Wednesday, February 14, 2018


            Imagine you are out for a hike on a beautiful spring day and you come to a creek. You notice that someone has dumped trash into the stream—not a pretty sight. Judging by some of the empty soda cans, the trash has been there awhile. And there is an ugly film on top of the water. You can’t just leave the scene as you found it, because it would bother your conscience.

So, you stoop down and begin gathering the trash.  It ends up taking several hours before you can begin to see a difference.  You’re amazed how much junk is there. You sit back, rest for a moment, and realize you'll have to keep coming each day until the site is truly clean. But when you come back the next day, it's as if you didn’t even do any work at all.  In fact, there's more trash than the day before. It’s as if the garbage bred overnight. You think about the unlikelihood of someone coming to this very spot to dump their garbage just in the one measly day you were away.

Then, you realize that something smells fishy—so to speak. So, you begin to follow the creek upstream.  Sure enough, there’s a nasty garbage dump that’s been there for years. It's emptying into the passing creek. Your cleaning job was only a small opening to a world of filth. You could try and clean every day.  But if you really want your creek to be free of pollution, this means going directly to the source and dealing with the crud that’s there.

Our hearts are the source from which our lives flow. Unfortunately, we spend great amounts of time, money, and energy—even in the church—doing trash removal "downstream." But real transformation begins when we travel upstream to the source. Our real struggles and sins take place where no one sees: in the heart.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day in the season of Lent.  Ashes remind us that we live in a polluted world full of garbage; that it is fouling up our lives; and, that we must respond to the mess with a humble return to God.  Lent is a 40-day cleaning project on the inside of our hearts, instead of trying to keep up dealing with all the scum on the outside of our lives. 

Entrance to confronting the dump of garbage requires fasting, self-examination, prayer and repentance.  As the Lord God said through the ancient prophet Joel:

“It isn’t too late.
You can still return to me
    with all your heart.
Start crying and mourning!
    Go without eating.
Don’t rip your clothes
    to show your sorrow.
Instead, turn back to me
    with broken hearts.
I am merciful, kind, and caring.
I don’t easily lose my temper,
    and I don’t like to punish.” (Joel 2:12-13, CEB)

We find that at the end of the Lenten journey, Jesus is there.  He swallows all the massive tonnage of the world’s garbage on the cross.  It’s so rotten that it kills him, and there is only darkness.  Then, three days later, Christ is risen, having shaken off the filthy stench of death.  Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of the prophet’s words, the merciful one who has taken care of the filthy source of garbage once and for all.

            May you find on this day and every day that the spiritual practices of prayer, fasting, and repentance put you in a place to receive Jesus. As you lean into the mess in throughout the next six weeks of Lent, may you discover the cleansing and healing agent, Jesus Christ, the Savior who scrubs the heart clean of toxic waste.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Transfiguration Sunday

            Are you a good listener?  I don’t find many people who describe themselves that way.  That’s probably because listening is a developed skill.  It doesn’t come easy.  It takes hard work to actively listen to another person.  But if you and I, as well as the entire church universal, fosters and nurtures the ability to listen, then we just might encounter the glorious.

            The last Sunday before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of the 40 days of Lent, leading up to Easter) is traditionally celebrated for an event found in the New Testament Gospels as the Transfiguration of Jesus.  In this event, the glory of God shines brightly on Jesus to the degree that he is changed, transfigured, before Peter, James, and John (Mark 9:2-12).  This encounter on the mountain is meant to prepare us today, all these centuries later, for the listening posture we are to have for the six weeks of Lent.

            The voice of God the Father spoke on the mountain in the presence of the disciples and said, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!”  Listen to Jesus.  Every word he speaks is to be heard.  We are not to be distracted from hearing and listening well to all that Jesus says to us.  Perhaps we need to still ourselves, break away, enter a time of solitude, and confess that we have not listened well.  We cannot have ministry for God until we adopt the assignment of hearing the Lord.  Perhaps some confession is in order:

Great God of the Transfiguration, you meet me in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary moments of life.  I seek you in the valleys and on the mountaintops.  Yet I admit that too often my eyes are blind to your glorious presence, and my ears are too often deaf to your call.  When you reach out to me through the cries of people in need, I’m too busy to listen.  Forgive me, I pray, and set me free to hear your voice so that I may love and serve you in the lives of people who desperately need to experience you, Jesus.  Amen.

            If we want to listen to Jesus as individuals, and as ministry organizations and churches, we need to take the following stances toward listening:

Listening must be a priority.

Unless listening is a top tier value for you, it won’t matter how loud God speaks – you won’t be able to hear.  In other words, you need to put yourself in a position to listen.  Leave multi-tasking for some other endeavor.  Listening is important enough to focus all your faculties on hearing what God has to say to you.

“The Lord came and called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’  And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10, NLT)

Jesus said, “Let the person who has ears, hear.” (Matthew 11:15, CEB)

Listening requires us to stop talking.

Most of us are better at talking than listening.  We have no problem expressing our thoughts, opinions, and sharing our experiences.  But talking needs to take a back seat to listening.  You’ve got to determine that you will not interrupt God with what you believe he’s got to hear from you.

“Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving].” (James 1:19, AMP)

“Let a wise person listen and increase learning, and let a discerning person obtain guidance.” (Proverbs 1:5, CSB)

Listening happens in a distraction-free mind.

Its not only important to set-aside a consistent time and place to meet with God, it’s also necessary to be able to hear God in the middle of noise.  If we cultivate the skill of listening in times of solitude and silence, then we will learn to distinguish God’s voice in a sea of other voices crying-out.  Like the mother who can discern her baby’s cry in a room full of other voices, so spending extended time with God enables us to discern his still small voice, even when there is chaos all around.

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Proverbs 11:15, ESV)

“Don’t stop listening to correction, my child, or you will forget what you have already learned.” (Proverbs 19:27, NCV)

Listening involves regular reading.

The Bible is God’s self-revealing of his basic character, nature, and purposes.  If we are to listen well, it will involve a daily regular regimen of reading God’s Word in a slow, meditative, contemplative way.  We learn to listen because listening is a skill.  That skill will only be fully developed for the Christian through consistent listening to God through the text of Holy Scripture.

Jesus said, “Therefore, everyone who hears what I say and obeys it will be like a wise person who built a house on rock.” (Matthew 7:24, GW)

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” (Luke 11:28, NIV)

            Enlightenment, awaking to God, comes from taking a posture of listening well to the words and ways of Jesus.  Living in the light of Christ’s shining self on the mountain top can be experienced as we adopt hearing him as a high value.  Today, and every day, is to be a day of listening to Jesus.  Allowing his words to meld with our inner person results in loving actions for the sake of the church and the world.

How can you incorporate listening into the life of your church?

Do you allow for extended times of silence to hear from God?

What do think would happen if you made listening to Jesus, and not talking, a high value in leadership meetings?

Is Scripture read in all your gatherings? Is it read slowly so that everyone can listen well?

Friday, February 9, 2018

Seven Christian Virtues

            The Christian life is a struggle, a wrestling match of putting off bad behavior, and putting on good behavior.  Like a set of dirty clothes, we take them off and put on new clothes (Ephesians 4:14-5:20).  We must do both, putting off and putting on.  It does no good to take off dirty clothes and stand there naked.  Neither does it make any sense to just put clean clothes on over your dirty ones.

The seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride are bad habits of vice which darken the heart.  From them springs the evil behavior of the world. We must put them aside.  In their place we are to put on the seven heavenly virtues of purity, self-control, generosity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness, and humility.

1.      Purity

The insatiable habit of committing mental adultery needs to be replaced with purity of heart.  The pure of heart seek to better themselves through confession, repentance, and accountability.  One reason many people do not experience victory over their lust is that they confess and repent without allowing themselves to be held accountable by a wise spiritual mentor or a safe small group of people.

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10, NIV)

“Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.  Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2, ESV)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)

2.     Self-Control

The glutton overindulges to the point of addiction.  He needs self-control.  Self-control is to engage in the good things of life in moderation, learning to say “no” before it’s too late.  Notice this is self-control, not others-control.  The way to gain mastery over yourself is not through controlling other people.  It’s tempting to blame others for our gluttony, but the path forward is through taking small steps of personal courage and faith.  Lent is the perfect season to intentionally plan to put aside one vice or besetting sin in your life.

“Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32, NIV)

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NIV)

“Control yourselves and be careful! The devil, your enemy, goes around like a roaring lion looking for someone to eat.” (1 Peter 5:8, NCV)

3.     Generosity

The greedy person only thinks about money and how to get more.  Greed can only be overcome with generosity toward others.  Not only are we to liberally give money away to those in need, we are to be generous with encouraging words, go out of our way to do humble service, and be effusive in spending time with those who need it.

But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them.  Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need.” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8, NLT)

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17, ESV)

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:17-18, NIV)

4.    Diligence

A lazy and indifferent attitude doesn’t want to get involved.  It needs to be replaced with a diligent hard-working spirit.  Diligent people seek to make a difference in the world.  They roll their sleeves up, jump-in and get to work on the great problems of the day.
“The lazy have strong desires but receive nothing; the appetite of the diligent is satisfied.” (Proverbs 13:4, CEB)

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5, ESV)

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9, NRSV)

“Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23, AMP)

5.     Forgiveness

Maybe it goes without saying that anger and forgiveness are mutually exclusive terms.  An angry person doesn’t forgive – she just wants to get even.  Putting off those angry clothes means putting on the clean clothes of extending forgiveness.  Forgiveness is neither cheap, nor easy. It can’t be done quickly or hastily.  It’s the difference between throwing on a few sweats – and getting dressed up in a tuxedo.  Forgiveness takes care and time.

“Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil.  Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, CEB)

“As holy people whom God has chosen and loved, be sympathetic, kind, humble, gentle, and patient.  Put up with each other and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13, GW)

6.    Kindness

Envy is the evil rot that separates people.  The antidote is kindness.  To be kind is to celebrate what another has achieved that you haven’t.  Kindness extends friendship instead of trying to knock another person down a peg so that you can try and have what they have.  Kindness creates connection and heals division.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV)

“And to your service for God, add kindness for your brothers and sisters in Christ; and to this kindness, add love.” (2 Peter 1:7, NCV)

7.     Humility

If pride is the root from which all other sinful attitudes break ground, humility is the herbicide that kills that root.  To be humble is to know that others have a valuable contribution to give.  Humility listens because it doesn’t think it has all the answers.  The humble among us quietly serve others without caring if it draws attention to themselves.

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2, NIV)

“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10, NKJV)

“God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5, NASB)

            Developing Christian character is more than identifying the vices and bad habits of life; it is replacing them with these seven virtues.  Cultivating true Christian virtue is in the struggle to be better, and not in the notion that one can achieve perfection.  It is the continual wrestling with one’s own shadow-self that allows the virtues to gain a foothold in the soul.

            Therefore, church ministry needs to be a place where people are free to struggle, doubt, and wrestle with their inner demons.  Genuine ministry is a hospital for the soul, resembling more of the messy triage work of the emergency room, than the sanitized antiseptic room on the top floor who hasn’t seen a patient in days.

            Try using these Christian virtues as a way of having a conversation about the nature, direction, and goals of your ministry.  Are these virtues evident in your context? Why, or why not? Which one needs the most attention? How will you address it?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Seven Deadly Vices (Sins)

            Being aware of both vice and virtue in our personal lives, in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, families, and churches can create an environment of trust, love, fellowship, and enjoyment.  Intentionally cultivating virtue, while identifying and forsaking vice, allow for a thriving community who attends to the common good of all.

            It’s likely that you have heard of “the seven deadly sins.”  In medieval Christianity, these were vices to avoid at all costs because they eroded personal integrity and poisoned the social community.  A “vice” is a bad habit which corrupts character and debases society.  Today we rarely, if ever, use the word “vice.”  City police departments still have “Vice Squads” which investigate illegal gambling rings and try to deal with prostitution.

            The early church eventually formed a short list of the most corrosive vices, the seven deadly sins, which were considered the most heinous desires/actions of all.  They are:


Lust is an intense desire, coupled with lack of mental self-control, which is manifested in pursuing that desire in the heart.  It is, especially, to have a passion for someone that is not meant for you, i.e. another person’s spouse.  Lust is mental adultery.  Lust leers at and indulges daydreams of another person, with only selfish ideas and no real concern for the other.

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28, NIV)

“Run away from adolescent cravings. Instead, pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace together with those who confess the Lord with a clean heart.” (2 Timothy 2:22, CEB)


Whereas lust is mostly lack of mental self-control, gluttony is the lack of bodily self-control. Gluttony doesn’t stop eating, buying, talking, drinking, or binging.  It only excessively indulges to the point of physical and/or relational sickness.  Addiction is the modern-day gluttony – it consumes to the point where it cannot control the consumption any more.  The thing desired and indulged becomes the master.

“When you sit down to dine with a ruler, carefully consider what is in front of you.  Place a knife at your throat to control your appetite.  Don’t long for the ruler’s delicacies; the food misleads.” (Proverbs 23:1-3, CEB)

“So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, you should do it all for God’s glory.” (1 Corinthians 10:31, CEB)


Money. Money. More money – is the mantra of the greedy person.  It is to have an inordinate desire and pursuit of wealth.  Just as sex and food are good, but have their proper boundaries, so money is both good and necessary.  But money is powerful in more ways than one.  It can take over a person’s life in such a way that charging exorbitant interest, rent, or price gouging is justified by satisfying the greed.  The greedy person lives every waking moment for leveraging wealth to get more wealth.

“People who want to be rich fall into all sorts of temptations and traps. They are caught by foolish and harmful desires that drag them down and destroy them. The love of money causes all kinds of trouble. Some people want money so much that they have given up their faith and caused themselves a lot of pain.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10, CEV)

“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5, NASB)


Sloth is more than laziness.  It is failing to do good when it is in your power and ability to do so.  To be slothful is to be indifferent to the great need of the world.  Whereas the previous sins are more active in the pursuit of some desire, sloth is passive, not wanting to get involved in making a difference.  The slothful always have an excuse why they can’t participate; they expect everyone else to do the work.  The irony is that for all of Ebenezer Scrooge’s hard work and thrift, he was really a sloth who had no intention of improving the condition of humanity, depending on poor houses and work farms to do all the work.  It took supernatural means to get him to think differently.

Don’t be lazy in showing your devotion. Use your energy to serve the Lord. Be happy in your confidence, be patient in trouble, and pray continually. Share what you have with God’s people who are in need. Be hospitable.” (Romans 12:11-13, GWT)

“Do your work willingly, as though you were serving the Lord himself, and not just your earthly master.” (Colossians 3:23, CEV)


As with most things in life, anger has its proper place.  We ought to be angry in the face of evil perpetrators.  Anger motivates us to not be slothful, but helpful.  But excessive selfish anger is a vice.  Whereas righteous anger seeks to help a victimized person or group, sinful anger is fueled by hatred for another.  Whether it is a violent verbal decapitation of another, or a deep smoldering feeling which only seethes with hatred, anger destroys relationships.

“Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NLT)

“Stop being angry!  Turn from your rage!  Do not lose your temper— it only leads to harm.” (Psalm 37:8, NLT)


Envy and lust are kissing cousins.  They both traffic in excessive desire for what they don’t possess.  The subtle difference has more to do with the object of the affection.  Lust leers at longs for a person who belongs to someone else.  Envy fixes its gaze on a material possession or a respected position which someone else has.  It is to have a passionate pursuit of taking over someone else’s job or keeping up with Jones’s.

“Envy rots the bones.” (Proverbs 14:30, NIV)

“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (James 3:16, NRSV)


Many people consider pride as the original sin which gave birth to all other vices.  Pride is to have an over-inflated view of one’s opinions, thoughts, and self.  Pride has an excessive understanding of itself.  The proud person truly believes that if only other people believed what they believed, did what they told them to do, and followed their advice and strategy that the world and the church would be a better place to live.  Every antagonist in the movies, comics, and classic literature are full of themselves.  They justify stepping on others to achieve what they think is the greater good of imposing their agenda in the situation.  Its no wonder that in the Bible Satan is the ultimate antagonist.

“If you respect the Lord, you will also hate evil.  I hate pride and bragging, evil ways and lies.” (Proverbs 8:13, NCV)

“For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:3, ESV)

“Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” (Romans 12:16, MSG)

            The seven deadly sins mostly live in the shadows, in the secrecy and darkness of one’s own heart.  Yet, they do come out and manifest themselves in bad behavior.  Long before an a hurtful action of sin is committed, it has spent time incubating in the darkness waiting for its chance to make the desire real.

            We cannot hold one another accountable if we do not share the things which are in our hearts.  None of these vices can exist when exposed to the light of confession.  That is why it is so very important to have safe places within the church in which people can share all their desires and their struggles. 

How will you respond to the seven deadly sins? 

Are there safe places and people for you to talk about your inner struggles? 

In what ways and/or behaviors do you see these vices being manifested in the church? 

What do you think can be done about it?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Putting Political (and Church) Parties in Their Place


            In speaking of political parties in either government or church, I’m not talking about weekend benders, Washington D.C. cocktail gatherings, nor fellowship hall potlucks after church.  The word “party” in the New Testament of the Bible means what we would understand as either a special interest group who lobbies to get their agenda accomplished on the backs of others, or a group of like-minded people who stand opposed to another group with a different set of ideals through belligerent, manipulative, and/or bullying tactics.  The consistent ideal of the Scripture is that a “party spirit” belongs to the sinful nature, part of the old person, and has no part with the redeemed person in the kingdom of God.

            The word is, in Greek, ριθεία (English transliteration, eritheia). It appears as a vice which the Apostle Paul condemns as being contrary to the fruit of the Spirit.  It is translated in various ways throughout the different versions of the Bible as “rivalry,” “selfish ambition,” “strife,” “faction,” and “dispute,” just to mention a few.  It is to have a contentious spirit that continually strives and cajoles to get its way.  It’s just the opposite of scanning the horizon of human need and seeking to implement what is in the best interest of the common good of all people.

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 2:19-21, ESV)

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, NIV)

“For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:16, KJV)

Whenever churches, ministries, organizations, and even governments devolve into opposing groups or parties which are constantly at odds with one another, this is a situation that is not to be lauded but condemned. 

            Seemingly lost to many are the comments from George Washington concerning the understanding of a party-spirit which, for him, was this biblical idea of contentious rivalries which did not have in view the interests of all people.  In George Washington's 1796 Farewell Address when leaving the presidential office, he sagaciously and prophetically said that political parties:

“are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion….  The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

Washington went on to say:

“In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.”

            I’m grinding on this current party-spirit reality because we have gotten to a place in both our political discourse and our church rhetoric where we take opposing parties for granted – as if it’s okay.  It’s not okay, and we need to resist it.  Furthermore, I am in no way advocating for everyone to think and believe the same way.  Monolithic groupthink is only a form of the party-spirit which seeks to conquer all opposing views and corral them under a certain group’s views.

            Its possible to celebrate individual thought, identify yourself with organizations which labor to change a situation, and engage in lively debate with one another without having a party spirit.  What’s not okay is a spirit of rivalry which aims to colonize other people’s minds and strip them of critical thinking skills that either advance a selfish group agenda or push power politics to maintain the powerful at any cost.  God will not contend with this situation forever.

            If one person dominates and determines how a church ministry operates; if one group of families holds power and refuses to listen to others; if two or more groups can be clearly identified as engaging in the power politics of fear; if the aisle down the middle of the church building is symbolic of division; or, if individuals exhibit anger and jealousy when they are not properly recognized in the church; then, there is a party spirit within that church, ministry, or organization which needs to be addressed before the spirit of rivalry destroys the Body.

Working against a party spirit, and establishing a spirit for the common good requires:

·         Leaders naming the factious spirit
·         Calling-out individuals with bad behavior
·         Valuing the voices of others not in power
·         Great courage through trust in God
·         A calming presence from leadership
·         Humility and wisdom
·         Being filled with the Holy Spirit
·         Bearing one another’s (everyone’s) burdens
·         Sharing wealth, stature, recognition, and privilege
·         Not hiding from or ignoring marginal people

The best antidote to a party spirit is to have the heart of servant.  Recovering politics as public service, and reestablishing church ministry as sacred service puts the focus away from bad spirits of sectionalism and sensationalism, placing it squarely on those people who need the services which you have to offer.

“For even the Son of Man [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

Groups are not inherently evil.  But if they only look inward as to how they can benefit themselves – and do not look outward to include, help, serve, and uphold others very different from themselves – then there is a "party spirit" which is contrary to Holy Scripture.

            Prayer is always the best place to begin facing down a party spirit.  Only solid spiritual resources can effectively combat bad negative spirits.  Party spirits won’t go away on their own – they must be faced down with the fruit of the Spirit.

            Everyone and every organization must confront party spirits at various times in their existence because its just the nature of living in this fallen world.  What we do when we see them is the critical step….

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Make It Safe for Women

            It is good that so many women are not keeping silent any longer.  They have emboldened other women to have the courage to tell their own story of harassment, abuse, and/or assault. 

            One of the temptations for some churches is to think the problem of violence against women happens in other places, like Hollywood, but not in their own little corner of the world.  But that would be a faulty assumption.  At best, it’s ignorance; at worst, it’s denial.

            I have ministered in all kinds of contexts: big and small churches; rural and city churches; churches with a diverse congregation, and those which are very homogeneous.  And in every one of them there were situations, some of them chronic and pervasive, of openly bullying, demeaning, and discounting the ministry, gifts, and wisdom of women.  There were individual instances of outright violence.  A man in one of my congregations came home every night and got drunk, harassing his kids, and abusing his wife.  Another man, and elder, constantly put down any woman with an opinion, but attentively listened to any man who had a thought.  Yet another man had the habit of heaping attention upon women and giving them unwanted touch.  I could go on and on….

            Yes, it is a problem in every church, at some level and to some degree.  Attention needs to be given toward that problem.  Recently, I participated (as the only male) in a webinar with women leaders from various churches and ministries who shared their stories of abuse which occurred within those places.  I applaud their bravery.  I lament that, in many cases, there were no policies, procedures, and protocols in place to help them. 

            Earlier this week, I posted an article on my personal website concerning this issue of violence against women with some definitions, statements, and other links which may be useful and helpful to you.  Rather than reproduce that information here, I simply provide for you below the link to that article with the hope and the prayer that more and more women will find a safe place to share, grieve, and reconnect with others without fear; and, that more and more good men will have their eyes opened to the plight that so many women have been through – and grieve right along with them.

            It is my belief that the church ought to be the safest place on planet earth for all people.  Yet, the reality is that many are not.  Let’s together work to change that reality and usher in a sacred time of emotional health, spiritual stability, and ministries which continually honor God and are safe for women.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Grace is the Word

            One of my all-time favorite stories in the entire Bible is one that many people are not familiar with.  As far as I’m concerned, this story deserves to be up there as a hall-of-fame kind of story.  It is tucked away in the Old Testament book of 2 Samuel, almost as a parenthetical aside to the great victories and kingdom of David.  Within this one story we get to know the true heart of ministry, and the shape of what our Christian calling can look like in a world gone mad.

            David was at the pinnacle of his success.  For years, he roved all over the place hiding from King Saul.  David’s only crime was that he made the king jealous – envious enough for Saul to put out a hit on him.  Saul eventually was killed in battle, and David ascended the throne with a series of great military victories on every side of Israel.

            It is important to keep in mind that in the ancient world, kings who ascend the throne typically begin their reign by killing any-and-all potential rivals to the throne.  It was so common as to be expected.  So, if you are reading 2 Samuel 9 for the very first time and David begins by saying, “I wonder if any of Saul’s family are still alive,” you expect the hammer to come down.  David is going to secure his throne with eliminating Saul’s family.

            But David, in a twist that befits the heart of a man of God, gives his reason for wondering: “If they are, I will be kind to them, because I made a promise to Jonathan.”  Rather than find relatives of Saul to kill, David wanted to find family members, so that he could show kindness.

            This is how it is supposed to work in the kingdom of God, and in the Body of Christ – kindness to someone who does not deserve it.  Turns out Mephibosheth was still alive, and David graciously plucked him from his life as a disabled person and brought him to the palace to care for him. 

            “Kindness” is a beautiful word.  It is translated as such from the Hebrew word “chesed.” Chesed [pronounced “hes-ed”] is God’s steadfast love, his infinite mercy, his loyal commitment to always watch over and care for his people.  And that is exactly what David did for Mephibosheth.

            Oftentimes, church leaders and parishioners wonder how to attract solid upper middle-class people.  Or, at least people who are much like themselves.  Those put-together-people would be able to help support the church, sustain the budget, and provide fresh volunteers for getting things done.  It is the standard operating procedure for many places. 

            But what if we took a lesson from David and turned this on its head.  Instead, we scan the horizon and wonder if there are any broken people out there in our sphere of influence for whom we can show God’s steadfast love, mercy, grace, and kindness.  And then do it. Without forming a committee.

            David made a space at his table for Mephibosheth.  One practical way we can show grace is by opening our dinner table to another.  Anyone can do it.  My wife and I, back in our early years, didn’t even have a kitchen table.  But that didn’t stop us.  We invited people to share peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with us on the floor of our tiny apartment. 

            We can create space and loving mercy at church by opening the Table to the spiritually disabled.  Broken and hurting people need the healing of communion with God and the Body of Christ more than anyone.  In some sense, this is all of us.  Everyone needs the healing which can result from participating in the Lord’s Supper.

            Like David, inquire about the people in your neighborhood and community.  The first step is to find out who they are.  Then, second, find a way to meet them.  And, third, just say “hi” to them.  Let an invitation to share food together arise organically and naturally, without being forced and having an agenda other than the curiosity to discover another person.

            This can be done at church, as well.  Scanning the building for lost and lonely people, you will see them if you look.  Walk across the room and engage them in a merciful conversation worthy of your spiritual ancestor, David.  Pay attention to how the Spirit leads, and follow.  Let us know how it goes.

            All of God’s Word is about God’s merciful wooing of wayward people back to himself.  The Lord specializes in unfocused, fuzzy lives; and, gives grace.  Truly, grace is the Word.