Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Truth without Relationship

I heard Josh McDowell speak at Regent yesterday and his message struck a chord with me. http://tinyurl.com/clbczk The message was simple and straightforward...relationships matter. More specifically, a father's love of his children can transform their lives in astonishing ways. The corollary of course is true- the absence of love in a relationship can result in rebellion. Josh has long been known for this message, often stating "Rules without relationship leads to rebellion." He restates it helpfully, "Truth without relationship leads to rejection."

This relates to teaching kids responsible sexual behavior http://joshmcdowellmedia.org/FreeBooks/HowtoHelpYourChildSayNo.pdf

but I thought of it in connection with the academic endeavor. Where else do young people get such a massive injection of truth? The Christian academic context can often turn an anxious eye to the encroaching world, and in response, "dump the truck" of truth. Parents and teachers or youth leaders and college ministries can erect massive barriers of doctrine and approved behaviors only to find their students slipping under the fence to "greener grass" of wordly behavior. Is the answer better curriculum? Josh suggested that fundamentally, relationships underlie all of our behaviors, values and beliefs. If we want to see true life change in our students, we must risk personal involvement. We must love.

To be sure, today's litigious society makes personal involvement with students problematic. Appropriate boundaries should be observed. For instance, every teacher knows to observe proper physical boundaries (good touch, bad touch) but what about in cyberspace? Can or should a campus minister connect with students on Facebook or Twitter? If so, how much? Can these natural arenas of student connection be used for Christian love and encouragement? I think so--but what are appropriate limits?

To explore the thought further, I recall those teachers and pastors who made the most impact on my life were the ones who went beyond the classroom and made room for me in their lives. I think of lunches and hikes and simple family time that were the true classrooms where I studied. How does a husband respond to his wife? What does appropriate discipline look like? How does one say "no" without hurting feelings? All these lessons went beyond the classroom to personal discipleship and mentoring. I feel that I owe a huge debt to men like Bill Warrick, Dick Woodward, David Holmes, Harold "OJ" Brown, J. Rodman Williams, Joseph Umidi. They invested in me far more than truth--they dared to love me even in my immaturity and brash bravado.

So for what it's worth, I'm trying to give back. To share truth in relationship. What about you? Who invested in you? And then in turn, who are you sharing your life with that they might grow to be all God created them to be? That's what Josh was talking about, and I pray it resonates with us all.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Do the Most Good...

Some circles that I hang out in are all abuzz about organizations being more "Missional." By that they mean their church or parachurch organization should be more focused on accomplishing the Great Commandment and the Great Commission in the world around them. It's a natural response to the often self-focused, inward community that the church in North America has become. Only by turning themselves outward in hospitality and engagement with the culture around them can the church hope to regain some of it's lost luster.

I had opportunity to spend time this week with some fantastic individuals who belong to a missional organization. But it's no "johnny-come-lately" upstart. It's been around since 1865. The group is familiar to many...known as the Salvation Army. The SA's website explains their genesis:

William Booth embarked upon his ministerial career in 1852, desiring to win the lost multitudes of England to Christ. He walked the streets of London to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute.

Booth abandoned the conventional concept of a church and a pulpit, instead taking his message to the people. His fervor led to disagreement with church leaders in London, who preferred traditional methods. As a result, he withdrew from the church and traveled throughout England, conducting evangelistic meetings. His wife, Catherine, could accurately be called a cofounder of The Salvation Army.

Since 1865 this group has organized itself around mission, now emodied in the US by their slogan "Doing the Most Good." Their social mission is familar to many, as first responders to disasters and providers of direct service to many of the world's poor and needy. What may be less well-known, however, is that each Salvation Army outpost functions as a local church, pastored by the local Salvation Army Officer. This local church forms the heartbeat of a vibrant network of outreach and compassionate care. In short, the Salvation Army has been a missional church for over 140 years!

After spending several days with these humble servants, I came away impressed by their dedication, their passion, and their surrender to God's will in using them as soldiers in His army. Their work around the world has impressed many, including well-known management guru Peter Drucker.

As reported in Robert Lenzner and Ashlea Ebeling, "Peter Drucker's Picks," Forbes, Aug. 11, 1997, Drucker said:Drucker calls the Salvation Army "by far the most effective organization in the U.S. No one even comes close to it in respect to clarity of mission, ability to innovate, measurable results, dedication and putting money to maximum use." Those are his principal criteria: clarity of mission, innovative ability, clear definition of results and willingness to measure performance.

Despite this amazing track record, I found Salvation Army officers discouraged (of course not universely) over the state of their "Corp" (the church portion of their work). They often found themselves out of time to properly care for their flock, and felt unprepared to do so. The churches' size seemed to average around 50, though of course some where larger. It reminded me that "missional" is not the Holy Grail...even Christendom's greatest missional organization has challenges.

So as we seek to obey the Great Commandment and the Great Commission, we might remember that leading a growing, thriving community of the King is never easy. Balance is elusive, and there are no perfect answers. Jumping on the missional bandwagon can be merely a fad...or it can be an energizing life goal for the next 140 years. For the meantime, I am grateful to have met the amazing men and women who wear the Salvation Army uniform. May their tribe increase! In their honor today, do the most good, for the sake of our commanding officer.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Are You Ready to Fail?

Are you ready to fail?

Not exactly the start of a good self-help maual. Not precisely in line with the church teaching of "no negative confession." But from my experience, a pressing, prescient question that we all might ask.

Who is your favorite failure in the Bible? I'd have to say, of the many attractive options, mine is Peter. Here's a guy who's so bold that he walks on water. He asks to dive head first and immerse his whole body in Jesus' baptism of cleansing. This is a fellow who chops off ears in the name of Jesus--talk about making a bold statement! Peter was a tough talking, fast acting sailor in the Lord's Navy. But Jesus tells him point blank he's going to fail.

Luke 22: 31"Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." Imagine that, the Lord Jesus looking you full in the face and telling you, "You're going to blow it today bud." How would you feel? I might blush, stammer, beg for forgiveness before I even half know what I'm going to do.
But not Peter. 33But he (Peter) replied, "Lord, I am ready..."Peter was ready not to fail. He looked at his heart, his spirit, his courage, and even in the face of Jesus' warning of impending failure, he was ready NOT to fail. Such overconfident ignorance proved his undoing.Of course he did fail. (Imagine that, Jesus was right) And he wept bitterly when he recognized what he had done.
But I think we can learn just a couple things about failure from this:
1. Jesus knows even in our good times that we're going to fail him.
We don't impress him or persuade him by our righteousness to love us more. He is imminently aware of our failings, but loves us anyway.
2. Jesus prays for us in light of our future failings.
He is our great High Priest...He knows our weaknesses, and is sympathetic in every one of them. There's no need to hide our weaknesses from Jesus!
3. Jesus in His providence can redeem our failures.
Not that He wants us to fail, but Jesus already is planning to use Peter's struggles to help him strengthen his brothers.
So are you ready to fail? I don't mean planning on it, or making the mistake of the libertine who increases sin that grace may abound (Rom. 6) Rather, are you as pragmatic as Jesus, knowing that your frame is but dust, praying to Jesus that he would help turn you around before during and after any failure? Do you hide your weakness from JEsus thinking he will be more impressed with your goodness? Do you dare think that even your greatest blunders could prevent God from working in and through you, to strengthen others? Then you may be ready NOT to fail.
I ask again, are you ready to fail?