Leadership in Action!

I have been walking my four year old son through biblical leadership these days and he has been responding wonderfully. He has learned that boys never hit girls and he rarely has a moment where he is outwardly tempted to hit is six or two year old sisters. Whether or not he is tempted in his heart is another story, but I have been very encouraged by his self-control and discretion. Haydn, my son, knows that how he currently treats his mother and sisters is a future snapshot of how he will treat his wife and he has embraced this concept and is responding well.

He holds the door open for his mother and sisters wherever we go. He rarely forgets. He will typically run ahead of us to get the door. Sometimes he can’t get it open, but he does understand what he should do with it when he gets there. In most cases he will choose discretion and deference when it comes to who goes first. He knows it’s “Ladies first.” Well, we have some work in that area, but he understands what is right though his personal interests at times can get the best of him. I’m still working on that one myself.

He picks up his little sister and totes her to the potty to help her get on the toilet. She is “in process” as far learning to use the toilet and Haydn enjoys serving her this way. He will warn his little sister of certain dangers that are ahead and he does this in humble tones rather than hollering at her. He’ll let her know if she is about to get into trouble by her sinful response to a situation. He has learned what is right and wrong in certain matters and is thoughtful enough to pass on to his sister what he has learned the hard way. I’m not sure why he isn’t as careful about letting his older sister know these things.

Recently he has learned how to turn the washer on. He loves to vacuum and does a fairly good job dusting. He also has become somewhat adept at folding clothes.

He also is very quick to repent. We are currently teaching him to be specific in identifying his sin as part of his repentance and when he does “repent” that he name the sin he is repenting of. He has a tender conscience and broad awareness of sin. These are all good things. And I would want anyone to know about these good things, because that is the starting point with anyone when you begin to talk about them. I know that we all get it wrong, but it seems most helpful to remind ourselves of the times we get it right more often than surfacing a list of ways we get it wrong. Encouragement is a wonderful starting place.

All in all, my son is growing in his leadership capacities and I really do not have a complaint. However, it was a bit humorous recently when the three of them were sitting at the kitchen bar and Haydn was wolfing down some cereal. My two daughters had no food before them and were patiently waiting on someone to serve them. We happen to be talking about marriage, leadership and serving and in-between shoveling Haydn reminded me, “Daddy, I’m a good leader.”

I couldn’t help but laugh as I looked in his nearly empty bowl and then to his two sisters who had not a morsel before them. I tried to winsomely remind Haydn that his “two wives” would like to be served and a good leader would provide for them before he fed his own belly. He got it and all of us had a good laugh. My next goal is to take heed to my own advice. 

Functional Legalism

Legalism is typically an easy sin for me to yield to. Being a person who has historically been concerned with what some people think of me I have found legalism to be functional, practical and easy to maintain, in a twisted kind of way of course. You see, in order to be a good legalist you need to be able to out-think other legalists. And if you can do that then you are typically well-thought of and/or respected by your peers for your spiritual practices.

In my past I have been unwittingly proud of my ability to make a longer list of “do’s and don’ts” than the average Christian. And many of my friends unwittingly equated my asceticism with spirituality. I carried the right bible, went to the right church, wore the right clothes, spoke the right words, sang the right songs, went to the right places and associated with the right people. And sadly to some, my arrogance was interpreted as “spirituality.” Being free from this proud thinking was difficult. It is difficult. I am a proud man. I do want people to think well of me. And in the world of Christianity it can be more about what you do than who you are.

As I began to branch out and make new friends who were not part of my ascetic world I found relationships difficult. I was socially awkward. My new friends in my new world would look at my quirks of spirituality and not be as impressed or inspired as my legalistic friends. They saw it for what it was: ignorance, immaturity, pride, Pharisaical standards, smoke and mirrors and, even worse, an insecure person posing as a spiritual person. I was a poser.

My new friends were more interested in other things; more humble, cross-centered things. Here’s a short list: For example, they were curious as to how I treated my wife…

  • Did I include her in the decisions we made?
  • Did I serve her by pitching-in to clean the home?
  • Was I leading her in rearing our children?
  • Was I aware of what she was doing or why she did what she did and what was going on in her life, the children’s lives?
  • Were we spending adequate time together?
  • Was God at the center of our life rather than the “ministry” or my “burden” or my vocation?
  • Was I living an authentic Christian life in the home and not just before those whom I desired a good opinion?
  • Was I regularly repenting of and confessing my sin?
  • Was I confessing my sin to my wife? …to my friends?
  • Did I ignore my sins toward her? Sins like neglect, harshness, impatience, not thinking the best, not walking her through various situations, not protecting her schedule, not actively planning our schedule, not leading the family in devotions, not having quiet times with her, not asking her opinion, not taking the time to ask her challenging questions, not surprising her with love, not taking a day off or an evening off, not having biblical fellowship, not pointing out the many evidences of grace in her life, not leading in encouragement, and much, much more.
  • Was I inviting the humble observations of my friends to help me change?
  • Was I reflecting the humility of Christ?
  • And there is more…much more…

Whew! Being a selfish, arrogant Pharisee, craving the opinion of others and living by a list was a heck of a lot easier. It was certainly safer. It left me in control. Being a Pharisee put my interest, my burden, my ministry, my hobby, my life first. It helped in bending people’s good opinion toward me.

It has taken me years to realize that loving God and neighbor the way Jesus meant in Matthew 22 is radically different than a list of rules. This new lifestyle has been difficult to say the least. It is challenging me every day, not with a list, but with a lifestyle that makes discernment, courage, intentionality, changing priorities, focusing on others a way of living.

Even though it is more work, the relationships are deeper, longer lasting, more meaningful and more rewarding. My wife is not just a sex object or slave for me and my children are not in the way. Life is full.

The rewards of serving are plentiful and immediate. It is the grandest way to live. I am truly free by being a slave to Christ rather than a slave to a code of ethics (lists). By the grace of God I don’t have to live by the list anymore.

By the grace of God I’m learning to live in the good of the gospel in my ordinary life.

Fellowship: Our Animating Center

The key to any relationship is fellowship. Spiritual, biblical, caring fellowship is the functional, practical core of a robust relationship. Whether you are married or have kids or close friends it is active, animating, consistent fellowship that will keep the relationship alive and focused on God. Our animating center must be a desire to pursue one another in biblical fellowship. When this kind of relational emphasis becomes dormant or non-existent that relationship is in danger of dying or at best becoming a pragmatic agreement between two people who are spiritually distant, while mutually agreeing they must press on and somehow co-exist until their common interests are no longer.

Typically the “common interests” in these diminishing relationships are children. And when the children begin to leave it becomes evident to the pragmatic-partners that living together is no longer necessary and they soon part. Others who do not want the stigma of divorce will choose to live a “silent divorce” in the home. Outwardly they may appear as one, but from every perceptive vantage point they are not. The reason for this is a deadening of their animating center. They do not have spiritual fellowship. In short, God is not ruling their hearts to the point where He is spilling out and into each other’s lives.

What are we do? This is a good question that has a simple but challenging answer. Here’s the thing to do. You must determine to make a plan to engage one another in biblical fellowship.

And part of making a plan with a fellowship-focus is asking each other the right questions. As you think about your soul and the souls of your friends here are some excellent questions to ask. Ask them first of yourself. Be aggressive and honest. Be specific and detailed. Charge forward into the depths of your soul during your quiet time, even if it hurts. Bring your notepad and pen along with you. Make copious notes. Dig deep. Be broad. Don’t come up until you’re done. Go back and dig some more. Keep after yourself. Take your soul to task.

Next? Tell a trusted friend, preferably your spouse if you are married. Then begin to seek out your friends and ask them these questions. Lead them. Serve them. Help them. And may both of you experience the joys of biblical fellowship. May your animating center come alive in God. May you both magnify our great Creator together. Let us choose to build up the body of Christ. And let us begin in our homes.

Here are some good questions to get you started:

  1. What specifically is God doing in your life?
  2. What has He taught you this week?
  3. How are you applying what you are learning? Detailed and with specificity.
  4. How have you failed in some area of spiritual and practical responsibility?
  5. How have you succeeded in modeling Jesus Christ to others? Your spouse? Children? Others?
  6. What are your plans regarding our commission to go out and make disciples?
  7. How can I help you in this area…apart from the obvious: praying?
  8. What are your inner struggles?

Now, go and practice…

Real Strength

Recently I enjoyed the privilege of reading the book The Gospel Primer, by Milton Vincent. I’ve excerpted some enriching and inspiring quotes for you here. I trust it will also inspire you as well as you savor the Christ. Jerry Bridges popularized the quote “you  must preach the Gospel to yourself everyday”. I think this small but powerful book will assist us in giving the gospel its rightful and central place in our minds.

Here is a very satisfying quote from Vincent: God did not give us His gospel just so we could embrace it and be converted. Actually, He offers it to us every day as a gift that keeps on giving to us everything we need for life and godliness. The wise believer learns this truth early and becomes proficient in extracting available benefits from the Gospel each day. We extract these benefits by being absorbed in the Gospel, speaking it to ourselves when necessary, and by daring to reckon it true in all we do.

At my conversion I got the Gospel, I understood the Gospel and I applied the Gospel to my wicked soul. However, since that time I have tended to forget the Gospel in my day-to-day affairs. It is almost as though I believe that the Gospel saves, but post-conversion it is more about being obedient through my practices. The bible would contradict my poor theological understanding of sanctification. The Gospel does indeed save. And the Gospel does indeed have application in my daily affairs, post-conversion. The Gospel is power for salvation AND power for sanctification.

Here’s another quote from another book that gets at this same thought: The gospel isn’t one class among many that you’ll attend during your life as a Christian – the gospel is the whole building that all the classes take place in! Rightly approached, all the topics you’ll study and focus on as a believer will be offered to you “within the walls” of the glorious gospel. –Mahaney, p. 75-76 of The Cross Centered Life

And one last thought from Vincent regarding how the Gospel should take up the most central place in our daily thought. He is reflecting on Romans 1:16: For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

Here is the quote: Indeed God’s power is seen in erupting volcanoes, in the unimaginably hot boil of our massive sun, and in the lightning speed of a recently discovered star seen streaking through the heavens at 1.5 million miles per hour. Yet in Scripture such wonders are never labeled “the power of God.” How powerful, then, must the gospel be that it would merit such a title! And how great is the salvation it could accomplish in my life, if I would only embrace it by faith and give it a central place in my thoughts each day!

She’s Too Fat!!

We were at Century Park last night to give the kids some “run around time” after a day in the house. Sometimes they can get a little stir-crazy and it serves us all to get out and let them run. Century Park is one of those wooden fort, swing, see-saw, castle, sliding board, sand and more kind of things with seemingly endless steps, tunnels, fire poles, escape routes all in a logical, labyrinthical, maze.

The kids love it.

And per usual when they go to a place like this they typically make “new” best friends for a day and they talk and play together. Last night they hooked up with a few new friends and were playing a “catch-me-if-you-can” kind of game. There were the chasers and those being chased.

Haydn had teamed up with a couple of his new friends and they were chasing (or escaping, I don’t remember) from Tristen and her horde. At some point Haydn was trying to help a 7-something-year-old girl up through a “hatch” kind of thing into freedom.

Tristen was hollering at Haydn to pull her on to freedom. Haydn was obviously struggling under the weight of it all. He is four and she was more, much more.

Finally, under the strain of frustration and a growing reality that he didn’t have what it took to pull her “over the top” he yelled at Tristen…

I can’t, she’s too fat!!

Lucia pretended not to know him anymore. When she told me I couldn’t stop laughing.

Not Her Best

Carolyn Mahaney recently posted on her Girl Talk Blog a very helpful article on the tensions and toils of the wife laboring in the home. She points out that it is okay for the woman not to excel in everything she does. She further points out that the wife and mother should NOT feel as though there is a competition to be the best cook, the best seamstress or the best storyteller to her kids.

She quotes G. K. Chesterton from his book The Emancipation of Domesticity who said, “Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad”

Carolyn’s aim is to encourage our ladies on the broader aims of God and the robustness of being domestic for the glory of God.

You can read the full article HERE.

On Being Average

While on vacation recently we visited a local church meeting. It was a wonderful experience. I loved it. My wife loved it. My kids loved it. Christ was magnified. God was glorified. The people were warm and friendly. The teaching was outstanding. As a guest our family was served so well. We went away encouraged and grateful to God for our time with other Christians.

However, as I was reading through some of the material they gave us I noticed something that confronted my limitations. In short, I’m not a bright person. At best, I am average. I have given up the Utopian notion that I will be above average in anything. It will never be.

Here’s the good news: I’m okay with being average.

However, where being average comes to the fore and presents its most habitual sin problem for me is in the area of sanctification. This church’s literature brought my “average-ness” to my mind again and I felt a slight angst rise-up in my soul. To their credit they had some guiding principles that they value and in their desire to serve their people these principles were laid out in a list for clarity, precision and hopefully encouragement. My problem is that when my “average-ness” collides with a sanctification list such as this I can feel a functional, spiritual illiteracy oozing over me.

Sometimes I convince myself that I can do this and I go off with much zeal and hope that I am “more than a conqueror through Christ” only to find after a day or week or month that I can’t keep up with the varied Christian disciplines. I’m not consistent and even worse I’m typically overrated in my mind. I’m a 40-pound spiritual weakling. And when these realities settle into my soul I’m tempted to sin. I tried to overcome and I failed, again. I gave it my best shot only to land hard upon the heap of lists, priorities, to-dos and goals…again.

This local church had goals to shoot for like prayer, evangelism, bible reading, bible study, fellowship and confession. Now these are all good things. These are things I want to do. These are things that I need to practice on a daily basis. AND in addition to this I want to be a good neighbor to my world, a good husband to my wife, a good dad to my kids, a good brother to my Christian friends AND I want to learn how to be a leader, be humble, be consistent, be repentant and more. My problem is that sometimes I feel like a juggler with more to juggle than is humanly possible. Or at least impossible for the average Christian (Read: Me).

Typically my average-ness only allows me to juggle one thing at a time. Multi-tasking in the spiritual disciplines is not part of my gift mix. This is a hard truth for me to “fess-up” to. I’m a proud person. I love me and my loyalties to myself sometimes cross lines to the point that I live in self-deception. It has taken me multiple decades to embrace my dumbness. Am I discouraged by this? Absolutely not! I am not discouraged at all. I only get discouraged when my self-deception inflates my head to the point where I am striving to impress others. This is twisted.

I can easily be tempted toward a higher view of myself. I realize it could be sad to think I’ll never be a Major Leaguer. It is even sadder when I sinfully strive in situations that only lead to frustrations and temptations through my ill-advised efforts to make the “Bigs”. Accepting my place is not failure. It is a practical reality of how God has made me and now I can live robustly within these parameters.

I’m a pretty good Little Leaguer.

It is not giving up or a failure/fatalistic mentality. It is actually a better definition of success. I could be a very successful Little Leaguer when I realize my gift mix does not allow me to be a Big Leaguer. This is biblical thinking. The key is to recognize who you are and fulfilling fully God’s plan for you as you are empowered by his Spirit within the grace-gifting you have received.

James hinted at the dangers of striving beyond your grace-gifting in 3:16: For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. I get in trouble when I selfishly strive in areas beyond my limitations. I’ve come to realize that my average-ness is okay with God. A “widow’s copper penny” is huge in God’s mind if that is all she has.

Now what do average people do who struggle with spiritual-multi-tasking? This is a good question. What are we to do when we can only do one thing at a time? How does the bible speak to this? Well here’s more good news. The bible only asks us to do one thing. The bible only has one value, one task on its list, one “to-do”, one priority.

More on that later…

A Gentleman’s Agreement

I have been thinking the past several days about a recent comment made by a friend of mine. She has been married for nearly two decades, and she told me that her husband has confessed more sin in the past few months than during the previous twenty years of marriage.

What is truly amazing about this is how virtually everyone around them has “checked the box” as far as accepting them as the “normal” or acceptable example of the Christian life. This couple has passed the “test” to the point to where they are models for the Christian community at large. This husband and wife love the Savior and have sought to please him by their life. Yet there is a problem. The problem is not on the surface, where blatant hypocrisy resides. To unearth this issue, we must drill down to the causal core. See Luke 6:43-45. In my reflection, I do not see these hidden issues as being exclusive to this couple. This is my story as well. Again, neither of our families are actively seeking to live the life of a hypocrite; but in actuality, we’re wittingly and unwittingly playing a charade without realizing the awful ramifications of such a lifestyle.

I think the big issue in our lives is that no one is drilling down to this causal core and asking insightful, probing questions that matter at the level of the heart, our character. It sometimes seems to be an unspoken gentleman’s agreement not to be this intrusive. In the back of our minds, at the level of the subtle and/or subliminal, we know something is amiss but we don’t say anything about it. If we do say something it is simply dismissed and we go on. In short, we are marginalizing the essence of biblical friendship. This unspoken gentleman’s agreement allows us to live within the acceptable norms of hypocrisy, enjoying one another’s company, and approving the “I’ll check your box if you check my box” approach to living. None of this is verbalized; it is the “unsaid” that contributes to this kind of sub-Christian existence.

I was sharing this with a counselee recently about how these thoughts have worked out in my own life. For example, I was motivated to enter the workforce as a 12-year old because of a survival mentality that existed in our home. We were on food stamps, welfare and lived just above the poverty line for a period of time. In addition, my dad was very abusive verbally as well as possessing a pension for alcohol which absorbed a good part of our family income. These “environmental” and sin issues, along with my own personal sin, created a craving for attention, approval, and affirmation from someone, from anyone. Unwittingly, as I entered the workforce to survive, I worked hard and was rewarded with attention, approval and affirmation. This unguarded craving was being satisfied. Again, unwittingly, I worked all the harder and in process received more and more praise. It was a closed, endless-looped system: I worked, they praised; they praised and I worked. I was getting my desires met, and all I had to do was perform with a hearty work ethic.

To make matters worse, when I became a Christian I went into the church and made a new discovery. I not only had an intense work ethic, but also an ability to understand and communicate spiritual truth. So an unguarded strength, because it was unguarded, became a double weakness. In short, I unwittingly discovered another means to receive the applause of people. My approval drive was being tickled and it felt good. For a person in shoes like mine, the natural rationale was to seek vocational ministry. Therefore, carried on by a wave of fan support and a desire to be accepted and appreciated, I entered the ministry. (Please be reminded that these thoughts regarding my motives never entered my mind at the time.)

Unfortunately, the kind of illumination I’m now writing about on these pages was in the mind of God back then, and not in mine. I was not thinking about motive for ministry. If anyone was, I was unaware of it.

Nevertheless, the beat went on and these cravings did as well. In retrospect I see these cravings as insatiable. They could not be satisfied, and the owner of them became the slave to them. This kind of bondage spoils all that is in its path. Regrettably, the first people to be hurt were my immediate family.

From the bleachers everyone was checking the boxes in my life. I was married; I had 2.5 children; I was gainfully employed and a Christian heading into ministry; I had 3.42 acres of land—check, check, check and check. No one was examining my character, the motives of my heart, my cravings, conflicts, or the unedited me. Everyone saw the edited version and it appeared to be okay. The reason the edited version was okay was because it was carefully edited. However, the real issues of life flow from the heart, the causal core of who I really am, that part of me that cannot be easily detected. See Proverbs 4:23. Praise be to God that I now live in a context where the unedited me is being discovered. The gap between the real me and the edited me is closing. I am experiencing biblical friendship, which goes into those places of the heart. The people who are in my path are reaping the blessing. The box is not being checked too quickly. Good questions are being asked. Behavior is being examined for motive. I’m not graded on a curve anymore. Someone cares what is happening at the causal core and they have the insight, compassion, wisdom, grace and love to go deeper. The obvious is not good enough anymore. It’s the secret places that need to be drawn out. Praise be to God!

It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are – even if we tell it only to ourselves – because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.

Frederick Buechner from Telling Secrets, P. 3.