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What in the Worldview….

This article is an excerpt from my book Ahead of the Curve (published in 2011)

We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the non-believer. We need to think about how they see the world. We need to analyze how they interact with the world. Cross-cultural missionaries have been doing this for thousands of years. It is time, however, for us to apply the same skills here in the West to bridge the great divide within our culture. On any given Sunday, in most communities across America, there are vastly more people not going to church than there are in church. Fifty years ago, there was not as drastic a difference between the worldviews of the churchgoers and those of the non-churchgoers. But now there is a great divide, and in order to be effective, we must take the time to understand how the non-churchgoers think and feel. We have just seen what makes up a worldview. Now we will take some time and look at what has made the twentieth century what it is, the worldviews of modernity and postmodernity. My intention in this book is not to be exhaustive in any sense of the meaning, but will briefly sketch some of the defining contours of both modernity and postmodernity so that we can see what this emerging worldview actually is.

Modernity is often called the Post Medieval period. It runs roughly from 1400 until about the 1930s. Historians tend to break modernity into an early and a later period. The early modern period continues until about 1800. The modern era begins in the nineteenth century with the advent of industrialization. It is this latter period of modernity that has the most weight for us. It is what is commonly called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment paradigm is also known as the “representation paradigm” in academic circles. Its goal is to see the world empirically. Reason has the upper hand. Proponents of modernity see the world as a mapping of what can be empirically understood.

Although the church seems currently obsessed with understanding postmodernism, I find it interesting to note that postmodernism began as an intellectual and cultural phenomenon in the 1920’s. That was almost a century ago! Postmodernity’s focus on social and political out workings has been the norm since the 1960’s. The church is behind the time. We are trying to understand something that is nearly a century old, yet we still don’t quite have a handle on it. Even the name by which we call the worldview, postmodernity, shows that we do not quite understand it. Think about the name of the first automobiles. They were called a horseless carriage. They didn’t know what it was, but they knew it wasn’t what they were used to. They had been used to horse drawn carriages and these new things did the same thing but without the horse. We call it postmodernism because we know that it is beyond modernism, but we do not quite know what it is still. This is more than a little disconcerting.

Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, gave a basic outline of Western intellectual history in this way: Pre-modern (or Medieval) thought posits that we can know things truly through both reason and revelation. Modern thought believed that we can only know things truly through reason but not through revelation. But postmodern thought believes that we cannot know things truly either through reason or revelation. This is what Gerry Grant Madison meant when he said Post Modernism leads to aporia or intellectual exhaustion. This is why postmodernity is typified by relativism (there is not truth as it is all relative) and pluralism (one understanding is no better than another).

Postmodernity’s great critique of modernism is that it left out the individual in understanding the world. The individual himself brings something to an understanding of the world. In many ways, this is why postmodern thought tends to be overly self-focused. Joe Queenan’s book, Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation, is masterful at showing how self-improvement and self-centeredness is the predominant ideology of the boomers. Postmodernity brought the self to the forefront of the discussion and obviously, the self enjoys the adulation. It has been commonly said that the postmodern worldview has three problems that must be overcome in order to do effective Christian evangelism.

You will notice that all three problems exist on individual and personal grounds. The problems are: the guilt problem, the truth problem and the meaning problem. There is a guilt problem because most postmodern people do not have guilt over their mistakes because of their truth problem. They essentially do not believe in truth. Like Pilate, they ask the question, “What is truth?” It is a rhetorical question that assumes there is no such thing as truth. The guilt problem stems from the truth problem, which stems from their meaning problem. Because truth is relative and unknowable, how can anyone know what something really means? You can see how pure postmodernism leads to intellectual exhaustion!

Two of the main consequences of postmodern thought are the fragmentation of authority and the commoditization of knowledge. Postmoderns see things in terms of power plays. All authority is seen as an oppressive hierarchy. Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud’s theories on this subject set the stage for what have now become readily accepted cultural beliefs. The whole situation is exacerbated by modern technology, which brings the world closer and makes it seem smaller. The Internet brings knowledge to us at a rapid pace. The postmodern person is used to having information from all over the world instantaneously accessible. This is a lethal combination. When distain for authority (and their truth claims) meet copious amounts of knowledge mixed with self-centeredness, the result is an inability to correctly assess meaning, truth or guilt.

Postmodernity, by and large, rejected on a grand scale, the empirical and rational claims of modernity. Postmodernists rejected truth and accumulated information. Postmoderns typify what the Bible speaks of when it says, “always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.” But as I look at the prevailing worldview of both the Northeast and the West Coast, I see something different than postmodernity. There is not the rejection of truth claims at all. But what is unique is that rather than rejecting what has come before, there is a prevailing sense that other viewpoints should be integrated into the worldview. Not just in an acknowledgment of viewpoints, but in the actual amalgamation of truths.

In the report from the After Post Modern Conference it says this:
General statements of “truth” and objectivity’ are permanently ambiguous––but this does not mean that truth and objectivity are lost. Rather they require more––they need a further contextual completion from what we are just then living, before we can choose among variants for an activity at hand. Instead of mere pluralism, we can create “complexes of multiple truths” involving a demanding and sophisticated steering of scientific research with multiple applications and resonance to local contexts.

It is these complexes of multiple truths that I see clearly on the coasts of our country. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. At this point, I am happy to introduce you to post-postmodernity. Let us give it a proper name. I would like you to meet the “Integral Worldview.”

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Paying the Cost

In my last post I introduced the idea of remaining vigilant in the process of growing in grace, and not doing the easier things of life and ministry as a means of avoiding the harder things, or next things, that need doing. I used the metaphor of caber tossing and triathlons as a means of expressing those things that come easier to me versus those things that I tend to avoid like the plague.

I said I would write in my next few posts about those things that can be very hard for many of us, so in this post I want to explore “paying the cost”. “WHAT?” I can hear the theological gears going into overdrive in response to a phrase like that. “Jesus paid the cost! What kind of craziness are you proclaiming here?” Before I lose you in your own theological tangent, follow me to Luke 14:25-35.

In this oft mentioned portion of the Gospels we read about “the cost of discipleship”. The standard sound byte we hear associated with this passage is “counting the cost”. I say, “wrong!” If we look closer at the passage we see that the metaphors Christ used involved both counting and paying a cost. That was the whole point, in fact. If you don’t count to see how much you have to invest in the endeavour before you begin then how can you pay what’s necessary to carry out and complete the task? When it comes to discipleship, we must not only count… but pay.

Before answering the call to foreign missions there was an admonition from others to “count the cost” in advance. I did so. I truly searched my heart, surmised certain scenarios and circumstances, imagined ill-fates, focused on hard realities and uncomfortable truths. I carefully considered the costs! And after much meditation and prayer concluded that we, as a family, understood the costs.

Some of the “costs” I had counted were in relation to my children (aged 9, 6, 4, and 11 months at the time). I counted the cost that I was separating my children from their grandparents who loved them dearly and loved to spoil them. I counted the cost that my children wouldn’t be able to see and play with their friends any more, that they wouldn’t have English-speaking kids all around them, making it much more difficult to make new friends and playmates. I counted the cost that my children would only be able to bring a couple of their toys with them in the move, and not get to enjoy cartoons or the latest instalment of “Ice Age” at the movie theatre. I counted the cost that they would have to eat very basic diets and be cautious of dangerous creatures. I counted the cost that my children might be unhappy, uncomfortable, and upset, that they would be exposed to life-threatening illnesses and in the worst case scenario even death. These were the costs I calculated in regards to my children.

But counting and paying are two different things!

These costs were easy enough to calculate, but very difficult for me to pay because I often struggle with viewing success as a father as heavily dependant upon my success at blessing my children with fun, toys, activities, friends, playmates, food they enjoy, and entertainment. Even though I know better, I’m honest enough to admit that I still have a hard time in this area. So for me this was, and is, a “hard thing”; a cost easy to count but painful to pay.

I thank God — truly, truly thank Him — that some of the costs that could have been required were not. We still have all of our children. In fact, we gained two along the way! I thank Him that some of the tolls on our road weren’t as high as they could have been. Though two of our youngest girls had a deadly strain of malaria on a couple of occasions and our oldest son contracted Tuberculosis while on an outreach to an extremely remote village, we all still have our overall health. But even now, as we have left the more physically threatening environs of East Africa and live in the more modern world of small-town Ireland, I still struggle to pay the cost of not being able to bless and spoil my kids! It sounds silly in comparison to the costs I was willing to pay in so many other areas. But as I said in my last post, different things are hard for different people. Not being able to afford to take my kids to McDonalds — or by them treats or snacks or toys or ice cream — is still a cost painful for me to pay.

Counting and paying are two different things.

I bring this up only as an example. Many times it’s easy to think we’re moving forward in sanctification and growth because we’ve become experts at counting the costs, talking about the costs, telling others about the costs, but we still avoid wilfully paying the cost the way a fat man avoids a triathlon (yes, I’m fat so I’m allowed to say that).

Shepherds… we can blog about how pastors or churches should do this or change that, telling others how important and necessary it is, and yet never really do it ourselves. We can teach about true discipleship and yet never make any true disciples. We can preach about holiness and yet never implement church discipline for fear of the potential financial implications involved. We can proclaim the importance of church planting and yet never implement a plan to plant a church. Scriptures tell us not to muzzle the ox that treads out the grain. Are you an ox that treads grain, doing the hard things and paying the cost of discipleship by the power of the Spirit? Or are you an ox that pontificates on the nature of grain and grain-treading?

Sheep… we can talk about how “the church” should do this or that or the other, but never be the ones to do it. We can agree with the pastor that we need to support local outreach and foreign missions more but never give a dime towards it. We can ask for prayer for our neighbours’ salvation but never share the good news with them. We can make a stand for righteousness come November, but not live and walk in the light of Christ’s righteousness in our thoughts, in our homes, and in the secret places of the heart year-round. Scriptures call us “the body” of Christ. Are we paying the cost of discipleship that the Spirit has empowered us to pay by moving according to the commands of the Head? Or are we spastic and undisciplined members of the body, moving on our own and even against the signals from the Head?

Counting and paying are two different things. But the Spirit gives us the ability to pay!

If I were going to actually enter a triathlon there would be MUCH to count as far as costs go (not many 6’3″ 340lb men in triathlons). I could talk about the triathlon and the costs involved in entering it. I could even sign the forms to enter, preach every Sunday about how good and necessary it is, and encourage others to enter as well. And doing all of that would probably make me a popular pastor. But it wouldn’t make me a healthy pastor… a true leader of God’s sheep… a disciple who does the hard things God calls him to by the Spirit of God, for the glory of God, and the good of the Kingdom of God.

Please pray for me, and consider yourself as well. May we as shepherds (and sheep, too) go beyond our mastery of counting and get to the often difficult duty of paying the cost of discipleship — a spiritual discipline made possible by the Spirit of God in us. Christ has laboured in this discipline before us, and bids us to be yolked to Him and join Him in the unexpected joy of slavery.

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I’ve Got to Pray More

Last week my wife and I drove down to Twin Peaks, CA for the Calvary Church Planting Network’s reEngage Conference. While we were only able to be there for two days, those days were well worth it.

All of the content and vibe of the conference was tremendous, but I want to share briefly about the impact Dave Earley’s message had on me personally. He spoke during the Tuesday evening session.

He talked about prayer. Here are some notable quotes that deeply encouraged me.

Speaking on the incredible success of the apostolic church, and the power they possessed: “We’ll never have Acts 2 until we have Acts 1.”

Referring to the urgency and necessity of prayer in spite of very busy pastoral schedules, he quoted C. H. Spurgeon: “Sometimes we think we’re too busy to pray. This is also a great mistake, for prayer is a saving of time.” In that regard, he also quoted Luther’s famous “I’m so busy I must spend the first three hours of my day in prayer” statement.

As he talked about the giants of the faith and the source of their successes: “If you want what they had you gotta do what they did.” In that context, he was talking about prayer and the prayer habits of the George Muellers, D.L. Moodys, and Hudson Taylors of the past.

Commenting on the ridiculousness of operating on our own strength and vision apart from the Lord, Dave asked: “How many of you think that God can do things bigger, better, and faster than you can?”

He talked about the three jobs of pastors … to pray, to teach, and to develop and release leaders.

In my own life, I have learned to pray well over the 39 years I’ve lived since I was baptized with the Holy Spirit in August of 1973. I have been shown—by the Lord Himself—how important prayer is to my walk with Him and to my calling and ministry. But I have to be honest and say that my prayer life has been anemic by comparison. I talk to the Lord every day, but have not been in the habit of daily getting on my knees for any real length of time … whether in worship, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession.

I was not condemned by Dave Earley’s message. Rather, I was encouraged as I was being rebuked and exhorted. I sensed the Holy Spirit Himself speaking to me during the message.

I want to change my priorities and habits in my latter years. It will be a battle, I know. The enemy will fight hard to gain control of the most effective means to marginalize and ruin his methods. But I must do this. I must pray. I get to pray. I/we are privileged to pray.

The last five days have seen growth and improvement. I am hopeful. And God is faithful and able.

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Perspective

Like-mindedness is a great thing. I love working together with those who are reading from the same page as me. Having theological, philosophical, and relational unity in ministry is no small thing. For the ministry in our church, these seem to be concentric circles. The depth of ministry I have with others seems to filter through these circles.

However, there is a danger here that we must be aware of.  Our ministry can be limited by the least common denominator, which reduces the breadth and scope of our ministry. In other words, I only minister with or learn from those like me. If we are to stay Kingdom-minded, we must never allow our little kingdoms to rise against the Kingdom. We need to be careful of this locally in our town in relation to other gospel believing brothers and churches, but also as a movement of churches.

Almost sub-consciously a church or movement can become insular in relation to outside churches. It is always easier to work with and have connections to those who are like us. In the long run, this can have harmful consequences. Over time secondary issues (doctrines) morph into primary issues (doctrines). It seems safe to say that no church or movement is truly self-aware. Just as individuals require relationships with those unlike them to help them see their blind spots, a church or movement comprised of individuals would also need such illuminating relationships.

If we enshrine our views on secondary issues, then those who do not hold those views become classed as unfaithful to Scripture and are villainised. We begin to fear their views rather than be challenged by them. We begin to canonise our theology as ‘the’ true theology.

Others are then compared by our standards and what began as desire for accuracy in biblical interpretation turns to elitism. Paul speaking of those who make themselves the true measure of orthodoxy speaks insightfully in 2 Corinthians 10:12, “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”

It is healthy for us as church leaders to bear in mind that we all have blind spots, and someone who holds another perspective shines light on an issue in a way that I may have been previously blind to. If I am not teachable in this respect, what does that say about me? By teachability, I am not implying a lack of conviction on things, but humility in the reality that I see through a glass dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). The nature of the diversity of the body of Christ (and I include here diversity in theology within orthodoxy) means we can see more clearly corporately than we can individually.

As a closing illustration, look at this picture. Many of you will have seen it before. What do you see? Multiple perspectives shine light on the nature of the image. Is this an old lady, or is this a young woman? Is it one to the exclusion of the other? Is your appreciation of the image enriched by a different perspective? Our appreciation of God and his Word should be enriched by orthodox perspectives that may be different from our own.

 

 

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Retrospective in Respect to Future Prospects

My how this week has flown by. This year even. I remember several times as a child my dad explaining to me the relative nature of time. Not necessarily the Theory of Relativity, but the fact that a year to a 10 year-old seems longer — as it is 1/10 of his/her life — than a year to a 30 year-old, as it is 1/30 of his.

I’ll be 33 at the end of next month. When I graduated from high school I couldn’t imagine myself in my 30’s. it seemed so incredibly far away, but now high school is a fading memory. Granted, I’m quite thankful for that.

I don’t quite know what it is, but I get nostalgic at this time every year. Perhaps it is that the fall/winter tend to be my favorite time of the year or that my birthday and the holidays are approaching. It might just be that football is back on TV, who knows? Whatever the case, I’ve been thinking back on the paths I’ve traveled while looking forward to those things that are to come and I’ve been confronted again with Paul’s words in Ephesians 5.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Ephesians 5:15-16 NIV

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a friend on a Friday night, about this time of the year in 1998. We had just pulled up to my parents house, after driving the 45 miles back from Bible College for a weekend home. I don’t remember all the details of the conversation, but I do remember telling Charles, “I don’t want to love my life in such a way that years from now I look back and say, “Oh, I wish I would have ______.”” Admittedly there are a number of things that I look back on and say “I sure wish I wouldn’t have done that,” but frankly, by God’s grace, I’ve yet find a single instance where I find myself thinking, “I sure wish I would have chosen option B over C.

It has been said “Time stops for no man.” I guess in the case of Joshua that wasn’t true, but statistically speaking the odds are in the favor of time. Each of us on the other hand, have a decided end approaching. Wisdom says that we should number our days and make the most of every opportunity. How are you stewarding the precious commodity of time?

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By Any Means Necessary

I have been thinking much lately about ministerial preference. What I mean by that is simply that every minister (and ministry) has a preference for ministry style. Some enjoy large churches the best. Some small churches. Some think church planting is the way to go. Others think church revitalization is the key. For some, multi-site campuses are the way to go. For some it is native missionaries. For others it is cross-cultural missions. For some, house churches and for others it is institutional churches. And on and on.

What I have come to appreciate is that the work of the kingdom is truly “by whatever means necessary”. What I mean by that is simple, that in the work of the kingdom we need to trust that the Living God will encourage and move in His church by diverse means. In the work of ministry, we should feel comfortable to trust that God can and will use whatever means necessary to get the job done.

I share this because oftentimes we spend so much energy and time fighting for our preference. I know that I have done a lot of that in my life. Please don’t get me wrong, it is very normal to believe strongly and champion your preference. But I think we need to be careful not to value our preference higher than another. The work of the kingdom is to important to invalidate another methodology just because it is not our preference.

Biblically speaking, Paul was called to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Paul moved cross culturally where many disciples stayed locally and served. Paul spoke to multitudes while Aquila and Priscilla seemed to do one on one ministry. What is common is that there was no competition. They worked together although uniquely, yet all for the same cause.

The more time I spend seeking God about the work of ministry in the 21st century, the more I find myself repenting of taking certain means off the table. The cause of God’s glory is too great to ‘thin the herd’ based on preference.

But these are just my humble thoughts. What do you think?

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Local church lessons from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Part 1 of 2

If a gold-mine that has produced a number of nuggets already might actually contain a few more, only a fool wouldn’t take the time to make another excursion into the shaft and dig around for more.

In my relentless pursuit of analogies and/or illustrations that might be useful for making the truths of God more understandable, I recently ventured back down into the gold-mine of the U.S. Military.  On this latest trip in, I was looking for a nugget that might help the leadership of a local church to reconsider the priority that they have assigned to what has historically been referred to as “missions”.

And believe it or not, I found another nugget!  Actually, it’s quite a bit larger than a nugget.  It was actually….an aircraft carrier… the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan to be exact!  This Nimitz class nuclear powered warship has the capacity to fully transport 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters and has a crew of more than 5,600 people, (3,200 of which are for the ship itself and 2,480 that concentrate on the aircraft).

By asking the following easily answered questions about the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, and then asking similar questions about the local church–questions that I believe are also easily answered based on the bible, I’m convinced that a few challenging and God-glorifying truths might be made a little clearer.

1.  What is the functional reason for the existence of an aircraft carrier, specifically, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan ?

–Can the answer be any simpler?  An aircraft carrier exists to…..CARRY AIRCRAFT!

A carrier is brought into existence for a purpose…to carry aircraft, and then given a mission.  That mission is to launch the aircraft it carries when commanded to do so by the captain of the ship in response to the orders the captain receives from the commander-in-chief.

2.  If the U.S.S. Reagan has a capacity for transporting and launching 90 aircraft, (most with not more than two people in the cockpit of those aircraft when they fly), then what is the purpose of the other approximately 5,500 people that are on board the ship?

–Everyone else on board makes up the team that is essential for the ship to do what it was created and designed to do…launch the aircraft and carry out its mission.  Every crew member has a specific job to do, but their job is always accomplished in unison with with all the other crew members and the jobs each of them do.  Every member of the crew must understand that they are an essential part of the whole team of people that work together so that the mission of the ship can be accomplished.  Any team member that doesn’t take their job seriously or do it to the best of their ability is putting the accomplishment of the mission at risk and could actually cost the lives of others and even their own.

Less than 5 percent of the crew are actually in the aircraft that the ship launches.  When those aircraft are launched, they will be the only ones to actually engage the distant enemy that represents a government in conflict with that the government the carrier represents.  That engagement will take place as many miles away from the ship as possible.

3.  The aircraft are launched to accomplish a mission at a great distance from the ship itself, but is the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan also capable of accomplishing a mission in the vicinity immediately surrounding it’s own location?

–Yes, of course.  It carries other sea-capable craft and weapons systems that other crew members are trained to use and that can be deployed within the nearby vicinity of the ship.

4.  Does the captain of the ship ever fly off of the ship on a combat mission?

–No.  His primary role is to ensure the ship is in working order and is capable of being at the location it is required to be in, with all systems, including the aircraft, ready to do what they were designed to do.

As I was mentally chewing on these things and tinkering around with how these things might illustrate some truths that local churches would do well to consider, I had an incredibly thought-provoking conversation with a recently retired U.S. Navy doctor.

Any time I have the opportunity to speak with someone who has also served in the military, I seize the opportunity and pepper them with dozens of questions.  I genuinely love to hear about their motivation for joining, their specific occupation while they were in, and if they’re open to talking about, some of the lessons about life they may have learned during their time of service.

This doctor told me that the “mission” of a Navy physician changes when that doctor moves from duty on shore at a hospital or clinic, to medical duty on a ship.  Although every individual sailor, airmen, or Marine’s health care is important, when on a ship, that person’s healthcare has to be filtered through the “mission” of the ship and that person’s role in accomplishing that “mission”.  If I understood correctly, this doctor was telling me that even the health care needs of the crew of the ship must serve the “mission” of the ship which is the highest priority.

I honestly didn’t know that, but as I thought about it, it does make sense.  The health care needs of the crew are NOT the highest priority, the “mission” of the ship is.  In fact, every member of the crew knows that the ship does not exist to keep them healthy and that the actual accomplishment of the “mission” that they are committed to could very well be detrimental to their health, and may even cost them their lives.

Although I’m sure some of those you already see where I’m going with this, I will end this post with this thought:

Knowing why every local church exists and the mission it has been given by God is crucial and understanding that mission and making it the filter through which everything else it does is viewed should determine the way things are prioritized.

 

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Caber Tossing and Triathlons

 

“Do hard things.” That’s the title of a book sitting on the floor by my bed. It’s a book I’ve never read. And yet the title itself speaks volumes to me.

I struggle with doing hard things. I’ve said this publicly and heard arguments from those who disagree: “But you live in Africa! You’re a full time foreign missionary. That’s not easy. You do hard things!” But that which is hard for us is relative to our experience in hard things, our maturity in the faith, and our personalities.

Only those who have lived in a similar way can truly and wholly relate to what I’m about to say: it is possible to do what seems so unbelievably hard to so many, and yet fail miserably to do what is truly hard for yourself.

The majority of the time I find that living in Africa or Europe (or theoretically any other country apart from my home country) is not a hard thing for me. That’s not intended as a matter of pride or arrogance towards those who think it insanely difficult. It’s just a reality. And yet daily I awake to hard things that I am too frightened, too selfish, or too proud to recognize as my hard things. Daily I awake to hard things undone, procrastinated, unrecognized, and purposely ignored.

Within the context of Christ’s church and her leaders, we are called to do hard things. Not the macho junk of American culture, but truly soul-grinding, heart-wrenching, cross-bearing, flesh-destroying hard things:

  • Standing in opposition to our own culture when it’s an offence to the culture of Christ’s Kingdom.
  • Standing up for Scriptural truth (like the prophet Jeremiah) when it will cost you money, popularity, your job, even your life.
  • Sticking to your biblical convictions regarding your teenager’s boundaries even though it may result in him/her losing a “friend” and you feeling like the worst parent because of it.
  • Doing what the Lord has told you to do (like David’s refusal to kill King Saul) even when other Christians doubt and naysay and discourage you.
  • Crucifying our pride and apologising to those we’ve hurt (and sometimes even those we feel were just being too stinkin’ sensitive!)
  • And yes – like Stephen the faithful, Paul the zealot, Luke the doctor, Timothy the youth, John the fisherman, Thomas the doubter – answering the call to ministry, whether it’s discipling a younger believer, getting ministry training, teaching children’s church, pastoring, church planting, or even the dreaded foreign missions!

We’re not called to cruise on ‘The Good Ship Lollipop’! We’re called to “take up [our] cross and follow [Jesus]”, to “count the cost”, and to “present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable worship.” Those are hard things!

Here’s the rub: many of us do hard things, just not the hard things we need to be doing.

In my younger days (though I’m not admitting to being old yet), I began competing in the Scottish Highland Games throughout California. When I first began I had absolutely no technique, but because of my natural size and strength (6’3 and over 300 lbs) most things about those competitions came easily to me and I advanced up the ranks quickly. I was just made for those kinds of things! But if someone asked me to compete in a triathlon… that would be a hard thing! The point is this: “hard things” are those things which are actually hard for each individual. So for me to do what is hard by another man’s opinion does not necessarily make it a “hard thing” for me. In fact, it often becomes a “pride thing” because I know that most others will think of it as hard and be in awe of me for doing it!

So what do we see today in the lives of Christ’s church and the men He has called to lead her? Are the “hard things” being done? Yes, definitely! But of those things being done, what percentage are actually hard for the one doing them? Have we become complacent in our willingness to continue the call to conquer the hard things once we’ve won a battle or two?

What is hard for me – and here is where my soul is laid bare for all to see and perhaps judge or shake their heads disapprovingly – is doing and succeeding in some of the elementary principles of faith and life. For example, making the time to spend each morning in prayer, reading of the Word, and meditation upon it is one of the hardest things for me! Making the time to talk to each of my children every day about important things, spiritual things, fun things, boring things, needful things! Remembering to make the time to take care of basic responsibilities that bless my family. These things, though they may not be hard for some, are distinctly difficult things for me! These are some of my “hard things”.

I can focus a lot of energy on so many other good and worthy tasks in life like: teaching the Word, preaching, or learning a new language for the sake of ministry. But these are not hard things for me. Don’t misunderstand. Just because its not hard doesn’t mean that I should not do it. That’s not the point at all! The point is that we need to stop running to that which is easy in order to escape that which is hard. Some things are hard to do at first, but by God’s grace and the Spirit’s power we succeed and it becomes easier to walk in that victory. So then, rather than spending all of my time and energy focused on what is easier for me in life and ministry, I need to renew my commitment to paying the cost of discipleship that I’ve already counted and get on to the next very important, very hard thing that God has called me to take care of in my life and ministry. Both have meaning and purpose, and both are necessary, but I cannot do only the things that are easier for me — and those exponentially — so that I can hope to avoid the hard things. This is stagnating behaviour, and it must stop!

I need to stop spending all of my time tossing cabers and throwing large weights and stones, and get about training for the next triathlon that needs to be done. What about you?

In the next few posts I will explore some of these “triathlons”; these things that are sometimes hard for us as men, hard for us as shepherds of God’s flock, and hard for us as the body of Christ. As we look at these things some of you will surely say, “Yep, I’m doing that well.” Or, “Our church is great at that!” While others will recognise the need to step up in those areas. Remember, what is hard for you or me may be very different, but whatever hard thing God has called us to do He’s also empowered us to do by His Holy Spirit.

SEAL_Team_Two_(Echo_Platoon)

Make Church Count!

As I reflect back on my time in the SEAL Teams, I realize more and more that so much of military life translates to the local church.  One of my favorite training drills was “IAD’s” (Immediate Action Drills).  This is a training scenario where the platoon is faced with enemy contact.  An insane amount of firepower is blasted towards the threat as the team does a sort of dance breaking away from the threat.  It is overwhelming to see the amount of lead a SEAL platoon can sling downrange and for a significant amount of time.  As the platoon disengages from the threat, in addition to expending a ton of rounds, we will travel a considerable distance.  We will “rally up” once it is deemed relatively safe.  In the “hasty rally” we will survey one another with two questions: 1) How much ammo do you have, and 2) are you okay?  Guys with more ammo will share with guys who are running low and major injuries will be handled.  We then quickly move to get out of there.  There is no way to convey this experience into one paragraph (click here to see 2 minute video), but these experiences have transformed how I understand church life.

When I look out at the local church in our nation today, it seems like going to church is out for most.  For others it is a time to “pay back” God with an hour of boredom (well that was my childhood), or to appease someone like the wife, mom, or girlfriend…if one goes at all.  In this process we put on our “Sunday best” in order to show everyone how well we have this life mastered.  This is so backwards as the emphasis is on externals, not on our reality.  Hebrews 10:23-25 states this, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  I believe these verses paint a picture of church being more like the “hasty rally” in the SEAL teams, than the “doing our hour once a week” culture.  Let me explain with a couple of points.

“How much ammo do you have?”  Have you ever noticed how many military illustrations the Bible uses?  Christians have been enlisted for military service (2 Tim. 2:3-4) and we need equipping for the warfare we face.  As this relates to church our ammo could be likened to multiple things, but I will stick to the importance of Sundays worship service.  The music and Bible teaching should draw one closer to God and deeper in their understanding of Him.  As we grow in our understanding and relationship with Him we increase our fighting power.

“Are you okay?”  Humans handle this question in a funny way.  Without a doubt we answer, “I’m fine.”  I don’t care if it’s the battlefield or the church.  We like to hide our problems when things aren’t going well.  We need to get over ourselves, let our guard down, and be real about our ups and downs.  It’s okay to share your struggles, worries, and needs to fellow believers.  We aren’t here to judge one another, but there are times when a brother’s confrontation of your sin can be the best thing for you (Prov. 27:6).  The church is supposed to be a close-knit family where we can help and serve one another in this journey.

To the Believer.    Choose your church wisely.  Find a church where the Bible is taught.  I am convinced that a church that teaches the Bible (actually going through and teaching the books of the Bible, not random topical teaching) is the best environment to foster spiritual health.  Connect to a local church, be faithful, and don’t church hop.  Get grounded in your local church.  Part of the struggle is planting roots and developing meaningful relationships where you feel comfortable and there is someone who genuinely cares about you to listen.  This doesn’t happen overnight.  I’m not against the large church, but the reality is these types of deep relationships are harder to form to form in a crowded setting.  Whatever size church you go to, get plugged in and be intentional about developing meaningful relationships.

To the pastor.  Preach the Word.  Develop a culture of transparency by being transparent yourself.  Help the people of the church to develop meaningful relationships…I don’t have the answers of how to do this for your setting, but I am very convinced that we need to foster this in our churches today!

risk

Taking Steps of Faith

“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. — But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. — (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)— But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. — For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? — O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? — ..for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Romans 1:17 • Hebrews 11:6 • 2 Corinthians 5:7 • Matthew 6:33 • Matthew 16:25-26 • Matthew 14:31 • Romans 14:23

Comfort is the enemy of growth. Yet we live in a society that works overtime at eliminate any and all discomforts. Certainly, I know no one that enjoys being uncomfortable, least of all myself. I’ll readily admit my own aversion to discomfort, but at the same time I recognize the absolute and total necessity of living and walking by faith, which is tremendously uncomfortable.

It was nearly 10 years ago that the Lord impressed upon me a very simple, but an important truth of pastoral leadership. As I prepared to step away from a ministry I loved and knew well to serve in a country I’d never visited, with people I’d never met, in a church I knew little about, I realized that I can never expect those I lead to take discomfiting steps of faith if I am unwilling to be a pattern of doing so myself. As I’m sure many of our readers are acutely aware of — or can imagine — it is extremely easy to become excessively comfortable in church ministry. Especially in an established church. To step away from that is, well, uncomfortable.

I am truly grateful for the wonderful examples of faith that are all around us. I’m thankful that the Hall of Faith doesn’t end at Hebrews 11:40. I thank God for individuals, whom I am blessed to call my friends, of whom the world is still not worthy of. Ones who leave the comforts of home or the shelter of “established ministry” to heed the call “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Those that leave family and friends to plant churches in the Philippines, to bring the Word to Mozambique or healing hands to Israel. Those that live by faith, trusting God for provision and in so doing observe firsthand that God is indeed worthy of our complete confidence and devotion.

With each passing year my conviction fortifies. The church must observe in her leaders a willingness to take a risk. Calculated as they may be, risks (i.e. steps of faith) always involve some level of hesitation or fear, and present the possibility of failure. Be that as it may, God is still able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to His power that is at work in us.

So, get out of the boat… what’s the worst that could happen?