…After God’s Own Heart

Quoting from Acts 13:22.

After removing Saul, he (God) made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.‘”180px-rey_david_por_pedro_berruguete

My father was the head deacon at our church (and his father before him) and a Sunday School teacher, and he always had trouble with this verse. He wondered how David could be described as a man after God’s own heart. Truthfully, I struggled with this for many years.

Some people point to the final phrase as the solution… “he will do everything I want him to do.” But we know that is not true… at least if one interprets “everything I want” in terms of obedience to God’s law or will (and that sure seems a pretty reasonable interpretation). He disobeyed God regularly. He was guilty of pride, guilty of lying and deception, guilty of adultery, guilty of treason and racketeering, and guilty of murder… just to name a few. He was also an unfaithful husband and a neglectful father. It always seemed to me that if David was a man after God’s own heart, then pretty much all of us would also qualify.

But maybe three or four years ago, I came up with an answer that satisfied me. It might even be correct.

Although he was truly a flawed and sinful man, when confronted with his sin David would humble himself before God and repent. A king who humbly repents and returns to God. Do you know how rare that is? How many kings in the Bible would admit they were wrong in the Bible? Very few. Even less after they have gotten comfortable with praise and power. David is almost unique as a man of power who could humble himself before God, repent, and turn to obedient service of God. The only other examples I can think of from the Bible are Kings Manasseh and Nebuchadnezzar. In each of those cases it took a very tangible external humiliation (imprisonment in Assyria or 7 years of madness) to bring about an internal humbling of heart and will. 

It is sad that with pastors, the same challenge is true. Commonly, when pastors fall due to sin, they express great sorrow, and desire to change. But all to often, that starts to change as the pastor begins to minimize the sin, blame others, and balk at discipline and accountability guidelines. Reading the experiences of others in ministry, my experiences are hardly unique. Some truly humble themselves before God and others, and accept a time of discipline. Others seek to cover-up, claim innocence, blame others, and reject being held accountable.

For those who do embrace change, they work on 3 “B” issues:

  • Boundaries (identify their weaknesses and establish wise “gates and walls”)
  • Balance (shift from a human doing to a human being)
  • Burnout (recognize they are limited, need help, and must know when to say no)

Further, they need to establish a support system starting with a solid relationship with God. But it can’t stop there. It must continue to family, friends, accountability partners, and mentors. They need less unilateral relationships, and more mutual relationships.

Ultimately, time is the true evidence of change, and God the true judge, but a minister who can humbly repent and accept discipline, and receive God’s grace I believe can truly be said to be “a man (or woman) after God’s own heart.”

Missions in Samaria Article

I wrote an article based on a series of four sermons I did back in 2012 that became four posts on this blog. If that was not enough, I am considering utilizing the article to develop a chapter of a book that looks at Acts 1:8, particularly structured on the four locations mentioned (Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Ends of the Earth). If I do that, the goal would be practical for churches to think about missions from a local church perspective. Anyway, feel free to read the article, and tell me what you think. (If you are looking for a very deep article, this is not it, as might be determined by the complete lack of footnoting.)

https://www.academia.edu/s/632d893018/doing-missions-in-samaria-lessons-from-the-past-for-today?source=link

Problems with Spiritual Gifts

o-GIFT-IN-HAND-facebook

Years ago I used to lead some seminars on Spiritual Gifts, and Spiritual Gift Assessments. They have value… I think. But maybe it is time to rethink their value. I recall people 10 years ago saying that for centuries Christians had ignored the important role that Spiritual Gifts have in the Bible… but that now things have changed. Even back then when I was leading these trainings, I was wondering about that statement. Spiritual Gifts really aren’t particularly emphasized in the Bible;  and even when they are talked about, there are more questions than answers. If one removed all places where spiritual gifts are explicitly referenced, the Bible would not look much different.

  • First, a lot of the information provided in the training for Spiritual Gifts was simply made up. These programs would give answers to questions such as: How many spiritual gifts there are? How many gifts each Christian has? Does every Christian have at least one spiritual gift? When do we get our spiritual gift or gifts? Can we lose spiritual gifts? Can we make God give us the gifts we want? The problem is that for the most part, the answers were manufactured by the writers of the training… there is little to no guidance given in the Bible to these answers. But I think the lack of information actually tells us something. We probably should focus more on where God is leading us, recognizing that God will gift us in doing what needs to be done. In other words, we should not try to discover our spiritual gifts to figure out what we should do. Rather, we should discover where God is leading us and understand that He will empower us to do what He wants us to do.
  • Second, the spiritual gift assessments often assume that the individual is the one best suited to determine God’s giftings. Not surprising. These assessments tend to be written in the United States, where individualism is the focus. But often the individual is the least suited to recognize God’s giftings. I have had people come up to me and say that God has given them a certain gifting. A common one is discernment— Someone would tell me that they have the gift of discernment. I would smile and nod… but I am thinking to myself… “Oh no you don’t!!” Often the church as a whole is more competent to identify spiritual gifts. The better assessments don’t just ask the individual to fill out the form, but also ask members in the church to fill it out for the individual as well. Still, if one has a higher score for “Helps” than one does for “Wisdom,” that is pretty minimal evidence that one has a spiritual gift. 
  • Third, often spiritual gift assessments are used backwards… to suggest what each of us SHOULD NOT be doing. “Oh… I can’t go visit my neighbors, I don’t have the gift of evangelism.” “I can’t serve food, I don’t have the gift of helps.” “I can’t lead a small group… I have no gift of teaching.” Such arguments are often self-serving… and God often uses people, at least for a short time, to do things that they lack skills, gifts, or passion for (talk to Jonah about that one). God is often glorified most in our succeeding in weakness.
  • Fourth, spiritual gifts when spoken of in the Bible have a lot of warnings built into them. The gift to speak in other languages is talked about a lot by Paul, but much of his talk minimizes the gift, or provides distinct cautions. There is a lot of warning regarding prophecy as well. Having a spiritual gift in no way implies that one will use it wisely. Solomon, gifted with wisdom, still made some decisions that were clearly foolish in the long-term. Just like the Bible never suggests that a person should be taken as a pastor of a church by identifying a “divine calling,” it also never suggests that prophecy is true if it comes someone with a gift of prophecy. For prophecy, the test is God’s canon. The Bible even makes it clear that miracles (seemingly undeniable proof of divine empowerment) are no proof that the person is a follower of Christ.

My suggestions are two-fold.

A.  Look at the big picture. I like SHAPES:   Spiritual Gifts, Heart, Ability (natural and learned), Personality, Experiences, and Sphere of Influence. A broader self-understanding is likely to say more about what one should do than simply one small aspect.

B.  Understand that as part of a community of faith, the needs, and evaluations of the (spiritually mature) church are often better at evaluating one than a self-evaluation. Recall that it was an outsider, Barnabas, who recognized the potential in Paul to serve in Antioch, and it was the church leadership of Antioch, led by the Spirit that identified Paul and Barnabas to serve as apostles. The Damascus Call of Paul may have been important to him… but in serving the church, the confirmation of the Twelve, along with the church of Antioch were critical.

So how does this apply to a potential missionary?

  • Mission agencies don’t simply look for that (ever elusive and theologically doubtful) thing called a missionary calling. Nor do they look for the “gift of apostleship.” They seek to look at the big picture— a more holistic evaluation.
  • It is probably best to see the call or gift for missions in terms of identifications by the church, rather than some personal experience. Even if one has a clear personal experience, if the heart, ability, and gifting cannot be recognized by the church, there is some problem. (Yes… the problem might be the church… but it is still a problem to address.)
  • Take a big picture view of one’s Christian path. Don’t just look at where you are right now, but where have you been and where do you see God leading. Calling is not a place or an occupation. It is a path… and that path goes back years in the past and continues years into the future.
  • Take a big view of missions. Some agencies only want people with “a heart of evangelism” or perhaps “focus on churchplanting.” That is fine— it is their right. But Christian ministry is diverse. Broaden your view of ministry to God’s, don’t narrow your view to that of a particular church, denomination, or agency.

 

 

 

Dream SMALL!!!

Having been involved in missions and ministry, I hear it often said that we should have “BIG DREAMS” or “God-size vision.” Dream small

And I see people try to carry that out. They add “International” or “International Ministries” to their name to suggest that they don’t just think locally. I have been part of an organization that was already trying to establish a national network before we had even done our first project. Others try to have simultaneous mass events to show… well, I really don’t know what they think they are showing… but something big I guess.

The slogan “The Evangelization of the World in This Generation” has been around since… around 1888, and has generated a lot of things like “Disciple a Whole Nation,” AD2000, and “saturation church-planting” and CPMs. None of these are bad, I suppose. They certainly sound… BIG.

One I find particularly strange is “Fulfilling the Great Commission in this generation.” The Great Commission is a call to long-term faithful obedience (even unto the end of the age), so fulfillment should mean to continue to do what we (are supposed to) have been doing all along. But the expression seems to suggest that not only is there some unwritten finish line, but that finish line is supposed to be reached in the next 20 or 30 years. Seems like a phrase to throw away, really.

For me, I am a big fan of dreaming small. Borrowing from the phrase in “Tiny House Nation,” — “Tiny dreams are the next big thing.” We joined a group here that was ministering to a needy segment of society. Another group was also doing the same thing. We were not in competition… and in fact we consider ourselves partners. The other group promised to start out from day 1 with over 50 ministry sites in the region. We chose to start only 1. Over the next few months, the one group quickly dropped its locations by 75%. Ours doubled… from 1 to 2. Now, does that mean that the other group was wrong? Absolutely not… and they are still bigger than us. But in our case, we kept our promises to those we were working with and learned some lessons when small that have allowed us to slowly grow. One of these days we hope to grow… but when it is time and when we have more people who have been trained and empowered to expand the task.

Early on in our counseling center, we had dreams of branches all over the Philippines. We even set up a branch elsewhere. We soon discovered, however, that we did not know how to manage multiple sites. Frankly, we barely know how to manage one site. We decided to go in a different direction. We train people and send them out forming partnerships and networks rather than a bigger and bigger organization. While the votes are not all in on this, so far it seems to be a much better decision.

God-sized Vision

But let’s get back to this… What size is a God-sized Vision? I think, generally, it is pretty small. God’s great work of human creation started with two people (Genesis 1). God’s vision to bless the world was through one family (Genesis 12). God’s work to save and transform mankind was through one, and a dozen trainees. God’s description of His kingly rule is in terms of a bit of almost invisible yeast that only very slowly has a big effect… or a tiny seed that is barely big enough to notice, and yet can grow into a great tree. The Great Commission is a small-vision idea– share the message with a person, bring him/her into the Body, and train to share to another. It’s success is not that it is big, but that it is designed to be exponential.

Some prefer the expression, “Dream Big, Start Small.” I am an American, and so of course, this resonates more with my cultural background. But I don’t think that honors the beauty of “small.” God’s greatest works are often quite small… almost invisible. I recall CrossLink International (I believe they have changed their name more recently), but they started as a Sunday School class project. They were trying to help some doctors in Russia. I knew a couple of members of that Sunday School Class. They were not thinking big. They were thinking faithful and small. Our pastoral care group started as five people that wanted to help out police trainees who were doing disaster recovery work after a typhoon. We certainly were not dreaming big. God worked to make what was small big. I still love reading the story “The Gospel Blimp” by Joseph Bayly… a reminder that big ideas (like purchasing and operating a blimp for mass evangelism) are not necessarily better than small ideas (like inviting one’s neighbor over to one’s house).

With this in mind, I suggest that God-sized Vision is … small. Do something small… and allow it to grow. For me, a God-sized vision is:

  • Do something God has placed on your heart.
  • Start small and learn how to do this small thing well.
  • Train others to do it as well.
  • Empower others to go out and repeat what you have been doing

That is a pretty small vision, I think. Definitely a God-sized vision.

 

Can a Really Committed Missionary Burn Out?

burnout

“Burn Out” (or “Burnout” if you prefer) is a common problem for ministers– often leading to them either     DROPPING OUT        or        ACTING OUT.

As to the question above, the answer given by  Ronald Kotesky (www.missionarycare.com), a Member Care Consultant for missionaries, seems more than adequate. Actually it can be found in his brochure, “What Missionaries Out to Know about Burnout.”

Not only can committed missionaries burn out, but the more committed they are, the more likely they are to burn out. If people slip through the screening process with major motives of travel and excitement, they can succeed at that quite readily. However, the more “ideal” missionaries are, with the hearts to win people to Christ, concern for others, and high expectations, the more likely they are to burn out.

A related question is, “Can first-term missionaries burn out?” Again, the answer is that they are at greatest risk for burnout. The time of greatest risk for burnout in any people-helping occupation is the first five years on the job. That is exactly the time frame of the first term and language school in most agencies. The new worker is filled with idealism and high expectations. When reality begins to set in, the first-term missionary begins to burn out.

What Cognitive Science Teaches about Contextualization

Article by Jackson Wu, referencing John Sanders book “Theology in the Flesh.”

“Cognitive science” and “contextualization” –– two things that sound complicated but shape everything we do in ministry.

In  Theology in the Flesh, John Sanders explains the concept of “framing” with this sentence: “We never open our presents until the morning.” For most Americans, at least, those eight words make complete sense because they evoke a common “frame,” i.e. Christmas. Families have different traditions about when they open their gifts.

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Source: What Cognitive Science Teaches about Contextualization

Addiction and Abuse Cycles

Sometimes it is fun to try to connect together two things that appear a bit similar, I was thinking about two cycles:   Addiction Cycle and Abuse Cycle. I don’t know whether the connection makes sense, but I find it useful to think about at least.

The following is the classic Addiction Cycle.  A person feels emotional pain and has a choice between dealing with the pain and its causes, OR can go for  substitute that numbs the pain. That substitute can be behavioral or substance-related. Choosing the substitute, the person has a numbing of pain, and possibly a sense of euphoria. Afterwards, however, these effects begin to wear off, and there is the retain of emotional pain. In fact, this cycle is often more of a circle, and the deleterious effects of the substitute behavior, the guilt/shame, and the habituation begin to take their tolls.

addiction cycle

The Abuse Cycle can also be shown in four similar steps— especially in terms of intimate relationships. There is a building of tension, followed by an abusive act. After that, the abuser typically feels remorse and acts to soothe the abused, bargaining a restoration of peace. Successfully arranging this leads to a “honeymoon” period. However, there is eventually a return of tension, and eventually abuse.

However, if one seeks to line up these two cycles, there are a couple of ways this can be done.  One is to establish the choice (dealing with the problem versus finding a substitute) with the growing of tension. It would then look like this:

Abuse Cycle Alt 2

This would make sense. The Abusive action would be equivalent to the Substituting behavior. As tension grows in the relationship, the abuser can deal with the problem or go to abuse.

Another way to address it would be for choice to be after the abuse.  At that point, one can deal with the problem or go towards remorse.

Abuse Cycle

There is actually reason to line it up this way. First of all, the Honeymoon period lines up better with the numbing of pain or euphoria associated with the Addiction Cycle. Likewise, the growing of tension in the Abuse Cycle lines up well with the wearing off of the numbing effect in the Addiction Cycle.

I actually like this second one better. Lining it up with the Addiction Cycle connects the Remorse action with the Addictive behavior. After all the activity of Remorse is actually an attempt to avoid the normal consequences of the abuse. Instead of dealing with the abuse and the underlying problems that drive the abuse, the abuser bargains and expresses sorrow, and promises that things will change. However, since things have not changed, the problem will return.

If this makes sense, then one who is seeking to work with an abusive relationship should not be seeking remorse and promises. These are the “drug of choice” of many abusers to avoid dealing with the underlying problems.