Category Archives: Leadership

Paul, Barnabas, John Mark and other distractions

“Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in ministry.” II Timothy 4:11

It confounds me what we Christians allow to distract us, even scripture. What do I mean by scripture distracting us? How can scripture distract us if God’s word doesn’t return void?

Scripture distracts us when it draws us into debates, arguments, pious ramblings that, frankly, are vain. Scripture distracts us when we miss the point of what is being said and use it to prove we are “right” when it’s overarching message is reconciliation and restoration.

II Timothy 4:11 is one of those verses that brings us back to reconciliation. Let me press the rewind button…

Sometime earlier the same Mark mentioned above “deserted” (Acts 15:38; Acts 13:13 uses the term “left”) Paul and Barnabas. In Acts 15:36-41there arose a “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas about Mark, who was also known as John, rejoining them. Barnabas said “yes”; Paul said “no.” Here is where the distracting question of scripture rears its ugly head. Who was right and who was wrong. Some contend that Barnabas was wrong because he didn’t submit to Paul’s apostolic authority. Yet, in Acts 14:14 both Paul and Barnabas are referred to as apostles, so that argument is tenuous at best. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Barnabas was politicking for his cousin.)

On the other hand, when Paul and Silas departed for their missionary journey the were “committed by the brethren to the grace of the Lord.” This certainly lends credence to Paul’s apostolic authority. In addition, scripture is replete with testimony to the effectiveness of Paul in ministry and is rather quiet about Barnabas. Seeing that scripture is divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit there must be some reason that we’re told of Paul’s effectiveness and not Barnabas’.

And, of course, the arguments could continue in support of both. But that continues the distraction of what really happened. That would be like saying that the point of God coming to earth was to die on the cross and stopping there. Was Jesus’ death on the cross a necessity? Yes! But only to the point that it led to His resurrection. The point of Jesus on earth isn’t His death; it’s His resurrection. Simply dying on the cross would make Him a martyr. Coming back to life reveals Himself as Savior.

The biblical story of what happened between Paul and Barnabas is similar in a microcosm. When we flippantly proclaim, “I know who was right” and dropping a one liner to support our position is, at best, ending the story early. It certainly risks intellectually bankruptcy. The narrative is much more complex than that. To understand the central message of any story we must follow it to its conclusion.

Please notice that there is no animosity recorded between Paul and Barnabas. There is no mention of “he said/he said” and no mention of the argument continuing. Paul himself cautions against any such distractions when he says in I Corinthians 3:3-7, “You are still worldly. For since there is still jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another says, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere men. What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? … neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.”

The point of the Paul vs. Barnabas narrative (and I hesitatingly use versus at the risk of continuing the pointless argument) is not who was right and who was wrong. The point all scripture isn’t about who is right, it’s about reconciliation. That brings us to II Timothy 4:11. Paul and John Mark are reconciled. I suppose that Paul and Barnabas were reconciled, as well…strike that, I contend that they were never divided. They may have gone their separate ways physically, but spiritually were united and undivided. It’s not unreasonable to contend that both Paul and Barnabas would scold us for being distracted by contention that didn’t exist.

The narrative isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. The narrative is about reconciliation. It’s a reflection of the redemption story. Jesus, the one “who makes things grow,” is the only one that is “right” and He chose to be “wrong” on our behalf so that we can be reconciled to God.

That’s why worship.

The Man with Two Watches (repost)

“Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath.” John 9:16

Has your initial vision for leadership been cloudy lately? Are you dazed and confused? Bouncing off the walls, sometimes feeling frustrated like your once keen discernment for chasing God’s heart has put the “dis” in dysfunctional?

Yeh…me, too.

Sometimes I can relate to the Pharisees. There have been times that God was at work right in front of me, but I refused to see Him because it broke one of my rules of engagement or some preconceived idea of ministry I might have. You probably have some, too. For the Pharisees it was that their rules and regulations had become their god. They worshipped legalism. Legalism is making what you shouldn’t do (in this case it was breaking with their concept of the Sabbath) more important than what you should do (bringing comfort in God’s name).

No wonder they were clueless and cruel. They had no idea who their god was. And when we, just like the Pharisees, try to serve two or more gods we become literally bi-polar and psychotic. One god demands one thing from us and the other something else. We act one way for one of them and behave differently for the other. Neither of them are what we’ve been called to be by our Savior. We forget who we are in Christ and eventually forget completely what His vision for our ministry is. It drives us nuts. The tragic irony is that the very people we’ve been called to minister to usually suffer the wrath of our frustration.

For those of us that are worship leaders, ministers of music or music directors it’s our orders of worship, rehearsal schedules, team training strategies or any of one thousand other things that lure us from the real world ministry of God and people. When that happens we forget how to relate to God and others. It short-circuits loving God with everything that we are and loving people as we should be loving ourselves. I say should be because we even loose our relationship with who God created us to be.

The result is always confusion, rebellion, destruction.

When was the last time we broke the sabbath of our schedules to minister to a brother or sister that needed healing? If you’re hung up on losing rehearsal time instead of ministering…well, you know where I’m going with that.

The point is: a man with one watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never quite sure. Actually, just forget about the watches and ask God what time it is.

Worry About Your Own Light

“When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.” (emphasis mine) John 21:21-22

There once were two churches in a rather small community. They were very similar in theology, ministry substance, worship style and polity. In many respects one couldn’t tell one church from the other. Both were effective in ministering to both their flocks and the community at-large. Even those who didn’t attend either or any church considered these churches as positive influences in the community. Many of the congregants were fast friends with congregants from the neighboring church. So close were they that it was common for them to “join communities of believers” for special holidays or a covered dish and Bible study.

In the course of time one of the churches required some repairs to their facility. The other church graciously offered the use of their building for services. The second church was so magnanimous that they unanimously voted to adjust their own service schedule to accommodate the displaced church’s gathering time.

All went well, so well in fact that impromptu discussions began regarding the churches joining permanently. Prayerful consensus grew and eventually the decision was made for the congregations to become one. None of the problems one would expect arose. The staffs merged seamlessly; worship teams joined in unity; ministries experienced a synergy not experienced as separate “bodies;” one building was renovated as a homeless shelter and soup kitchen while the other served as worship and education space. In fact, when it came to choosing a name for the newly formed congregation the choice was obvious, it was simply referred to as “The Church.” All went well beyond expectation…

It’s distressing how much time we spend preaching against what the other guy says instead of for what God says. We pay lip service to “preaching the what the Bible says,” but in reality, we spend much of our time preaching against what someone else says the Bible says. Sure, sure we need to make a distinction Biblical authority and false doctrine, but if Scripture really has the power that we claim that it has then it stands to reason that we simply state what it says and let the chips fall where they may. God has given us an intellect to expound on Scripture and for the hearers to receive what it says, but I think we waste a vast amount of time comparing what we believe to what someone else believes (I’m not speaking of defining the differences between, say, Christianity and Scientology, here. I’m talking about how venomous the discussion between worship styles or sacrament implementation has become.)

As an amateur radio operator (HAM) I regularly listen to police and fire department radio frequencies. Rarely does a week go by in our largely rural county that I don’t hear a dispatch for an attempted suicide. During the Christmas season it’s not uncommon to hear several “suicide calls” in a single day. I can only imagine the frequency of such calls in urban areas. In the “darkness” of our current culture people are routinely struggling with addictions, broken families, domestic violence, financial ruin, devastating illness.

Many of our churches are shining “The Light” in this darkness. In our ministry through Worship Concepts we’ve found that there are more churches with authentic, Scriptural ministries than many of us realize. I feel safe in saying that in every church that we have visited we have found at least one person who “gets it.” And when a light is shone in the darkness it’s pretty obvious that there’s a difference between the dark and the light. Have you ever had a flashlight shined in your eyes on a moonless light in the middle of the woods? Did anyone have to tell you that a light had been turned on? It may have been one solitary light, but it’s pretty obvious that a light is shining.

Our problem is that the distinctions that we make between one church’s light and another’s is often based on the color of the reflection rather than The Light itself. As I understand it, white light is actually a composite of all the colors combined. As a Christian, I want the light the that I reflect to be as pure and as white as possible. However, my individual light will never be pure white; only One has absolutely pure white light, in fact He is The Light of the World. All I can do is reflect Him as best I can, in spite of my colored view.

When I’m bumping my shins in the dark I don’t really care what color a light is. I just appreciate being able to see. Sure, everything might not be clear and maybe I would prefer bright noonday sunlight, but I’m still thankful for the light whether it’s incandescent, fluorescent or a candle. We are surrounded by entire cultures of hurting people desperately trying to find their way in the darkness. Does it really matter at the moment of their hurt that one church’s “color of light” baptizes by emersion and another’s “light” provides baptism with a few drops of water? While people are hurting and dying without the saving knowledge of Jesus as their savior, too many churches are busy discussing light gel colors.

It’s no small point that Paul refers to poorly reflected light as he wraps up an entire chapter devoted to love. Right now our love for a hurting world is distorted by the way we color The Light. One day we’re going to see clearly; we’re going to see clearly that my color was a little darker than I had thought and someone else’s color may have been a little clearer than I had allowed. What would happen if we worked a little harder to shine our light together rather than at each other? Would it be whiter, purer than the weak, ineffective flicker we’re shining now? Maybe, if we heeded Jesus words when He says (I paraphrase), “What’s his light to you? It’s none of your business. You shine the light I give you when and where I tell you.” In the vernacular of my kids, “I’m just saying.”

What happened to the two churches in our story?

All went well until the first time they were to observe communion together. It seems that some of the wording finally revealed a small crack in the foundation of the their cooperation. And it would have remained a small crack if they hadn’t allowed it to eventually become a chasm; a chasm neither of them could see for the darkness. You see, they took they’re lights off of the path God had laid out for them and redirected it on some small, insignificant words in their particular lectionary. They were words that both congregations believed were from the inerrant Word of God. Both churches could rightly claim that they were on strong Biblical standing for their position.

Unfortunately, arguments ensued, relationships were broken and an entire community lost effective ministries because an agreement could not be reached. Neither party would budge on the wording of The Lord’s Prayer to be said in the serving of communion. After much upheaval the churches parted ways with quite a bit of animosity over two words that mean essentially the same thing.

One church went back to their trespasses and the other back to their sins.

 

Training to Race, Not Racing to Train

“Everyone who competes in the games goes into training…I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” I Cor. 9:25 & 27

Theres’ a story of a young cross country runner who was training with his team and feeling rather “feisty” during a particular training session.  On this day, he decided to show the rest of the team that he was the fastest.  Instead of running with the pack and maintaining a sustainable pace, he broke free from the group and sprinted ahead for the last kilometer or so.

Finishing a considerable time ahead of the rest of the team he prepared himself for the accolades of his coach and teammates.  When the final runner crossed the finish line the coach called the team to circle up.  He commended the team on an excellent effort for the day and then singled out the young man who had finished well ahead of the rest, “Son, don’t ever do that again,” the coach chided. “This is a team of winners.  We have several regional and state championships in both individual and team categories.  And we win because we train to race, not race to train.  We are a team of winners, none of us are a winner above the team.”

The three of you who regularly read my blog know that I run three to four times per week.  Actually, it’s slightly above average jogging, but the allegory holds true.  I run in the morning between 6:00 and 7:00 AM.  I enjoy the solitude, just me and my iPod enjoying each other’s company plodding along for a few miles.  An interesting aside is that the more relaxed my listening music is then the better my running times for distances longer than five to seven miles.  I think it’s because I’m relaxed in not competing against anyone else, just out training for the intrinsic value of doing what is good for my body.

Needless to say that the more intelligent humans in my neighborhood are still in bed at that time of the morning.  But every once in a while another misguided soul will be out running.  This is when I get into trouble.  I start comparing myself to them.  “Is my stride as good as theirs?”  “How’s my pace compared to there’s?”  “Am I wasting as much energy in upper body movement as they are?”

Inevitably, in an attempt to increase my self-esteem I compare their weakness to my strengths.  I’m blessed with a naturally neutral stride.  That’s usually where I start.  “Their stride isn’t nearly as effortless as mine,” I assure myself.  It doesn’t matter that they just blew by me with a smile on their face while I huff and puff.

Of course, if their times appear to be better than mine it can only be because they’re just out for a quick one mile jaunt while I’m in the middle of a grueling five mile slugfest with exhaustion.  “Their form is so poor that I bet I could still catch them even with my increased distance,”  I rationalize.

My pace quickens and before I know it, I’m not training to race any longer, I’m racing to train.  I’ve lost sight of my goal.  My goal, in becoming a runner in my late forties, isn’t to win a race….I might not ever even run a competitive race.  My goal in running is to be healthy, to control my diabetes without drugs, to maintain a reasonable weight, to be the best me that I can be.  But, now I’ve made it about someone else and comparing myself to them.

In short order my session comes unraveled.  My form disintegrates, my upper body tightens, my breathing becomes erratic.  The neutral step that, just moments before, I was so proud of fails me as I fatigue and my feet begin scuffing the ground under me.  I am undone by my own pride.

I notice a similar tendency in my growth as a Christian, as well.  It’s a trap that many of us fall into; the tendency to compare our strength to others’ weakness.  The name for it is judgmentalism.  And it’s fruitless.  All it does is distract me from the race that God has called us to run.  He’s set a course, a pace, a discipline for all of us to run.  The life of a Christian isn’t a contest against others.  It doesn’t matter if I’m faster or better than someone else.  My life isn’t identified in relation to theirs.  My life is identified with the pace setter, Jesus.

Continuing with the analogy of my running, this year’s Boston Marathon winner, Geoffrey Mutai of Kenya, set a new record for that twenty six mile race: 2 hours, 3 minutes, and 2 seconds.  I run about ten miles in the same amount of time.  That means that Geoffrey could lap me and finish six miles ahead of me.  I wouldn’t stand a chance.  He could run with less than half the effort and still finish more than an hour ahead of me.

But what if it wasn’t a race to cover a certain distance the fastest?  What if the contest was to be the first to circumnavigate the globe at the equator in less than 2 hours, 3 minutes and 2 seconds?  At that point it really doesn’t matter that he’s faster than I am.  In fact, he could be one hundred times faster than I am.  He could lease a private jet and still not win.  It would be a hopeless, winless situation for both of us.

That’s the accurate race analogy for us as Christians.  We could never reach the goal except for the pace setter, Jesus.  And here’s where the analogy breaks down, He’s already won the race in our place.  But I’m thankful that analogies break down with Him.  He breaks the mould.  He doesn’t just set the standard; He also carries it for me…for you.  And He wins the race while carrying the standard in one hand and carrying us in the other.  He’s that big, He’s that strong, He’s that fast…He loves us that much.  He wants us to experience winning the race with Him.

So, let’s stop racing against each other and start training with each other.  Let’s stop competing in our habits, our lifestyles, our churches, our dogma with each other.  If we’re running in the presence of the One carrying the standard, then it really doesn’t matter that I read the Bible more, that my knees have bent in prayer more, that my church has more attenders on Easter Sunday, that my ministry has more major donors, that…anything.  It only matters that more people join the race and train to race, not race to train.

The litmus test of being great in the Kingdom of God isn’t that I’m better than those around me; that my theology is more sound than someone else’s; that my church is more Biblically accurate than the those surrounding mine; that my ministry ministers to more widows and orphans than mine.  The way to tell that I’m running the good race is that everyone around me runs a little faster, a little truer, a little straighter because of my example that reflects the One who has already won the race.  Spiritual leadership isn’t being better than everyone else; it’s encouraging, inspiring, equipping everyone else to be better.

Slaves on Horseback and The Resume of Righteousness

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” 2 Cor. 11:30

I’m a bit concerned at how often we as Christians use prosperity as the exclusive measure of a successful Christian life.  Please understand that I have no problem with my brothers and sisters in Christ who have positioned themselves for God’s favor and have experienced that favor.  At Worship Concepts we are fond of the saying, “God’s plan done God’s way never lacks God’s supply”, so if God isn’t supplying then it might not be God’s plan or God’s way.  I also don’t believe that God has called every Christian to a life of poverty.  Jesus didn’t say that it’s impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; just that a rich man would have to be humble and get down off his high-horse (camel) to fit through the small entry portal to the city.  Heck, my lifestyle is extravagant when judged by the economic standards of most of the rest of the world.

My concern is when we use prosperity as the exclusive measure of God’s favor.  Too often we (I) fall into the jealousy trap of judging a pastor’s impact based on the size of his ministry; how often he’s invited to guest preach; how many hits are on his blog.  We look at successful Christian business people and assume that it’s the “favor of God” that led to their affluence.  When other parents seem to have the best behaved children on the planet, while ours drive us to desperation, we assume it’s because we’re not in God’s will.

Moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, when a sports figure wins a championship we often assume that God “liked” him better than the loser.  By that measure, God must have really favored Tiger Woods until he messed up (see David in the Old Testament) and hasn’t won many golf tourneys since.  Of course, Tiger is still rather “blessed” as a golfer, so God mustn’t be too upset with him.

I confess that when I don’t make the best choices in my retirement portfolio my initial response is to add fifteen minutes to my morning scripture time in an effort to regain God’s wisdom in what the stock market will do.  If that’s all it takes, then Warren Buffet must be just about the holiest man in the world.

Yes, I know that I’m on some thin ice here when it comes to the “power and authority” of Scripture or the need for spiritual disciplines, all of which I adamantly endorse.  But sometimes we can do all the right things, read the right verses, live a godly life and it still doesn’t go the way of prosperity.  Sometimes pastors can preach the good sermons and still see their congregations, and giving, shrink; sometimes parents can raise their children in “the way that they should go” and the kids still go the other way; sometimes we stand firm in the faith and get cut down; sometimes we tithe obediently and give sacrificially only to struggle financially.

Conversely, sometimes pastors live duplicitous lives and their churches grow by leaps and bounds (sometimes they even do great things for the Kingdom, in spite of the pastors “indiscretions”); sometimes parents are completely inept and still their children are arrows that fly straight and true (just look at my kids, in spite of my failures); sometimes regardless of how much we sacrifice God still calls us to poverty.  “I have seen slaves on horseback, while princes go on foot like slaves.” Ecc. 10:7

When I’m tempted to use the world’s standard to measure effectiveness for Kingdom impact; when I’m start putting up decorations for my pity party because my path isn’t one of prosperity; when I assume that God has taken His favor from me in spite of my obedience; when I lament the limited success of my CV…I look at Paul’s resume.

Paul, Chief of Sinners (formerly known as Saul of Taursus)
Career objective: Preach the Gospel to Jew and gentile alike
Education: B.A. Pharisee University; M.Div Damascus Road Polytech; Ph.D. Kingdom School of Hard Knocks

Experience

  • Worked much harder
  • Been in prison more frequently
  • Been flogged more severely
  • Been exposed to death again and again

Awards/Special Achievements

  • Received forty lashes minus one – 5 times
  • Beaten with rods – 3 times
  • Stoned – 1 time
  • Shipwrecked – 3 times
  • Day and night in (not on) the open sea
  • Lowered over city walls to escape evil king

Hobbies and Activities

  • Endured dangerous rivers
  • Attacked by bandits
  • Betrayed by countrymen
  • Accosted by gentiles
  • Lived in urban blight
  • Wilderness survival

Miscellaneous

  • Labored and toiled and have gone without sleep
  • Known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food
  • Been cold and naked
  • Daily pressure of concern for all the churches

When I start to feel a twinge of jealously because someone else’s ministry is more “successful” and has more “impact” than mine I read through Paul’s resume.  Mine is rather weak by comparison…still working on my first imprisonment for preaching the Gospel.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to boast about my forty lashes minus one.  I pray that one day I’ll have a resume of righteousness.