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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

I was reading through the Proverbs today, and this verse struck me in particular.

Proverbs 9:7-9 “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”

I looked up the word “scoffer” on, and this is what I found:

“to scorn, make mouths at, talk arrogantly a) 1) to boast 2) to scorn b) 1) to mock, deride”

This passage spoke to me in a number of ways. In one way, it spoke to me because I believe I have found myself in positions where I have attempted to correct or reprove a scoffer, and the results have not been good. The result has been injury and inflammation of conflict. This passage convicted me of the error in this. It has also encouraged me to be more discerning about when I am actually called to speak up. I am by nature an activist. While there are some helpful aspects of this nature, there are also some major proclivities toward sin and error too. Sometimes this tendency in me has been nothing more than a lack of faith—a sorry attempt to take things into my own hands rather than quietly and prayerfully trusting the God who is perfectly wise and perfectly in control. It has also sometimes been simply a lack of patient love—a failure to treat others with the same long suffering and grace I have received from God (and from others, for that matter). I hunger to grow in my discernment, in my trust in God, in my prayerful dependence on God, and in my gospel love of others! And this Proverb has shown me new ways in which I am called to grow and mature in this area right now.

I also love the ESV Study Bible notes on this passage: “These verses present three statements about what happens if one corrects a scoffer or the wicked plus three contrasting statements about reproving a wise man. The point is twofold: if a person desires to be wise, he must examine how his heart responds to wise reproof or correction, and in order to be wise with others, he must have the prudence to observe other people’s actions. It is clear that the ‘wise’ or ‘righteous’ person does not rest content with his attainment, nor is he presented as morally ‘perfect’. He becomes still wiser and will increase in learning through correction.” (ESV Study Bible published by Crossway at page 1150).

I particularly love the last part: “It is clear that the ‘wise’ or ‘righteous’ person does not rest content with his attainment, nor is he presented as morally ‘perfect’. He becomes still wiser and will increase in learning through correction.”

I do not want to forget that my own sinful nature is that of a scoffer. All of our hearts have been boastful, arrogant, mocking, and full of derision at times. By God’s grace, I want to have a heart that truly recognizes that I have much to learn and that I am so far from morally perfect (as no doubt this truth is painfully obvious to all of those around me)! I want to have a heart that receives correction well with a humble heart. I want to have a heart that can distinguish between lies and truth. I do not want to slander or mischaracterize as a “critic” or an “enemy” someone who is actually a loving friend who is trying to help me to see an area where I am blinded by ignorance and sin I do not want to misinterpret loving correction as hateful rejection, as my heart is too often quick to do.

Dear Heavenly Father, Please give me a heart that is humble, soft, and discerning, Oh Lord! Help me to speak courageously, boldly, lovingly, and truthfully when you call me to, and help me to know when to love with my prayerful silence.  By your grace, may I not sin against you or against my brother or sister on either end of this spectrum! Help my heart to humbly hear and heed correction and rebuke that comes to me from you through the lips of your people.  Help me not to be a scoffer!  Show me any areas where I might be behaving as a scoffer, and grant me quick and thorough repenetance!  Help me to grow in wisdom and to honor you in all I do.  In Jesus Name, Amen

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Romans 12

Sometimes I am confused, perplexed, and hurt by relationships in the Body of Christ.  The Word puts such an emphasis on love and unity in the Body of Christ--the Bride who Jesus has randsomed and is redeeming.  And yet, the Body of Christ is such a mess in so many ways.  I know that I am a mess too and part of the problem as a sinner who is too often proud, judgmental, lazy, self-interested, selfish, naive and foolishly too quick to react sometimes, etc (there are lots more to add to this list).  I understand why there is conflict in the Body of Christ--as we all sin against each other.  In my head, I know I should not be surprised to see these ugly things in myself and in the Body of Christ, but the damage caused by these messy interactions does cause pain that spins me around sometimes.

I have a hard time understanding why brothers and sisters in Christ would not try to resolve and persevere through conflict, not compromising on Biblical truth, but also not compromising on Biblical love.  I don't understand how there could be burned bridges in the Body of Christ.  I don't understand how friendships could end so easily in the Body of Christ when our lives are built on the hope of eternal life together with God.  In this way, it seems that the Body of Christ does not look so different from the rest of the world who has not encountered Jesus' life changing love. 

When I feel discouraged, hurt, depressed and spun around about this, I love to go to Romans 12 for perspective.  Jesus, help us live and love like this--in this radical way!!  Let us sense the weightiness of the fact that we are one body in you and that we are individually members of one another! Help me to have a humble, servant heart that sincerely loves through conflict and hurt by your Spirit!   Give me a perspective to see beyond the standards of this world, so that I would not be conformed to the standards of the world, but rather that I would be renewed in your way and standards!  Help me to know the difference between your way and worldliness.  Help me not to think of myself more highly than I ought or to be wise in my own eyes!!  Open my eyes to the ways I have hurt others, and grant me quick repentance and a heart that is quick to do all that I need to do to make things right with others.  Give me courage to love in the face of rejection, and give me opportunities to lavishly love those you call me to love, even when I am hurt and confused by them.  Help me to love well and to persevere in love even when it becomes difficult.  Help me to be a peacemaker, and not to inflame conflict.  Thank you that you are my rock and that your love is my identity and source of strength.  Help me to be rooted in your love, so that I can love in difficult situations.  Remind me that the gospel is most prominently displayed through lavish, unmerited love in the face of sin and rejection--as this is the love that you showed to me!  I confess that I am fully incapable of loving like this apart from your grace and your power!  I pray that Romans 12 would speak to any others who are wrestling through these same questions and issues like me.  Thank you, Lord!  We love you. 

Romans 12

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Gifts of Grace

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Marks of the True Christian

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Love, Love, Love

I just read Alexander Strauch's book, "Love or Die". It was an excellent little book on the necessity of being a people marked by love. I am now reading through Sam Storm's book, "A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ: 100 Meditations on 2 Corinthians". This is from the introduction:

"Who was this man (the apostle Paul)? What made him tick? Why did he make the painful choices we read in the New Testament? People who have tracked his missionary journeys and struggled to comprehend his many letters long to get inside his head and peer ino his heart. What were his motives? How did he perseere in the face of unending hardship and excruciating persecution? What accounts for his unyielding commitment to Christ and his love for the many churches he established? What empowered him to endure hte slander of those he served and to sacrifice himself for people who repaid his devotion with disdain and conempt? One might think such experiences would compel Paul to withdraw within himself, to retreat relationally, to close off his heart and take whatever steps necessary to guard his wounded soul from further damage..." p. 11-12
The same observation, but in greater dimensions, could be made about Jesus--who willingly and knowingly left His throne in perfect fellowship, unity, and love with the Father--to love, serve, and die for His own creation who spat upon Him.

A quote attributed to Mother Theresa is "I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love."

I long to love like this! I know my love is immature because the woundedness and brokenness in my relationships (even when my own sin is the direct cause or a contributing cause of the woundedness and brokenness) still leaves me reeling sometimes, still makes me a little gun-shy to re-engage sometimes, and even still tempts me to bitterness sometimes. But I long to love like Jesus does. I long to love in a way that is truly sacrificial, that truly considers others more significant than myself, and that looks to the interest of others---in marriage, in family, and in friendships. I long to love in such a way that I would truly be rooted in God's love Himself--the love between the Father and Son by the Spirit, the love God has showered on me, and the love that God has for each person I ever encounter. I long to be satisfied in God's love—to be rooted and planted there in the love that does not disappoint and is always bigger than I can imagine, so that I would never need to look for security elsewhere and yet also so that I could receive God's love for me given to me through my husband, family, and friends. I long to love with a heart that is tender--not calloused, not hardened, and not impenetrable. I long to love with a heart that is sincere, genuine, compassionate, and empathetic… with a heart that listens and acts. I long to love with a heart that puts God first—that always seeks to be filled up with God before seeking to pour out to others.

Here is a quote from C.S. Lewis’ book, “The Four Loves”:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
I think this is part of what 1 John is referring to: 1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Real love takes risks because we know that we have all we need in Christ’s love for us. Whatever we risk cannot overshadow what we have gained in God’s love for all of us. The more we are rooted in this truth, the less fear we need have, and the more sacrificial risks we may take in loving other sinners like ourselves.

What about you? How do you long to grow in love? Are you rooted in God’s love? Do you know what that means? Do you believe in God’s love (for you, for others?)? How do you root yourself in God’s love? Are you paralyzed or gun-shy, even a little bit, by a broken or damaged heart—by the wounds you have endured by those who have sinned against you or against those you have loved? Do you protect yourself through loving acts of service directed towards others, while erecting impenetrable walls to keep others from hurting (and loving) you? Do you distract yourself with other things (worldly things or not) to keep yourself from getting to close to others or to keep them from getting too close to you? Do you focus more on how others love (or don’t love) you, rather than on how you can love others? How do you love the unlovable, the undesirable, the annoying, the nobodies, the people who can’t give you anything in return, and even your enemies? Do you want to love like this, but don’t know how to conjure up this kind of love? (If so, don’t worry—you CANT conjure this love up—it comes from God, from being filled with His Spirit by seeking Him in prayer, in the Word, in fellowship, in worshipful song, etc.)

If you are in the same position in which I am finding myself (wanting to love like Christ), I’ll end with some verses we could meditate on together:
Ephesians 3:14-21 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

1 John 4:7-21 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Insightful Article

Someone forwarded me this article today from the blog of Pastor Dave Kraft of Mars Hill Church.  The post was written by JR Kerr at Park Community Church in Chicago, Illinois.  There were a lot of insightful points in the article about accountability, community, leadership, worldliness in the church, and our own blindness and weaknesses.  I appreciated Pastor Kerr's candor and humility in writing it.  I especially appreciated his points about community being a necessary check against the dangers of our narcissistic propensities.  Definitely a worthwhile read!  Here is the link to the blog:

I've cut and pasted the text below.

Pastoral Narcissism

Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 06:21PM

Today I have a guest blogger. JR Kerr is one of the pastors at Park Community Church in Chicago, Illinois. This is taken from "Leadership Journal" online, November 8th, 2010

It is a bit longer than my usual posts, but please read it in it's entirety. It is hugely insightful and convicting! James warns us of "Selfish Ambition" in his letter, chapter three verse 14 & Pastor Kerr adds personal experience to James' admonition:

"Pastoral Narcissism"

The shadow side of ambition

It was a silly thing to do, but I couldn't stop myself. During a "get to know you" conversation with a few acquaintances and a man from the church I serve, we were talking about interests, passions, and areas of ministry. I tried to keep the focus on others at the table. But then it happened.

The man from my church made a statement that I interpreted as making light of me. The fuse was lit, and within a few moments I managed to work into the conversation the areas where I was leading and the wide impact of those projects. I subtly reminded everyone what our church had accomplished in the city. I even managed to throw in some attendance figures for good measure. I pushed everyone else out of the conversation's spotlight.

When it was over, I felt like I had binged on junk food. Self-loathing set in: I hate when I do this, and I hate it even more when I do it as a servant of Christ. Why do I keep falling into this temptation?

I've been through this cycle enough to know that when I feel my capacity or identity as a leader isn't sufficiently honored (and when, really, does anyone ever feel that?), I slip into the sin of self-promotion. But how do I stop?

T.S. Eliot wrote, "Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don't mean to do harm, but the harm does not interest them … or they do not see it, or they justify it … because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

Although our mission in Christ is to do good in this world, we will actually do harm if our deeper mission is to feel important and "think well of ourselves." Eliot's words forced me to ask, How much harm do I do to my family, my friends, the people I am supposed to lead, all because I want to think well of myself?

Recently I came home to find my wife researching narcissism on the computer. We have been in counseling for a few years and during a session where we discussed my relentless ambition, the phrase "narcissistic leanings" came up. My wife was researching the concept to see if it fit me and what the implications might be for our marriage.

At first she was embarrassed that I caught her, but I was interested as well, so we read the characteristics of narcissism together on the screen.

My immediate thought was, This isn't a problem for me. Narcissism is the adulation of the self, the diminishment of others, and often expressed as reckless ambition. Nothing could be more inconsistent with the character of Christ—the self-sacrificing servant who sought only to do the will of his Father. How can I be a pastor, a servant of Christ, and struggle with this?

But as we read the definitions online, without saying a word we both knew we were reading an accurate description of me. I am a believer and yet I remain a sinner. I am a pastor and I'm often a self-promoter. I endeavor to serve Jesus and I also have narcissistic tendencies.

What I've come to see since that day, is that I am not alone. Many other church leaders share this struggle to one degree or another. We may not all be full-blown clinical narcissists, but we share that bent toward insecurity and selfishness. Most gatherings of pastors will usually include subtle or overt self-promotion. I'm not the only one who has used attendance numbers or new initiatives or "my vision" as a badge of self-importance.

Although I'm now aware of my tendency and what triggers it, I don't pretend to have it solved. This is simply my effort to be honest about our struggle with ambition and self-promotion as pastors, and how we can address it.

Great things for God

There is a long and celebrated history of church leaders who struggled with narcissistic tendencies—starting with the original disciples. After following Jesus for some time and recognizing his power, these (probably younger) men debated with each other "Who is the greatest?" They jockeyed for power. Who would be closest to Jesus? Who would get positions of honor?

I remember when those kinds of questions were mine. As a young man, I knew Jesus loved me and that I wanted to serve him. My mentor, Bryan, shared with me a quote from D. L. Moody's biography: "The world has yet to see what God can do with one man that is totally committed to him." Apparently when Moody heard this from a preacher, he decided he would be that man. The quote had the same effect on me. It awakened an ambition in me to do great things for God.

Having great ambitions is a good and necessary thing. The problem was how I defined greatness. I was measuring significance as the world does, rather than by the standards of God's kingdom. When Jesus heard his disciples arguing about greatness, he reminded them of the counter-intuitive nature of his kingdom. "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and a servant of all" (Mark 9:35.

Jesus does not say to stop pursuing greatness. Instead he redefines it: The last will be first. The humble exalted. The small will be big. Those who lose their life for the sake of the gospel will gain it.

Yet it is hard to find that perspective today, even within the church. Self-promotion and worldly definitions of significance seem not only to be tolerated among pastors but even expected and encouraged. How many people are following me on Twitter? How's the traffic on my blog? How many Facebook "friends" can I count? How's our church's "brand" value?

The opportunities for self-promotion are proliferating.

Community and calling

But there is an antidote to these temptations. I've come to recognize the good and healthy tension between my personal calling and ambitions and my community. To understand our personal ambitions, we must be clear about both our sense of calling and our commitment to a community. It is the tension between these two that I lose or win the battle with the sin of self-promotion and narcissism.

Rooting my calling and ambitions in my community helps keep me from slipping into a self-centered focus. Without the community, it becomes all about me, my ministry, my dreams, my achievements. Community is used by God as a guard against this tendency to self-promote.

First, in community, we learn to "tell on myself" in a consistent way to the right people. Just as with other kinds of sin, confessing our struggle with self-promotion opens the way for help and healing. Community keeps us accountable.

Writing this article has served that purpose for me. I debated with Leadership's editors whether or not to put my name on this article. I worried it would be seen as yet another form of self-promotion and therefore distract from the message. We decided to include my name as a way of "telling on myself" and openly confessing. This brings a better accountability. Hiding our sin only gives it more power and control over us.

Second, keeping our calling anchored to a community also reminds us of the imago Dei in others. God has blessed and gifted others in significant ways for the benefit of the whole church and his mission. When we pursue only our own ambitions, we lose sight of this and add fuel to our narcissistic tendencies.

Yes, sometimes things would get accomplished faster and even better if we did them alone, but the inefficiencies of community honors God and keeps our selfishness in check.

Inherent in God's design for people is that we do life together. We see this dynamic in marriage, in family, and in our local congregations.

Third, rooting ourselves in community prevents us from the relentless pursuit of personal platforms. I was recently part of a conversation where a number of Christian leaders were talking about their "personal brands." A brand is the (emotional) experience someone has when they hear your name, see your image, or think of your ministry. As the language of branding seeps into the church, more pastors are thinking about how they are perceived. It puts the emphasis on individual leaders rather than communities of believers. It elevates image and impressions above the always messier reality.

The drive to build my personal brand tempts me to seek platforms to use my gifts rather than serve my community, perhaps in ways that will never be recognized. I try to counter this temptation with a circle of friends and mentors who have access to my schedule. If no one else knows where you are on a regular basis, you face the danger of isolating yourself and therefore exalting yourself. By opening my calendar to others, I am forced to consult with them before committing to another event, meeting, or trip. They help me to keep merely personal ambitions from ruling.

Without the help of my community, I would not have the tools or strength to resist another opportunity for me to "do something great of God."

Temptations within community

While rooting my calling and ambition in my community has helped curb temptations of self-promotion, it is not a silver bullet. This is because pleasing our community can slip into another kind of narcissism—people pleasing.

Sometimes being a faithful leader means doing things and making decisions that will make us unpopular in that community. When we avoid these harder parts of our calling in order to please the congregation, we may still be serving our narcissism and need for approval. It is another way of "thinking well of ourselves."

Ultimately people pleasing fails to honor God. Placing the community's desires ahead of God's calling is a way of making God secondary to people's opinion.

So there is a tension between being committed to our community (which keeps our calling within healthy boundaries) and being committed to God's calling upon me (which keeps our community from having too much power over our leadership).

So now I recognize the twin temptations: pleasing people and pursuing personal platforms. Both extremes are disastrous.

So I confess: I am a pastor and a narcissist. There, it feels good to get it out. I'm still struggling, and I know others are as well. But together we can flee these temptations and pursue humility and faithfulness. I pray that a generation of "recovering self-promoters" can resist our narcissism and help our churches do the same.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Shutterfly Promotion

Attention all bloggers, Shutterfly is running a promotion where bloggers who write a two hundred word blog about Shutterfly can get 50 free photo cards. Shutterfly is an online company where you can create cards and photo gifts and have them delivered to your home.  Shutterfly has a great variety of photo cards.  You can take a look here:   You can also make personalized photo related Christmas gifts there as well, like a desk calendar:  or a gift mug: .  I have always loved to receive photo cards each Christmas, and I can never bring myself to throw any of them away.  I love seeing the smiling faces of friends and family each day in my kitchen when I look at my refrigerator.  While I love receiving these cards, I have never ordered photo cards myself. Our friend, Sid, took some shots of Kristian and me so that we could do our first photo cards.  Kristian and I will have been married for 8 years in August.  I think we always felt funny about sending photo cards because we don’t have kids.  But this year we decided to anyway because, after all, we are still a family.