through as they seek to fill a position and the mindset of those seeking a position have. It’ll be no more that 3-5 posts, and will be in an open-letter format. This is where you, the experts, come in.

If you serve (or have served) on a search committee, you can help by responding to this one question survey. It’s anonymous, and I’ll take the responses and create the “Open letter to ministers seeking a position” based on them.

If you’re seeking a position in ministry (lead pastor, children’s, student, worship, etc), or, if you’ve just been hired after a season of searching, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please respond to this one question survey. Like the above survey, it’s completely anonymous and I’ll take the responses and create the “Open letter to search teams” based on them.

Thanks for your thoughts, your help, and your desire to serve God faithfully.

 

 

“Peace, Be Still”

“I’m sick of hearing, again and again, that there’s gonna be peace on Earth”- Bono

Here are a few things that Jesus said about peace:

  • “Do not suppose that have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”- Matthew 10:34.
  • “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”- John 16:33
  • “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”- Matthew 5:9.
  • “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”- John 14:27.

Jesus did not come to bring peace

Jesus did not come to bring peace. That’s what he said. several times. Several weeks ago, Micah 5:1-5 was the Old Testament text at Gospel Fellowship Church. Of particular note is the first part of verse 5.

“And he will be their peace”- Micah 5:5a

Jesus WAS peace. Jesus IS peace. Peace is found in Him. He gives it to us and we become peacemakers. Not peacekeepers, but peacemakers. A peacekeeper is one who goes in after a conflict is mediated to ensure that the peace remains, the two sides “play nice.” Jesus was not a peacekeeper. Since the Fall of Man, we’ve been at war with God and this war has left in it’s wake relational destruction with God and man alike. Here’s what Jesus did…he brought the sword. He set men against their families, against one another because some people? They just don’t want peace. So, Jesus divided. It was only after this division that he could make peace.

During Jesus’ time on earth, he make the contrast stark between those who thought they had God figured out and those that did not. He took the law and demonstrated that it could be fulfilled. He declared all-out war on those who wanted war. They killed him. Then, something crazy happened. He came back. After 3 days, He rose. Vanquishing the real enemy. Death. Spiritual death. Jesus was a peacemaker because he fought, bled, died and then came back for you. For me. While the sacrifice was indeed once for all, Jesus is still making peace today.

His peace is not like that of the world. His peace includes division and separation. Why? Because not everyone wants it. They need to be revealed for who they are so that peace might reign, might be made.What’s more, peace will reign. One day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. And, that won’t happen when everyone’s in heaven. People need to be so bad, the contrast between God and man and God’s will and our rebellion so obvious, that only God can bridge it. That’s why God’s justice is about our repentance. And, that’s why we don’t place our hope in tomorrow. Sadly, not all will seek this peace. Why? They’ve not been defeated by the sword. James would call it “bitter envy” and “selfish ambition.” Which really means no repentance and faith in their schemes for tomorrow. It means, “no peace.”

“Peace, be still

In the middle of a terrible storm, Jesus simply said, “Peace, be still.” In those three words, he overcame nature itself. When he died and rose, he overcame the world. Find peace in your defeat.

The Folly of “Tomorrow”

Yesterday’s post dealt with looking back at 2013. Today’s is about 2014 and beyond.

It was the perfect plan.

In late 2011, after 6.5 years in Cedar Rapids at a great church in a student ministry that I loved, I felt God calling me away to a new season of ministry. God wanted me in a ministry environment where we’d be ministering directly to families and helping equip them to be the primary spiritual leaders of children. Months of searching and near-misses led us to Naperville, Illinois.

 “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money…””

I’d move to Naperville in advance as our two sons finished school. We’d put the house up for sale. Despite a lousy market, we’d sell it and break even. Taking advantage of said market, we’d buy a great new (-er) house. It would be awesome. We’d be in Naperville for at least 4 years as our youngest son completed high school.

“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

My plan? A cruel joke, a hoax played on myself. All those months of concern and frustration about a house that would never sell and eventually go into foreclosure.

So, we didn’t buy that fancy house that we truthfully could not afford.

In December of 2013, I’d leave my job. Before I found a new one.

He knew.

What if I got what I had wanted? What if our house had sold and we bought that awesome new (-er) one? The situation with our youngest? It kills me. Breaks my heart. But, God knew about that too. And even now, He’s taking steps to be present to John 3.

God knows what today holds. And tomorrow. And next week, and the week after that. Even February.

The Truth

I’m a mist. God, is not a mist. He has called me to be His. Regardless of the “good or troubles” that I’m in the midst of. And woe to me if I fail to know the Good I ought to do and not do it (James 4:17). My plans and schemes, the hope of wealth that I was looking to? Rotted and corroded (James 5:1-6). Like the farmer who’s planted a crop, I’m totally at the mercy of the one who is NOT a mist (James 5:7-12). My only response is to be patient, to stand firm, to pray (James 5:8, 13-20).

When we enter into this relationship with the God Who Is Not a Mist, we are guaranteed to experience both good and trouble. And it is in the midst of these experiences that He is revealed: His goodness, mercy, grace, His justice, His righteousness and ultimately, His reconciling work, a work that He began and will complete.

The is what it means to be reconciled to God. The old self dies. The new self rises with Christ.

God’s Justice, God’s Timing

The Past

On NYE, I posted the following:

  • “On 2013: ‘Shall we accept the good from God and not trouble?’- Job 2:10.
  • On 2014: ‘You do not even know what will happen tomorrow…Be patient and stand firm’- James 4:14, 5:8.”

The first verse is important because 2013 was a year of great highs and one tremendous low; it’s been on my mind since mid-October and took on a greater meaning in early December. As I ponder the meaning of the past 3 months now, I believe God’s revealed a third verse, one that gives context to both of the above: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”- Genesis 50:20.

God’s Better Plan

Over the past day, I’ve dialogued with a few people about my NYE post. It struck me that many years passed between Joseph being sold and the redemption spoken of in the Genesis text. Joseph was 17 when we meet him; one of many sons of Jacob (son of Jacob, grandson of Isaac, great-grandson of Abraham), Joseph was sold twice- first to the Midianites, then to Potiphar. He was given authority in Potiphar’s house, only to have Potiphar’s wife try to seduce him. Failing, she then accused him of rape, so Potiphar had him thrown in jail, where he remained for 2 years. He interpreted a dream for Pharaoh, and was released from prison. He rose to power at 30 and was given authority over all Egypt. There were 7 years of plenty, followed by 7 years of world-wide famine. Joseph’s father, starving in the land promised to his father’s father, sends his remaining sons to Egypt to buy food from…Joseph.

Joseph’s life is a series of both good and trouble. Reading through the text, the faithfulness of Joseph is revealed in the good times…but what about the “trouble”?

Mercy vs. Sacrifice

We see the heart of Joseph when he recognizes his brothers. The ones who mocked him. Wanted to kill him. Stole his prized possession. Threw him into a pit. Sold him into slavery. Surely, Joseph was tempted to tell his brothers to pound salt, to curse them, tell them to go and die. The justice of man. And this is where we are. “Bad things” happen and we demand punishment. Judgment. Sacrifice. But that’s just not God’s story.

More years would pass until we get to Genesis 50:20. Joseph’s family has relocated to Egypt, and Jacob died. It is here, when the brothers are no longer “protected” by their father, do we really see repentance. They come to him in fear, on their knees. And Joseph does what we need to do. Forgive. Reconcile. Make peace. That is God’s desire.

The God Who is Slow

Peter puts it this way, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” We can see from Joseph’s story that at least 20 years passed for this vengeance to happen, for the “bad” to be made “good”.

20 years is an eternity in 21st century America. Bad things happen and we want it fixed today. We want to see selfish, deceitful, lying and manipulating men brought down. Today. We want, demand, a sacrifice because someone needs to pay. Now.

What God wants is repentance. What God wants is reconciliation.

We both find exactly what we call out for in the Person of Christ.

Jesus is our perfect sacrifice, once and for all. If “vengeance is the Lord’s”…then the Lord has wreaked it. And the ultimate payback is not punishment to man, but repentance by him. The absolute best thing that could ever happen would be us, in eternity with God, finding those people that have maligned us the most…not because they deserve it, but because we, like they, have found reconciliation with God through Jesus.

What our enemy has meant for evil, God has used for good. This is God’s justice. And this is the past.

Soon, the future, and the folly of planning for it.

#30DaysofHustle

Created by Jon Acuff:

“30 Days of Hustle is based on one simple idea, Get Stuff Done. Turns out 98% of New Year’s Resolutions fail. Not this year. Using scientifically proven methods to knock out our goals, we will be collectively storming through 2014. Tasks will be emailed out daily to members of the group. The group is closed, but at the end of every 30 day cycle we will have a 24 hour period where new members can be added to the next round.”

My task for January 2014? Write 6 meaningful blog posts. Look for post #1 by the week’s end.

 

Battles of flesh and Spirit

The Text:

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”- Ephesians 6:12.

Their Story:

Shortly before this, in the same chapter, he told children to obey their parents, fathers to not exasperate their kids, slaves to obey their masters (and to work as unto the Lord) and for masters to treat their slaves as they might Jesus. Paul’s letter here is to “God’s holy people at Ephesus.” This matters immensely because his audience would only be comprised of believers (or at least those who would call themselves that).

Let’s combine all of this…

  • “Christian kids, obey your parents. When they act unreasonable and in unchristian ways, remember, your battle is not against them. God’s still making them His.”
  • “Christian parents, don’t be total (or even partial) jackwagons to your kids. Love them and treat them with respect. There is a war going on within them as God works on them.”
  • “Christian slaves, serve your masters as you’d serve God. You must love them as God has loved you, even when they don’t deserve it because God is watching, and sees, all.”
  • “Christian masters, treat your slaves as you’d treat God. God’s not partial in his treatment of man, and He’s watching.”

Certainly, this text offends 21st Century man. But…that doesn’t make it irrelevant, less truthful, or not timely. Why? In 1 Corinthians 2:2, he’d write this gem, “For I resolved to to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Paul wasn’t fighting a culture war, he was telling people about Jesus.

Our Story:

Over the past 24 hours, parts of an interview with Phil Robertson from GQ has been leaked. Surely every person that might read this post is familiar with this, if not, look it up. In response, A&E has placed Phil on hiatus. Then…”christians” went to work; here’s what I’ve observed: many Christians seem quick to fight this battle as though we are battling flesh and blood: boycotts, open-letters, Facebook statuses and Tweets galore.

When we fight this way, we simply do not honor Christ.

Some will be quick to defend themselves…

What about freedom of speech?” Paul warns against this attitude in 1 Corinthians 6. The Christian should choose to be wronged. Yep, we live in a country where we have rights. We should honor that. Live within it. But, America is not the Promised Land and our Constitution is not God’s Word.

This is persecution!” Paul wrote his letters at a time of strong persecution. The kind that found one beaten with rods, stoned and cast outside the city gates because they think they’ve killed you, where one might end up covered in oil, impaled on a stick and set alight so someone might enjoy their garden at night.

Here’s the deal, neither the truth nor the gospel of Christ is so weak that they need your open-letter. When we act out of the flesh, not only do we fail to live up to our calling, we cause God’s word to be maligned. It’s not love. It’s not grace. And it’s not obedience.