Letters to Leader (part II)

Dear Leader,

I was grateful to receive your reply to my last letter and am happy to hear of your strides to grow. It dawned on me that you are probably not used to receiving written correspondents. Typically, we would use text, email, or social media, so I want to explain why I’m favoring this “outdated form” with you. There is something personal about writing that has yet to be achieved through our modern technology. I hope that this ink conveys the importance I’m placing on the things I write to you.

But enough about this, we have more pressing things to discuss. There is an epidemic spreading among those in positions of influence that we ourselves are not immune to. Those who are supposed to be the faces of companies, teams, and movements cannot speak. Pastors cannot preach, teachers cannot teach, and CEO’s cannot present, while many others like them flounder through a basic conversation. There is no persuasion or passion in their words, leaving their audiences confused or asleep. Since they cannot carry conversations or convey communications, they fail in their efforts.

Leader, if you ever hope to move people’s hearts, really change lives, let alone, actually be heard, then you must know the reason for these failures. Many in authority do to reach their audience because they do not read, they do not write, and they do not listen. Yes, these are elementary tasks and that it probably exactly why they are ignored, which leads to the defeat of every authority to communicate well.

When you engage in all three of these areas on a regular basis you exercise the mind, which in turn produces meaningful and effective speech. Reading expands your vocabulary and keeps you informed on current events. Pick up a newspaper or a journal and take time to read. This empowers you to converse with confidence and knowledge. Rather than just knowing the headlines or hearing opinions of people far removed from the events, you become better informed on what is actually going on in your world. Pick up a book, it doesn’t matter what kind, but something that will expose you to the diversity of thoughts, perspectives, and backgrounds this world holds. The more you learn from others, the more you’ll have to offer others and the more powerful your communication becomes.

Writing likewise develops the mind and improves effective speaking tenfold. It doesn’t have to be handwritten, typing works too. In pursuing this, you unleash creativity in how you present what you wish to convey. As I’ve mentioned, writing compels one to put time and thought into what is being said. Thus, the first thing that comes to mind, is never the final draft (and it never should be). Time allows for revision and for your best to be presented and heard by others. Practice writing on a regular basis and you will watch your speech evolve into a captivating instrument.

Finally, Leader, listen. Do not just hear what others say and allow it to escape, but truly listen. Listen well to how others speak. Find motivational speakers, business experts, pastors, and other good speakers and listen to how they speak. Good speakers don’t use words such as ‘um’ and ‘like’ as fillers. Good speakers know the power of a pause. Good speakers use their words and tone with intentionality. Listen for these and discover the traits that draw you into their presentation. The more you listen to strong speakers, the more you will imitate their good habits.

If you wish to be heard, if you wish to impact lives, then you must to rise to the call of the position. Any position with followers, demands that they be effective speakers. You can be that commanding communicator. Read, write, and listen, these will transform your abilities to capture the masses. May your words find the power to pierce hearts and tenderness to wrap them in love.

In Him,

Your Servant

Letters to Leader (part I)

Dear Leader,

As it is apparent that God is calling you into a new chapter of life, it is pressed upon my heart to write these letters to you.  It is with urgency that I write, in part that these thoughts may not escape my mind and so that I may know in full confidence that you are leaving equipped for the road where God plants your feet. I know that He has already equipped you in many things, so may these words offer encouragement, some humble advice, and maybe a bold challenge to your life.

Leader, you are not ignorant of the great command that God has on every life that accepts His love. Maybe command is too strong of a word for our day, as what He says is not burdensome, but really something that we love to do. I am talking about ministry. Each one of us is invited to love others as God has loved us, thus whether pastor or parishioner, each is called into full time ministry. That is what “loving thy neighbor” really is. When we actively pursue and share God’s love we are engaging in ministry. And you have devotedly embraced this truth. You have not reserved this command for ministers, but have taken it upon yourself to love both brother and enemy. Not only that, but you have shown others the joy in doing it.

However, the point I want to make is not so much about your actions, but the heart behind the actions. Ministry is underscored by the very term itself, which means ‘service’ in Greek. God has equipped each of us for service (Eph. 4:12). Thus I believe that it is imperative for any great man or woman to first be a servant before aspiring to higher positions. If one cannot first serve in small ways, why should he be given greater responsibilities?

Now the heart of a servant is rooted in two characteristics, dear Leader, that I pray you pursue and cultivate all the days of your life. The first is submission. This is not the submission that is defined by some as abused oppression. No, a servant willingly places themselves under the direction of another. We submit to God and willingly place ourselves under His authority that we may be useful in such a way that His glory is magnified. Eugene Peterson explains it like this, “The task is not to get God to do something we think needs to be done, but to be aware of what God wants and to get in step with it and delight in it.” If one is unwilling to submit then he only desires to be in authority not under it, which is not servanthood. Therefore, we understand that a servant must be willing to submit.

Submission gives way to the second essential characteristic of a servant; humility. Any person worth following has the humility of a servant. They treat others with respect and never belittle or gossip. Pride is their enemy, and while it may slip in, they are quick to correct and open to being corrected. They never act as if they have arrived; as if they are an expert who scoffs at any suggestion that isn’t their own. A servant is humble, willing to do the dirtiest job without complaint. Nothing is beneath them as they put the needs of others first. As you know, C.S. Lewis puts it so well, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

Leader takes these words to heart as you prepare to follow God’s calling. Remember that as a follower of Christ, you are all in full time ministry. You are all called to be a servant first, which requires submission and humility. Without these two you may rise, but you will fall quickly. Hold fast to them both and pursue them in excellence, that God’s love may be known through all that you say and do.

In Him,

Your Servant

Dead Week

This past week many colleges and universities in the U.S. were in the midst of Dead Week. It is a week of intense studying, lengthy papers, and last minute projects, leading up to final exams for the term. By the time the student has finished, he or she often feels fatigued and drained, thus ‘Dead Week.’ You may not be buried in studies right now, but you can relate to feeling tired, stressed, or even hopeless. The miserable weather has got you feeling down. Problems at work are nothing but discouraging. Your family is experiencing some conflict. Whatever it may be, you have probably experienced your own Dead Week.

When you’re going through your Dead Week, it is the prime opportunity for deception. It is prime opportunity to begin listening to the voice that says you are worthless. We get so caught up in the stress and anxiety that breeds hopelessness. In that moment, we can feel defeated, distraught, and worthless.

Now, you have a choice. Do I listen to the voice telling me I’m worthless? It feels true, but does that make it true? Let me share with you a story that has helped put this into perspective for me.

“A well known speaker started off his seminar by holding up a $20 bill. In the crowded room, he asked. “Who would like this $20 bill?” Hands shot up. He said, “I am going to give this $20 to one of you – but first, let me do this.” He proceeded to crumple the $20 bill up. He then asked. “Who still wants it?” Everyone’s hands remained in the air.

“Well,” he replied, “what if I do this?” He dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked it up, now crumpled and dirty. “Now, who wants it?” Still the hands were in the air.”

No matter what the guy did to the $20, the audience still recognized that it had value. We may feel beat and kicked around by life, but we are never worthless. You may be going through the roughest Dead Week in your life, but the voices you hear calling you worthless are LIES! You are not worthless. You have value. If a $20 bill still has value after being crumpled and stomped on, then how much more value do you have as a human being?

You are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), which means that you have value and worth. No matter what you’ve done in your life, no matter how much you’ve messed up, no matter how low you feel in your Dead Week, you have worth. You are worth so much, that God was willing to die in your place. Every wrong we’ve ever committed (and we all have) is a wrong against God and is deserving of the consequences, which is death (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). But God sent His Son, Jesus, to take on that penalty in our place. He died and rose again that we can choose Him and not have to endure the consequences. God believes that you are worth it. That is the only voice that matters. Do not believe the voices that deceive you into thinking that you are useless and worthless. They only want to distract you from the deep love and mercy of God.

You are never in a position of defeat when you place your life in the hands of God. He gives us victory! Even in the ugliest of Dead Weeks in your life, when you call on His Name, He is there for you. He will always listen, always comfort, and always love, because He always believes that you have worth. And nothing can be done to change that. So in the face of hopelessness and feeling as though you are worthless, you have the authority to yell back. You can confidently rise above the lies and stand firm in the truth that God believes in you. You were worth dying for that you might be saved. His love will always give you worth and no Dead Week can take that away from you.

Saying No to Dating (and Marriage)

IMG_0805I remember a time when laughter turned to petrified fear as a battlefield of life or death rose before me. Our sides fled in haste from one another. With our hearts racing, we knew that an attack was imminent. All we could do was prepare for the assault and the inevitable loss of our brothers. For there was nothing more deadly than a girl. One touch and that was the end. Every single one of them was a carrier of the most life-threatening and deadly disease known to man; cooties. With a sign that read “Boys Only” hanging above our heads, we waited in anticipation. A scream shot up from the swings and a mob quickly descended upon our once mighty slide. Before we knew it, every boy had been infected and was dying a slow, painful death as we lay squirming on ground. Hope remained though as the bell rang and life was restored, only to realize we must face an even worse enemy: math class.

While our humorous game and creation of cooties sprung from our childhood imaginations, some people continue to play this game with dating and pursing marriage. They avoid commitment to another as if they might contract cooties. They run not because of what they might receive, but because of what they might lose. Our culture values personal independence, which dating and marriage seem to threaten. For those dating, pursing, or are married it seems status quo that one should expect to keep their independence. This desire for perpetual independence leads to looking for perfection in a spouse that can be poisonous to the relationship. Looking for that perfect body or ideal bank account will only bring disappointment as expectations and desires cannot be met. Two imperfect people coming together does not make either one perfect.

Our desire for independence also stems from others telling us that we ought to be accepted for who we are. Thus when our significant other or spouse trys to change us, we resist. Yet why?? I know few actually likes change, but think about it. Do you really want to be the same person that you were in high school? I don’t. I hope that I’ve matured and am a better person than I was then. And I hope that I’m not the same person in ten years that I am today. I have goals and aspirations for my life. In order to reach those I’ll have to change. And the reality  is that we need other people in order for that change to happen. A spouse or significant other is a one of a kind catalyst that holds a mirror up to the deepest areas of our lives and challenges us to change in ways we may not even realize we need. We may learn a new skill, but a significant other helps us change us where it counts; character. I hope to continuously grow to be a better person and a better reflection of the God I follow. That wont come from running away from dependence.

God created us for relationships, we know this from Genesis 2 when He says that “it is not good for the man to be alone…” and then created Eve. Therefore, we should not run from relationships nor should we be too desperate for them. Both behaviors can lead to idolatry. We must throw off this idol, which hinders us from truly experiencing the joy of life and relationships as God intended. Jesus teaches us in John 15:13 that “Greater love has no one that this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” That is exactly what Christ did for us on the cross. He sacrificed His life for an undeserving mankind that we might not suffer the consequences of sin that we deserve, but instead be washed clean and live for eternity with Him in Heaven. And this is exactly what we are to do in relationships and marriage. We are to give of our lives, not only physically, but also our time and resources just as Christ did during His ministry on earth. Independence is focused on the self, but life is meant for relationships and thus serving one another. There is true joy in this.

There are times when one should be very discerning about initiating dating and potential marriage relationships such as during major life transitions, sufferings, or times of healing. Maybe you’ve been called singleness. But if you’re not called to singleness do not avoid such committed relationships; that would be to avoid God’s gift. Instead I challenge you to take time in prayer to consider these things. Ask for guidance to throw off inhibiting idols, seek wisdom on how to pursue healthy and mature relationships, and learn from God’s Word so that you and your significant other may have a firm foundation on which your relationship may blossom.

Just Kidding

‘JK’ is a small phrase with a lot of power. It has the power to dissolve disrespect, conceal offense, erase shame, and even retract beliefs. With just two words we mask conflict by passing it off as if it were all in jest. We can even turn an entire room from treating a subject with disapproval to admiration by simply treating it as a joke. And the one who hears the crudeness and chooses not to laugh is suddenly seen as a party-pooper rather than a man of character. The joke has the power to be an “all-excusing, grace of life.” How crafty? How sly? To instantly change the course of darts that fly from the mouth. What magnificent power streams from ‘jk’?

Who are we kidding? It’s not magnificent power, its deceiving power. We’re not talking about a fun, little knock-knock joke or a good-humored quip. We attach jk to our words to conceal the pain that we’ve dished out on others. We attach “it’s a joke” to hide crude remarks that would have otherwise been offensive. We’re only deceiving ourselves to the reality of our disrespect. In C.S. Lewis’ book “The Screwtape Letters”, he creatively pens correspondents between demons discussing the art of temptation. In one letter a senior demon comments on how joking remarks can deceive man into masking vices.

“Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humorous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful—unless the cruel man can represent it as a practical joke.”

By presenting a vice as a joke, we attempt to expunge the disrespect or inappropriateness of what we say. It is one of the few ways we know to take back our words without having to admit our fault or apologize. If we mask our mistake or ill-humor as a joke, then maybe all will be forgotten. Yet our mask is transparent and wounds are deepened by our avoidance of an apology.

Certainly, jokes can be good. The Psalms talk often about laughter, which comes from good jokes. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine”. But joking can also be demeaning and harmful. As James puts it, the tongue is a powerful thing, able to bring great life or great hurt (Jas. 3:3-12). When we hide our offenses with jk rather than just apologizing or when we make an inappropriate joke, we cast hurt rather than giving life.

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (NIV). Our words should always be honoring to God. They should always communicate value to others just as God values all those He has made in His image. We are called to a higher standard, to live a life that reflects Christ. This certainly extends to the words that come from our mouth. Paul touches on this with Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (ESV).

The first thing Paul says to be an example in, is speech. So too, as followers of Christ we ought to be an example in our speech. Rather than avoiding our mistakes with a ‘jk’, we should admit our fault and apologize. How petty of us to try to be free from guilt by being free of integrity too. Why not be free from guilt through admission and maintain our integrity? Don’t give pride the upper hand, but humble yourself, apologize, and turn the tongue toward giving life. Rather than passing vices and crudeness off as jokes, we should avoid it. Our speech should honor the One whom we profess to follow.

Jesus says in Luke 6:45, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” What is in our hearts, is exposed by what we say. What do your words expose in your heart? It is my hope that the good treasure that is Christ resides in you. If you need a heart check-up today, go before God and let Him take a look. Let Him bring up the things that need adjusting so that He may mold your heart and mouth to reflect the One we were made for. May we turn from jokes that produce hurt and pursue words that produce in life in Him.

The Dark Secret of Anger

If you haven’t noticed, anger is making daily headlines. News of destruction, hate, and violence are almost so common that it doesn’t phase some. The reach of anger’s hand is far and wide; and one’s personal life is no exception. We get angry and other get angry at us. The question is; in a world wrought with anger, how does a follower of Christ deal with anger? Christ answers this question in Matthew 5:21-26. He teaches us that a right heart runs from anger and pursues reconciliation.

First a definition! Anger is a hateful and hurtful response that stems from a selfish heart. Jesus is not talking about anger toward injustices. He’s talking about destructive anger that is a product of meeting selfish desires. Anger punches walls or people because it doesn’t get its way. Anger shouts condemnation and profanities, because preferences aren’t met. Anger harbors hate to please pride. I believe that we view anger on a spectrum, anything from quiet resentment to committing murder. And within this spectrum lies the dark secret of anger. The spectrum leads us to believe that some forms of anger are not as bad as others, thus making some more acceptable than others. The truth is that anger is far more destructive that it wants you to believe.  Anger steals life!!

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He teaches that anger steals life. Not just murder, but all anger that is not rooted in God steals life. How can this be? See, God created everyone in His image, therefore when we get angry, we get angry at those created in God’s image, thus we’re attacking God’s image. And Jesus reveals this in two insults. First he references the word “Raca” in Matthew 5:22. This word means “empty headed”. It would be the equivalent to damning someone or calling people worthless. So when we get angry we’re attacking a person’s value. God’s image gives everyone value, so when that value gets attacked, God takes it seriously.

The second insult is about calling someone a fool. Proverbs describes a fool as someone who neglects correction, is lazy, is arrogant, and the list goes on. To call someone a fool is to attack their identity. This would be the equivalent of calling a person or group of people idiots. Therefore, anger attacks another’s value and identity. When we’re angry, we say things to get even. Essentially, we’re trying to take something away from them. But what we don’t realize is that something that we’re trying to take away is their image in God, we’re stealing what God considers their life. In anger, we attempt to take away another’s image (value and identity) in God, the ultimate form of which is the physical act of murder. Thus, Jesus teaches us that anger steals life.

If anger steals life then we must run from anger and pursue reconciliation. Reconciliation cares about restoring relationship, it cares about restoring life that was stolen. We pursue reconciliation not only because Jesus commands us to, but also because Christ has pursued reconciliation with us. Although we were the ones that wronged God, He made the first move and sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross that we might be forgiven of our sins. He then rose from the dead just as the Scriptures said He would. His resurrection is our reconciliation. All we must do to receive reconciliation and the forgiveness of our sins, is to believe in Him. That’s it. And if God is so willing to reconcile with us despite our grave iniquities, then who are we to withhold reconciliation from others?

So how do I run from anger and pursue reconciliation as Christ teaches us? Through preparation, practice, patience, and prayer.

Preparation—If we can recognize when we get angry then we can consciously prepare to run from it. Is it when you’re hungry, talking politics, when do you get angry? By knowing this I can prepare to run from anger and choose a peaceful response. Romans 12:17-18, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Practice—Practice recognizing calling anger out and turning from it. Practice reconciliation. Maybe there is someone you need to forgive or confess to today. Colossians 3:12-13, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

Patience—We’re going to get our buttons pushed. We live in a world that is wrought with sin, so things are going to happen that will tempt us toward anger. But if God can have patience with you and I, then we can have patience with others. We can choose to respond with patience rather than anger. We also need patience to pursue. When we pursue reconciliation with others, they may not accept it the first time. But pursue reconciliation nevertheless. Have patience and allow God to work on their heart. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

Prayer—finally we must admit that we can’t run from anger and pursue reconciliation on our own. It’s difficult to do this. Most of us often believe that if I feel it, then it must be right, and then act on it. This is not wise. When we feel anger, we should not give the devil the satisfaction of acting on it. We must humble ourselves before God recognizing that I can’t have a right heart on my own. Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me.”

When we pray God hears us and will give us that right heart. He will give us the opportunities for preparation, practice, patience, and prayer so that we may have a right heart that pursues reconciliation and runs from anger.

Why Image Matters

“I don’t care what others think about me.” Have you heard anyone say this? Maybe you have. I know I have. It’s an interesting phrase. It works great for such instances like feeling pressured to break morals or taunted about body image. The judgments of others should not control our lives. If we allow the thoughts of others to control us to such an extreme, then this is a phrase worth learning.

But we must admit that this phrase should not be applied to all situations. Adhering to this mantra in some situations can be more hurtful than helpful. It can lead to passivity toward vital life decisions and ignoring the wise counsel of others. Both are poor habits of which cascade into damaging ramifications. So often we actually do need to be aware of what others think. We need to remember that image matters.

This morning I was sitting with a friend at a local coffee shop. While we were there we couldn’t help but notice a gentleman conducting job interviews. Within an hour, six hopeful candidates sat down, handed over a resume, and answered questions. The interviews were casual; no one wore a business shirt or tie. Although there was no need for any formal attire, image still mattered. Most of the men and women were attentive and showed interest. A couple seemed to hold to the “I don’t care what others think about me” approach. In any interview, you want to present yourself well. You want to show that you’re capable, responsible, and have integrity. If I can’t show that I care in an interview, then I probably won’t care as an employee. Image matters.

Image matters for the Christian as well, if not more. Christians represent the King of kings and the Lord of lords to others. As some have said, we are the only Gospel than some may ever read. So the image that we put forth is vitally important. This does not mean that we put on a mask or a false image by any means. It shouldn’t be a need at all. The one that is rooted in God, naturally produces good fruit. In John 15:8 Jesus says that His followers are known by their good fruit. That is, God honoring acts, attitudes, and life are the outflow from the heart of those who follow Christ. All humanity is made in God’s image. But that image was marred by sin. Those that accept God’s love are conscious of this image and strive to represent His love, grace, and joy among many other good fruits.

Now this product of fruit is not perfection. No Christian naturally produces perfect love or perfect joy. We are all works in progress, continuously being sanctified by God. Yet our imperfect image is not an excuse for passivity. Rather His love is our motivation to continuously grow and pursue an image reflective of Christ. This growth is not something we do on our own. As sinful, imperfect human beings our efforts toward such goals are futile. Yet when we allow the Holy Spirit to work on our heart, chiseling away that which is not of God and replacing it with that which is of Him, then we begin to be restored into His image. Our thoughts, attitudes, and actions begin to reflect Christ more and more. Our image matters, because as followers of Christ we have the opportunity to represent Him to others.

Do your friends, fellow employees, peers, and family members know that you’re a follower of Christ by the way you live? Do they know Christ by the image you reflect?