Back to School

This past September I started a class (audit, not credit) at the brand new Great Northern University. I took the class for a few reasons.

For one, I serve on the board of trustees, so I felt taking a class would put me right in the middle of school activity. Also, it was a way to have some interaction with GNU students. Finally, learning something new is never a bad idea!

So, on Tuesday afternoons I drive over to Spokane for the Foundations of Leadership class taught by the school’s president, Dr. Wendy Liddell.

It’s been a good experience. What strikes me each week is how the students, typically 18  or 19, are just dipping their toes into the subject of leadership. In most ways what is taught in class is just theory for them.  They haven’t been able to apply the lessons in the “laboratory of life.”

In contrast, I sit in class thinking about all the life situations I’ve been in that fit whatever the prof is talking about! It sometimes makes me feel like the weathered sailor who’s sailed every sea and been in every port.

I’m thankful the students have a class like this, because much of what I have learned about leadership dynamics has come by way of experience and hard knocks.

One recent lesson I really appreciated was a lecture on how to handle disagreements, particularly in a church or business setting.

Overall, we should always be pursuing unity as much as we can.

But there are instances where unity is tested and stretched.

In a small number of situations, unity appears impossible.

In class we learned that when we disagree with others, we can respond appropriately in four different ways:

Some things we die over.

These are the core, non-negotiable, immovable beliefs or values of which we cannot and will not budge.

One thing our teacher said about this category is that we ought to have a fairly short list.

People who die over every disagreement usually don’t have a job or any friends!

Some things we divide over.

These things may not be as serious as our “die list,” but at the same time we know that we cannot continue to work in such a situation.

A good example might be the time Paul and Barnabas went separate ways over whether to bring John Mark on their missions trip.

Here’s how Acts 15:36-41 describes their parting:

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,  but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

Yet Paul and Barnabas were still co-laborers and brothers in Christ. But in that season, they felt they couldn’t work together.

Some things we debate about

They aren’t enough for us to divide, but they remain a topic of ongoing conversation.

The truth is we all have things to learn, no matter our station in life.

The Bible says that “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

So, there are times to take a topic of which people hold different perspectives and work it through.

This point makes me think about the discussion that took place in the Jerusalem church regarding the acceptance of Gentiles. The debate went forth, and out of it emerged a resolve.

Final point:

Some things we agree to disagree upon

Imagine a world where we all thought the same way. It would be awfully boring!

There is room for holding a disagreement without dying, dividing or debating.

If it’s not that important of a matter, we choose to allow one another the freedom to hold their view.

Sometimes we need these types of categories to sort our our struggles, don’t we?

Not all disagreements are one-size-fits-all. Which means we can respond accordingly to the level of disagreement.

What a great lesson for all of us GNU students to take in!

 

 

Two Challenges Facing the Church

Recently our church leadership team spent a day away for some praying and planning.

One of the exercises we took part in was the venerable SWOT analysis.

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

When it comes to strengths and opportunities, the goal is to capitalize upon them.

When it comes to weaknesses and threats, the idea is to reduce them.

When I think about the church in general, there are many threats.

Culture is always throwing us curve balls. (And if I may stick with the pitching analogy, perhaps we could say that Satan loves throwing us spit balls).

In reality, the threats facing the church make for a long list.

But here are two threats that have been rattling around my brain for a while.

Threat #1: The unity of the church is threatened by generational tribalism.

Now, there have always been what some have called “generation gaps” which deal with the differences between age groupings.

But in our current culture, the generations are being divided up with some really hard lines. And the number of generational groupings are coming much more quickly.

We have builders, boomers, gen-X, gen-Y, gen-Z, and millennials.  And of course, new generational groupings are set to emerge.

What makes this challenging for the church is that we are called to unity, but generational tribes have a tendency to misunderstand and/or distrust the other tribes, resulting in generational polarization.

Have you notice how much comedy on social media depicts the differences between boomers and millennials? It can become downright adversarial!

But if the Bible is our highest standard, and if our Bibles call us to pursue unity, then we will have to figure out how to coexist in a world split into generational tribes.

Paul asked the Corinthians a question that I believe is quite fitting for us: “Is Christ divided?”

It will be interesting to see how the church fares on the open seas of generational tribalism.

Threat #2: The rapid rate of cultural and informational change threatens our ability to focus on our real calling.

Here’s the church’s struggle: Things change sooooo quickly. Flash. Boom. Bang!

Yet, even when we fervently strive to pull things together and keep up, oftentimes were a day late and a dollar short.

I often see churches trying to keep up with all the changes, yet rarely ringing the bell.

To me, there’s nothing more exhausting than trying to “keep up with the Joneses,” yet repeatedly falling short.

I believe the church has to have an aspect of cultural relevance, but all this striving to keep up (and rarely accomplishing that goal) makes me wonder: Is that really what the church is supposed to be about? Running neck and neck with culture?

Doesn’t our mandate from Scripture transcend culture?

From what I see, church leaders are busier than ever, but accomplishing less.

We’re making efforts to become hip, but in turn, we’re as shallow as a puddle.

All in all, it feels like we’re on a treadmill. A lot of motion, but no mileage.

When we join the breakneck pace of the world, aren’t we just joining in the ways of the world, and as a result losing our distinctiveness?

There you go. Two threats I see potentially hobbling the church.

Solomon said there’s nothing new under the sun.

Yet the world is ever changing!

God help us navigate well.

 

 

 

 

The Black Hole of Cynicism

At times, I imagine most people deal with feelings of cynicism. I know I do.

If our ideals are deflated too many times, we can often bear feelings of disappointment, distrust and, in the worst case scenario, despair.

Our world is not perfect, fair or just. At any turn, we can be served hearty portions of dismay and disillusionment at what is going on around us.

Cynicism is defined as:

Cynicism is an attitude characterized by a general distrust of others’ motives. A cynic may have a general lack of faith or hope in the human species  or people motivated by ambition, desire, greed, gratification, materialismgoals, and opinions that a cynic perceives as vain, unobtainable, or ultimately meaningless and therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment. It’s an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest; skepticism; a feeling of distrust or that something isn’t going to work out well. 

Synonyms for cynicism include: skepticism, doubt, mistrust, suspicion, disbelief, pessimism, negativity, disenchantment, and my personal favorite, world-weariness.

The emotional fruit of cynicism is varied. The cynic can have feelings of sadness, anger, indignation, surprise, despondency and disgust. Sometimes all at the same time!

It’s been said that the root of cynicism is not that we care too little, but that we care a whole lot. Which is a good thing. Until it isn’t.

Because our cynicism can become like a consuming black hole.

Andrew Byers, in a CHRISTIANITY TODAY article called Is Christian Cynicism a Spiritual Sickness? wrote:

So many believers have now slid into those dark pits that cynicism is becoming vogue in many Christian circles as a self-identifying trademark of a new spirituality: edgy spirituality of the jaded. Since cynicism is emerging as a hip new way to be “spiritual,” religious disenchantment is often hailed as a spiritual virtue

But here’s the deal: ultimately, our emotional buoyancy is a choice. Meaning, cynicism doesn’t have to be our lot.

Yes, the world (and particularly the people who populate it) give us multiple reasons to feel cynical.

  • People don’t live up to right standards.
  • People are hypocritical.
  • People let us down.
  • People do terrible things
  • People are downright hurtful. 

It kills us when we see people walk in the way of Esau, who sold his precious birthright for a stupid bowl of stew.

It drives us nuts when we see people seem to act more like those who chose the golden calf over worshiping the one, true God.

But then we must remember: it is for these types of sinful attitudes and practices that Jesus died on a cross. 

Cynicism sometimes tempts us to separate and differentiate ourselves from the people who demolish our ideals.

But we can’t separate ourselves FROM them because we ARE them.

As a former pastor of mine used to often remind his flock: “The ground around the cross is level.”

It’s sometimes good to remind ourselves that “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.”

I have to admit that sometimes hiding behind my cynicism are flecks of spiritual pride. I, sadly, have too much in common with the condescending Pharisee who prayed he wasn’t like the other sinners.

If there was ever a person who could have become incredibly wearied by the world, it was apostle Paul. As he went forth to share the Gospel, he encountered all sorts of harassment and persecution.

More than once he was beaten to a pulp. He was unfairly charged and imprisoned. He was even left for dead.

Who could blame Paul if he finally got so sick of people and their painful ways, that he lashed out. Or maybe checked out.

But instead Paul revealed great resiliency.

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul used a phrase several times regarding how he and his ministry partners dealt with ministry difficulty and being letdown by people: “We do not lose heart.”

Why? How could a man so pressed down keep popping up like a cork on the ocean?

He explained it like this:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

What kept Paul going? The Gospel. The Gospel within him as well as the Gospel he proclaimed.

And because Paul knew people needed the Gospel, he didn’t let people’s sinfulness destroy Him.

I wonder if there were times when Paul was tempted to become cynical, but then thought back to his own life before he met Jesus. You know, the life where he persecuted and killed Christians.

Maybe an awareness of his own darkness made it a bit more difficult to get bent out of shape about the darkness in others.

I think the problem of cynicism is rooted in one major mistake: we have our eyes on people more than we have them on Jesus.

People will always disappoint us.

I know I will certainly let people down.

When I have feelings of cynicism, I am often taken back to a chorus from a song, See Through,  performed by the band Audio Adrenaline:

Don’t you know that God loves you?
Don’t you know that I try too?
I’ve been known to miss my cue
Don’t look at me I’m see through

How’s that for reality? We are professional “cue-missers.”

We lack the substance for anyone to place too much trust in us.

No, there is only one place to bury our faith. And its not in human beings.

We’re see through. We’re sin stained. And until we make it to heaven, we’ll often miss the mark.

Last thought:

Peter walked on water once. But only because he fixed his gaze on the Savior.

Once he began to look around, he quickly became soaked.

Maybe there’s a principle in there for those of us feeling the tug of cynicism.

When we struggle with cynicism, perhaps we need only to check on which direction our eyes are pointed.

Every Christian Must Learn to Bend

Growing up in elementary school, I learned about something really mind-boggling. It was in an oceanography class. The teacher was describing something that happened to deep-sea divers when they came up to the surface too quickly. It was a malady known as “the Bends.”

Here’s the official description of the Bends:

The Bends is an illness that arises from the rapid release of nitrogen gas from the bloodstream and is caused by bubbles forming in the blood when a diver ascends to the surface of the ocean to rapidly. It is also referred to as Caisson sickness, decompression sickness (DCS), and Divers’ Disease.

The teacher also told stories about fish quickly being pulled up from the deep that surfaced with bulged eyes and deformed bodies…all a result of the Bends.

All I know is that when I was swimming in the deep end of our pool, I made sure not to rise too quick.

But this blog post isn’t really about the affects of aquatic decompression.

The topic on my mind is the fact that as a Christian, we all must learn to bend.

Meaning, we must learn to compromise and think of others ahead of ourselves.

Paul wrote as much in Philippians 2:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)

For some of us, the challenge given in this verse is just that…a challenge.

We don’t like to bend or adapt for others.

But, simply put, it’s the way of the Master.

Why do I say that. Consider the verses that follow Paul’s instruction:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-9 ESV)

Jesus bent for you and me. Not just a little, but a lot.

Rather than stand up for His rights, He laid down His life for our salvation.

Rather than claim power, He released His to become a servant.

He chose humility and obedience over status and the serving of self.

And one way we acknowledge our understanding of what He did on our behalf is treating others in the same fashion.

Deferring instead of demanding.

Letting others go first or letting others take our place.

It’s so hard, I know.

Though it was not God’s original design, humanity has a strong desire to look out for number one: ourselves.

But the mandate of scripture is to consider the needs (even the wants) of others.

I’ve heard it said (though I don’t know who said it) that The measure of a man’s greatness is not the number of servants he has, but the number of people he serves.

That only happens when we bend; when we flex to accommodate another human being.

My strange brain wonders…when a man comes to the surface of the ocean too quickly, he is physically affected in a negative way. We call it the Bends. And the Bends are to be avoided at all costs.

But perhaps it might be said that, in regard to our human relationships, we must pursue “the bends.” If we don’t develop a lifestyle of flexibility and willingness to defer to others, perhaps we may not look any different on the outside, but on the inside, spiritually, we may suffer greatly because we’ve put too much of the focus on ourselves, and not on those around us.