Monday, November 30, 2009

Challenge of Structural Change

Frank stepped out of bed one morning into pools of water. To his amazement his house was flooded by a broken supply pipe to his toilet. He diligently vacuumed up the water and rewaxed his floor, but found days later that the brief flood had done its deep damage. His house needed major renovation! So for two months work crews swamped his house, tearing up flooring and removing cupboards, doors and even fixtures. He attempted to live out of his torn up house, moving from room to room as necessary. He even resorted to “bucket baths” as the plumbing was totally reworked. Well, several months later, thousands of dollars later, many bucket baths later, and many fast food meals later Frank invited us over for a look at the transformation. He had a “new” house! The new wood flooring throughout the house glowed! The bathroom was completely remodeled with modern fixtures and tiled floor and walls. And every closet and cupboard had glossy new louver doors. What a transformation and what a cost!

His story reminded me about the true costs of radical change and transformation. Jesus truly advocated for radical change in his listeners. Not just a change in life style, although that was clear, but a change in heart perspectives and motivations. He was calling on people to tear up old flooring and damaged fixtures. That to me is the most demanding change anyone could ask. It’s not demanding because I don’t want to change, because I really do. But its demanding first because I don’t quite know how to change those deep things like my inbred way of looking at things and the driving engines of my life that have been evolving and fine tuned over the years. Jesus’ truth shines dazzling light on my faulty perspectives and motives in such a way that I am convinced something must change. But, how? How do I change something that has taken decades (yes really) to formulate and solidify? In a house it is fairly easy – rip it up and replace it. How do you do that with faulty motives?

Secondly, changing heart perspectives and motivations is daunting because when I do change them I am shifting and moving foundations and structures supporting many of my patterns of thinking and behavior. Jesus is really asking me to dismantle part of my house while I’m living in it! And who knows what will be affected and what “treasures” have to be removed and tossed. I’m sure Frank would never have chosen to have his life turned up side down for several months, but in the end it was worth it. Jesus challenges me to invite the chaos that facilitates transformational change!

And lastly, making such deep dramatic changes is challenging because of the potential impact it can have on others, especially those close to me. They may actually be praying for change but might be alarmed at the change outcomes! On the other hand, they may have adapted to relating to me just the way I am and any changes I make will throw them into a chaos of confusion, “I thought I knew how to relate to this person. She’s not the same as before!” And they may actually rejoice in the new me that God creates as I am transformed like we rejoiced with Frank and his “new” house!

I am convinced that Jesus knew the inherent difficulties of change when he stood before the crowds and flung out his challenges. He is convinced of the end product of change and lovingly invites us to open up our house to major renovation. He promises to supervise the process and guarantees the outcome. I don’t know about you, but I’m signing up for radical renovation.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Luminous Lights or Birthday Candles?

You are the light of the world – or are you? Jesus indicated we are meant to be luminous through our lives– casting brilliance for those around us to see. We’re meant to be that glowing light that guides others in their darkness. So what kind of life does that require? I’d like to suggest that our lives should exude hope no matter where we walk and no matter what hopelessness and despair we bump into. Our unceasing hope, based on our eternal ever-present and ever-active God, should shine hope into broken relationships, wounded families, impossible work situations, floundering communities, and nations devastated by ungodliness. That Lamp in us should inspire others to believe God for change, transformation, and yes, improvement. Our conversation should express hope and brightly light the way down the path of God’s answers.

Have you ever heard of darkness shutting down light? It doesn’t happen in God’s world, and yet I have experienced someone else’s depression dousing my flame of hope! A brief exchange about current news can have an extinguishing effect on me. But the question I must ask myself is how strong my light was before sitting with those in need of brilliant luminescence!

So, we are to be lights set on a hill, and our flame of hope is about as bright as a birthday candle that can be extinguished by a two year old! What can we do? May I suggest that my light of hope is brightened by spending time in the presence of our God. There I am reminded that he is eternal and nothing is “finished” in my lifetime because God is still on the throne! In his presence I am reminded of the unending extent of his power that explodes all impossibilities into possibilities and his creativity that adores creating solutions to man’s impossibilities. And in his presence I am reminded of the bright radiance of his love that seeks to enlighten the most discouraged, abandoned, or rebellious person. Yes, definitely, I need more of his light. I’m coming, Lord. I’m due for a recharge so I’ll be a bright light set on a hill just as you intended.

picture from

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Penchant for Change

I woke up one morning last week with a passion for change. I had reached saturation point with the comfortable routine of being home and working on projects. This is so typical of me. Just when I have finely tuned the rhythm of a day’s work and evening rest of Sudoku and worship, I want to race off to something new. It’s almost like I crave a certain amount of chaos in my life and chafe at sameness like a wild horse chafes at restraining fences. But I also know that by the end of a six week road trip visiting a variety of locations and engaging a multitude of individuals personally or corporately, I long for the sameness of being in my own house, setting my own time schedule, and cooking my own food. But it doesn’t take very long for that sameness to become “boredom” and I wake up again longing to dash off somewhere – any where!

My guess is that if I were to do a survey I would find that there are some others like me, but there are also many who revel in routine and chafe irritably at anything that would threaten the safety of their well established safe world. And there probably are a few who could not even tolerate a month at home with a comfortable rhythm of work and rest. And God has created all of us in his image!

Maybe the question becomes how to effectively harness the internal drive for sameness or change in the way God intends so that it accomplishes what he desires in our world. The drive for sameness can provide stability and safety, especially when it is expressed through loving attitudes and godly principles. The drive for change is vital in producing growth and molding a person, family, organization or community to closer alignment to God’s truth. I propose that without the drive for change or passion for sameness we will not be the salt God intended us to be in our world.

However, as is normal, the difference in our internal drives towards sameness or change, can produce interpersonal tension and conflict. For example my passion to dash off anywhere for a change clashes with my husband’s internal drive to create stability and safety while we are home. And my drive to make modifications in current ministry can be a downright menace to fellow workers who are devoted to creating lasting solutions. My desire for change can threaten to rock their world.

May I suggest that this ongoing tension between stability and change is part of God’s built in plan to keep us growing and effective in our world. Sin by nature creates chaos. Well established laws and well executed biblical guidelines provide the means of calming the chaotic storm and restoring families and communities to safety and security of loving relationships based on his Word. But it takes individuals driven by passion for change to head into the storm and advocate for change in the face of opposition and criticism.

We are made in God’s image to accomplish God’s purposes in His world. Whether we have a penchant for change or a passion for stability, God has a role for each of us to play. Yielded in his hand and making room for each other, we should together press on to see His Kingdom come in the places he’s put us.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fear of God – Yielding in the Face of Suffering

Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death and was heard because of His godly fear.” Heb 5:7

I find it so easy to teach about the fear of God and to passionately cry out for the fear of God and so difficult to live the fear of God. Especially when it is so directly related to submission as it is in this passage.

The fear of God is not simply words that Christians blithely use to evidence their faith. Neither is it merely a reverent attitude evidenced by moderate clothing, avoiding raising one’s voice in church, or rigid church attendance and quiet times. While all these may be evidence of the fear of God, the most strenuous test of the fear of God is that of obedience in the face of suffering.

Many of us readily obey the simple commands of Scripture when we can comfortably comply without paying a heinous price and especially when obeying suits our needs and strokes our egos. Such obedience screams against the fear of God because it is based solely upon a respect for our own comforts and needs! In contrast, Jesus demonstrated reverent submission that went against any conceivable form of human comfort and evidenced submission based solely upon respect for God’s eternal purposes for mankind and God’s ways. Now that is godly fear.

So our challenge is to look this example in the face and admit our own shallowness in fearing God. But that’s not enough. We are challenged to willingly yield to adhering to God’s ways in the face of difficulty or suffering. This godly fear of God starts on our knees, but will surely bear fruit under the constraints of injustice or perplexing suffering just as it did for Jesus.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weight of Teaching – Transformational Teaching

I love learning and I love teaching. One of my teaching maxims is “learning should be fun.” However, I was caught short today as I finished off my examination of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ summary was all about the long term results if his audience listened to and applied his teaching. In his characteristic style he used a vivid word picture to illustrate. While I had a fresh appreciation for his stunning word picture, what caught me short was the weight he attributed to his words and their application! Those applying his words would be wise and stand firm in the wildest of storms. Those ignoring his words would be foolish and in danger of great collapse.

Do I hear the impending raging winds and battering rain while I am teaching? Am I aware of the weight of responsibility that rests on me as a teacher of God’s Word as I deliver his life-saving instructions? And do I communicate so faithfully that the listeners know and understand that they have now received teaching that has the potential of bulwarking their lives and families against the storms that are surely coming?

As a teacher, its not just about preparing teaching that is fun or unique, but about preparing responsibly so that listeners hear the teaching, go away talking about it, are challenged to respond in some way to the teaching, and begin to make some changes in the way they are building their life-house for the future. Now that is transformational teaching!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Does God Know about the “Peter Principle”?

Doesn’t God know about the “Peter principle?” He promotes someone and they just don’t handle it all that well. What went wrong? Were they promoted beyond their level of competence, and was God ultimately responsible for their failure because he put his hand on the wrong guy?

I don’t think so. Here’s my take. I think God selects someone to give a responsibility to and makes available to that person all he needs to carry that responsibility! That sounds like God. The catch is…will the newly appointed leader recognize his greater need and take appropriate action to access greater resources?

What would that look like? First of all, greater responsibility would require greater prayer cover! Just as a promoted political leader gets a body guard, so we better get prayer guards in place as we tread into more risky spheres of influence. Secondly, greater need requires more intentional spiritual disciplines including time spent alone with the Father, time of worship and prayer, and serious Bible study focused on new responsibilities.

Thirdly, greater responsibility demands an even greater level of humility! This leader needs to be more teachable, not less! He needs to be correctable by God and by coworkers, leaders, and followers. After all bigger leaders have the potential of making bigger mistakes! They need people to help keep them on track and God provides that ready help through others’ correction and even criticism! Fourthly, new responsibilities thrust him into higher faith challenges. His comfortable level of faith is too small and he has to stretch his confidence in God’s enabling, provision, and work in new ways.

So, if God has put his hand on you and entrusted you with new responsibilities, recognize your greater need and intentionally act to access the rich resources God has put at your disposal. God does know about the “Peter principle” but he’s not worried about it. He knowingly chooses weak vessels because he has all they need to be great!