Your Church Might Be A Country Club If… (Part 1)

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I have been involved at three country clubs in my life. The first CC was under my parents’ membership in Covington, TN. The second CC was as an employee serving as the assistant to the golf pro in Canton, GA. The third was at an affordable club I found in Louisville a few years back. Let me just say, I have an affinity for golf!

I’ve also grown up in the church and have been in vocational ministry for almost 20 years—serving as a Lead Pastor for the past 12. Let me say, with all her blemishes and imperfections (of which I am a part), I love the church! 

Having been a part of both country clubs and churches—as well as studying the North American landscape—I think for many Christians it’s easy to confuse country club membership with church membership. In this two-part blog, I want to highlight eight identifiers (four in each post) that your church might be a country club.

Keep in mind, Jesus didn’t die for the church to be a country club. Jesus died and rose again for the church to be a commissioned conduit to take the good news to the ends of the earth! 

With that in mind, here are four identifiers that your church might be a country club.

1—Your church might be a country club if the goal is to keep members happy. 

A country club is a service provider. For many, they provide golfing, swimming, tennis, dining, and entertainment services. Thus, if their services don’t appeal and appease the members, they will soon experience a decrease in membership. As a result, if members complain about the conditions of the locker rooms, the quality of the greens, the attire of the staff, or the taste of the food, country clubs will work to rectify the problem. A club’s future and sustainability is fueled by the satisfaction of the members. 

A church, on the other hand, is a mission vehicle. A church’s goal isn’t to keep members happy consuming a service, but to equip members to be sent out proclaiming and demonstrating good news. However, many churches have been turned into country clubs as they field an onslaught of complaints and suggestions. When churches are crafted into the image of consumers they distort the image of their Savior. 

2—Your church might be a country club if the leaders are seen more like a board of directors.

Many country clubs have a group of people called the board of directors that oversee the activities and effectiveness of the organization. In short, the board is mostly comprised of business people that are mainly concerned with two things: membership happiness and the club’s bottom line. Thus, board of directors are inclined to measure a club’s success based upon the bottom line of bodies and budgets. 

In the New Testament, church leaders were never referred to of as a board of directors, but as apostles, pastors (elders), evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). And these leaders were to equip the members for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Did you catch that? Those who belong to the church are to do work! Gospel work! I don’t know about your club, but I never experienced my club calling for a work day for members to tidy up the property. Members pay others to do the work so that they can enjoy the benefits of the club. 

Church leaders aren’t a board of directors but a body of developers.

Beware, churches that are primarily built on a country club mentality will experience a bottom-line effect when they have leaders that call members to work—getting their hands dirty—for the sake of God’s glory and others’ good. 

3—Your church might be a country club if people with affluence carry all the influence. 

For many, membership to a country club carries a connotation of status and wealth. Our culture is conditioned to treat those of status and wealth differently than those without the position or the deep pockets. I’ve witnessed first-hand how the owner of a multi-million-dollar company received preferential treatment compared to the retiree who drove a UPS truck. It’s not that the retiree was treated poorly, he just didn’t carry the weight the million-dollar business man did. 

I’ve also witnessed first-hand in the church world how status and wealth can get one a prominent place of influence in the church. Never mind the person of affluence swims in a theological, missional, and spiritual kiddie-pool. Yet, because of the influence his affluence provides him, he is able to bend the ears of the board of directors (leaders), which ultimately gives direction to the bent of the church.   

Affluence should not be a factor for giving one influence in the church. People that should be given a voice and weight are those who exhibit an authentic and deep abiding love for Jesus and His mission.

Success in business doesn’t mean maturity in mission. 

4—Your church might be a country club if the membership is homogenous. 

There’s seldom diversity in club members. Most members are cut from the same piece of cloth. They live in the same area, go to the same schools, dress the same way, vote for the same political party, etc. In short, most country clubs are set up for homogeneity. 

The church, however, was birthed for diversity. With the mission to create a peoplefrom all peoples, Jesus envisioned a diverse church—a third race as some have expressed. Therefore, churches should be about engaging, reaching, and cultivating the diversity represented in the community around them. Therefore, churches should experience racial, cultural, socio-economic, political, and to some extent denominational diversity. In doing so, the church demonstrates the in-breaking reign of God to unite a people from all peoples through the blood of the Lamb! 

In closing, I’m for both country clubs and churches. Given my affinity for golf, I understand the benefits and environments of country clubs. Given my love for Jesus and having studied His affection and mission for the church, I understand who the church is and what the church is to do. But the two entities are entirely different! A church isn’t a country club, and a country club isn’t a church. 

Kiss of Death

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I’m a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen all the Star Wars multiple times. No, better yet, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen each episode. In fact, if I’m doing some work—whether reading or writing—I’ll put on one of the episodes in the background. 

My favorite moment in recent episodes comes in Episode VII, The Force Awakens, when Han Solo and Chewbacca enter the narrative. Oh, talk about nostalgia! As we catch up with Han, we learn that he and Leia were married and had a son, Ben Solo. But the dark side twisted Ben’s mind and he became known as Kylo Ren. 

As you could imagine, Han is devasted by his son’s choice and seeks to “save” Kylo Ren by convincing him to turn from the dark side. If you’ve seen the movie, it is a very dramatic scene in which Han aims to penetrate the heart of his son. Just when you think that Han had persuaded him, Kylo Ren thrusts his red light-saber into the heart of Han. Their eyes lock one last time, and then Han falls off the ledge into the dark abyss. 

BETRAYAL! We cringe every time we see it. Not only do we cringe, but our hearts skip a beat when we see it. It doesn’t matter if it is fictional or real. 

Probably the greatest reason why we cringe at betrayal is because we’ve experienced it at some level—whether intentionally or unintentionally. Maybe it was from a parent who deserted you, a family member who abused you, a sibling who stole from you, a spouse who cheated on you, a friend who lied about you, a boss who terminated you, a believer who wronged you, or a church that abandoned you.  

I’ve experienced betrayal multiple times, even within the context of church. Regardless of where it comes from, betrayal is never easy to accept and digest. Betrayal is like a kiss of death—especially since the hurtful and painful blow comes from someone who has been relationally and lovingly close. 

While most of us have experienced a kiss of death, there is one who experienced the greatest kiss of death—the greatest act of betrayal—in the history of the world. His name was Jesus. Jesus’ experienced the kiss of death by a close associate, Judas, for 30 pieces of silver. And when leading the guards to the place where Jesus was, Judas approached Jesus, embraced Him, and gave Him a kiss. And the rest is history. Jesus is then arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified. 

Whether you are a follow of Jesus or not, such a betrayal is hard to comprehend. Why would Judas do such a thing? Why would he turn his back on someone so good? So loving? So kind? So humble? So miraculous? Did he really despise Jesus that much? Did he really need money that bad? 

While we could focus on the “why” all day long, I believe that it is more helpful to focus on the outcome. In other words, rather than zooming in on Judas as to why he betrayed Jesus, I think it’s more beneficial to concentrate on how Jesus responded and what ultimately transpired days later in the life of Jesus.   

When we look at Judas’ betrayal in the totality of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, we come away with this main principle: 

The kiss of death brought the breath of life.

In other words, Judas’ betrayal eventually brought about the death of Jesus, but Jesus’ death and resurrection would bring about life for the world. 

For the remainder of this post, I want to look at this principle from four different angles so that we can feel its gravitas.  

Angle 1: Judas’ Betrayal is Part of a Larger Story

Guess who wasn’t surprised by Judas’ betrayal? Jesus. During the Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus divulged that one of the twelve would betray Him—knowing it would be Judas. In addition, some scholars believe that the Old Testament forecasts that the Messiah would be betrayed. In short, Jesus knew that the pathway to the cross went through the town of betrayal. 

Just because Jesus knew that the pathway of obedience involved betrayal doesn’t lessen the pain of being wounded by a close associate. However, while the pain is real, the perspective is essential. Jesus understood betrayal as part of a larger story that God was writing. Therefore, He could trust the Father who was the author of humanity’s story. Judas’ action didn’t get by the pen of God, it was actually going to be used for the purposes of God. 

Remember: Betrayal isn’t the story of your life, it’s part of the story that God is writing for your life. 

Angle 2: What Judas Meant for Bad, God Used for Good

This angle is very similar to the angle taught by Joseph in Genesis 50 when he graciously expressed to his brothers, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Gen 50:20). Likewise, Judas meant to harm Jesus by handing him over to the authorities in an effort to pad his pockets with silver. However, what he meant for evil in ending a life, God planned to use for eternity to provide the means of [eternal] life. 

Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested, beaten, and nailed to the cross. But Jesus’ pain wasn’t wasted—the pain of both the betrayal and the execution. In fact, His pain became the world’s provision. Never underestimate the plan, purposes, and power of God of how He can use the pain you experience from a betrayal.  

Remember: The pain caused by your betrayal—however demented and evil it was— can become someone else’s provision. 

Angle 3: The Outcome of the Betrayal Doesn’t have to Define One’s Identity 

Think about the outcome of Judas’ betrayal on Jesus. Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested and condemned as a sinner and criminal. But that is not who Jesus was. Jesus wasn’t a sinner and a criminal. Jesus was the Son of God, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Jesus knew who He was and what He had been called to do on planet earth. Nothing that Judas did—no matter where it landed Him—could taint Jesus identity.

I know firsthand how betrayal can lead to an unpleasant outcome and the unpleasant emotions that go with it. Whether the betrayal led to abuse, abandonment, embarrassment, termination, etc., it’s easy to believe that you are a loser, something is wrong with you, you aren’t good enough, or that you are damaged goods. In other words, it’s easy to define yourself by the outcome of the betrayal. However, may we never forget that the outcome doesn’t have to define who we are but is an opportunity to declare whose we are. 

Remember: Your identity is in Jesus. 

Angle 4: Betrayal Doesn’t have to End with Harboring Bitterness but with Releasing Forgiveness

The last angle really is a culmination of the previous angles. Since Jesus understood Judas’ action was part of a larger story in which he (Judas) wasn’t the author; since Jesus knew that God would work good from Judas’ bad; since Jesus’ identity was in the Father not any outcome Judas’ actions brought about; Jesus could then release forgiveness rather than harbor bitterness. 

From the cross Jesus uttered the words, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Scholars debate the direct object of Jesus’ forgiveness who had ignorantly participated in His crucifixion. Without delving into the debate, it is certainly an option that Judas was part of the ignorant who participated in Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution. If so, Jesus paved the way for Judas’ to receive forgiveness. However, Judas never received the forgiveness Jesus offered since he was so stricken with grief and depression that he committed suicide. Nevertheless, Jesus wasn’t consumed with vengeance, wrath, bitterness, anger, and hostility towards those who wronged—nor betrayed—Him. He lavished upon such with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. 

Remember: Bitterness is a cancer that eats at your heart, whereas forgiveness releases healing. 

In closing, everyone at some point in his or her life has experienced the act of betrayal. Depending on the nature of the betrayal—the who and what—will determine the severity of the hurt and pain. The closer the betrayer is to the wounded and the more damage inflicted by them—like Kylo Ren killing his father Han Solo—will make the act of betrayal feel more like a kiss of death. However, as we have briefly seen in and through Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, the kiss of death can bring about the breath of life. 

If you are dealing with a betrayal, no matter how painful it is, regardless of the outcome of the betrayal, Jesus can work in and through you to bring about life—not only for you but for those God places in your path.

Sexual Depravity in the Church

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Disgusted…Outraged…Grieved. Those words describe the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 when he addresses news about sexual misconduct happening within the church at Corinth and how the church dealt with it. The situation Paul addressed involved a man sleeping with his father’s wife—which would make her his step-mother! 

It seems that Paul couldn’t believe what his ears heard. A so-called professing believer sleeping with his father’s wife and the church failing to confront him. This was so taboo in the 1st-Century pagan world that Paul states, “[This kind of sexual immorality] is not even tolerated among the Gentiles.” In other words, the pagan Gentile community would not even put up with this, yet the church failed—up to that point—to do anything. 

It is sad to say, but the church has been rocked by sex scandals since her inception. In fact, prior to the birth of the church, we see a plethora of sex scandals in the Old Testament Scriptures involving the people of God. So, the sex scandals involving televangelists over thirty years ago and the sexual abuse scandals of the Catholic Church and now the Southern Baptist Convention shouldn’t necessarily surprise us. In short, sex scandals find their way into every kind of church and denomination. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t numb ourselves to the depravity that exists within the church. 

When hearing news of such sinful behavior, the people of God should be filled with both disgust and grief. But more than an emotional and spiritual response, the people of God should also respond with actions that deal with the sin and in cases of abuse protect the innocent and vulnerable. Southern Baptists are learning that the hard way. 

It’s not enough to shake our heads in disgust and disapproval; it’s not enough to repent and grieve at the sin within. Action must be taken to authoritatively express such behavior is not befitting of the people of God as well as to defend the weak and vulnerable that are susceptible to sexual predators that are wolves among sheep. 

I’m grateful for the leadership of J.D. Greear, current President of the Southern Baptist Convention. He recently released “10 calls of action for the SBC”. I believe these ten action items are a good start to authoritatively express that such sexual activity is not befitting of the people of God and that as the people of God we will take steps to ensure the protection of children and the vulnerable. 

While the “10 calls of action for the SBC” is an institutional step for the SBC, I believe every local church bears the responsibility in taking personal action in such matters—regardless of church polity or governance. Paul, when addressing the church in Corinth, didn’t tell them to wait for a denominational head to make some recommendations for how they can deal with such sinful believers. No, Paul told them they had the responsibility to take action. 

In these few verses in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul provides —at the very least—a description for how church leaders and believers should engage and respond to such horrid news in their faith community. Paul’s exhortation outlines at least four steps local churches—regardless of church structure, polity, or governance—can take today to authoritatively express such sinful behavior (particularly in sexual abuse cases) is not befitting of the people of God and to proactively work towards the protection of children and the vulnerable?

Be Rational

How many of us have uttered some kind of version of these words, “This would never happen to…?” Maybe you’ve said, “My wife and I would never get a divorce; My children would never do this; I couldn’t imagine my neighbor going all homicidal maniac on people.” The list could go on and on. But the point is, we don’t want to think that deep depravity can happen around us—not to mention even through us. 

Churches cannot afford to be ostriches with their head stuck in the sand. They must be rational when it comes to this area. Sexual abuse, sexual misconduct can happen in their faith community.

Since the Fall of Adam and Eve, people who have been part of God’s faith family have descended into the depths of sexual immorality.

Being rational about such matters allows churches to be responsible in dealing with such matters. 

Be Educational

I remember the day I turned 15, I couldn’t wait to arrive at the local DMV to get my learners permit. But before I received my learner’s permit license, I had to pass a test. Guess what? I failed. To get the license I had to pass the test. Truth be known, I didn’t study for the test. I thought I could wing it and pass. Boy was I wrong. Being humbled by my failure, I went home and studied. And being educated made all the difference. 

The church in recent days and years has been humbled by their failure in the area of sexual abuse.

This failure has led to a fractured trust in the institutional nature of the church, which directly effects our missional mandate.

In our humbled position may we seek to be educated on the basics of what we need to know with regards to sexual abuse so that we can earn the right to be trusted once again. 

This doesn’t mean church leaders and members need to become specialists in this area, but they should learn the basics of how to handle an allegation, minister to survivors of sexual abuse, and handle situations where sex offenders attend or join a church. Being educated on the basics prepares us to be able to pass the tests when they come. 

Be Practical

I’m a simple, down-to-earth, practical guy. I never much cared for the complexities of calculus. I just wanted to know the simple steps to take to arrive at the answer. Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that everything can be condensed into simplicity, especially in complex and messy waters such as sexual abuse and misconduct. However, I believe there are couple of practical steps churches can take to protect the vulnerable and prevent sexual predators from attacking.

First, churches need to strengthen their hiring policies and procedures. Having been a lead pastor, I’ve been amazed at the lack of calls I’ve received from sister churches hiring staff members that worked for me. In the last church I served, I had four staff members transition to new assignments, and only one church reached out to me to discuss the staff member. 

I’m sure most people realize that prospective employees only put references down that will give them a good recommendation. Therefore, churches must go deeper to find out more information about a person. For example, if a church is hiring a person to be the Student Minister, wouldn’t it be a good practice to talk with a couple of adult leaders and even parents from the previous church? 

Second, churches need to delegate at least one, if not a few, people in their fellowship to be special advocates for sexual abuse victims and survivors. These special advocates would minister and serve the victims and survivors in three primary ways: (1) be the contact for someone who needs to make an allegation, 2) be someone a victim or survivor could trust, and 3) journey with the victim or survivor through their darkness so that they do not feel alone. 

Be Biblical

The last, and most important, step local churches can take in authoritatively expressing the sinful nature of such behavior and proactively working towards the protection of children and the vulnerable—and thus preventing sexual predators from attacking—is to be biblical. 

First, deal with public sin publicly. For this article, I don’t have the time nor space to address the various degrees of sin and when to practice church discipline, but church leaders should never sweep public sin under the rug. In each of the cases where the Apostle Paul addresses public sin that shames the name of Christ, he talks about handing them over to Satan (1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:20).

The goal of such discipline is to expose sin, demonstrate God’s judgment against sin, save the soul of the offender, protect the church’s holiness, and be a good gospel witness. 

Second, exercise wisdom and discernment when desiring to be redemptive and restorative. I understand churches who want to be redemptive and restorative to those who’ve either faced sexual abuse allegations or have been tried and convicted of sexual abuse. But to hire or place leaders with a tainted past in similar environments in which they failed isn’t redemptive or restorative, it is reckless. Moreover, to hire or place leaders with a tainted past in similar environments without disclosing their past to the appropriate people is not only reckless, it is criminally negligent. It is incumbent upon leaders in the church to be wise, discerning, and above reproach. 

Third, seek to be places and people that are invitational safe havens—especially for children and the vulnerable. Jesus exclaimed, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them…” (Matthew 19:14). Jesus also uttered, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). 

Over the past 2000 years many have answered Jesus’ invitation to come to Him and join His kingdom and God’s family. The church is the vehicle by which Jesus continues to extend His invitation. But if churches become people and places that aren’t trusted, then we will fail at our mission mandate.

JD Greear expressed, “If we don’t get this right, our churches will not be a safe place for the lost.” 

In closing, these are not the end-all-be-all steps that churches should take. I’m sure there are many more. Truthfully, there’s a lot of work to be done by the church in this area. However, churches must be willing to make huge commitments to taking small steps. 

It’s simply not enough to be sickened and grieved by such sinful behavior. But, as the Apostle Paul exhorted the Church in Corinth, we must proactively do something about it. When the church meets their emotional response with action steps, they will create systems and cultures that deter predators and protect children and the vulnerable, and thus be healthy missional vehicles that advance the good news of Jesus.  

Lead·er·ship (/ˈlēdərˌSHip/)

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I’ve been in leadership positions almost all my life. Leadership, for me, dates back to youth sports. However, over the past nineteen years my leadership has been concentrated in two main areas: leading ministry in the local church and leading my family at home. 

While it is my desire to continue to grow as a leader, I felt compelled to put some thoughts down as to what God has taught me about leadership through my understanding of the Bible, the leaders I’ve served under, the books I’ve read, the podcasts I’ve listened to, and the practical experiences of leading. 

There are so many leaders who have offered their own definitions of leadership. Now I don’t know what makes one qualified to give their definition of leadership, but I’ve put some thought into it over the years and I’ve come up with my own. My definition is based more upon an image embedded within the word “leadership”. In short, my simple definition of leadership is: one who leads a ship

Let me expound on my simple definition. Leadership is the action of leading a ship (a person, group of people, or an organization) from point A to point B in a manner that glorifies God, so that the contents of the ship can arrive safely and be used to bring blessing and flourishing to the world.  

By this definition, there are at least 10 things we can learn about leadership. 

  • Leadership begins with yourself. No one can effectively lead others until they have learned to lead themselves. If you cannot navigate yourself from point A to point B, what makes you think you can navigate others? Those who lead others have effectively led (and are leading) themselves. 
  • Leadership is purposeful. In other words, there’s got to be a reason (or reasons) why you want to lead yourself (and others) from point A to point B. If there’s no reason or purpose, there’s a good chance there will be no sustaining motivation. This is why I chose to define leadership as leading “a ship from point A to point B in a manner that glorifies God….” The glory of God lays the foundation and purpose for how and where I lead. Leaders who lead the ship well keep the purpose (i.e., the mission) close to the heart and soul of those they lead.  
  • Leadership transpires on all kinds and sizes of ships. Like point one, leadership can be the size of a one-man boat (or jet-ski). It can also be the size of a fishing boat for five—to fit your family. Or, it can be a cruise-liner taking hundreds and thousands from point A to point B. The kind of ship will determine the destination in which you lead your ship. The size of the ship will determine how many you will need in servicing the ship to reach its destination. If you don’t know what kind of ship you are leading, nor the size of ship you believe you could be, you’ll have difficulty determining and navigating the direction of your ship. 
  • Leadership is about going where you or others have not been. As of now I’m training for a half Ironman. I’ve never competed before in a triathlon. In fact, until recently I’ve never swam long distances or owned a road bike. Nevertheless, I’m training for one. To help me better understand training for a triathlon, I have met with my neighbor who has competed in a full Ironman. I’ve also avidly read books and articles by other triathletes. Such people are leading me from point A to point B—a destination that I’ve never been before. Most people you lead have never been to where you want to take them. That’s why it’s vital to cast constant vision of the “WHY,” “WHAT,” and “SO WHAT” of the ship (organization).  
  • Leadership is about recruiting and training a crew for the mission. Depending on the size and scope of the ship (organization), leaders will need to understand who and what they will need to lead the ship from point A to point B. In other words, leaders understand they can’t do everything—nor should they. Therefore, effective leaders recruit, train, develop, and empower others for their role and tasks within the organization. 
  • Leadership is about strategic navigation. I’ve been on my fair share of smaller boats, pontoons, and cruise-liners. There’s strategy in navigating a boat. Whether through a host of other boats, wakes, or storms, those captaining the boat need to know about the etiquette and best practices of boat navigation. They also need to know what kind of waters they are on. A leader who fails to understand strategic navigation through various elements and obstacles increases the likelihood of sinking (or at least damaging) the ship rather than sailing the ship to its destination. In short, effective leaders know strategically how they will navigate the contextual waters as they guide the ship from point A to point B. 
  • Leadership is anchored in servant humility. In short, leadership isn’t about the leader. First, and foremost, leadership is about the purpose. For the most part, in any organization the purpose will far outlast the leader. Second, it is about those you are leading. The fulfillment of the purpose is directly tied to the leader’s effectiveness in empowering and equipping people to do the work. Third, it is about those that will be impacted and influenced as you lead your organization to fulfill its purpose. Thus, great leaders will think less about themselves as they busy themselves serving others!
  • Leadership is about making the tough and courageous calls. We’ve all heard the cliché, “That’s why they pay you the big bucks!” Leaders are where they are because they can (or should be able to) make the tough decisions. There are many elements that can threaten the safety and direction of the ship and thus the overall purpose and mission of the organization. Therefore, leaders—through wisdom, discernment, counsel, and boldness—know when they need to stand their ground, know when they have to let people go, as well as know when they have to push through the fear, insecurities, and timidity of those who are afraid of going where they’ve never been. 
  • Leadership is about sacrifice. Taking people or an organization from point A to point B is a weighty task. Just think, leaders have the responsibility of leading people to accomplish a mission that ultimately impacts and influences others. Thus, effective leaders feel the weight of their responsibility. As such, they work vigorously learning and growing in their life and field, setting the example for the organization, and entering in the life of those they lead in an effort to enhance them as people and team members. 
  • Leadership is about multiplication. Even the biggest boats in the world have limitations—in both their size and scope. Therefore, there is great need for more boats. More boats mean more leaders. Great leaders ultimately multiply who they are. In fact, the greatest leaders multiply other leaders and thus create a fleet of ships that carry a part of the mission and purpose of the organization. Leaders who fail to multiply cap the capacity of their ship. 

In closing, if you are a captain of a sports team, a stay-at-home mom, a pastor, a small group leader, a small business owner, a shift supervisor, or the President of the United States, you are leading a ship. So, how’s your ship? 

Listening is an A.R.T.

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As I was taking my eldest son to school this morning, I asked him “if he learned anything from the message yesterday?” He replied that he did, to which I eagerly asked, “What did you learn?” Then I got the preteen recording, “I don’t know!” I’m learning a lot at this phase of parenting, but I’m pretty sure it meant, “I don’t want to talk about it dad, so can you just leave me alone?” But being the stubborn yet loving father I am, we talked out what the weekend message was about.

My conversation with my son got the wheels turning for a follow up to a blog I wrote a few weeks back titled, “Preaching is an A.R.T.” Now I would like to write one titled, “Listening is an A.R.T.”

For most churches, the bulk of the time set aside for the corporate worship gathering is the message. It is expected that the pastor is ready to deliver a biblically-sound, attention-keeping, and culturally-applicable talk. In short, it is expected that the pastor has come prepared to deliver. And I understand this completely.

But here’s a question for all my brothers and sisters and other church leaders who aren’t the main teacher on the weekends: Do you come prepared to the weekend corporate gatherings to listen and receive a word from your Father? Just as there is a burden for pastors/teachers to deliver the teaching of the Word of God, there is also a burden for believers to listen and receive the teaching of the Word. As I want to come and give God and the church my best, I desire that everyone come and give God and the church their best. Both are an A.R.T.

As I’ve explained how preaching is an A.R.T. (in a prior blog post), let me explain what I mean that listening is an A.R.T.

A—Attune your heart to God. The psalmist exclaims, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Ps 122:1). There was joy in the psalmist’s heart in anticipating going to the house of the Lord to worship. Attuning one’s heart to God prior to corporate worship is setting one’s focus on what they are anticipating to experience once they get there.

Corporate worship is about gathering with the people of God to meet with God.

If I am to go to a Tim McGraw and Faith Hill concert, I’m going to set my heart on hearing them and being part of their show. If I am to go to Disney World, I’m going to set my heart on seeing and experiencing Mickey Mouse and all that entails. In the same way, if I’m supposed to be gathering together with my brothers and sisters and meeting with God, then I should be setting my heart on seeing, experiencing, anticipating, and meeting with Him. I think a reason why some leave corporate worship empty, dissatisfied, and disappointed is because they attuned their heart for consumption not consecration. This leads me to my next point.

R—Resist being a Critic. If you attune your heart for consumption not consecration you will see yourself as a consumer and thus a critic. I understand we live in a consumeristic culture. When we go to a restaurant, we expect to order something specific off the menu. If that specific item comes out any other way than what we like, we have a tendency to either send it back or voice our displeasure to a manager for our poor experience. Although our bellies may be full when we leave, our hearts our empty because it wasn’t quite the experience we enjoyed.

For a little over a decade I lived as a consumer and thus a critic in the corporate worship gatherings I attended when I wasn’t the one preaching. Because I was so “learned,” instead of listening to what the preacher/pastor was saying I was making mental notes of what he said that he could say better as well as what he didn’t say that he should have. As you could imagine, I would leave empty because I was so disappointed with what I had just experienced. It wasn’t until I resisted being a critic of preachers and seeing myself as a child in need of hearing from the Father that I began to hear God speak. In other words, I started to hear from God when I changed the way I viewed and attended corporate worship.

Corporate worship wasn’t about me going to critique someone, but it was about me going to hear from someone—my heavenly FATHER.

T—Take notes on the Message. I hear the argument all the time, “Our culture’s attention span continues to decrease,” therefore we need to have shorter sermons. In all honesty, I don’t think sermon length is necessarily the issue. But here’s what I do know. There are a lot of things in our culture that keep the attention of people. Two to four-hour ball games. Two-hour movies. My kids can sit for hours on end—if my wife and I let them—and play video games. Thus, the problem when it comes to listening to talks, messages, or sermons (or whatever you want to call them) isn’t a length problem, it is an engagement problem.

Think about it this way. If you go to a movie that you don’t care for, you are more inclined to be disengaged. Therefore, if you had a long week and are tired, you might find yourself dosing off in that particular movie. Or what if a friend invites you to see a ballgame, but the team you are really interested in isn’t playing. As a result, you don’t necessarily mind being late to the game. You don’t mind going to the concession stand during important plays. In short, your lack of interest leads to a lack of engagement.

Therefore, I believe shorter sermons aren’t necessarily the answer for disengaged people. It doesn’t matter how short or long the message is, disengaged people will be disengaged. Thus, the answer to the A.R.T. of listening—and thus engagement—is note taking. If a small business owner had the opportunity to sit down with Jeff Bezos for 45-minutes or more to talk about business and leadership, I bet they would bring something to jot down notes.

Corporate worship is an opportunity for God’s people to hear from God via one of His shepherds.

Regardless of how flawed or even how unqualified you may think the person is, God can use earthen vessels to deliver divine messages. If God can use a donkey to communicate, He sure can use people. In short, when it comes to taking notes remember this:

Consumers don’t write down what is said, learners do.

In closing, if you find yourself like my son, listening to a message but walking away not really knowing what you learned, then you might want to make some slight adjustments in how you view corporate worship gatherings. Start attuning your heart to God prior to the worship gathering. Tell God you’re eager and hungry to hear from Him. Ask God to speak through your pastor. Come with great anticipation and expectation to meet with God—not necessarily get your “needs” met. Resist the temptation to be critical. You’re not there to consume, but to listen and learn. Last, take notes. Note taking keeps one engaged and ready to highlight a word that the Father may want them to hear. The reality is, listening just like preaching is an A.R.T.

Thanksgiving; Giving Thanks

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This morning, I whip into Starbucks before staff meeting to get me my usual Venti Dark Roast Coffee. Interestingly, instead of Starbucks brewing the “Thanksgiving” blend, they were brewing the “Christmas” blend. I thought that was unusual seeing-as-all it was Thanksgiving week; but, hey, what do I know. As I ordered my Venti Dark Roast Christmas blend coffee, the barista comes back and hands me the coffee to which I respond and say, “Thanks.”

After this exchange, it got me thinking about this whole idea of thanks, thanksgiving, or giving thanks. My “thanks” was a cultural mannerism that I and others use to be polite. But I got to thinking, was I really giving her thanks for my coffee? How could I be thankful for someone doing what I was entitled for them to do? That coffee was mine! I paid for it. Therefore, I felt I was owed the barista to give me my coffee.

Here’s the principle I believe God whispered in my ear:

You cannot truly give thanks if you believe you are entitled to what you give thanks for.

In other words, if you believe you are entitled to something or have earned something, then it is difficult—quite near impossible—for you to be truly thankful for it.

I believe we live in an entitlement culture. [To be clear: the entitlement culture is not just reserved for millennials. This type of culture spans generations.] People think they are entitled and owed certain things. Take my kids for instance. They believe they are entitled to play the gaming system as long as they want. They think dinner at the house should be menu-style as opposed to what momma is cooking. They consider bedtimes to be optional. Thus, when we allow them to play their video games for two hours, when we cook them a nice homecooked meal, or when we send them to bed with a mattress, covers, and pillows they aren’t grateful nor thankful because they feel owed or entitled to these things.

This brings me to the meaning of thanksgiving or giving thanks—something that this week’s holiday is all about. But to truly understand what thanksgiving or giving thanks means, we have to understand its two sides—particularly from the biblical viewpoint. And if we fail to understand the two sides, then our thanksgiving will either be missing, misdirected, or misunderstood.

The two sides to thanksgiving (or giving thanks) is confession and praise. In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are two words that are translated into English as “thanks.” First, the word “Towdah” is mostly connected with offerings (sacrifices) of thanksgiving; and, second, the word “Yadah” )not to be confused with Yoda) is mostly associated with praise.

It may be helpful to think of “confession” as that idea tied to who we are and what we deserve, while the idea of “praise” is tied to what we got and how we should respond. Both “confession” and “praise” is inextricably linked to both the concepts of mercy and grace. I’ve heard mercy described as God withholding what we dodeserve, and grace being described as “Gods. Riches. At. Christ’s. Expense”—or God giving us what we do notdeserve.

Therefore, if we are going to practice true thanksgiving (or giving thanks) we must realize who we are and what we deserve.

As believers, the Bible teaches that we are rebels who committed treason against the King of Glory. We attempted to rob God of His glory and of His throne. As a result, we shattered His image on our life. In addition, we damaged His created order. What God created good, we ruined and turned to bad. As such, we deserve to be judged, sentenced, and executed. We deserve no good thing! That should be our confession!

However, God did not give man what he deserved. He did not order a judgement, a sentence, or an execution—punishments and consequences yes; but not a condemning sentence or execution—He lavished them with a Father’s love! He pursued them, promised them redemption, and properly clothed them. What God gave man and continues to give man—both through general and specific revelation—is grace!

Every good thing we have in life has been generously dispensed from the gracious hand of the Father. And the ultimate good that has been lavished on us is the sacrificial, atoning, and substitutional death of His Son, Jesus Christ.

In short, as depraved, rebellious, and sinful human beings, we deserve, we are entitled to, we are owed no good thing. That’s our confession. However, our praise is that in God’s mercy and grace—which is ultimately realized in Jesus Christ—we have something to praise, worship, and supremely thank God for. My prayer for this Thanksgiving is that I will (and hopefully you will too) truly give thanks to the Lord for every good thing that I have for I deserve no good thing! As the psalmist says:

Enter his gates with thanksgiving (towdah); go into his courts with praise. Give thanks (yadah) to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good. His unfailing love continues forever, and his faithfulness continues to each generation (Ps 100:4–5).

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Preaching is an A.R.T.

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I don’t know what comes to your mind when you hear the word “art,” but I tend to think of paintings like the Mona Lisa. But art is much broader than paintings. Of course, the always trustworthy Wikipedia defines art as “a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts, expressing the author’s imaginative, conceptual idea, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power.” Thus, art includes activities such as designing, acting, writing, and speaking.

Church leader, have you ever stopped to consider that preaching (or teaching) is an art.

Preaching the Word is a similar activity to that of Shakespeare writing Hamlet, Van Gogh painting The Starry Night, Gaudi constructing the Sagrada Familia, Mozart composing Symphony No. 40, or Andrea Bocelli singing Con Te Partiro.

In this brief post, I want to share with you how I approach the A.R.T. of Preaching.

A–stands for AIM. When I am crafting a message I always have gospel-transformation as my aim. I’m praying that Jesus transforms the hearts of the people who sit under the teaching of His Word. To arrive at gospel-transformation, I think of the information/truth of the text, the audience I’ll be communicating to, and how to apply that truth to the heart of the listener. If you are a formula or math person, think of it this way:

Truth + Relationship + Application = Transformation

R–stands for RHYTHYM. I have initiated a preaching rhythm (or calendar) over the years. At the beginning of each year I start with a mini-series to set the tone and direction for the church. This past year, I began with the series, “A New Thing” given that we were about to launch our one–three-year strategic plan called Project New Thing. For the spring I go through a book of the Bible—verse by verse/chapter by chapter. However, I take a small break for Easter where I begin a series on Easter Sunday in hopes of creating an on-ramp to entice the “Chreasters” to finish out the series. I then go back to the book series until the summer.

In the summer—particularly June and July—we have our cultural engagement series. In June, we have our T.E.D. (Theological. Educational. Discussions) series, which is designed to help Christians think biblically about topics relevant to our culture. In July, we have our A&E (Arts and Entertainment) series. Here’s the synopsis of this series:

Did you know the movies and songs our culture creates serve as a cultural anthropology and theology? In other words, they depict what we believe about man and God. Thus, they speak to our hopes, fears, dreams, aspirations, longings, desires, hurts, heartaches, pain, and suffering as human beings. As Christ followers who live in the world but are not to be of the world—and who are called to reach those far from Jesus—it is important that we know (or exegete) the culture and context that God has planted us so that we can better communicate the truth of God’s word in the heart language of the culture.

When school is back in session and we have entered into the fall, the preaching rhythm includes topical series that would apply to families or individuals. I’ve done series like, “How to Lose Your Family in 10 Easy Ways,” “Sticks and Stones: The Power of Words,” and “Scared to Death: Moving from Fear to Faith.” These fall series are designed to teach people what the Bible says systematically about topics relevant to our lives. Finally, I conclude December with a Christmas series.

For me, this rhythm is helpful for a few reasons. First, it keeps the preaching fresh. I don’t feel like I get in a rut. Second, it creates on-ramps for new people. By having a few breaks throughout the year in beginning new series, it gives our people an opportunity to invite people to something “new.” Third, it tries—to a degree–to be all things to all people. In other words, it seeks to be diverse, as some people like preaching that goes through a book of the Bible; some people like short 3–5-week series; and some people are really interested in knowing what the Bible says about a certain topic. This rhythm seeks to give a little something for everyone.

For those who don’t like a certain series, I tell them to wait for the next—for not every series will be a home run in everybody’s eyes.

T–stands for TECHNIQUE(S). The word technique is defined as “a way of carrying out a particular task—especially applied to the realm of artistic work or scientific procedures.” Applied to the art of preaching what kind of technique or techniques are appropriate? Now while my rhythm consists of topical series and book studies, I almost always use the technique of expository preaching.* Here are some definitions of expository preaching:

  • EP “is the contemporization of the central proposition of a biblical text that is derived from proper methods of interpretation [proper exegesis] and declared through effective means of communication to inform minds, instruct hearts, and influence behavior towards godliness” (Ramesh Richard, Preparing Expository Sermons, 19).
  • EP is a more or less extended portion of Scripture being interpreted in relation to one theme or subject where the bulk of the material for the sermon is drawn directly from the passage and the outline consists of a series of progressive ideas centered around that one main idea (James Braga, How to Prepare Bible Messages, 53).
  • EP “begins with a substantial passage of Scripture and allows the principal thoughts of that passage to become the outline for development and the basis for application.” (Edwin V. Hayden, “What is Expository Preaching?”, Preach the Word, 1–2).
  • EP “is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality of the preacher, then through him to hearers” (Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, 20).

To put in my own words:

Expository preaching is doing exegetical and Christocentric (gospel-centered) work to lift out the main idea of a text and to craft it in such a way as to teach the truth of God’s word in a faithful and culturally relevant way in order that the hearers might know how to apply the transforming truth of God to their lives.

While this is predominantly the technique I apply to crafting my messages, I do implement a variety of other techniques in my delivery. I’ll use props, word pictures, humor, personal stories, images, pictures, clips from movies or sitcom scenes, etc. I’ve gleaned a lot from books such as The Power of Multi-Sensory Preaching and Teachingby Rick Blackwood and Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Mindsby Carmine Gallo.

In addition, depending on how the Spirit crafts the message in my heart and mind will shape the way in which I deliver the points. In other words, while I always have a main point that I aim to flesh out from the passage, I develop my subpoints differently. For instance, I might develop my subpoints in the form of questions like, “1. What is God’s mission for marriage? 2. How do couples faithfully execute the mission? 3. Why does it matter?” Other times, my subpoints might try and be catchy phrases like, “Wounding words should come from faithful friends; You are what you speak; Cloaking daggers in playful words can be hurtful to others; etc.”

When it comes to delivery, I’m always seeking the most effective way to communicate the truth in a meaningful and retentive way. I believe that we can (and should) use a variety of techniques to communicate God’s divinely inspired word. In fact, that is the way God had His Word written. There are various genres (narrative, apocalyptic, prose, etc.) and languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) that God used across the millennia to communicate His Word to the original context.

In conclusion, the history of the world has been mesmerized and influenced by some of the most brilliant artists in their field. And it is time that church leaders, pastors, and teachers realize that we are artists too—for preaching is an A.R.T. In fact…

I believe preaching is one of the most important art forms out there, for in what we craft on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis has the potential to bring life, community, and even world transformation!

 

*I do believe there are times where it is appropriate to do topical sermons that serve as more of a systematic study on a topic.

U.N.I.T.Y

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I don’t follow the NBA like I did when I was in high school. In those days the players and teams to watch were the LA Lakers with Magic Johnson, Boston Celtics with Larry Bird, and the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan. Today it is LeBron James (now) with the LA Lakers, Anthony Davis with the New Orleans Pelicans, and Stephen Curry with the Golden State Warriors. With regard to the Golden State Warriors and Stephen Curry, what has been impressive to watch is how they’ve been to the last three NBA finals—winning two of them. And it seems by the start of this season it could be trip number four.

How do teams like the Golden State Warriors and others make it to the top? It’s not just on talent. That’s clear with the struggling LA Lakers who acquired LeBron James in the off season. Just because there are five talented players on the court doesn’t necessarily equal victory. In sports, people talk about team chemistry.

It takes the right chemistry to concoct a team victory.  

In other organizational realms like businesses, nonprofits, and churches, the word that it used most often—rather than chemistry—is unity. Without unity, teams are weak. Without unity, teams do not maximize results. In fact, according to Jesus—in the context of praying for His followers and future followers—unity was quintessential to what He and the Father were aiming to accomplish. Jesus prays, “Father, protect them by your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). Jesus prays something very similar later, but in regard to future followers (John 17:20–23).

Why did Jesus pray for oneness, or unity? So that the world may know Jesus! In other words, missional effectiveness is tied to corporate oneness. This truth applies across the board to any organization or team.

Without corporate oneness, churches will not experience missional effectiveness.

So, what does unity look like? I created an acrostic to help us think through unity and the various elements of unity that come together to create corporate oneness.

U—      Understand your Purpose

If a team is going to embody unity, they need to unite around a common purpose. Without a common purpose, goal, or mission the team is left with the potential of moving in various directions. When a team moves in various directions no movement or traction is made.

N—      Note that it’s not about me, but we

If a team is going to embody unity, they need to check their egos at the door. Team isn’t about me, it’s about we! In Christian circles, church isn’t about me or necessarily we, it’s about HE! Thus, we don’t waltz into a locker room, conference room, or church belting out commands about what we want to see, what we want to do.

I—       Identify roles and responsibility to fulfill purpose

If a team is going to embody unity, they need to identify the various roles and responsibilities of the players and team members that will come together and fulfill the mission of the team or organization. This is more vital than it may come across. Scripture teaches about how the church is one body with many members. Thus, if the feet, hands, and eyes don’t understand their role and responsibilities you have one jacked up body that’s dysfunctional. With sports teams the identification of roles and responsibilities are called the playbook; in business circles it’s called the by-laws and policy manuals, along with organizational charts; in church circles it’s called the Bible along with documentation (by-laws and org charts) that describes how the church is organized around the truth of Scripture to fulfill the mandate of making disciples of all nations. If you don’t identify roles and responsibilities to fulfill your purpose, you’re winging it. Those who wing it, [typically] don’t win!

T—      Trust the process

If a team is going to embody unity and corporate oneness, they will need to trust the process. Everything up until this point—uniting around a purpose or mission; noting that it’s not about me, but we; and identifying the roles and responsibilities to fulfill the purpose—is part of creating clarity and alignment for your team or organization. Once you’ve secured those, then you institute a process of moving towards the desired goal. Sure, you will have to make tweaks here and there, but overall you must trust the process. This is especially true for churches. Churches are notorious for trying something for only a few months and then changing because they didn’t see the desired results. The truth of the matter is that clarity and consistency over time lead to celebratory or cultural change.

Y—      Yield to the movement of the Spirit

If a team is going to embody unity, they will need to yield to the movement of the Spirit. In sports and business environments we call it riding the waves of success. This is where teams and businesses hit their stride and they do all they can to stay in their prime at the top. This requires great commitment and effort. Slacking and goofing off is prohibited—especially if they want to stay in the zone and on top. In the church world, riding the waves of success is really the movement of the Spirit in the vein of multiplying and making disciples. It is in this zone where churches can either choose to move at the speed of committee or move at the speed of the Spirit. In other words, they can choose to stifle the movement and momentum of the Spirit of God and where He wants to take a church, or they can choose to fan the movement and momentum of the Spirit. But this will require commitment, effort, a release of control, and a lot of faith.

In closing, Acts 2 gives us a glimpse of what churches can experience when they embody U.N.I.T.Y. As the believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and to one another; as they lived a life centered around He and we—not me; as they moved and operated within the confines of their roles and responsibilities in the body of Christ, serving the needs of one another; and as they trusted the process and movement of God’s Spirit among them; “Every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47b). Dear church leaders, we too can experience a sort of NBA final-like environment with regard to missional effectiveness, but it will require corporate oneness, aka—U.N.I.T.Y.!

Loophole for Lying Lips?

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This past Sunday I was speaking on Ephesians 4:25-32 where Paul exhorts the Ephesian believers to put away lying and rather speak the truth. When I got home my wife and eldest son, Caleb, had been talking about the message, and Joannie tells me that Caleb had a question about the message. What was his question you asked?

My twelve-year old son wanted to know, “Is there ever a time where lying is acceptable?”

His question reveals what almost everyone on planet earth would like to know when it comes to lying lips. Is there a time or place where lying lips may be acceptable?

I think we have all been in that place where someone we love or like has asked us, “How does this make me look?” Or, husbands, has your wife asked you, “How did my casserole or pie turn out?” Or our boss asked us, “What did you think about the presentation?” In such instances and others, we are faced with whether or not we tell the truth, a version of the truth, or lie.

So, what do we do? Tell the truth. Not only do we read in Ephesians 4:25 that God would have us speak the truth and not lies. We also read in places like Proverbs 6:16–19 as well as Proverbs 12:22, that God hates a lying tongue. I think it is pretty clear from these passages and others that God would have us tell the truth—even if we think the other person(s) can’t handle the truth. Now, I’m not saying that you don’t cloak the truth, if it may hurt, in softness, grace, and (if need be) constructive feedback. I’m saying that God would have us be truthful people.

If those moments—where it would be easier to lie, stretch the truth, or be dishonest—are off limits, is there any other time where it may be acceptable to tell a lie? Biblical ethicists and scholars point to at least two examples in Scripture where people of faith chose to lie when faced with a life or death decision.

The first example is the midwives in Exodus 1. Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives, if the woman gave birth to a boy, to kill the baby boy. But, rather than obeying Pharaoh’s command, they let the boys live. When asked about why they did this, they responded, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them” (Exodus 1:19). And then Moses pens the following, “So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied and became very numerous.”

The second example is Rahab in Joshua 2. Rahab had been enlightened that there was no stopping the Jews from taking over what we know as the Promised Land because the God of the Jews fought for them. Thus, dread came upon the inhabitants. But as Rahab gave aid to the spies sent by Joshua, the king of Jericho sent some men to Rahab’s house to inquire about the men and asked her to hand them over. Rahab responded, “Yes, the men did come to me, but I didn’t know where they were from. At nightfall, when the city gate was about to close, the men went out, and I don’t know where they were going” (Joshua 2:4–5). If you know the story, you know that God was gracious and showed favor to Rahab and all her household, as they were the only inhabitants saved from Jericho—not to mention that Rahab found herself in the lineage of Jesus.

These are two instances where people chose to lie rather than tell the truth.

It seems, from both accounts, that God did not condemn their false lips but blessed their faith-filled lives.

Why is that? Keep in mind that my answer to this question is just my projection.

To answer the question, let me first set up two particular things that summarize all that God hates. God hates idolatry and injustice. Both idolatry and injustice are the opposite of the two greatest commandments. You know the first, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” What was the second? “To love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, when God does not hold primacy in one’s life—He is angry. When an image-bearer of His is not treated with love, dignity, respect, etc., God is also angry. In sum, He hates when His glory is robbed and His reflected glory of within an (or a group of) image-bearer(s) is threatened or damaged.

With that said—in both accounts mentioned—people’s lives hung in the balance. In Exodus, the lives of innocent baby boys were being threatened. In Joshua, the lives of the spies were being threatened. Given that lives were on the line, both the midwives and Rahab chose to lie. They lied to protect life. And in both instances, it seems that God worked through those lying lips to not only protect lives but also bless the lives the lying lips sought to protect.

In conclusion, we know Scripture teaches that God hates lying lips—lying lips that seek to cover up, hide, divide, demean, deconstruct, destroy, damage, etc. We also know that believers, according to Scripture, should be people of truth. But, on the other hand, people of truth might be faced with a situation where lying—to protect the glory (and mission) of God or an image-bearer of God—may be acceptably used by God to accomplish His purposes in the world. Thus, if there was a loophole to lying lips, that would be it. Would love to hear what you think!

Bringing O.R.D.E.R. To Chaos

My wife has a phrase she uses to describe what she does as a mother (and as my wife). The phrase she shares with others is, “All I do is manage chaos.” With our three children’s educational, recreational, and relational schedules, along with her vocation, in addition to my duties and obligations as a lead pastor, our church commitments, and our pursuits to connect with other individuals and couples—we are constantly running. Thus, you could understand how my wife could utter the phrase, “All I do is manage chaos.” But, truth be known, she doesn’t just manage our familial chaos, she’s incredibly gifted in that God uses her to order our chaos.

I think many pastors and church leaders feel a lot like my wife when it comes to church matters—they are simply managing chaos. A simple definition of chaos is, “A lack of order; or, a state of extreme confusion and disorder.” Living in, or even feeling like you are managing, chaos is not fun. Chaos can be overwhelming and exhausting. Chaos can leave us frustrated and discouraged. Chaos can lead us spiraling further into a dark hole of hopelessness and despair.

What if I told you that not all chaos is bad? In fact, when we begin reading the very first chapter of the Bible, we learn that God started with chaos. In verse 2, after God created the heavens and the earth, we read “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness covered the surface of the watery depths….” And we know what happened from there—God brought order to that which was in chaos. Therefore, not all chaos is bad chaos.

In fact, if God started with chaos to bring about order, then chaos is part of the process of any life, organization, or church on their journey to order, functionality, and flourishing. What does it look like to image God in bringing order to chaos? Think O.R.D.E.R.

  • Objective

To bring order to chaos you’ll need to know the overall objective. In other words, you need to know and be able to see the big picture. God was able to bring order to chaos because He knew what the finished product was supposed to look like. If churches are going to bring that which is chaotic into order, functionality, and flourishing, then they are going to have to understand what the complete picture is supposed to look like. If you don’t aim at anything you will hit nothing every time.

  • Reason

To bring order to chaos you’ll need reason. In other words, you will need discernment and judgment to know the kind of framework and environments you need for the objective—for the mission, life, and discipleship—to flourish. God brought order to chaos because He had thought through the kind of environments He needed to place the sun, moon, and stars; the kind of environments He needed to place birds and sea creatures; and the kind of environment He needed to place animals, bugs, and people. In short, God knew what He wanted to create and thus had analyzed the kind of environments that were needed in order for life to function and flourish.

  • Decisions

To bring order to chaos you’ll need to be able to make decisive decisions. Because God knew what the big picture looked like and had reasoned what He needed to do to accomplish the big picture, He was able to make decisions with clarity and decisiveness. One of the things I have seen, over the years, that holds back churches from bringing order, functionality, and flourishing is the ability to make decisive decisions and to stick with them. Keep in mind that the decisions you make today should be sustainable for tomorrow. In other words, decisions that bring order to chaos are ones that are based upon the overall objective and what is needed to accomplish it.

  • Empower

To bring order to chaos you’ll need to empower others. God enlisted humanity and empowered them to fulfill His objective. In verses 26–28 we see God’s overall objective being extended to mankind. He had created mankind in His image and tasked them with being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth as well as subduing the ground and exercising dominion. As man fulfilled what God had empowered them to do, they would have been used to fulfill God’s main objective—to create a people for Himself that reflected His glory throughout planet earth. To truly establish order, functionality, and flourishing, you’ll need to empower!

  • Rest

To bring order to chaos you’ll need to rest. On the seventh day God rested. And He was able to rest because He had brought order to that which—at one point–was in chaos. The clearest sign that you have brought order to chaos is the ability to rest, enjoy, and celebrate what has transpired.

Maybe you’re a church planter, a church leader, or a pastor, and things in your opinion are out of control and chaotic. And you feel as though the church is stalled and spinning its wheels. Let me encourage you—don’t fret! Take a deep breath and go to work just like God did and bring O.R.D.E.R. to chaos. And in the power of both the Logos and Spirit of God, you too can look back on God’s work and see that what He can do through you is very good! So, don’t manage chaos…O.R.D.E.R. it!