Saturday, June 26, 2010

Jesus, the Blogosphere, and Me

Ever get in a rut and think you’ve considered all there is to explore on a topic? Or maybe, you’ve read all there is to read on a topic from your theological position and really believe you have the topic nailed. Then you’re a candidate for exploring the blogging world and reading the comments out there. I’ve been reading quite a few blog posts lately and am intrigued by the comments that follow. Commenters reveal where they are coming from theologically and experientially. I’ve been reading comments of many people who are frustrated with the church and where it is going, readers who’ve been hurt by Christian arrogance, and others who are tired of the disconnect between the Word and wake-up-and-work life they know. Blog trawling has provided a natural place to explore the spiritual temperature of people outside of my little world.

The development of the blogosphere has launched us into a creative world which enables us to connect with a wide variety of people from different walks of life and religious backgrounds. We are able to eavesdrop on fascinating conversations about almost any topic and can interject our own perspective with little difficulty. If we have been lacking exposure to the outside world, we have a safe way of discovering what people are really thinking and feeling. Be prepared to be shocked. Our secure little world can still be secure, but we’ll find many people who are floating their vessels on the open sea without being solidly anchored to the familiar beliefs of the traditional church or biblical principles.

Exploring the blogging world has been refreshing to me. As I move around in my ministry responsibilities I rub shoulders mostly with missionaries and church leaders. I don’t often have the opportunity to “overhear” lengthy conversations of unbelievers about church, Jesus, or spiritual life. Neither do I often get to hear believer’s authentic questions or doubts as I do on blog posts and their comments. At present, the blogosphere enables me to become more familiar with present perspectives, struggles, and questions. It is also helping me to look at Scripture differently. I firmly believe Scripture has answers for the crying questions and frustrations, but I need to shake out of my old framework of thinking and allow the answers to fill the current vessels of need.

I believe this is what Jesus did. He didn’t have the advantage of the blogosphere, but he was definitely tuned into his context and knew people’s thinking, questions, and needs. In contrast, the religious leaders were stuck teaching the same things based on centuries of experts who they referenced. Jesus’ teaching was uniquely relevant and people flocked to hear him answering their questions.

Admittedly, getting out among the people should garner some of the same information, but there is something unique about the safety and anonymity of commenting on the blogosphere that enables people to be honest in ways that they may not be with you or me. However, informing myself from the blogosphere enables me to ask questions in personal conversations that I may never have thought of asking. From my regular perusal I can say “I’ve been reading about … What do you think about that, or what would your friends say?”

In summary, I believe that Christians have a unique opportunity to explore the blogosphere to get better acquainted with the world around them and to reshape the nature of their discussions and teaching. Our discoveries can inform our study of the Word in such a way as to answer current questions and address relevant issues. And our own thinking will be challenged and stretched. I pray that your exploration into the blogosphere will provide discoveries relevant to your sphere of ministry.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

3 Sure Fire Ways to Fast Track to Failure

I recall a vivid incident during our years of living in Zambia. We were driving to town in our little Gulf when we noticed a broken branch in the road. In most of Africa that’s a substitute for an emergency triangle, so we cautiously slowed down. As we did, a mini-bus overtook us at quite a clip. We heard screeching tires, and when we rounded the bend, the overzealous minibus driver had crashed into a tree that had fallen across the road. Mini bus drivers aren’t the only ones speeding to failure. The Bible has faithfully recorded the failures of figures such as David, Saul, and Samson. What is really scary about reading their stories is that I can easily fall into the rut of the very same practices that led to their disgrace. So, I want to expose three sure fire ways for me to fast track to failure lest I race around the corner into a crash.

Ignore advice. Sometimes we seek out advice from wise counselors. That’s admirable. Voluntarily seeking advice makes it more likely that we can swallow advice that may be contrary to our intentions. However, what I most struggle with is unsolicited advice. I’m buzzing along at quite a clip and someone slows me down with other factors to consider or even a challenge to my attitudes! My temptation is to brush their advice quickly out of the road and get on my way. However, that advice is often just what I needed to avoid a disaster in my planning or a collision with a coworker.

One way God has to keep us humble is to send the most unassuming person to us with advice! It might be a child, a fellow worker, or even a cashier who is serving us. Want to fast track to failure? Ignore all such advice!!!

And one more way I’ve found myself slipping into a pit, is ignoring the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. He whispers a gentle word of caution, a reminder to slow down, or simply withdraws his presence. Ignoring him always keeps me on the wrong track headed for some measure of disaster. As I sit beside the crash site I usually remember back to his gentle words of caution.

Ignore criticism. Criticism whether given by an enemy with a slimy attitude or a thoughtful friend with a gentle spirit can be the very obstacle on the road to slow our collision course to failure. Criticism at its best is difficult to handle, but often there is just enough truth buried in there to provide a friendly warning. Want to fast track to failure? Ignore criticism. Want to avoid that disgrace? Then learn to sift through criticism for its message and readjust your course.

Ignore biblical instructions. Why is it that we fall into the trap of creating our own solutions rather than seeking for God’s solutions? That’s a clear recipe for disaster, and yet I do it and so have many of God’s servants through the centuries. For example, here’s a simple instruction. If your brother offends you, go to him privately and show him his fault. I can flip my Bible open to that passage and I can teach it passionately, but if I don’t do it, I am destined to failure in my marriage, in my team, in my church, or in friendship. And If I don’t follow that simple advice I can drag many others down the road towards disunity, division, and disaster. Want to fast track to failure? Treat the Bible as part of your Sunday fashion statement and ignore its advice. Want to avoid disaster, read the Word as a map book for life and follow its tracks to avoid those potholes, pits, and ravines of failure.

Well, I certainly don’t want to fast track to failure. I definitely need some serious readjustments in what I tune into to keep me on the path and out of the ditch. I can’t afford to ignore the natural warning signals God sends my way or you might find me sitting in the ravine remembering the advice, criticism, or instruction I had ignored. Fast track to failure? Not interested. I’d rather work on the needed adjustments.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Personal Discoveries from the World Cup

World Cup has hit South Africa with gale wind force. And we’ve been caught up in it. I’ve made a few discoveries in the short week since these global events started.

Discoveries about My Host Country, South Africa

South Africans are fervent football fans. They brave the cold and crowds to attend the matches, even those in which South Africa is not playing

South Africans celebrate with noise. Even if you hadn’t a clue about World Cup you would have been alerted days before the event by the vuvuzelas being trumpeted on the streets, in the malls, and most of all in the stadiums. I can tell you that people of all ages and colors are using these potent sound makers to celebrate this African event. The world will forever associate the SA World Cup with the beehive buzz of the vuvuzelas.

South Africans are optimistic. In spite of being bottom of the pile as far as World Cup teams, South Africans remain optimistic of their chances for this World Cup. Even with a very disappointing loss to Uruguay they are clinging to the hope of raising their chances on the next game.

Discoveries about the World Cup

World Cup Fever is contagious. We entered this month fairly immune to the impending events, but once the crowds started streaming down the streets in celebration and joy, we were bitten. Add to that the fact that there are three games being broadcast into our home daily. Each game pulls you into the stream of excitement and eagerness to know the outcome. The upsets we’ve seen so far feed into you an anticipation of surprises around each corner, or should I say, each game.

World Cup is addictive and distracting. During football season I’m normally unaware of who is playing whom, but since World Cup began I am struggling with getting my work done! The scheduled games are intruding into my work day. Even if I want to forget, the trumpeting vuvuzelas are reminding me of the next impending event! And the games are day after day, week after week. I need to get a handle on this today!

World Cup Fever is costly. No, we haven’t yet attended any games or bought any vuvuzelas or FIFA clothing, but thousands of people have! And thousands of people have forked out the money to fill the stadiums. Amazing.

Discoveries about Myself

My emotions are on a roller coaster. I find myself cheering for the underdogs, having compassion for goalies that miss the save, and feeling annoyed when a team soundly trounces another with apparent lack of “mercy.” I know soccer is not a place for mercy, kindness, or compassion. It’s about gritty competition and winning. No wonder I only watch it every four years!

I am suffering from vicarious failure! Almost every game produces a losing team and every game highlights someone’s failure. And these failures are broadcast over the loud speaker, on the radio and television and around the world. My sympathy goes out to those failing, and I struggle with the whole concept of unrestrained criticism that goes along with global sports. I am thinking about writing a blog post on “Sportsmanship Tips for Armchair World Cuppers.”

What have you discovered so far from the World Cup?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Price of Teaching Like Jesus

I am fascinated in my studies of the teaching methods Jesus used in his ministry. When I’m making notes for myself from my study I am also writing out the requirements for teaching like Jesus. It’s sinking in that I can’t easily imitate Jesus’ style or methods using what I learn in books. The real secret to much of his success was in his consistent practices and disciplines. For example, he always seemed to be one step ahead of his listeners. He seemed to know what issue a person was going to shout out to him, what tricky questions a scribe would be asking or even what the disciples would be arguing about! And he was ready with a perfect story, parable or wise answer. He apparently was prepared in his time alone with the Father. I cannot possibly replicate that without an intimate prayer life like Jesus.

It’s relatively easy to gather resources and scan websites to prepare a teaching outline. It can be tough to create compelling learning activities for students. It is much more difficult to prepare my heart for teaching and down right challenging to prepare my life. I can’t do that in two days or even two weeks! And yet that prepared life is exactly what set Jesus apart from the prominent teachers of the law. When Jesus taught he was already living out his message publicly before crowds of enthusiasts and criticizers. When he taught about meekness, his audience just had to watch him to know what it looked like. When he taught to bless those who curse the disciples just had to listen to Jesus as they walked along the road to see how to bless opponents.

I’ve spent years practicing teaching preparation and implementation of creative learning activities, but if I really long to be a teacher like Jesus, I have some serious homework to do. I need to take an honest look at how consistently I am applying what I long to teach. Could my students learn from my life what they need to know for application? Does my prayer life prepare me for the surprises of teaching? And do my attitudes model godly responses I long for in my students. A prepared life can only be honed by moment by moment submitting to the Holy Spirit. And that “homework” can’t be completed in one night. It requires a lifetime of yielding. So, for me it’s not about whether or not I want to teach like Jesus. It’s more about whether I’m willing to pay the same price to teach like him, and to pay it daily.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Finer Points of Failure

Some of the greatest lessons I’ve learned have been scribed on my heart through failure. That doesn’t mean that I love failure. Far from it. But I’ve discovered some fine points about failure.

I read this week about a time that the disciples experienced failure. Jesus had left a group of them alone while he went up into the mountain with Peter, James and John. In Jesus’ absence a desperate father asked them to drive the demon out of his ill son. Their unsuccessful attempts were all very public. They were surrounded by a crowd of spectators. A group of quarrelsome scribes also seemed to have taken advantage of the disciples’ failure, by launching into an argument with them. Jesus arrived on the scene at the height of their failure.

As a person who periodically fails publicly and privately, what struck me first was that the failure made the disciples amazingly teachable. Failure has a unique way of doing that. Following this event the disciples sought Jesus out for more input. “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” You can believe that they were hanging on Jesus’ answer, and his simple instructions were scribed on their hearts.

This situation stretched the disciples so far beyond their comfort level, that they discovered where their limits were. Failure has the acute ability to show us where we need more knowledge, more skills, more practice, or more of God’s grace or power! Isn’t failure great? And failure has the uncomfortable ability to instill humility right where it is needed.

This story so gently reminded me that the secret to discovering the finer points of failure is to go to the Master. Jesus knows exactly why we failed. What did we miss? What else do we need to know or do? We can explore failure in the safety of his presence. And where else will we find the courage to attempt again, but in his gentle presence, instruction, and encouragement. The disciples learned a very valuable lesson here and went on to experience greater ministry and greater power.

I’ve discovered that I need to have a healthy respect for failure because of the finer points of failure. Granted, failure has the potential to devastate confidence and fuel fear, but it can also spark humility, jump start new strategies, highlight limits of knowledge and skill, and catalyze a teachable spirit. And I need all of those. Here’s to the finer points of failure and to the One who can turn the bitterness of failure into the wine of wisdom.

Zeal Consumes Me

The zeal for your house has eaten me up.
Ps 69:9

Zeal for the Lord burns

Zeal for God consumes, swallows, devours, engulfs

Zeal for His righteousness devours me

Zeal for the Lord devours my pride

My vanities

My personal dreams
Zeal for His Kingdom consumes my need for recognition
My selfish desires

My need for comfort and ease
Zeal for the Lord swallows my need to be right
My selfish choices

My own plans and will

Let zeal for You blaze fiercely and consume me

Saturday, June 5, 2010

6 Dangers of Zeal

Hey! I love zeal. There’s nothing better than grasping a vital issue and sprinting passionately with it. It gives zing to life and an exhilarating sense of making a difference for God’s Kingdom. And I’m drawn to people with zeal. I know that they are going somewhere and I want to help them get there!

As much as I love zeal I’ve come to realize some of the dangers of zeal. I’ve observed the blinding nature of zeal throughout the Book of Acts. Many of the people to whom Paul preached were unable to hear the truth because they were zealously clinging to their form of truth. But unbelievers don’t have a corner on blinding zeal. I’ve seen it in the church. I’ve seen it in missions. And I’ve seen it in me. I’ve seen zeal prevent missionaries from hearing others and miss the opportunity of understanding or softening one another’s stand on issues. I’ve observed individual zeal over issues erode relationships and bring cooperative ministry to a grating halt.

Here’s my observation - if we are so passionate about our ideas that we can’t get along with other believers then there is probably something wrong. Zeal can be dangerous. Here are six dangers I’ve identified.

1. The danger of losing perspective. We can become short-sighted, seeing only the issues close to our hearts. We tend to see everything through our passionate concern without seeing the bigger picture and the value of other issues that contribute to making the Kingdom of God relevant to our generation. Our zeal can also cut us off from perspectives that could soften our approach and bring healthy balance. Zeal must remain open to others

2. The danger of being more committed to an idea than to biblical relationships with people. Jesus never pitted righteous zeal against compassion and unity. He clearly taught and modeled both.

3. The danger of being more committed to our issue than to God. In our zeal to promote our ideas, strategies, or vision there is the danger of plunging ahead without heeding the gentle voice of the Spirit to bring balance and correction. We are in danger of slashing away with our sword only to find we are fighting alone without God. Zeal for God should move us with God.

4. The danger of becoming more loyal to an idea than to our working group. This danger is so subtle. We can become so enamored with our righteous stand on an issue that we end up alienating ourselves from the very people we need to work with. Zeal must be blended with humility and meekness.

5. The danger of becoming “unmanageable.” Unrestrained zeal can prevent us from the mutual submission needed to meld a body of believers together. Our zeal should never become the authoritative force in our lives. Openness to others’ ideas will enable us to blend with team members and yield to leaders.

6. The danger of inflexible pride. Such pride puts walls between us and others and can lead to independence and rebellion. Zeal mixed with pride is a deadly toxin to relationships with leaders and team members. Zeal mixed with humility unleashes healthy energy into a team.

What do you so passionately advocate to the point that you could fall trap to the dangers of zeal?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Rest of Teaching

As I’ve been preparing for our upcoming course I’ve been occasionally niggled by fears. What if this is not the right format? Maybe I’m trying to teach too many skills? Will my students really apply what they are learning? And then I began thinking about Jesus who taught day after day. Was he worried about whether or not people would get what he was teaching? I don’t think so. I believe he obediently communicated what the Father gave him to teach and in the way he was directed to give it. And he rested.

Jesus rested on several things. He rested on the Father’s ongoing work in people’s hearts. He clearly told his disciples “No man can come unto the Father unless the Father draw him. (Jn 6:65)” After all, Jesus was working together as a team with the Father and the Holy Spirit. He also rested on his hearers’ responsibility for responding to what they heard and saw. Jesus repeatedly emphasized to the disciples that they be good stewards of what they heard (Mtt7:24-27; 5:6, Lk 11:28, Jn 13:17). Jesus knew clearly where his responsibility ended. He was comfortable in leaving the rest up to God and to his learners.

In the parable of the sower I am reminded that Jesus was fully aware of the potential obstacles to his listeners’ application of the teaching – the daily concerns of life, the enemy’s snatching strategies, and superficial acceptance of truth. While he fulfilled his responsibility to teach God’s Word, he was aware that active believing response to his teaching was not guaranteed. I am reminded that there are so many more factors contributing to successful teaching than just the “what and how” of what I teach. I can only be responsible for my part in the content and delivery methods of teaching and can leave the rest to my learners and to God’s faithful commitment to their growth. Ah… peace!