Saturday, January 31, 2009

Take very seriously.....except

January has passed in a blur, full of hard work, some illness, and interesting events - several of which have triggered thoughts for blogs. But time has eluded me writing about them.

However, yesterday one of my students made me think. My practicum class this term is preaching through 1 Corinthians with each student being allocated a chapter from which they will prepare and deliver a sermon. This particular student was commenting about his home church. "It took 1 Corinthians 14 very seriously," he said. "all the business about coming together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction in verse 26. They really participated together as a body in orderly worship." And then he paused and said: "Of course they took 1 Corinthians 14 very seriously except for all the parts about gifts of prophecy and tongues!"

Actually, 1 Corinthians 14 is mostly about gifts of prophecy and tongues! That word EXCEPT is most telling isn't it? Of course, Scripture's interpretation is a spiritual exercise, as the Holy Spirit helps us apply its meaning to our own contexts. But I was left thinking about those parts of texts that I take very seriously except.....

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Preaching "Window"

Two Sundays ago I was booked to preach, for my first time, at Village Bible Church in Sugar Grove (in western suburbs of Chicago). I prepared carefully and felt ready on Saturday evening. But, Sunday at 2.00am I was woken by violent stomach pains, and then vomited at hourly intervals until 6.30 am! At 7.30 Carol started attempts to alert the pastor on his cell phone, with no success, and tried in vain other avenues, including the church office.

I was in a dilemma. Feeling bilious, looking wan, but with my sermon prepared, I sensed I ought at least to drive out to the church to alert them. Arriving, and telling them my grim story, some leaders prayed for me...and then gave me a deadline just before the service started, for choosing whether to preach or not. This was a first for me! What did God want me to do? Really? Was a possible blundering on driven by duty and pride? Or, was opting out, just wimpishness - especially after the prayer?

I really wasn't sure as I said "Yes." Yet, while I preached I had a glorious sense of wholeness and strength, in spite of weakness. Returning home I felt jubilant, ate some dry toast, and then started vomiting again. As the pain worsened very considerably through the rest of the day, I headed into ER at 8.30pm, was put on a drip, given an anti-nausea shot, Xrayed etc.

Sent home to recover over the next few days, I reflected on that preaching. Someone said: "Surely, you made it so much worse going out to do that preach!" Another person wrote: "Amazed that God gave you a small window just big enough to preach. Wow."
Sometimes we just don't know if we are meant to push ourselves beyond common sense and how, when we do, prayer can work because God really wants something to happen. I believe it was a preaching "window" but only God can say whether I used it worthily.

Whether you are a preacher or not, have you known such "windows" given in answer to prayer?

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Big 7 for Christian Leaders

Perhaps it's possible, looking at the six qualities I have highlighted so far, to picture my ideal Christian leader as some serene, humble, loving saint, with strong interior spiritual gifts, yet unlikely to impact a skeptical, and often hostile, world. OK working with other Christians, but likely to be ignored as harmless by the world's movers and shakers.

The holy boldness that marked out the first Christian leaders (Acts 20:27) was willling to face death for Christ's new way. Filled by the Spirit, their courage overturned conventional wisdom and secular norms, called people to sacrificial mission, confronted need, injustice, and discrimination. It modeled the highest moral standards and dared others to follow. It witnessed unashamedly and trusted in Christ to act right in front of their eyes. With holy boldness, Christian leaders have committed to turn the world the right way up, ever since. Christ's action people!

I started this process of trying to identify the 7 key qualities some time ago. Now I need to see what really important aspects I have missed out. Perhaps I can enfold other critical issues into some of these? Or some of the big 7 can be collapsed into each other, making room for some more? I still want to stay with an ultimate 7, if I can! I value your help.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Big 7 for Christian Leaders

I dare to say that no single issue reveals the maturity of Christian leadership more quickly than how a person copes with criticism. Fair criticism is hard to bear and requires humility and a willingness to respond. But unfair criticism is inevitable and require toughness of spirit to deflect. The combination; "Shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16) calls for tough minds combined with tender hearts.

We must not be naive about how hard it is to cope with criticism. In my book 360degree leadership I reflect on different coping mechanisms commonly used, and the need to work hard to better deal with conflict. But Christian leaders should also be marked out by the joy that is Christ's gift to his disciplies (John 15:11), and by accompanying generosity. Joyful generosity overwhelms unfair criticism (Rom. 12:20,21). Christian leaders don't give up loving when challenged.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Big 7 for Christian Leaders

Christian leadership depends upon Jesus Christ's personal promises, such as "Noone can snatch them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:29). But, when a Christian leader lacks such assurance that they are a child of God, loved and called by Him, it breeds tragic symptoms of insecurity.

Chief among them are: envy of others, a critical spirit, a thin skin that feels hurts deeply, a tendency to diminish predecessors, and desire to seek affirmation continuously. How sadly prevalent these are in much Christian leadership?

Rather, when leaders know who they are in Christ, they work in teams honestly and demonstrate deep contentment wherever they are. Instead of being ruffled by circumstances, they know security in Christ's calling.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Big 7 for Christian Leaders

I need to finish my list within the next few days, and then review the 7 to see what's missing.
First is love, second prayer, third humble leadership, and then we come a special characteristic of Christian leadership - realistic pastoring.

Christian leaders are always thrust into pastoral responsibility (John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28). While everyone else maintains strict limits to the amount of caring they will give, and restricts access to only a few, Christian leaders are called to be under-shepherds for the Good Shepherd. To be accessible, compassionate and kind. To live constantly between the tensions of caring for family, while ministering to the church family and wider community. It's a life-long battle to care for sheep. It is possible to overdo pastoral care and give away too much of yourself, but far more often we underdo our care. Keeping a realistic balance, for the Good Shepherd's sake, is one of the Big 7.
Such care has gloriously marked out some of the Christian leaders, who have most influenced me.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Facing 2009 (2)

I have just come across Jonathan Edwards' (1703-1758) resolutions. Apparently he committed to reading over these resolutions at least once a week, and they had a key role in shaping his character and life. He listed 70 resolutions! Let's note a few.

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will for Christ's sake:
5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time, but improve in the most profitable way I possibly can.
7. Resolved, never to do anything that I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.
14 Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.
20. Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking.
28. Resolved to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
30. Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.
55. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do if I had already seen the happiness of heaven and the torments of hell.
69. Resolved, always to do that which I shall wish I had done when I see others do it.
70 Resolved, let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.

Yes, they're in eighteenth century language, but what a corrective they give to much twenty-first century spiritual flabbiness!