ministry is more than motion

“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.” Luke 10:33

We can learn a lot about ministry–loving our neighbors–from the parable of the good Samaritan. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Ministry starts with real needs. In this case, the poor man was beaten and left on the side of the road. He needed rest, food, and shelter, etc. This is a broken word and the needs are nearly infinite. Someone may need a cup of water, a visit, a word of encouragement, new clothes, a job, a good listener…you get the picture. At times, we can become enamored with a fabulous idea to help someone but everything falls flat because we’re going after a need that doesn’t actually exist.

The need must be seen by a person with enough passion to act. Many of us are blind to the needs of others, especially when we are young in the faith or caught in habitual, unconfessed sin. In this parable, the traveling Samaritan saw the hurt person on the side of the road, and did something about it. Perception and passion are essential. It is not enough to be observant, but lacking in passion. The religious leaders saw the need, but did nothing!

Ministry is meeting needs in love. The needs are real, not invented. The needs are met, not ignored. Love is action, not a comfortably held opinion.

Ministry can get complex: plans and problems will drain away simplicity. In many cases, it is necessary to have a detailed and careful plan. Often we face difficult problems that redefine the situation–new context means new approaches.

However, the complexity must not choke out the essentials. When we loose sight of the fundamentals, we run the risk of getting trapped in unbreakable and ineffective traditions.

If we’re failing to act, we must cultivate our passion.

If we’re failing to help, we must discern the needs before we evaluate our methods.

If we’re not meeting a need in love, then what we think is ministry is actually recreation.

 

One final thought. As leaders, we often see more needs than we can meet. We don’t have enough time or resources to do everything. Why would God be so cruel to open our eyes to more pain than we can help? I’ll post about that after the weekend. Until then, how do you resolve that tension?

 

 

Struggling Spiritually as a Leader

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  (Matthew 11:2-3)

 

Have you ever wondered, in the quiet recesses of your heart, “As a leader, is it ok for me to struggle spiritually?”

YES, it’s okay! It’s natural. It’s normal. Every believer with years of spiritual maturity has struggled. Leaders struggle too.

Although the struggle looks a little different for everyone, there seem to be some common thoughts:

  • This dry season has become the new normal for me
  • I feel like I’m faking it
  • I have to look like I have it all together
  • I can see my integrity slipping in some small ways

John the Baptist had serious struggles in the form of doubt. How could John have doubts!? He preached about the coming for Jesus for years, he even baptized Jesus and saw heaven open up!

After responding to his doubts, Jesus said he was the greatest person who ever lived. Amazing. Refreshing.

It’s ok to struggle. Doubts and temptations are constant companions in this world. It’s not a question of avoiding spiritual struggles, the challenge is to be faithful through them.

John had a question and he went after his answer (he sent people to Jesus since he was in prison). Every struggle positions us uniquely to hear God speak. I wish it weren’t so, but it seems like some of the most personal and important learnings come from struggle.

At times, we have wandered off the path of faithful obedience, and the struggle is a chance to repent and go back to doing the things God has for us.

As leaders, and more importantly, beloved children of God, the worse thing we can do is deny that the struggle exists. It’s easy to learn how to pretend, to become like the white washed tomb that looks nice on the outside but the inside is full of dead bones.

Denial has an ugly sister, and her name is guilt. She is an empty hole that consumes all light and life. She is a burden we cannot carry yet we cannot lay it down except at the foot of the cross.

It’s ok to struggle spiritually. Let’s agree to not fake it and, if needed, to repent.

 

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Are you struggling with your spiritual life right now? How long has it been going on? What impact has it made in your life? What seems to be the core issue or issues?

What do you think God may be saying to you? What scriptures come to mind and speak to you in this season? How will you allow God to grow you in this season?

It’s obvious that it’s not appropriate to share our problems with everyone we know. However, has “faking it” shown up in some of your relationships?

Who’s power made it happen?

The Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men.” (Judges 7:4)

Think about the last great accomplishment in your ministry.

How sure are you that it came from God’s power and not your own? Could you prove to yourself that you were used by God? When have you crossed the line from serving out of your Spirit given gifts into self-sufficiency?

Here’s what Gideon did:

  • He questioned God’s angel
  • He resisted God’s call by making excuses
  • He tested God and asked for a sign…several times
  • He worshiped with an offering
  • He acknowledged God’s presence
  • He build an altar to God
  • He obeyed God and demolished a pagan altar
  • He obeyed God and reduced his army, from 32 thousand to 10 thousand to 300
  • He listened when God assured him success
  • He won a battle without raising a single sword

By the way, I don’t think all of these are worth following!

Bearing burdens

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

I recently had a great conversation with a close friend. Beyond just catching up, we were able to talk about important stuff in our lives. Afterwards, took some time to consider why our friendship feels safe.

We can share significantly and authentically. It’s not easy, but we’ve learned to risk and share something personal, even if it’s raw. We can talk about doubts, failures, and fears. We aren’t created to handle life alone.

We both take time to listen. Healthy relationships ought to be a two way street, a safe place where both people share their burdens with one another.

We’re in prayer for one another. When it comes to burdens, both sharing and bearing, I have found prayer to be powerful in this way: when I pray about my issues, I know what I can talk about. When I pray for others, I’m asking God to intervene.

We are slow with advice. I’ve found that most burdens need to simply be shared, not solved. They aren’t complex problems that need an answer. Sometimes we need perspective and advice, but for the most difficult issues, we need support. When a burden is shared, nothing short circuits comfort faster than a cliché.

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
With your closest relationships, what are all the ways you express your love?

With your closest relationships, do you spend more time talking about your problems or more time listening? How could either extreme short circuit the possibility of having a close relationship?

Are you facing something big in your life that you are refusing to share with another person? What makes it difficult for you to open up?

Don’t Be The Best

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 25:25-28)

You should be your best. God created you with amazing skills and given you marvelous gifts.

You should be your best, but you don’t have to be the best. You don’t have to be the best person in the room.

When you are in a meeting, leading a small group, or teaching a message, which way does your attitude lean: towards being your best or the best? When you are honest with yourself, are you really looking to lord over people?

Maybe you are the best, the best at organizing or teaching or pulling off a particular event. If you are the best, have some humility so that you are serving others the way Jesus did.  Jesus was the best, in every room he stepped into. Jesus was better than everyone he ever encountered. However, in his magnificent humility, sinners still approached him, fools still argued with him, and the sick came for healing.

If you aren’t the best–if you don’t have all the answers–stop trying to fake it. The desire to be seen as the expert comes from a dark place. You can still lead if you give up the act, even though this may be very hard to accept. Other people will still accept you when you drop the act.

The difference is ego verses humility. While humility is difficult to choose, it’s clearly the example Jesus set for us to follow.

 

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

Do you find it difficult when others are in the limelight? Is it hard to not get the credit? in what situations do you crave to be seen as the expert?

What is a practical way you can give up some control and allow others more freedom? What are some subtle actions you take that contradict the calling to be a servant?

Do the people you are leading feel comfortable around you? How can you tell? What can you do to increase the freedom the feel?

How do I know when I’ve ignored God’s Word?

And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time. (Luke 1:20)

Let’s start with the obvious. In this narrative, we see some very tangible and unusual consequences for not believing God’s words.

Most consequences for disobedience (ignoring God) are simple cause and effect, easily predictable. Choose to lust and you’ll ruin your attitude towards the opposite sex. Choose to gossip and you’ll never really connect with others and eventually be known as untrustworthy. Choose to not believe God and you’ll live by your own power and be distanced from God.

Back to this narrative. Reading it makes me wonder if I’ve blatantly ignored God’s voice and have suffered unusual consequences. I remember learning this principle for interpretation in school: “narrative isn’t normative.” An event in history isn’t an eternal principle that applies to every context.

After all, Jesus once fell asleep on a cushion on a boat (Mark 4:38), does that mean we must always do the same when we are on a boat? Maybe we’re supposed to only do this when we are on a boat while in a storm…

Certainly we can learn from this event: I don’t want the same mistake he did!

The words he didn’t believe were words about the future, a future that was hard to accept… but if it was easy to believe, God wouldn’t have sent an angel.

For Zachariah, the angel left no question about the following: (a) what would happen (silence), (b) why it happened (unbelief), and (c) how long it would last (until the original words came true).

Finally, the words he didn’t believe came to him in a spectacular way. Holy Smokes (literally), an angel appeared to him while he in the Holy of Holies!

After looking a little deeper at this event, I don’t think anything like this has happened to me…although I know I’ve definitely ignored God too many times in the past! To be sure, when God speaks, I want to respond with, “SPEAK LORD, YOUR SERVANT IS LISTENING.”

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

When you clearly hear from God, and it’s not what you are expecting, what is your first response? When was the last time you were told what you didn’t want to hear?

How do you normally hear God speak? How do you know what he wants?

How many of your daily decisions–both small and large–are influenced by what God wants?

Leading Leaders: how much structure do I give?

My encouragement: structure as little as possible

Some people need a detailed task list, other people need to hear your dream and they will fill in the details.

The discernment required here finds the balance between micromanager and invisible. Prayer and reflection about your people will give you an idea of what your leaders need. At times, it may be best to give them both and ask them which they prefer. Introduce structure with humility and respect–which, by the way, these don’t sacrifice your authority–and give the option to choose what they prefer.

For you controlling types, a few things. First: it’s ok that you are a control freak! It really is because that’s how God designed you. You have strengths that others lack. Second, My encouragement is that you don’t let your ability to control keep you from developing others. Third, perhaps giving them an option for less control isn’t a great option. In this case, ease up your control over time.

Rest for the Weary

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

Jesus calls us to be yoked with him. This is a continuous call. Especially important for for those of us who are like Martha, and choose to work too much rather than sit with the Master.

There is no doubt: we were created for good works … but not at the expense of rest. The call to Sabbath and be with God is clear, but is also often ignored.

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
What makes you most weary and burdened? Where is most of your energy going?
What attitudes and mindsets keep you from coming to Jesus? What are your self imposed barriers?
Lately, what have you been learning from Jesus?
Are you more humble than you were a year ago, or has your overwork led to pride and a self-sufficiency?
What would it take for the following words and phrases to describe your soul? rested, yoked with Jesus, learning from him, burdened lightly

Choosing contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain. (1 Timothy 6:6)

Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalms 37:4)

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

What’s the opposite of being content? What effect does the lack of contentment have on a person’s soul? According to scripture, it is a great loss.

I have seen both the rich and the poor have problems being content. Contentment is obviously not a matter of spending power, nor how much we own.

True contentment comes only when we become more like God, when we deny ourselves and pursue the unique design he has created for us. This is the pursuit of godliness.

Denying ourselves doesn’t equate to never wanting, because God wants. In fact, his want is so powerful, one of his names is Jealous. What kind of jealously can possibly be good? For God, he’s wanting that which rightfully belongs to him–our hearts–and he doesn’t want our hearts to be divided.

When we want the things that God has given and provided. When we shape our delight to find first joy in God, our other desires become appropriately subordinated. When we seek first the kingdom of God, worrying about lesser concerns won’t consume our attention.

When we want the things we can never have, we become discontent.
When we want the things we can’t yet have, we become discontent.
When we want the things God has provided, we are living in the “great gain” of godliness with contentment.

Contentment is more than satisfaction. Satisfaction says, “I’ll be happy with what I have.” Contentment says, “I’m happy because this is God’s provision in my life.”

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
When do you struggle most with contentment? How has a lack of contentment driven you?
Do you ever feel guilty for the stuff that you do have? Where do you think this guilt comes from? What needs to change?
Make a list of ten things for which you are thankful to God for.

broken or crushed

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed. (Luke 20:18)

The stone is Jesus. And his use of the words everyone and anyone makes this simple teaching apply to all humans.

This promise from Jesus makes it clear that we have a choice, to either be broken by Jesus, or crushed by him.

Faith in Jesus–God’s only Son, the one who died for the sins of the world and defeated death– means surrender. When we enter his family, we lay down our rebellion, we must break open our hard hearts and shatter our towering egos. The other option is to be crushed, to spend eternity without him.

The experience of surrender is on-going. Every one who has followed Jesus for a significant amount of time can tell you the many stories of their surrender. To be mature is to be repeatedly broken and humbled before Jesus.

It is easy to forget this, especially once we take a few steps of faith and begin to see the fruits of our obedience. We are quick to take back credit from God. Success often takes us off our knees. In the beginning, it is slow. We compare our strength to the weakness of others. In the times that we are weak, we make excuses, rationalizing our disobedience. Ultimately, we stop glorifying God. We rarely confess our sins, and with this mindset, we stop trusting in God for strength and guidance. At this point in the journey, we are able to fake an outward appearance of spirituality. And while we may be praised by others, we quietly know the truth. Self sufficiency leads to great emptiness.

We must watch our lives closely, always ready to surrender the next thing to be broken and not crushed by Jesus.

BIBLE STUDY DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
What was it like, the first time you were broken by Jesus? When was the last time you were surrendered, has it been too long?
When do you compare yourself to others so that your own life looks good?
When was the last time you struggled in your faith, the kind of struggle with God that you lost?
How well can you fake your faith to others? With whom can you be real and authentic and share your struggles?

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