Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Danger of Character (Part 1)

He sat in his tent with tears running down his cheeks. Usually a stoic man, now he could not hold back the sobs that pierced the early morning. His sister had always watched out for him. Cared for him when he was just a little boy, traveled with him through the desert. She had celebrated with him, and mourned with him. Now, he was alone, her body buried on the mountain. He had known that she had been getting old, but he had been avoiding acknowledging it. The trip up the mountain was too much for her, and her body just gave up. Now, all he was left with was his brother Aaron, who was even older than his sister and would be gone soon enough. He felt like blaming God, felt like it was unjust. He felt angry at his people, who were just too stubborn. Most of all, he felt empty without Miriam.

Suddenly, Joshua called from outside the tent:
"Moses, the people are complaining again. They want you to hear their grievances"
Moses stood up slowly and tried to collect himself.
"What do they want?" Moses asked with a sarcastic tone. "They didn't get enough beauty sleep? Is the manna too dry for them? Or do they want meat again?"
"Water, sir." Joshua replied. "There isn't any for miles around. They're getting violent. They say that they wish they had died back when the Lord killed the followers of Korah, because they're dying of thirst."
Moses felt rage bubbling up inside, another complaint from these people. After all that Moses and the Lord had done for them! Tears began to well up in his eyes again. Thoughts racing through his mind. Why didn't someone tell me earlier? Perhaps they would riot. They might break camp, and try to go back to Egypt. More tears. How in the world was he supposed to fix this? He was just a man doing his best to try to lead God's people into the promise land. God! He thought back to the last time they went without water, the Lord had provided. He needed to seek the Lord again.

With Aaron by his side, Moses fell down at the entrance of the tabernacle. In a moment, the glory of God filled the room. The fear, the anger, the hurt all vanished, only wonder and worship were left. God spoke to Moses:
"Take the staff, and assemble the community. You and your brother Aaron are to speak to the rock while they watch, and water will pour out of it."
In a great gust of wind, the presence of the Lord was gone, and Moses and Aaron were again alone.
"Speak to the rock?" Aaron asked Moses. "I thought we just hit the rock with the staff the last time."
"This is the Lord's will." Replied Moses. "This is what we must do."

An hour later, the whole community had arrived in front of a large rock that the Lord had pointed out to Moses and Aaron. Leaning on the staff, Moses overlooked the assembly with a glare. They whispered to one another, mocking Moses and Aaron, and the rock they were going to "speak" to. Their eyes watched, judging Moses and his leadership. The different heads of the tribes didn't say a word, but watched, waiting for Moses to mess up. The crowd grew louder and louder, and Moses grew more and more furious. Screaming at the top of his lungs he said:
"Alright you rebels! You want water, do you? Fine! Have it!"
With that, he took the staff, and began striking the boulder.
The staff collided with stone and water began to dribble out. He yelled again, raising the staff for a second swing. It wasn't about the rock anymore. He wanted the people to fear him. He wanted them to just shut up.
They question his character, they question his qualifications, they question his power! No more!
He pulled back for another strike, when suddenly a flood of water poured out of the rock, knocking Moses off his feet.
"Leave me alone!" Moses protested as Joshua tried to help him up. "I can take care of myself!"
As Moses stood to his feet, a chill ran down his spine. The people cheered, and began to drink from the rock. Moses' heart sunk. He had failed. As fast as he could, he and Aaron ran back to the tabernacle, falling down at the entrance. The presence of God, felt hot and convicting.
"You didn't trust me to show my holiness to the Israelites." The words of the Lord like hammers on his heart. "You will not bring my people into the promised land."
Tears ran down Moses' face, the words of the Lord echoing in his mind. Just like Miriam, he would die in the desert.

Wow. I know God is just, but I feel sorry for Moses. Having worked so hard for the people of Israel, trying his best to serve God, and struggling with the everyday struggles of life. Moses let the attacks on his character and identity define his actions. That is, Moses allowed for what people were saying about him to shape the way he acted. In the life of a leader, the words of man should not be the basis of our work. Instead, a Godly leader must be one that is based on Jesus.
But, I'll discuss what that means next week.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Church Without Google

Francis Chan is one of my favorite preachers. I enjoy listening to him because he's insightful, witty, and authentic in his preaching. Yet, at times, I dislike it because he brings up the areas I need work in. In a sermon I was listening to today, Mr. Chan addresses something that's been bothering me recently. What do we mean when we say church? Perhaps some background is in order.

This summer, the bible study I'm a part of will be going through a series called "The Elephant Plant". The goal is to figure out how to go about planting a church in a very practical way. As I was preparing the overview for the summer, I found myself struggling with a very basic question. What is church? This is so important to me, since I want to be a pastor. I want to lead the church, but what am I wanting to lead?

I was tempted to just google the answer and get some theologian's treatise on the word. Or, perhaps just rely at what I had seen on Sunday mornings. However, I decided on a different approach. I looked at the bible. I decided to hit some of the major passages I knew taught about the church, and tried to read them point blank. I'm not too comfortable with what I found.

In Acts 2:41-47, the first picture of the church is given. I suppose the gathering of the disciples before Pentacost counts, but this is the first picture of the Holy Spirit filled church. That Holy Spirit part seems to be important. After some time, the church gets persecuted by the Jews, and gets scattered (Acts 11). Oddly enough, instead of trying to regroup, they just plant churches wherever they end up. Later, Paul, one of the lead church planters gives a picture of the leadership in these churches. In Acts 14:21-28, Paul appoints "elders" to lead the church. Later, in a letter to his spiritual son Timothy, Paul explains the qualifications of these elders, and names another group involved in the church who he calls: "deacons". In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he lists gifts that are given by the Holy Spirit to each individual, and how each gift works together to build the church.

First off - what the heck is a deacon? I mean, my church has ushers, but somehow I doubt that passing out cards and the offering bucket is really what deacons are for. Second, I don't see a pastor position specifically named, though it seems that Timothy had a role similar to our idea of it. Third, while there were house churches and large churches, they weren't staying in one spot. They were always moving out, always planting new churches wherever they ended up.

I'm concerned that I can't lead a church, because I'm not sure what church is. I'm no expert, and I'm by no means against modern church. Yet, what I see in the bible doesn't seem to fit to our modern understanding of it. The role of deacon seems pretty important, whatever role they have. Likewise, I wonder if my focus should really be on being the best pastor that I can. Maybe getting the qualities listed in 1 Timothy 3 should be my goal.
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy— one who manages his own household competently, having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a new convert, or he might become conceited and fall into the condemnation of the Devil. Furthermore, he must have a good reputation among outsiders, so that he does not fall into disgrace and the Devil’s trap. (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
I may not know what everything looks like, but I do know that I can work towards these qualities. Whatever a leader in the church looks like, I want to have the character sufficient for it. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Days of Future Present

Geez, I guess I lost track of time after finals and haven't written a post since then! My last semester was a bit of a beast, and I needed a week or two to not do anything. I hope to be a bit more on top of writing.

In my down time, I found myself thinking about the future. I tend to daydream about what I want to do with my life. I've been planning to go to Brigham Young University in the Fall of 2014, and have been researching different seminaries to attend afterwards. A few weeks ago, I was even looking at mission programs in certain countries. In the midst of this, I've been preparing something for the Monday night bible study called the "Elephant Plant", where we'll be learning how to plant a church!

When I found myself thinking about the future, there were certain character traits and habits that I saw in my future me. I would be much more humble, and generous with my money. I would be constantly telling people about Jesus, and intentionally making disciples. This future me was committed to constant prayer, well versed in the bible, and a passionate worshiper. This all sounds like some idealistic dream, and I really doubt that my future will look exactly like I imagine. Despite that, this future is unobtainable if I do not make efforts to obtain it. 

My younger brother plays an online game called League of Legends. The game is immensely popular as an e-sport, and provides opportunity for several players to make a living by competing in tournaments, much like regular sports. I asked my brother how someone could become a pro-gamer who made a living off of League of Legends.
"Well, they'd have to be willing give up everything else in life and do nothing but League [of Legends]" He replied.

This video about a professional gamer, Doublelift, illustrates how much some people give up to make a living playing a video game. Becoming a pro-gamer seems like a dream to most people, and is, until someone is willing to make the sacrifices in order to do it.

This idea of sacrifice reminds me of a story I once heard. There was a certain prospector, who was looking through some old geological surveys of a small Texan town. To his delight, he realized that there was oil beneath a particularly worthless looking stretch of land. He then sold his house, his cars, and anything else he could, just to buy and drill for oil in that field. Is this sounding familiar? This story is the same parable that Jesus told in Matthew 13:44. This is what the Christian life looks like; an individual giving up everything they have for someone greater. 

How does this all tie together? In order to be that servant leader that I want to be in the future, I need to serve now, where I'm at. In order to be a missionary to some foreign nation, I need to be a missionary in my own community now. In order to be a "prayer warrior", I need to sacrifice time in my schedule for prayer now. There is an inherent danger for Christians to daydream about what their lives could be, if they only stay in the daydream. My brother might play League of Legends a lot, but he only plays for 3 or 4 hours a day. Professionals may devote 12 to 14 hours a day to the game! The prospector sells everything he owes to buy that oil field. Likewise, the leader must be willing to go "all in", for the sake of something much greater.

It's important to note that though Christians do some of the work, ultimately Jesus is the one who will change them. For some reason, I think He changes and molds Christians to be like Him, as much as they let Him. This isn’t to say that Jesus’ power is limited, rather that He lets us choose to be a part of what He’s doing. I want my life to be positioned for Jesus so that I experience the fullness of the future God has for me. That is why I believe that those dreams I have for the future will require action in the present. I need to make room in my life. In regards to leadership, I need to make room to grow. In regards to my Christianity, I need to make room for Jesus to work. What is unobtainable in my own power is obtainable in Him.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

No, you go first.

Recently, I've had to face one of my shortcomings in leadership. I was sharing some of the things I have planned for the summer concerning the Monday night bible study with a good friend of mine. Our theme this summer is church planting 101, where we, a group of unexperienced teenagers, look at what the bible says about building Christian communities everywhere we go and then do it. I was excited about all the things that we'll be covering, how to study the bible, how to train up young Christians, and how to evangelize. Now, I'm far more comfortable with the first two than with the third. As an introvert, going out of my way to talk to people is extremely hard. The idea of sharing Jesus with someone is rather terrifying for me. As I was bringing my fears up to my friend, he offered to help me to learn. What a fantastic example of leadership! He is willing to walk me through my difficulty and show me how to do it. I can't explain how much this affected me. Not only because it will help me to face my shortcomings, but because I don't have to lead the charge alone.

When I read about John the Baptist, I don't envy him. John was a scraggly man from the wilderness near Jordan. With long tangled hair, he stood by the banks of the Jordan and preached repentance. He wasn't an eloquent speaker, but people flocked to be baptized. Why? We read in the Book of Luke that John's job was to prepare the hearts of the people for Jesus. (Luke 7:25-30) He planted seeds for Jesus to harvest. When Jesus did show up, the most John got to do was dunk Jesus in the water. While it was a great honor, John didn't get to go around with Jesus while He healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead. Instead, John did his job, and got rewarded by being thrown in prison. (Luke 3:18-20) Hardly seems like a just reward for John, especially with all the hard work He did.

John the Baptist reminds me of the infantry scouts. Infantry scouts of the U.S. Military have the dangerous job of going out before the rest of the units, and scouting out the enemy location. As Spc. Serrano Brooks notes: "We're the ones the enemy aims for...". I have a hard time imagining anyone willingly signing up for that job. Much like John, they go ahead and prepare the way. The scouts don't have the safest job, nor do they get much glory for their work. Nevertheless, their job is essential for the success of the unit.

I used to live along the shore of a densely wooded reservoir. Whenever friends visited, I would take them along the hidden paths in the woods around the lake. The paths were fairly easy to follow in the winter when the foliage wasn't as thick, but in the spring, it was a complete jungle. A times like those, I always had to go ahead of my friends to show them where the path was, usually overgrown and hidden by greenery. Sometimes it meant I had to push a bush out of the way, or make a new path through the dense vegetation. 

How does that relate to my earlier problems with evangelism? Leaders often have the same job as John the Baptist or the scouts. Leadership is often blazing a trail for those who will follow us. (Insert obligatory reference to The Road to El Dorado). Leaders have to be walking in front of, preparing the way for, and taking the risks for the sake of those who will follow. John led people to a place where they would be open to receive Jesus, while not getting any glory himself. The scouts go in front of their unit, and locate the enemy. They risk their lives to pave a way for victory. Much like I did along the shores of the reservoir, I make the path for others in the way I'm leading.

Being a trail blazer in my life means that I have to be disciple making before I tell anyone to do it. It means I have to prepare a safe place to grow in maturity. Lastly, it means that I have to take the risks of evangelizism and being uncomfortable, so that I can be the leader I'm called to be. As I expressed to my friend, this can be a lonely job. I don't like going it alone, and sometimes I have to. Thankfully, God is graceful, and my friend is willing to work with me. My friend has already blazed the trail, and now he is teaching me how to walk down it. I'm not risking it alone, and the reward is great.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

When Sons Become Fathers

It's hard to believe that 16 weeks have past since I started this semester. This has been my second semester at NOVA, and my first time blogging consistently. It's certainly been an interesting experience and the consistency has been, at times, challenging. I had started this semester thinking that while I was not an expert leader, I was fairly experienced. It's funny how you realize how little you know about something by learning more about it. I learned quite a few new aspects of leadership this semester, I've also relearned some essential truths of leadership. I think I'd like to highlight two that really stood out to me this semester that I've written on, and then one truth about leadership that I've been learning these past two weeks. The end goal of Christian leadership is not to lead the people to a goal, it's to lead people to lead. 

Get back to the basics. 
I'm so glad that for the first few weeks of blogging I did. I examined my motivation, and my vision. Examining my motivation has been a huge factor in my life as a leader this semester. In February, I was forced to examine why I was leading a certain bible study. I had let my pride and insecurity lead the group, and had to reevaluate the reason I was coming to the bible study. Recently, I had been praying for numerical growth for the same bible study, and had to examine my motivation again. Am I praying for growth because I want to be leading more people? Am I praying for growth so that more people can draw closer to God? In the campus bible study, I had to ask myself several times what the vision of the group was, and where we needed to be going. The vision I was given was of a place where Christians from all over the campus can gather and be family to one another. I'm happy to report that it's precisely what we're doing. Motivation and vision are fundamental in leadership. Without regular evaluation, leaders fall into unhealthy and sometimes harmful patterns of leadership.

Treat it seriously
I'm kinda ashamed to admit it, but I really did not take my leadership role at the campus bible study very seriously for the first few weeks. I was tired, juggling classes, and dealing with other issues. Because of that, the Christian Student Union (CSU) slipped to the wayside. Because of that, we had inconsistent vision, confusion who we were supposed to be, and worse, drove some people away. If a leader is given responsibility, they must commit to it as they are able. I agreed to lead the group, and for as long as I am needed as a leader, I must serve in the capacity that I am able. Leadership is a big responsibility, and I need to treat it as such.

Lead them to Leave
More often than not, most Christian leadership takes place in church. What is this vague entity, the church? I think the best definition I can give is that the church is the community of Christians committed to Christ on mission in the world. In the bible, the church is referred to as a bride (2 Cor. 11:2). The imagery of a bride has a twofold meaning. Firstly, it refers to the total commitment of the church to Jesus, just as an engaged couple are committed to one another. Secondly, I believe it uses this imagery to paint the picture of a living entity. The church in it's truest form is not a building, idea or a specific group of people. Rather, the church is the living active representative of God on the earth. An organism that is constantly on the move. This is important for every church leader to understand. Why? Because the living aspect of the church changes the way that Christians lead.

This past week, I encountered an opossum in my backyard. The opossum seemed rather bloated, and my mother made an acute observation. The opossum was pregnant. Like everything we consider alive, it reproduces. Soon, I hope to see little opossum pups running around the yard. (Hopefully not in the house!) In the same way, a church should reproduce and create more churches. In turn, those churches will plant more churches, and ultimately fulfill the Great Commission given by Jesus, that is, to go and make disciples of all people (or ethic) groups (Mat. 28:18-20). The bible study that I lead on Monday nights should not remain a solitary bible study, but rather, should spread across the world. That means that Christian leaders have a specific job: to train your followers to be leaders.

It’s a bittersweet job, to know that the more that come in, the more will be sent out. This summer, I am going to be saying goodbye to a great number of my friends as they go off to other universities, cities, and seasons of life. My goal is to equip them to be the church wherever they go. Out of this, good news will spread to every campus, town, city, people group, and to the world. The calling of a leader is hardly an easy one, not always a comfortable one, but without question a wonderful and honorable call.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Responding to Tragedy

Monday, a horrible bombing took place in Boston. With three people dead and over a hundred wounded, it's a grim week in America. As I thought on this atrocity, I wondered what my response ought to be. Certainly one of grief in the face of death of destruction. As a Christian, I should also be praying. However, as a leader, what am I supposed to do? I think I have three reflections on the Christian leader's response.

1. Acknowledge Evil
I think culture enjoys moral relativity. That is, we like to think that what's "bad" for one person isn't "bad" for another, and the same with "good". Christians hold to objective morality, where good and evil aren't matters of opinion, rather absolute truth. When horrific events like this occur, we can say with confidence that the bombing was an evil event that produced evil things, such as death, loss, and suffering. Christian leaders must declare the evil nature of tragedies, and mourn with others over the tyrannical reign of evil.

2. Preach Hope
As leaders mourn with others, they should ask what hope they can offer. From a naturalistic worldview, (the view that the natural world is all that is, and was, and will be), there is little hope to offer. There is some hope that the bombers will caught and held accountable for their actions, some hope that the injured will get better, but, what else can leaders really offer people? It seems that, no matter how hard we try, everyone eventually dies, sickness and evil seems to win. Christian leaders know something the world doesn't. Death has been defeated. Christian leaders must proclaim the victory of God over evil, and preach the hope that death and sickness are not the end.

3. Pray
The past few days, the #prayforboston hashtag has been trending on twitter. It's good to see that the entire nation sees the importance of prayer. Certainly every Christian should be praying, but I believe the prayers of leaders are of special importance. In the book of Nehemiah, a young leader named Nehemiah hears that his people are living in ruins, constantly in danger and under oppression. What is his response? Prayer. He spends days fasting and pleading with God for his people. God responds to his prayer, and gives Nehemiah a chance to return to his people, and help rebuild their city. Christian leaders have the great opportunity to pray on behalf of those who they lead, and should petition God on behalf of the people of Boston.

In the midst of my grieving and brokenheartedness over the events in Boston, I was convicted of some hypocrisy in my prayer. I claim to be a person who follows the bible, but I don't like taking Jesus' command to "love your enemies" (Mat. 5:43) literally. In my prayers, I was happy to ask for healing and justice for the victims, but nothing good for the bomber(s). The hard truth is that Christian leaders have the responsibility to plead for mercy on behalf of the bomber(s), for their healing, and for hope for them too. I was once in a place of loneliness and desperation, and I had a sort of self-hatred, and if I had stayed that way, I very well could have been the Boston bomber. Jesus saved me out of that place. I believe that Jesus saves despicable people, even murders and terrorists. My job as a leader is to pray for them, and set that example of unconditional love for other Christians under me. I can think of no better way to lead, then in love.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sometimes You're the "Bad Guy"

I had some trouble today finding what I wanted to talk about. I was rather busy with other schoolwork, and with a particular situation with a bible study I lead. A young gentlemen from this group had asked if he could lead the discussion for the next meeting, and I was happy to let him. Although, because of my responsibilities as a leader, I asked that he could send me an overview of his lesson, just so I'd get a better idea of what he was saying. I ask this of anyone in my groups who hopes to lead a discussion, just a formality to ensure that the group is not led astray. I had never had a problem with this, before today. When this young man sent me a summary of what he'd be teaching on, not only was it a rather obscure and unimportant topic, but he claimed some complete myths. So, I did the hard thing: I told him that he could not teach the lesson. I haven't heard back from him, and he didn't show up to the meeting. As I considered all of this, I occurred to me that it'd be a great blog post. Christian leaders have to be the "bad guys" sometimes in order to protect the people God's given to them.  

Why do they need to be protected? Well, can I let you in on a secret? The church isn't perfect. We have debates, we get petty, we get selfish, and we do stupid things. Don't get me wrong; the church is a beautiful thing. A group of screwed up people all being made less screwed up by a perfect God, and then sharing that God with the rest of the world.  The problem is, we do still have those issues, and someone has to deal with them. Enter: the leader. The leader acts as the mediator, a teacher, and when necessary, the protector of the people from danger.

Paul, writing to a young leader Timothy, charges him to "Proclaim the message, persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2 HCSB). The idea of rebuking, correcting, and encouraging form the three ways that a leader goes about resolving these conflicts within churches.

On occasion, I work with the kindergarden age kids at my church. Generally, these are nice kids, but sometimes, there aren't enough firetrucks to go around, and a disagreement starts. When one child is being selfish and refusing to share their toy, in my best attempt at a loving manner, I tell the little boy or girl that he or she needs to share, and that being selfish is wrong. Though Webster would define it as "to criticize sharply", to rebuke in the context of the Christian community is focused on locating sin or a major spiritual or physical health issue, and pleading with an individual to change. Practically, it means telling one's porn addicted Christian friend that what they're doing isn't right, and they cannot keep living in sin. The leader’s rebuke must be motivated by love for the health of the Christian.  

Correction is different from rebuking in a less than obvious way. While rebuke requires someone to turn away from an action and turn to something else, correction is about the way that action takes place. A young man who was a part of a bible study I led was passionate about sharing the news about Jesus, but didn't always do it gracefully. He had a habit of using "Christianese," which led to some confusion with the non-Christian people he was talking to. I brought this up to him, and offered a suggestion on how to communicate the gospel using everyday language. He certainly wasn't doing anything wrong, but there was a better way to do what he was doing.

Sometimes overlooked, encouragement is universally understood by Christians and non-Christians alike. When a leader is encouraging, they are focused on building up the good that someone is doing, and calling attention to the gifts and abilities that the individual has. My pastor is constantly encouraging me in the work that I'm doing, both in my musical giftings, and in the leadership I have been given. A leader cannot forget to encourage alongside of correction and rebuking. Our job is not to tear the individual down, rather it's to lead them to the fullness of the future that God has for them.

So, what's with the "bad guy" talk in the beginning? Because sometimes, people aren't open to rebuke, or correction, or even encouragement. Like I shared before, the people who go to church aren't perfect, and some become extremely unhealthy to the rest of the group. Much like a teacher would kick out a problem causing student, Church leaders sometimes have to kick out problem causing people. I don't like it. I hate conflict and the idea of not including someone. Thankfully, the issue with the gentlemen today probably won't come to that. However, sometimes, a leader needs to step in the authority given them by God to protect the people from danger. Being a leader isn’t always a glorious job, and sometimes, it means hurting people’s feelings. How wonderful it is to know that God brings healing to hurt people.