Posts Tagged ‘service’

It’s Not Freedom From, But Rather Freedom For

November 3, 2016

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.  Kris Kristofferson, Me and Bobby McGee

Kristofferson had just lost his girlfriend as Bobby McGee disappeared one night growing tired of their nomadic life. Now he was free. But for what?

As we were checking out what Paul was saying to the disciples in the Galatian provinces yesterday, we found that Paul said we were free. Free from the burden of following the law. But we were also warned about what not to do and to do. Don’t engage in self-indulgence, but rather love your neighbor.

I researched for a book on freedom when I was in grad school. Built a Website called Spirit and Freedom. Never finished either one.

But I was fascinated by the differing ideas on freedom. Some say, “I’m free from the law, now I can do anything I want.” Others say, “I’m free from the law, now I can live a fulfilled life in service to others.”

Freedom from….Freedom for.

Which have you chosen?

Paul describes the two paths.

On the one hand, the self-indulgence one, one finds

  • fornication
  • impurity
  • licentiousness
  • idolatry
  • sorcery
  • enmities
  • strife
  • jealousy
  • anger
  • quarrels
  • dissensions
  • factions
  • envy
  • drunkenness
  • carousing

On the other hand, we find

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • kindness
  • generosity
  • faithfulness
  • gentleness
  • self-control

Then he concludes this last list–“There is no law against such things.”

What!? If we live like that last list, we don’t have to worry about being arrested?

Kristofferson doesn’t really say what happens with the new-found freedom. Mostly wishes for the good old days, I guess.

We can look at these two lists, though, and decide daily–which will be the way we use our freedom?

I’ll Pray About That–Really?

October 27, 2016

“I’m so sorry about you losing your job and your car breaking down. I’ll be sure to pray about that.”

“I’m sorry to hear about all your troubles, Sarah. I’ll pray that someone helps you out.”

“I need repairs to my house. I’ll pray about that.”

Ever wonder about the person whose response to people is, “I’ll pray about that?” Or, in my long career I’ve come across several business leaders whose response to business problems was, “I’ll pray about that.”

Shane Claiborne, one of the authors of Red Letter Revolutions: What if Jesus Really Meant What He Said?, wrote, “But sometimes when someone says, “I’ll pray about that,” it is code for “I’m not going to do anything else for you.”

Prayer is good. It is part of a spiritually disciplined life. Especially when it goes beyond the idea that God is the Great Vending Machine in the Sky dispensing good things to those who meet his criteria.

Claiborne continues, “If we hear someone asking for prayer over and over because they need work done on their leaky roof, we should keep praying, but we might also get off our butts and get some people together to fix the roof! When we ask God to move a mountain, God may give us a shovel.”

I have witnessed the power of prayer. I’ve seen healing when doctors thought it impossible. I’ve seen lives change.

But, I’ve never seen prayer “work” when it’s obvious that God wants us to work.

We can pray about the devastation in Haiti (remember that? how soon the news media moves on and we forget about things), or we can raise money for supplies. Or maybe we have a medical or other specialty where we can go and work. And pray for success at the same time.

Or, we can pray for someone and bring a meal. Or pay for a repair. Or take them to lunch.

Let us resolve not to use “I’ll pray for you” as code for “Let me out of here before I have to actually do something.”

Be A Bridge Not An Obstacle

September 16, 2016

Oh, if you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind — Paul Simon

I have been thinking bridges lately. This song popped up on the playlist of one of the channels I listen to in the car (Sirius XM 32, “The Bridge”–interestingly enough).

Fridays are often “leadership day” here at Faith Venture. The concept of bridges fits for that, too. Leadership means relationship–we just don’t often think of it that way.

“Like a bridge over troubled water.”

Leaders take us from one place to another. The good ones take us from a place to a better place. Higher performance. Sales and profit growth. Higher levels of customer satisfaction (no matter who your customer may be–profit or non-profit organization). Continued growth as individual people and as an organization.

Let’s consider the opposite. Leader (or other person) as an obstacle. Perhaps you’ve been on both sides–been an obstacle or been impeded.

Leaders who place obstacles in the way of growth and success usually are unaware. Often they are self-absorbed. So worried about themselves, they forget the mission and the needs of others.

Do a self-check. Are you building a bridge or sowing obstacles?

In Yoga, we have a pose called Bridge (see, the word just keeps popping up). You lay on your back, bring the feet close to the body, knees up, arms alongside the body. You activate or energize the upper legs and “core” (abs, glutes, lower back) lifting the body off the mat. Weight is supported in the heels and shoulders. (Check it on YouTube.)

This pose strengthens, stretches, is good for circulation. It’s an all around beneficial pose. A Bridge.

Have a friend in need—build a bridge to hope or calm or confidence.

Leading a department, committee, company—build a bridge from where it is to where it is serving its customers.

See someone struggling to succeed—build a bridge to growth and success.

Be a Bridge, not an Obstacle.


Compassion and Confession Go Together

August 23, 2016

We read in the letter of James to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so that we may be healed.

Confession–a spiritual discipline I may never have discussed. It consists of the admitting to trusted others and to God the thoughts we have dwelled upon or actions we have done or not done that brought us farther away from God and others.

If we confess, then we are healed. Before we confess, we must recognize. When we see ourselves in those things and realize it, then we can tell others in a trusted atmosphere and seek healing. Just ask a therapist. Or an experienced pastor.

What started this line of thinking, believe it or not, was the serious lack of compassion that I see in our society. I hear or read so many callous remarks describing other people. It is so easy to dismiss people who are not like us by grouping them together and then trying to sound either funny or wise by describing them in sometimes very nasty terms.

This, by the way, is not an American phenomenon. I’ve seen it pop up in many cultures. It’s a human problem.

I’m not a “welfare state” liberal who believes I can absolve myself of responsibility for compassion by passing it on to the government. Can you imagine the power in society if all the congregations that call themselves Christian lived out Jesus’ teachings about compassion and helping the poor? Wow!

Some can be found helping others while remaining with a superior attitude. “I’ll toss them a couple of dollars,” they think. This is arrogance and condescension. Not compassion.

Compassion is not “bleeding heart liberalism” like many conservatives used to label people (or maybe still do, I don’t know). Compassion is controlled emotion. It begins with recognizing our own shortcomings. Realizing with gratitude the grace that has come to us. Wanting from the heart to share that grace.

Confession and compassion–a lifestyle of grace turned outward.

Being True To Your Calling

August 5, 2016

I once thought that religion and spiritual formation were concerned with meditating until you had a Godly Spiritual experience.

And I did. And I did. I was in my 30s. Now what? That’s why I’m so concerned that we teach people after a conversion experience what comes next.

I’m reminded of a Zen master saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

I’m reminded of a Zen master saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Paul was concerned with that very thing.

In his letter to the Ephesians after praying that his listeners be filled with God, he says, “I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

We are all born with some gifts. They constitute a calling. Some are  called to preach because they can speak well. Some are called to teach because they understand the subject and can transfer that knowledge and enthusiasm to someone else. Some are called to one from among various types of service.

Bill Hybels and Steve Carter spoke this spring at Willow Creek about finding your gifts. Try one out, said Hybels. See how it fits. If it doesn’t seem right, then try out another one. You’ll find what you are made for.

The commentator in my Bible translation says of Ephesians 4:1, “Spiritual formation is largely dependent upon our capacity to live a called life. Calling presupposes a God who graciously speaks and a people who willingly listen. In Revelation, the letter sent to the Ephesians ends this way: ‘Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.’ Listening is a primary spiritual formation practice.”

And if your spiritual gift is leadership, then the most important of the practices you should be working on is listening.

Marketplace Ministry

June 13, 2016

The church exists to equip Jesus-followers for ministry; it does not exist primarily to do ministry.

My friend Chuck called the other day from a conference where he heard a speaker discuss this idea. The speaker is now successful in the marketplace. He formerly worked on the staff of a megachurch.

Chuck said, “I was thinking of you and your status right now.”

A couple of years ago I felt I was open for a new ministry. A door opened and I took a position with my church. If you’ve read this blog for long you know that I am an analyst by nature (TP in Myers-Briggs speak) and also a management coach. I could dive into a deep analysis, but I’ll spare you…and me. It just didn’t work out.

He was telling me that I should use my teaching and writing skills out here in the real world. Not to worry about inside the four walls of an organization.

I’ve recently been turned on to John Fischer’s The Catch (fisher, catch, get it??). The link goes to the blog page Definitions of a Marketplace Christian.

John is a worship leader/song writer. Part of the “original” Jesus movement of the late 60s/early 70s. He talks of “grace turned outward” and “marketplace Christian”two phrases that resonate.

Churches as organizations can be frustrating. There’s local politics, denominational politics (and remember, my masters work was in political science and philosophy), and I like neither. As Dallas Willard has said, churches are the one place where hurting people should be able to come and find healing, yet they usually find judgement and ostracism.

Yet, I kept trying. I’ve been Baptist Chair of the Board of Deacons, chair of Trustees, leadership committee, missions head, probably other stuff. I’m neither bragging nor asking for solace.

Chuck says, just keep writing. Maybe someday I’ll get good at it.

But I don’t write this for my therapy. What is it that you can do outside the church to bring Jesus’ message and love to hurting people? That’s all he asked us to do, right?

Remembering And Running

May 30, 2016

Today is a holiday in the US named Memorial Day. No, I don’t think it was devised to celebrate the running of the Indianapolis 500 automobile race. For the past 29 years for me it meant being out at a park somewhere around Dayton, Ohio at the country’s largest 3-day soccer tournament.

I think “Memorial” springs from “remember”, as in remembering those who went before us. In many cases they paved a trail that led us to where we are.

My great-grandmother called it “Decoration” Day, and her tradition was to decorate the graves of family.

As a kid, I participated in the Midwest America tradition of a formal ceremony to place flowers on the graves of local military veterans.

There are people today who use it as an “in-your-face” political statement. But then, some people use every excuse to get in your face.

How great a cloud of witnesses…

Let us consider the thought from the letter to the Hebrews. “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” The writer describes many leaders of the faith who have gone before. Then he continues, “so let us run the race that is set before us.”

We don’t remember just to sit in sentimental reverie. We remember what those before us have done as a guide and motivator for what we are to do with our time on earth.

Remember and run.

I imagine that every society has some version of Memorial Day. That’s good.

Remember, looking for inspiration so that we can run the race set before us and leave a legacy for the future.

Concern For All People

May 19, 2016

People of Paul’s world were divided into two groups–Jews and non-Jews. At least it was so from the point-of-view of a Jew.

Taking another look at Romans 10 (and 9 and 11 to put it in context), I’m suddenly struck by Paul’s concern for everyone. Paul spends considerable time talking about God’s grace toward non-Jews (Gentiles). This was revolutionary in Jewish thought.

Paul also spends considerable time discussing Jews. And how God wishes for them to acknowledge the resurrection of Jesus and the reconciliation of grace.

Paul cared for them all!

In the world of that time, a Jewish person was to have as little interaction with non-Jews as possible. Definitely one didn’t eat with them or go into their house.

Yet, after Paul’s conversion and the redirection of his life, he seemed to have no problems being anointed “apostle to the Gentiles.”

Look at the struggles of Peter coming to the same conclusion. It’s remarkable that those internal struggle Peter had before he finally accepted Gentiles as people just like Jews were even recorded and saved.

We keep trying to divide the world today. Every culture I’ve had contact with finds ways to divide people. Even going so far as to label some in such a way as to imply “less than human” status.

Today’s discipline for us to practice is to go out this morning and begin to see everyone we meet (and think about) as people whom God created and God loves. Be like Paul who was concerned for each and every one.

I can hear the “Yeah, but what about” comments forming even now as I type. Cast those evil thoughts out.

If you need to find the strength, read Romans 9-10-11 with new eyes. See how Paul was deeply concerned for the lives of everyone. Go and do likewise.

All God’s Children

May 17, 2016

“Your wife told me that you’ve been to Germany recently,” the older guy said to me at the gym. He came closer obviously wanting to make a point.

“Did you see a lot of those Muslims there?” he asked in a confidential whisper. “You know they are everywhere over there. The people hate Merkel for letting them in. They don’t assimilate like other people. They just keep to their own communities.”

When you grow up in a white-only area of a southern California city and then move to a rural area where total “non-white” population is less than 8%, I guess you form weird ideas about people. Add in that his only source of news is Fox…

I’m white, I suppose. Grew up and still live in the area. People always assume I share the same beliefs. But I went wrong somewhere. Traveled extensively. Did business around the world for the past 35 years. And maybe I took the New Testament teachings more seriously than most. (By the way, not all people in west central Ohio share that guy’s belief. Many do, though.)

Thoughts of poor Peter right after Jesus’ resurrection flashed through my mind. A gentile named Cornelius had a crisis–a crisis of health and a spiritual crisis he didn’t even realize at first. Peter was called.

Now Jews didn’t assimilate into the broader Greco-Roman culture. Peter was forbidden by his law from going into Cornelius’ house. From eating his food. From having any more to do with him than business.

But Cornelius had a problem and Peter had the solution. God had been whispering (maybe even shouting) to Peter to prepare him for this occasion. Peter sucked it up, went in, healed, shared the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, converted the entire household.

Peter finally experienced the power of the gospel. It is for all God’s children. God loves every human being and wants to draw them all to him. The New Testament, as much as many wish, is not full of doctrine and theology. It is full of the need of all of us for grace and God’s wish to extend it to us.

Back to my acquaintance at the gym. I burst his bubble. At least a little one.

“No,” I said, “I didn’t see many Muslims. But I have many Muslims as friends. They are all great people. There will be several posts a day in my Facebook feed in Arabic.”

Not willing to leave well enough alone, “Be careful what you trust as far as news on TV. They manipulate pictures to show things as more dramatic or worse than they are for effect. Remember, they aren’t bringing news. They are selling ads.”

And I leave that for you. Be careful what you allow to fill your mind. Are you in a vicious circle of negativity? Are you filling it with God’s word so that when an opportunity arises you can respond appropriately?

Leadership Means Establishing Responsibility and Accountability

April 22, 2016

Responsibility and accountability. These are both spiritual formation values and leadership essentials.

One of the organizations I work with has developed a system of diffused responsibility and accountability. When there is no one person responsible for a function, that task will be undone and the function will not grow and prosper.

Think about Jesus. He made people responsible for themselves and for certain roles. His last instructions to his followers we call the “Great Commission.” He did not give the instruction to an organization. He gave it to those who follow him.

Then he told stories, such as that of the talents. The servants were given responsibility to make the most of the money the master entrusted them with. But then the master returned and held each accountable.

As a leader or part of the ruling board or committee, the essential task prior to oversight is to establish clear responsibilities and accountability. Do not put two different committees or point leaders in charge of the same thing. Now no one is accountable.

Establish point leaders for each important function that must be done. Start with the overall manager and then each functional area. There are certain things that must be done if the organization is to succeed. Assure that these are defined.

Just so in personal development. We are each responsible for our spiritual formation. No one will do it for us. We can search out guides and mentors. In the end, we are each responsible for what we did in response to Jesus’ commando–“Go into all the world and make disciples…” We are each responsible for deciding to be a follower and developing and using our gifts in the service to God and to all other people.

We cannot escape being held accountable for how well we accomplished our responsibilities in life. As Paul laid out in Romans, life in the spirit begins with faith and completes with how well we lived.