Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Painting With Too Broad of a Brush

I have often challenged stereotypes, my own along with those of others, by saying, “My, you paint with a broad brush.” Broad, sweeping generalities often rule our discourse in our attempts to force people and arguments into bipolar constructs. We create “us” against “them” arguments, built of straw men to suit our own objectives.

A religion writer for a regional newspaper wrote an article titled, “Evangelicals recast Trump as an Old Testament King.” Another online author penned this title: “Americans are partisan about everything, even sex scandals.” Both authors attempted to illustrate that the group broadly defined as “Evangelical” is an inconsistent, compromising lot that hitches its wagon to any star that panders to its special interests. Both authors described “Evangelicals” as a group that closes its eyes to moral corruption whenever their political darling advances the “right” agenda.

While I grieve the accuracy of these indictments wherever they are well-founded, I resist being categorized as the sort of amoral “Evangelical” described in these articles. Don’t paint me with that broad of a brush.

Presently, Evangelical Christians, broadly defined by pollsters and pundits alike, are being told what the group thinks. Such stereotyping is preposterous. We Evangelicals are far more complex than that. We cannot even agree on theological matters, hence the large number of denominations. But we are objectified and reduced to a demographic category for polling and editorial purposes.

Why? Well, it has happened before. In World War II, those German believers who resisted Fascism found themselves in the crosshairs of Nazi Germany’s propaganda machine. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the leaders of the German Confessing Movement. He recognized the totalitarian government’s attempt at marginalizing and silencing the church by mocking believers as a caricature. Government and its propaganda publications sought to control the church. In many places, government succeeded. But not everywhere or all of the time.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “The time is coming when the confession of the living God will incur not only the hatred and the fury of the world, for on the whole it has come to that already, but complete ostracism from ‘human society’ as they call it. The Christians will be hounded from place to place, subjected to physical assault, maltreatment, and death of every kind. We are approaching an age of widespread persecution”

Bonhoeffer continued: “Our adversaries seek to root out the Christian church and the Christian faith because they cannot live side by side with us, because they see in every word we utter and every deed we do, even when they’re not specifically directed against them, a condemnation of their own words and deeds. They are not far wrong.” (A Testament to Freedom, pp. 319-320).

So, the enemies of Christ will paint us with a broad brush of stereotype, forcing us into their preconceived categories. These attempts to portray the church as inconsistent, waffling, compromising, politicized, and irrelevant will seek to win the day. Unfortunately, some believers fit the stereotype!

Dennis F. Kinlaw, Sr., in his devotional book, This Day with the Master, wrote: “The first Christians became unstoppable. The world had no categories to deal with people like these. They did not fear prison, and they did not fear death. The world had no weapons to use against them that could succeed.”

In the midst of an era of compromise and failure, Christ will have His Church, a Holy Bride. Pejorative labels and caricatures will abound, but the Church of Jesus Christ remains. We may suffer terrifically for our faith. Others already have. We may be called upon to sacrifice our very lives for our Lord Jesus. Others already have.

“No weapon formed against you shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:17).

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Beginning to Know God

When God called me to serve Him through the mission of Wesley Biblical Seminary, He called me to leave everything I knew and loved and follow Jesus wherever He would lead. As a result of His call and my simple obedience, I have been privileged to witness some of the greatest miracles of my life. God has provided in incredible and irrefutable ways. 

Amidst His provision, He often scares me. I have frequently lived the terror of standing on top of a high mountain cliff, and have sensed God grip me firmly by the belt, lead me to the edge, and encourage me to lean out. “Trust me,” is His tender, yet urgent appeal. “Lean out. I’ve got you. There’s a great view from here.”

Then, He provides in astounding ways. Dennis Kinlaw wrote that “The miracle is not simply an act of God to meet a need; it also becomes a parable with spiritual significance.” If that truth extends beyond scripture to the lives we lead, then my life is nothing short of a parable—a parable of the miraculous.

Kinlaw wrote: “Jesus may be meeting the physical needs of your life, and yet you may be totally unaware that He wants to meet a much deeper and more burning need of your heart.” Through desperate seasons of lack that demand faith and resilience, even amidst great fear and weakness, He is teaching me utter dependence. He is teaching me the simplicity of rising again the next day, facing the adversity with my hand in His, acknowledging my lack, and moving forward in faith. 

In this journey, I am beginning to know Him. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Fear of Failure

A fear of failure often dogs our steps.

Dennis F. Kinlaw, Sr. wrote: "There is a 'tide in the affairs of men' that if seized leads to greatness. If it is missed, one is left to wander. Opportunities do not stand waiting at the door. Are you among those who wander?"

Why do we often fail to seize the moment? Why do we often fail to sail the tide? Wy do we reject the opportunities?

When I was 6 years old I sensed God's call to preach and teach. I immediately accepted and embraced the call. I did not know rebellion was an option. That call has defined every choice that I have ever made. 

However, my hunger to obey God had a consequential dark side in my own psychology. It was a fear of failure. School came easily to me. I could get As and Bs with less work than many classmates. I was a quick study on most courses. As a firstborn child, I carefully controlled my world so that I could succeed. I avoided things that exposed my weaknesses. My brother was a great athlete. I followed sports closely, but apart from some pickup games, never sought to excel. Athletic aptitude was harder for me. Avoid failure. Focus upon what you do well. That was my thought.

As an adult, I have had a hard time accepting failure. Even performance that attains something less than perfection is difficult for me. I have had to learn to surrender these matters to God. But sometimes, I find myself worrying over them... to excess.

In recent years, I have learned that I lack the power to judge events in my life as good or bad. If I try to list the top five defining events in my life, I will inevitably identify events that I characterize as both good and bad. Then, when I ask myself about the bad things, I find myself identifying the good consequences that God has worked in my life both in and through events I identify as bad. I am not diminishing the presence or work of evil in the world in any way; however, I have found that surrendering my right to judge many of life's events as good or bad to God is freeing.

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28 NKJV).

Only God can transform bad things into good. Only God can redeem consequences of evil events. Only eternity will reveal the eternal reality. Joseph identified with that eternal reality when he witnessed to his brothers.

"But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive" (Genesis 50:20 NKJV).

I serve a Lord who accepts me as I am. You do, too. He is ever working to transform me more and more into His likeness. I choose, by His grace, to embrace that journey of transformation. I am asking God to continue freeing me from my selfish assessment of my life as a success or a failure. Only He determines my final grade. 

Yes, I don't like failure. Of course, public failure is embarrassing, sometimes even humiliating. Teddy Roosevelt said: “It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.”

Lord Jesus, help me to pursue excellence for your glory. Deliver me from my fear of failure. Help me to "Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God" (William Carey). I love you and want to hear your welcoming words, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Amen.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Only One Life

By C.T. Studd

Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice,
Gently pleads for a better choice
Bidding me selfish aims to leave,
And to God’s holy will to cleave;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its clays I must fulfill,
living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep,
In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;
Faithful and true what e’er the strife,
Pleasing Thee in my daily life;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn,
And from the world now let me turn;
Living for Thee, and Thee alone,
Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;
And when at last I’ll hear the call,
I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When God called me to preach and teach at 6 years of age, I thought it was the greatest privilege anyone could ever know. When God sanctified my heart by faith at age 16, I was surrendering with joy to the Lover of my soul, who knew best for my life. The surrender was natural, easy, and delightful. When I was 18 years old I was seeking God's direction about dating Beth, with hopes for eventual marriage. God blessed His Word to me, encouraging me to delight myself in Him and in the joyful future that He had before me. 

When God blessed our lives with Katie and Nathan, we prayed the same joyful surrender and delight in our living Lord for their lives. 

When God directed our steps to Kentucky Mountain Bible College for 23 years of service, it was with delight, joy, and purpose that we embraced His divine call and investment into Kingdom work.

When God suddenly called us to leave everything and follow Jesus to Wesley Biblical Seminary in 2013, it was with trembling joy that we obeyed. 

I want the watchword of my life to be that of living to hear Jesus say, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into my joys I have prepared for you."

Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Quack Like a Duck

My friend John reminds me that I can be a sponge or a duck. I can absorb all of the emotion and distress of the world around me, or through faith in Jesus Christ, I can transcend it, shedding the spiritual and emotional attacks that pummel me.

The same is true for you. Let me tell you a bit of my recent journey and how the Lord is teaching me to be a duck, not a sponge. Then I want to share some strategies with you as to how you can quack like a duck!

I recently completed a difficult yet rewarding week in the workplace. I answer to a Board of Trustees who employs me and establishes the operational policies for my institution. The Board has a fiduciary duty, which means they are entrusted with the responsibilities of the vision, finances, and mission of Wesley Biblical Seminary.

We have an outstanding Board of Trustees. Each Trustee is deeply committed to the mission of the school. I have a lot of responsibilities to ensure that the Board is provided with the resources it needs to make wise and responsible decisions.

I write the Board agenda in conjunction with the Board Chair. I make any edits and updates to the Board Policy Manual to reflect changes made by the Board. I compose the presidential report and prepare an opening devotional to begin the meetings at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday. I collect the reports from the vice presidents and directors. A teammate compiles the Board portfolios complete with schedule, agenda, minutes, resolutions, reports, and policy manual.

Board meetings take place three times per year, and always includes a fellowship dinner. My wife takes the responsibility of hosting the Board.

For two years I have worked without an administrative assistant. That means that the organization and logistical planning for the board meeting falls upon me. In addition, my performance is being evaluated.

In spite of my best efforts at being a duck, I often default to a sponge by the time board meeting comes around. After a recent board meeting, I was exhausted. I went home and crashed on the couch. I spent a quiet evening at home with Beth. Saturday morning, I awoke rested. Monday I talked with my coach, John. I told him about my journey through the board meeting, the stress, the decisions, the anxiety.

John responded, “Did your anxiety make for a better board meeting?”

His question plunged to my soul like a dagger.

“No,” I replied. I had to be honest. In fact, the anxiety probably robbed me of some of the joy of the strategic decisions that were made.

I thought of the words of Jesus.

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

“So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble”
(Matthew 6:25-34 NKJV).

What about you? Have you ever asked yourself the convicting question, “Am I a duck or a sponge?”

Have you found yourself sanctifying your stress? Have you elevated anxiety and worry to a level of false holiness? “If I don’t worry enough about the tasks which God has called me to do, I don’t care enough. If I don’t care enough, I somehow lack in holy commitment to God.”

The problem with this line of thought is that it is just wrong. Our worry elevates our authority and responsibility to a level that only God can achieve. We try to take His burdens upon ourselves, rather than rolling them upon Him. Our faith in God becomes compromised by an idolatrous claim to authority, power, and responsibility that He demands we surrender to His Lordship.

Here are some things I am learning about the tangled mess of worry, fear, anxiety, and stress.

  • Worry cannot be sanctified. 
  • God sanctifies us in and through our stressful situations.  
  • We struggle giving our anxiety to God.
  • We multiply my own fears through our anxiety.
  • An anxious life is a worthless life.
  • A life consecrated to God is a worthwhile life. 
So, here is my question. What about you? Are you a duck or a sponge? Do you see yourself in my journey? Let me suggest some steps to you that I am finding effective in teaching me to quack like a duck rather than absorbing everything like a sponge.

  • Trust God.
  • Embrace the task God has assigned to you with vigor, enthusiasm, and faith.
  • Remember, it's not your job. It is His. Perform the duties for His glory.
  • Refuse to sanctify that which God will not sanctify, chiefly, worry.
  • Focus on the eternal rather than the temporal.
  • Accept God’s assignment with joy and thanksgiving.
Allow all of the extraneous issues to roll “Like water off a duck’s back.” Remain placid on the surface, and paddle hard underneath. Refuse to absorb all of the burdens that people would place upon you, and that you place upon yourself. 

And QUACK! Quack God’s praises. Proclaim His goodness in faith, even as you paddle furiously for His glory.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Are You a Sponge or a Duck?

John is a great friend to me. John has spent his career as a lawyer, a law school professor, a seminary professor of homiletics, a 16-year mayor, a fund-raiser, and a Renaissance man. In the last several years, John’s sister-in-law introduced us. I had expressed to her my need for a coach and friend to come alongside me.

She said, “I think you’d like John.”

I do.

In the midst of seasons of heavy burdens in leadership, John pours into me the leadership lessons he has learned throughout his lifetime. One of the most profound and powerful lessons John is teaching me has to do with how I handle stressful situations.

In the midst of one of my heart-sharing moments, John looked at me and commented, “You have a choice. You can either be a duck or a sponge.”

A duck or a sponge? What does that mean?

Think about it. A sponge absorbs everything around itself. As it absorbs, the sponge becomes heavy with the weight of its surroundings. Only when the sponge is squeezed does it lose its weight.

Do you remember the old joke, “How do you get down off a horse?” The answer is that you don’t. “You get down off a duck!”

The downy feathers of a young duck are water repellant. Even in adulthood, water runs off a duck’s back. As the duck glides across the surface of a pond, it appears placid upon the surface. However, all of the activity is taking place under the surface of the water.

I looked at John and protested, “But being a sponge has worked pretty well for me most of my life.” Then I confessed, “Well, not always. I think it’s time that I learn to be a duck.”

I remember when I was a student life officer. God allowed me many hours of listening, counseling, and pastoring students. They dealt with a wide range of issues including family dysfunction, sexual abuse, substance abuse issues, and sexual identity issues. I poured myself into those young people. I wept with them, empathized with them, cared for them, and led many of them on a journey to a place of wholeness in Christ.

Being a sponge seemed to work pretty well for me.

But not entirely. I made some deliberate decisions when I left the office each evening to leave the brokenness and burdens there. I sought to go home and give myself completely to Beth, Katie, and Nathan. After an especially difficult day of listening to pain and trauma, we would slip off campus to one of the few restaurants in Jackson, Kentucky, and enjoy the escape of a family meal.

I was learning to be a duck.

But it is hard for a caring, compassionate person to live as a duck all of the time. There are moments that the sponge in me really comes out.

My greatest challenge with being a duck is when I face conflict with another person. After a conflicting conversation, event, or series of events, my sponge really starts absorbing. I mull, ponder, complain, analyze, evaluate, and generally obsess about the problem and people involved. Absorbed in the problem, I find myself weighed down.

So, throughout my professional and personal life, I have found myself alternating between being a sponge and being a duck. I was never able to identify the process until John asked me the probing question.

Recently I returned to my office after having been out and about. I spied several foreign objects throughout my office. I grinned. Yellow rubber duckies were strategically placed on my desk, shelf and credenza.

My wife had been to a local dollar store. While there, she spotted a package of three small rubber ducks. They now grace my office as a reminder of my attitude, focus, and faith.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Pastor Lisa’s Prayer

While on vacation recently, Beth and visited a church in another state. Mutual had friends had arranged for us to meet the pastor. Pastor Lisa brought a powerful word from the Lord that spoke to me. The message focused on God’s words to Moses: “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

Pastor Lisa illustrated God’s faithfulness to the patriarchs, Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the midst of Moses’ call to set the Hebrews free from Egyptian captivity, the challenges were overwhelming. Moses needed the God’s assurance that He would be with him. She pointed out that the God of Abraham is a God of Promise who promised good things for Abraham. 

Pastor Lisa emphasized that the God of Isaac is a God of the ordinary. Isaac grew up in the shadows of a man of distinction and note, yet Isaac was quite ordinary, by comparison. But God was also the God of Jacob—a deceiver, schemer, and coward. Jacob put the “fun” in the family dysfunction. But God had purpose and beauty to transform Jacob’s character and give him a new name, Israel. Yet when God made the promise to Moses, He refused to use Jacob’s new name, Israel—a prince with God. God used the old name, Jacob.

Pastor Lisa emphasized that God is with us in the good, ordinary, and struggling seasons of our lives. After church, Pastor Lisa entertained Beth and me for lunch at a coastal seafood restaurant. The fellowship was rich. We connected as we shared stories of many mutual friends.

As we were about to part company, Pastor Lisa said, “I want to pray for you.” She made a point of telling God that Beth and I were in a hard spot of ministry and service. Neither ease or coasting was a part of our job description at this point in our lives. She told God that He has us right where He wants us, in the midst of difficulties that drive us to complete dependence upon Him. She laid hands on Beth and me and prayed. As she prayed, we sensed God’s presence and courage.

I feel a lot like Jacob today. I am across the brook Jabbok, wrestling alone with God. I am insisting upon His blessing. I feel His touch in my thigh. I sense His transforming power in my character. I hear Him pronounce my new name. I walk with a testimonial limp of God’s mark.

The struggle is ever present, but my God is omnipresent.

The struggle is powerful, but my God is all powerful.

The struggle makes me afraid, but my God says, “Fear not.”

The struggle makes me say, “I cannot,” but my God says, “My grace is enough for you, right now.”

Are you in a good place, an ordinary place, or a place of struggle today? In good places, it is easy for me to forget the Source, and neglect pursuing intimacy with my Heavenly Father. In ordinary places, I have found myself coasting. In the struggle, I insist upon knowing God. I am desperate for an encounter with my Creator. He has me there right now.

Struggling forward in faith.