We Don’t Need More Leaders

birdsRecently I heard what has become a common call to Good: someone working to build up more leaders from a particular group of people. In order to try to keep things objective I won’t tell you the description of the group: it really doesn’t matter. Let’s just call them “The Cohort”. This person was on a podcast describing an effort to have more people from The Cohort become leaders. It should be said that this person was entirely well-meaning. I really don’t think they were twisting their mustache because their evil plot to make new leaders was going ahead according to plan. But the whole idea was never even questioned. It was discussed in that myopic way that “Good” things are thought of these days: the same culture that believes in strict moral relativism largely assumes the good of anything that they assume helps people. What could possibly be wrong about wanting to make more leaders? Not wrong: misguided. We must always defend ourselves against our own assumptions and never contract the illness of someone else’s assumption.

Here is what struck me about the plan: it wasn’t to help people feed their children or educate themselves or die in peace: something that might be valuable in allowing people the dignity they inherently deserve. The call to make leaders is different and yet can be sold as being in the same category. It raises leadership to something that all should aspire to; a calling bordering on a human right.

But leadership is not a right; it is a responsibility. The world system believes we should crank out leaders from a diverse range of people not because of what those people might bring to the table but because they have a right to lead and we have no right to choose only certain groups from which to choose our leaders. Few seem to notice that to pick leaders based on a set of demographics is really no different than the problem they are trying to solve. If we have too many leaders from group “A” we think we should add more from group “B”; but we’re still making a person’s group the criteria for being a good leader. We haven’t made much progress.

Saying we need more leaders is like saying we need more airline pilots: a job inherently dangerous to the pilot and, if they perform poorly, to all the passengers. When I heard someone calling for more of The Cohort in leadership roles I couldn’t help but be concerned for them. “Wait, it’s a trap!” I wanted to tell them! “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into!” Leaders suffer: they are alone, they are questioned, challenged, blamed, and are responsible for themselves and others. Like the first bird in the formation they take the wind resistance. Is what’s best for The Cohort really to draw more of them into that jungle?

Now on the other hand I Timothy 3:1 says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” So maybe wanting to be a leader isn’t so bad. But then the following verses go on to describe the character required of a leader in God’s Church. This is because while in the Kingdom of the World leadership equals authority and authority is a virtue and virtue is a right, the Kingdom of God has no such view of leaders. Leaders are servants in the dark. They do not seek to be seen but to lead people toward the unseen. They see hidden things in hidden people: gifts and potential. They suffer in sacrifice for the good of those for whom they are accountable. They do not feel entitled to lead but a calling to serve.

We do not need more leaders. We need godly leaders.

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Shacking Up with the Truth

Truth is always exclusive. While it’s a big statement it’s been discussed already in a recent post here: https://thinkingbetweenthelines.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/exclusive-should-christians-claim-to-have-the-only-way/.

For now suffice it to say that all religions are making exclusive truth claims (saying that what they say is the only true option. Now, some are more willing to try to take in other beliefs, something like trying to bring a lion into your house because you thought it needed a home. But wild lions make poor pets and religious beliefs don’t live well within other faiths. For example, Hindus have historically tried to see Jesus Christ as an incarnation of Krishna. The omnivorous Unitarian Universalists would bring just about any truth claim into their circle. So when the lion comes to live in your house you must control it; when you take in another truth claim you must castrate it to make it safely fit.

We cannot have non-exclusive truth. Somebody is always wrong. And there is comfort in that: nobody wants to live in a land without borders. But if we cannot have non-exclusive truth would we prefer non-exclusive love? Perhaps.

Think of this: there are different types of love (the Greek language of the New Testament categorizes several – brotherly, romantic, unconditional, and familial). Of these only one is exclusive: romantic love. By its very nature it falls apart if it gets spread around. All the others can go from myself to any number of people and only grow by being given away to all and sundry. But if I tell someone I love romantically that I feel free to love any number of other people exactly the same do I truly love that person at all? How would you feel if the tables were turned on you?

Sometimes we are confused that Jesus expresses unconditional but not un-exclusive love. He loves just because that is His nature (I John 4:8). But love and truth are always wed and God can’t love everything. Would we want Him to? Would we want evil and good to be equal in His eyes? Would we want promises that we are told we can trust but that are not exclusive and can change at any time?

No, love chooses. It is the nature of love. Truth chooses. God chooses. We choose even if we choose to not choose. The beauty is that God chooses us (John 15:6). Truth and love require choice but they also require commitment and we don’t have a God who commits to move in with us but to marry us (in fact this analogy is used across the whole of Scripture). Because of this Love we need not merely shack up with the Truth.

For the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

crownofthornsWe asked you to change the world but not to change us.

We hid from the wicked and hid our light under a basket.

We distracted ourselves avoiding sin and instead avoided you.

We handed you our sins but not our lives.

We cried out in the gate for our rights, but in our houses we rejected righteousness.

We shook our head at the wicked while we cultivated our sin.

We asked who our enemy is and not who our neighbor is.

We prayed for our sick, but not for those who hate you.

We have believed in you but have not believed you.

We learned our Bible but do not know your Word.

We prayed against them but not for them.

We shucked our crimes onto the cross but would not carry the shames of our world.

We built our churches but broke your temple.

We gained the world and lost our soul.

We wanted to be as Christ to the world but have not been as Christ before you.

We asked you for more when you called us to sacrifice.

We have built our bodies and strangled our souls.

We have broken our families.

We have dishonored our parents.

We have killed our children.

We worshiped our children.

We have raped.

We have given ourselves to others.

We have impoverished ourselves with our possessions.

We have labored in vain.

We cried “Peace! Peace!” when you cried “Repentance!”

We cried “War!” when you said, “Be still.”

We have called the sweet bitter and the bitter sweet.

We have admired and called it love.

We denied your power and called it humility.

We disobeyed you and called it grace.

We obeyed you and called it legalism.

We gnashed our teeth at you and you called us chosen.

We tried to steal your son’s glory and you called us children.

We declared you dead and you declared us righteous.

We broke Him and you called us whole.

We poured Him out and you called us full.

We failed you and you called us victors.

We robbed you and you called us heirs.

We mocked you and you called us friend.

We prostituted ourselves and you called us bride.

We sought to tip you from your throne and you called us to reign with you.

Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

Disclaimer: the new way to deny the power of the gospel.

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The Evangelical Church has become what we always despised in others: we are obsessed with sin and not with God. We have made the gospel safe by adding our own disclaimer.

The typical Christian today knows well an unwritten law: that one must never so much as hint at a success in his Christian life without making sure to make known how sinful and flawed he is. In doing so he dishonors not himself but his God.

There are those Christians who are always ready and waiting to talk about their favorite topic: their own self-made righteousness. This person is simply bursting as he hopes you will ask something that will give him the chance to tell you how he is God’s favorite, but since you will not ask he’ll just go ahead and tell you anyway. This person’s God is himself and there is no greater heresy for the self-righteous person than to admit to sin – for that would dishonor his god.

But even should this man come to find himself a sinner he will still learn a terrible habit which probably no one will correct in him.
The self-righteous person must not admit to sin or his god is impugned. The person who claims his righteousness comes from God must not admit to holiness or his God will be impugned, for he feels that he robs God of glory if he does so.Ask a Christian who has discovered he is a sinner to talk about his failures and he is in his element, you have him on a topic at which he is particularly adept. But ask him about his successes and everything within him twists and turns trying to return to the territory he feels is not so heretical: a discussion of his sin.

What both do not know is that their god is themselves and their lord is sin.

Mewling, fevered, downcast Christians who cannot look God in the eye without pausing to scourge themselves are gravely mistaken if they think they are giving glory to God.

It is the more grounded Christian who knows God does not play favorites or give gold stars for good behavior. But the one who refuses to admit freely that God is changing his life denies the power of the gospel. When we are able to talk about our lives with Jesus Christ only in terms of our sin we are saying that there is no life in Him. We are saying that in the end, this gospel doesn’t really work and we are back to being nice people. Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” We might glorify God a little when we know him to be better than we are. We glorify him much more when we are like him.

It Takes One to Know One

It is usually rather alarming for someone to find that they are doubting the very things that they have held most dear. It is possibly more alarming for people whose loved ones are doubting their faith.

Many Christians react to someone, especially a close loved one, doubting their faith with derision. They want to throw hard and fast answers and get the wayward soul back to a comfortable place. Often we do not think that good Christians ever deal with doubts about their faith, after all – we certainly don’t, do we?

But to this hypothetical dictator of ideas I would ask a question: do you really never doubt your faith? Do you never doubt the God you say you trust implicitly?

Faith in God is essentially a matter of trust. Dale Fincher writes, “Faith has less to do with figuring out if something is true and more to do with trust as we enter relationships.” When we fail to trust God we are not so far from the person doubting whether or not God is who He is said to be.

By way of example, we might take the repeated command to fear not. The implication is that we ought to trust in God for all things. Do you ever fear? Do you ever worry about your finances? Do you ever worry about the fate of the doubter in your life?

Hebrews 11:6 says: “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” The typical doubter often doubts the first part: that God exists. But the one who believes in God and even claims to faithfully follow Him yet lives out his or her doubts about His goodness and reliability is in no place to judge the classic doubter. Jude 22 tells us: “Have mercy on those who doubt.” After all, don’t we want the same mercy from God when our actions say He may not be trustworthy?

The Apologetic of Hope

The most often quoted Bible verse concerning apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Christians typically focus in on the word “defense” as the key word in the verse. The original Greek word is in fact where we derived our term “apologetics” from in the first place so one would be justified in picking it out as the most important word in the verse, or so we think. But there is a more important word here.

When read in context this verse is part of an instruction to Christians in the midst of persecution. Peter tells them to make sure they never do anything to deserve the persecution but instead to show themselves to be hoping in their God. The key word in this verse is not “defense” but “hope”.

Christian, has a non-believer ever asked you what gives you so much certain expectation in God amid your trials? Apologetics begins with hope in God, not with discussions with people. That should be a result of our hope. Apologetics is not really about questions so much as questioners – real people with real lives who need someone in whom they can hope. This goes far beyond discussions and information to souls.

The early church had the greatest boon to apologetics: persecution. The world around the early church punished them severely and Peter knew that as Christ had gone to His death obedient to the Father so the Christians should live amid death hoping in their savior. It was that kind of outlandish hope that would cause the persecutors to wonder at the Christians’ reasons for holding so dearly to their Christ.

The thing that really makes apologetics difficult in America is not the hostility to Christians but the comfort of Christians. There are certainly individuals and groups in the U.S. that are hostile to Christians but by and large few terribly violent things happen to Christians here. You might like to think you are persecuted because your family gatherings are awkward or because strangers are not excited that you want to talk to them about why they need Jesus before you even asked their name. You are not persecuted. American Christians have learned to fight for their rights and to seek to always be the dominant force in their country because of course, they seem to reason, God could never will anything for them except to run the country and be left alone. The mentality that Christians are persecuted in America but should be dominant ought to be reversed. We are not truly persecuted but evangelism would benefit if we were. The church is growing in places like Iran and China by incredible measures while in the U.S. it is largely becoming flabby and sleepy at best, conceited and flamboyant at worst. Peter would be the first to say that we should not do anything to instigate persecution, however we should allow our persecution to instigate hope and allow hope to invite the world’s questions.

Precious in the Sight of the Lord

I couldn’t help but notice that the last several memorials at our church have come on days when the news ran stories of the death of someone famous. While the workers in newsrooms scramble to gather biographical information and get it on a teleprompter small families gather together and tell stories of their loved ones recently lost. These precious people were never famous, never even terribly successful in the eyes of the world. You will not hear their lives outlined on the news, no dedicated fans will leave flowers at the front gate of their mansions. They die without any pomp and there are no traffic snarls because of their funerals. But these seemingly quiet deaths sing loudly in the ears of the Lord.

The day Steve Jobs died a lady from our church also died and the reaction of the world to the death of Jobs could never compare to the love this lady’s family showed at her memorial. Comparatively few people knew that she died and yet her death, not Jobs’, was the more momentous.

When a celebrity dies the usual news report is full of their life achievements. It is because of these achievements that we are expected to find their death to be of great moment. But a life full of achievements is not what makes one’s death important. The elderly lady who died on the same day as Steve Jobs had perhaps not had as industrious a life as Jobs and yet her death had greater value in the sight of Lord. This morning the news carried a story of the death of a member of the Beegees while this afternoon our church had a memorial for an infant boy. A baby has had no opportunity to live a life full of accomplishments. But it is not such a life that finds favor with the Lord.

Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” When one of His own dies the Lord does not look upon fame or fortune, success or failure. He looks upon His own and lovingly welcomes them into His kingdom and His rest. Their death is so precious to Him because they are so precious to Him and the Shepherd knows His own. And therein we find our life.