12 August 2014

To Lead or Not To Lead

During a recent chat I made a comment along the lines of this: "There are times when women should step back and let men lead." When asked what I meant I actually had to stop and think about it - to be honest I didn't even realize I'd chosen that turn of phrase. I discovered that I didn't really know what I meant. 

To give you some context, we were talking about men/women/church etc. and the difficult positions women can find themselves in within church walls. So many of us have a sincere desire to lead as God directs, yet we find ourselves facing (biblical? cultural?) obstacles to leadership.

I replied with the example of Lydia: a wealthy, capable women identified as the leader of a group of folks meeting by a river, not the synagogue. The gist of the reason: no priest so no meeting in a synagogue - The Law laid out a provision for just such a scenario. Paul and his team arrived, told of them of Christ, and a church was birthed. See my first post on this fascinating woman here.

The relevance? Lydia did not insist that she was still in charge when someone more qualified showed up - she was willing to step aside and allow another to lead. [Be careful: don't incorrectly apply passages about submission here - she's not married to these men or under their authority.]

Our conversation moved on to other topics, but I've been thinking about it ever since. I find myself wondering if I really believe that this passage is instructional/should be applied to the positions of men/women in the New Testament church.

What I do know is this: 
  • The Law was super clear that all Jewish priests were male (see Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).
  • The New Testament is super clear that all believers in Christ are priests. He is our High Priest, we are his priesthood - there is no gender distinction (see Hebrews, 1 Peter 2).
This one's hard, right? I acknowledge that in Christ I am part of His priesthood...but at the same time I believe that The Fall impacted how men and women relate to one another...that women tend to want to take control. We justify frantic grasps for authority and/or pride of place at church by claiming there are no men available - perhaps even refusing to step aside when someone (male or female) more qualified arrives.

There is no indication that Lydia was upset when qualified folks showed up to teach and help them. She still played a significant role in that group of believers - she simply changed position. 

In the end I suppose that's where I land. I don't want to cling so hard to a position that I lose sight of Christ, that I forget where my gifts/abilities/passions lie. I want to be willing to step back so that another man or woman can step forward. So long as I keep sight of Christ, connect to God, trust the Spirit that resides within me...I can remain confident that I'll know when to lead and when not to lead.

21 July 2014

Believe In...Believe

I've been reading through John MacArthur's commentary on the book of Hebrews as part of my vocation (papers to grade in just a couple weeks!). While I do not agree with his perspective on everything, several phrases have caused me to stop, pause, and consider.

The most intriguing - the one that has come to mind repeatedly over the past week - has to do with Cain. It is contained in MacArthur's comments on Hebrews 11 (aka the Hall of Faith) and provided me with a new view of this sad story. Even the unchurched know that Cain killed his brother. Do you remember the context of the story?

Abel and Cain bring sacrifices to God. Abel brought an animal (blood sacrifice) while Cain brought fruit/veg of the land. We can infer that God had provided them specific instructions - God accepts Abel's sacrifice but not his brother's. We have a bit of conversation where Cain discusses these events with God - and then the first murder occurs.

Enter MacArthur's phrase: "Cain believed in God, but he did not believe God."

Woah. Stop. Consider these words! That two letter preposition is so powerful here - I don't want you to miss it.

Cain believed in God: no doubt his parents had made him aware of their history, clearly God is still communicating on some level. Cain had interaction with God - enough to believe in his existence. I find myself correlating this to head knowledge - Cain knew in his head who God was and what he required. He believed in His reality.

He did not believe God: Cain's actions on the day of sacrifice reveal his heart - he did not believe what God said. It seems clear that God told his people to bring a blood sacrifice, but Cain chose to bring something different. Sure, God's a fan of all his creation - but he provided clear instruction. Even knowing the story of his parent's removal from the Garden of Eden, Cain did not believe God would be true to his word.

Can you imagine that boldness? Even know I stop, pause, and consider...and realize how often I, too, do not take God at his word. The written word of God outlines how we, as followers of Christ, are to live our lives. It outlines the consequences if we choose otherwise. How many times have we (I) opted to do something contrary to God simply because I don't think its a big deal?

In Cain I hear the echoes of so many: "Well, my case is special and I just can't do that. God will understand and accept me for who I am. God is love! Show me mercy!"

Oh my. We all bear this tendency.

How hard it is to daily, consistently, choose to believe God. To believe the clear words of scripture that tell us what is sin, what is good, consequences for actions that seem great to us but do not fall in line with God's will.

Ultimately, I ask you to consider whether you really believe God. If you do...start praying/living like the victor you already are! If you do not...consider Cain's sad story and look deep into your heart. Either way - choose to live as God has called you to live - this and every day.

14 July 2014

This Generation

These days it seems like there are constant conversations about generations - what happened to this one, what's wrong with that one, in my day we would...

I struggle with questions like this, even as I long to resolve them.

The reality is that each generation naturally differs from one another. We are shaped not only by home environment, but world politics and religious contacts. We must decide whether we will define ourselves en masse as the world defines us...or if we'll acknowledge the impact of generational tendencies and with the same breath see that God trumps all boundaries.

He's either God or he's not.

Yes, we do the work to figure out learning methods (and therefore teaching methods); we diligently seek out conversations to ensure we're on the right track. We strive to be the church God has called us to be...

Isn't that the key to it all, really?

Who has God called me to be? Am I living up to his desire for me? Am I allowing frustration with the status quo to distract me from the path he has called me to walk - allowing generational tenancies to trump God's will for my life?

Am I blaming other instead of accepting responsibility for my own state of being.

As I read Psalms (a book that captures human emotion like no other) this morning, I found myself in two favorite chapters: Psalms 24 and 25. Each has a verse that always strikes my soul, gives me pause.

Psalm 24: 6 - This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.

Each generation sees themselves as seeking God's face. It looks different for each one (methodology is impacted strongly by generational tendencies) - but as believers in Christ we are all seeking him. Trouble starts when we focus more on generational quirks than God. If I diligently seek God's will before, during, and after conversation with any generation - up and coming, out going, and all those in between - how can I not succeed? God is at the center of it all!

If you're not sure about this idea...think about the last time you traveled. Whether home or abroad, haven't you met people and felt an instant, heart deep connection? I believe that is evidence that the Holy Spirit who lives in me - in all believers - connects us to one another. I don't understand it, cannot explain it fully - but I have experienced the reality too many times to not accept it.

Psalm 25: 7 - Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness' sake, O Lord.

I made mistakes when I was younger that impact my life even today. So does the up and coming generation - so did the generations that have gone before me. Some errors were made in an overwhelming zeal for God that ran over people in an effort to work. Some were my own lack of confidence in who God made me to be - we are shaped by our lives and no one's life is perfect! If I beg God to forgive my wrongs, but fail to ask the same of the humans impacted by my choices...well. I'll leave that for you to ponder.

Each generation sees itself as best, unique, most desirous of following God. What would the church look like if we were to stop blaming, seek God's face, and start talking to one another. 

Change.

Our churches - and everyone in our field of influence - would see change on a scale like no other. 

Nothing will happen unless this (yours, mine) generation desperately seeks God.

06 July 2014

Time to call Dad

I adore working in my yard (exercise without the gym) and mowing my lawn has become a favorite activity. I opted to purchase an old school manual mower, which can be challenging if I let the grass get to high. I like that it pushes my body to work just a bit harder - but the primary reasons were my concern for gas spillage and inhaling exhaust fumes.

Its been more challenging than usual these last few weeks - the rear wheels kept falling off. After several trips to the hardware store for new bolts I thought I had the problem licked...but when I began working on my front lawn yesterday morning I found, to my chagrin, that I was wrong.

Looking at the machine I was struggling to fix, I asked myself how many more times I'd try to fix it myself. Within seconds I had grabbed my phone and put a call in to my dad - an actual call, not a text. Less than a minute he called me back. I explained the situation, asked to borrow his mower so I could finish the job before I tackled the problem again.

An hour later he's mowing my front lawn. Job complete, he looks over my machine, loads it in his car and takes it away to repair. This afternoon he returns, mower fixed, and I successfully mow my backyard.

Seems a bit trivial, eh? Allow me to explain why this is so important to me.

Its been years since I've called my father to help me. I know he's ready, willing, and able - he clearly proved that this weekend. Why do I hesitate to ask? My guess is that I tend to allow my independent nature to supersede my abilities. I forget how wonderfully blessed I am to have a father that lives nearby, that will help me (whatever that looks like).

Tonight I find myself wondering how often I treat God the same way. He's ready, willing, and able to care for me. If I truly believe in the core of my being that He made all, controls all, gives all...why do I rely upon myself to solve my problems? How much does my Heavenly Father enjoy hearing his daughter ask for help? How quickly will he send aid ? Will I accept it when it comes?

Willingness to recognize my inabilities and shortcomings are a quick route to my Father. I can do nothing without him.

I'm so glad I called my Dad. Maybe its time you called yours, too.

01 July 2014

Independence Day

How do you spend holiday? Mine tend to start a few days out with reflection on the day. Take the upcoming Fourth of July holiday...I prefer to call it by the less popular "Independence Day".

Its a uniquely American holiday featuring barbecue and fireworks. It gets me thinking about what the war way back in the 1700s could have been like. When grilling foods outdoors was everyday life, not something done for pleasure. When bombs, gunfire, explosions were part of everyday existence the could mean the end of life...folks didn't sit outside on soft blankets and stare into the night sky, oohing and aahing about pretty colors.

I think about those who fought, those who cared for wounded bodies, those who sent soldiers off to war with whatever they could spare - and what they could not. I think about why they fought, what core reason might have driven each individual to such drastic action.

I wonder if they would be horrified by who we are as a nation 200+ years later.

What does it mean to be independent? Why was it so important that people died (still die, still suffer life-altering injuries) so I could have it?

Choice. Like so many things I believe that it comes down to freedom to chose. Independence, at its finest, means that I am responsible for the choices I make and the life I choose to live. Do I use what God has given me to help others, encourage others, strengthen others? Do I care about my well-being, choosing healthy diet and activity, financial wisdom, healthy friendships, caring for His creation?

Not allowing others to control how I think, what I do, where I go...(and not doing that to those that look up to me in any way, shape, or form).

I fear that we take independence for granted. That we allow the distractions of "Fun" to overshadow wars that have been (are) waged, lives that have (are) sacrificed, friends/family that are separated for weeks/months/years at a time.

As you celebrate the holiday, consider taking a few moments to think about the history of the day and how your life today would be different if Independence Day had never happened.

23 June 2014

Great Expectations

I woke this morning with the phrase "Great Expectations" - yes, with capital letters - on my mind. It struck me that this simple phrase may well explain any/all frustration I have felt in recent weeks.

My generation - Gen X - tends to be characterized by cynicism. My decision to follow Christ supersedes any human trait I may have - even my cynical tendencies (I prefer to think I'm a realist). Many years ago I chose to study hope in the Bible - what I learned set me on a path to defeat this aspect of my personality. Check out this passage from Paul's letter to the church at Phillipi:

Philippians 1:18 - 20: What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

The words "earnest expectation" are a single Greek word (G603) meaning "watching; intense anticipation". The image that comes to mind is of a young child glued to a window watching for a favorite person's arrival. Time means nothing to a child - if they learn someone/something is coming, they'll sit and watch. Even if the person/event is days, weeks, or months away.

Hope doesn't mean wish - it's not some odd sort of magic word for Christians. The Greek word translated "hope" (G1680) means "to anticipate with pleasure; expectation or confidence". The more I study scripture, the greater my expectations. I am convinced, now more than ever, that I am in the right place and doing the right work.

I love that the pronoun "my" is attached to these concepts. It was personal to Paul - his expectation, his hope. His life was defined and consumed by Christ - it pressed him forward even as he sat in prison, writing words of encouragement to believers watching his life and response to the roadblocks scattered across his path. The verses surrounding these focus words serve to remind readers that Christ is our ultimate goal - everything I do must be in light of Christ.

When the going gets hard, when things seem to go wrong at every turn, the best "check" I can imagine is to stop and examine what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. Are my expectations, my hope in line with Christ? Do they coincide with the vision God has given me for my life? If so, roadblocks must be faced head-on. If not, I get to choose whether to graciously make a smooth turn and realign myself with Christ...or continue beating my head against that cement divider standing in my way.

As I begin each day, I'm making a habit to remind myself of this simple principle. Of course I have Great Expectations - I serve a living God that has given me a specific vision for my life. My conviction that what I do is for him helps me face difficulties small and large I meet throughout the day. It may not minimize the frustration I feel in the moment, but it does help me refocus when I have a moment of stillness.

10 June 2014

Follow me as I follow Christ




There was a time, more than a decade ago now, that every time I turned around this phrase was stated by leaders of all sizes/shapes/maturities. As I studied and contemplated Hebrews - a book that expounds the depth of Christ's work on earth - this afternoon, it was brought to my remembrance.

I don't hear it as often as I used to...and I find myself wondering if we have lost sight of why we (the global church) do what we do.

Are we (am I) following Christ? Do the people I lead see me following Christ? Is that why they follow me...or do they see me and desire to be like me? [Gulp]

Christ told his disciples to follow him. Ultimately, therefore, I am to follow Christ. Those that follow me are to follow me as I follow Christ.

I pray that the minute I stop following Christ they stop following me. The goal is not to make people that look like me - it is that at the end of our lives we should look more like Christ!

Christ must be the center of all that I do. I must consider what Christ taught and how he lived before I make decisions about my resources, my body, my spiritual well being, my interactions with others...everything.

Only then am I worthy to be called a leader.