In Case of Fire… Part Two

We’ve been talking about fires of the worst sort – the kind that burn up lives and destroy souls.  They’re the ones that a simple call to 911 won’t help.  And it’s the location that surprises us most – inside the church.  They happen in the community of faith when sophistry enters and exchanges the grace of Christ for a license to destroy.  Doctrine is diluted, behavior is altered, and character catches fire.

And we are called upon to do more than simply play with the remote while things of eternal worth burn.

Jude calls the faithful to contend and push back on fuzzy sophistication that promotes division and ungodly behavior.  Though often overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and the complexity of the thought behind it, Jude calls you to step forward and intervene before more is burned.

We talked about the first action in part one: look to God!

Now let’s look at the second effort:  look to yourself.

God has a part to play, but so do you.  Surprisingly, little of this relates to political organization and media blitzes.  It’s personal; and in that simplicity it’s also very powerful.  This action permeates all of culture… just like salt on food and leaven in bread.  You, being an influence of one, can make a big difference.  There are six personal, powerful responses to the sophistry of the day that infiltrates the body of Christ to divide and weaken.

First, you can build yourself up in your most holy faith.  Soul building has a lot in common with body building:  you are what you eat; no pain no gain.  The disciplines of the faith are essential in facing fallen-ness in our time and in our backyard:  Bible study, fasting, self-denial, involvement in a community of faith, giving, and prayer.  They are never fancy.  They never go out of style.  There are no short-cuts.  And speaking of prayer…

You should prayin the Holy Spirit.  This isn’t delivering God your daily wish list or complaining about why being part of the global 1% isn’t good enough.  No, this is rolling up your sleeves and getting to work in the Spirit’s power to intercede for others and bring down spiritual high places.  This is closet warfare, on your knees, in the trenches.  And what happens in secret shows results in public.

Third, keep yourselves in God’s love.  When dealing with rebellious souls, keeping yourself centered in God’s love is critical.  Your job is to reflect Christ’s love rather than assume God’s role as judge.  Remembering your example is critical to maintaining the right stance in the middle of pain.  Jesus could have called a legion of angels – but He didn’t.  Can you follow that example?

Then, wait… and this is perhaps the hardest part.  Just ask the two who were ready to trust God in the Exodus event when their ten comrades only saw obstacles.  The two had to walk with the untrusting for 40 years.  But make no mistake, whether its 40 minutes, 40 years, or 4 centuries, the Lord will bring you to eternal life.  It’s not about you and its now about now.  Jude’s emphasis here is on waiting for judgment, eternity, heaven and hell.  Without this focus in our faith we are just an “adjunct social service”.

Fifth, deal with people strategically.  You cannot treat everyone the same.

  • There are those who are just starting to doubt; beginning to be influenced by the fuzziness of sophistry.   Jude says “Be merciful to those who doubt...”  This is the Starbucks approach.  Have coffee with them.  Sit down, take time and reason with them.
  • There are those well on their way – out the door of faith and up-shifting down the highway of apostasy.  For these, Jude suggests an intervention – snatching them from the fire in order to save them.  Envision a group, a community of faith that comes alongside a soul in motion away from the grace of Christ, intervening.  This is something the church is not particularly good at.
  • There are those who’ve gone over the edge.  In these later days of 2012, there’s a lot of talk about the Fiscal Cliff.  But there is a Faith Cliff that does even more damage – and many are those who go over.  They don’t want to reason any longer, they’ve dropped out of the community of faith.  They are beyond an intervention.  They’ve given themselves up to the currents of the day.  Your response?  Show them mercy, but be careful about even touching their clothing.  They are highly “contagious”.  This goes back to your earlier task of waiting.  As you wait, be kind, be merciful (you are not the judge), but be careful.  A rebellious sophistry surrendered to is a powerful thing.  Jude’s words?  “Show mercy mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.” 

And finally, worship the One Who is able.  Worship is something that falls on hard times when sophistry is on the rise.  It seems unnecessary.  It interferes with golf, sailing, work, and you name it.  But worship has an amazing effect on clarifying the vision of a Christ follower.  Just ask Isaiah.  It wasn’t until he came into the temple (which means he left the roar of culture) that he saw what really was – the brevity of life and the eternal nature of God.  Jude models worship when he ascribes to God our Savior “glory, majesty, power and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore.”  Often, all that is necessary to course-correct is time away from media spent in full focus on the One Who is able.  Just ask the Psalmist.

So, in case of fire, fight it.  Make it personal.

-Anthony

In Case of Fire… Part One

I’ve kind of always wanted to do that – you know, break the glass on a fire alarm.  You’ve seen the instructions haven’t you?  But there’s just never been a fire that would justify the breakage.  And I really don’t want a fire either.

Living in Arizona wild-fires are not uncommon.  And they are often huge.  The Rodeo-Chedeski fire, nicknamed “The Monster”, consumed 468,000 acres.  The Wallow fire was even bigger, consuming 538,000 acres.  Those catastrophic events call for massive mobilization of resources to contain the blaze.  Even then, divine help is required – favorable winds, rain, help from above.

While you may not be facing a physical blaze at the moment, dangerous sophistry within the fellowship of Christ flares up from time to time.  And we are called upon to do more than simply play with the remote while everything burns.   Jude calls the faithful to contend and push back on fuzzy sophistication that promotes division and ungodly behavior.  But when so much is up in flames, it can be tough to know what will put the fire out, or at least turn the heat down a little.

So we ask… how?  How do we push back on sophisticated immorality that trades grace for gross?

There are several practical actions we can take.  Though often overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem and the complexity of the thought behind it, Jude encourages you to step forward and intervene before more is burned.

Here’s the first action…

First, look to God.  By that I mean focus on God not on the problem or those causing the problem.  Of all that could be focused on, it is the ageless ability of God to judge with authority and precision that is meant to be front and center.  Three historical examples are there to remind us of the unchanging ability of God to judge – anyone, anywhere:

  • He is able to judge among the community of faith – those who claim to follow God.  You would think that as an emerging nation rises under the active hand of God’s intervention, supporting visible miracles such as the parting of a sea, a moving pillar of fire, and feeding and watering multitudes without food or water, they would all have faith.  But such is not true.  With a pedigree of divine deliverance in their freshly written Exodus history, 83.3% of leadership stumbled.  Only two out of twelve believed God was able to continue His mighty work of nation building as the children of Israel stood on the threshold of a promised land.  So God judged – He allowed democracy to win.  And he allowed the winning to enjoy the fruit of their decision making; which was the opposite of what they had refused to believe.  So they got desert instead of deliverance;  painful plodding instead of promise.  A generation wandered in circles until they died.  And the time finally came when the 16.7% were vindicated and validated for their confidence in God.  This is judgment among God’s own.
  • He is able to judge among the heavenly/cosmic elite – those in the very presence of God.  Though the details are murky, the reference is to heavenly beings overstepping their boundaries in disobedience to God.  Again, you’d think this couldn’t happen.  Wouldn’t those who see God, who live in his visible presence, believe Him and obey Him?  Apparently not always.  At one time God’s messengers seem to have had an ungracious message to send – one of rebellion.  We are told of the power that one angel can wield – it makes a nuclear bomb seem tame.  So an open rebellion in heaven is serious.  But God is not threatened by even celestial beings.  So He acted; restrained and retained those rebellious beings in chains awaiting eternal judgment.  Some coups work – this one didn’t.
  • He is able to judge among the utterly rebellious – those who have no interest in obeying God.  Those in Sodom and Gomorrah’s day might have been the first to flaunt belligerent license plates taunting righteousness.  They knew there was a choice to be made and they simply gave themselves up to sexual immorality.  The low point of that choice occurred when angels visited that town and were greeted by unrestrained, unnatural lust – men wanting to rape other men, refusing even the offer of virgin young ladies.  And when presented with the notion of impending judgment, the one righteous man’s future son-in-laws laughed.  They thought it was a joke.  But God doesn’t joke about these things.  He waits, sometimes much longer than we would, but it’s to offer opportunity not humor.   So the moment came when the fire fell and consumed a region.  No more funny license plates.  No more flaunting what is right.

And remember, God doesn’t consult polls or play the numbers.  In the exodus, the minority of spies believed; the majority were judged.  And in Sodom and Gomorrah, all but a handful were condemned.  Only a few escaped despite God’s longsuffering and patience.

But He will not wait forever.  Count on it.  He will not be mocked.  There is absolutely no doubt in the outcome of good over evil, trust over rebellion.

When the heat’s on, look up.  Have no doubt about the ultimate outcome.

-Anthony

Theoden’s Lament

You’ll remember him standing there with sobered and staggered countenance; almost resigned as his armor bearer straps on his only defenses for the coming battle with an impossible number of orcs.  Theoden’s words were simple and reflective… “how did it come to this?

How did what come to this?

For those engaged in the fictional battle for middle earth, the answer to “what” was this: the rise of a dark Lord, the assembly of an evil army, the turning of wizardry to evil, the brazen display of cruel hostility, and the fragmented tatters of good gathering to fight much too late in the day.

If you think that happens only in fantasy, consider what Jude had to say in the late first century:  Rise!  Contend for the faith because evil men have secretly slipped in among you who…

  • change the grace of God into a license for immorality
  • deny Jesus Christ our only sovereign Lord
  • pollute their own bodies
  • reject authority
  • slander heavenly beings
  • speak abusively against whatever they do not understand
  • understand and embrace only their instincts – the things that will ultimately destroy them
  • follow Cain, Balaam, and Korah (not exactly good role models)
  • feed only themselves
  • are clouds without rain, autumn trees without fruit, wild waves of the sea foaming up their shame, wandering stars
  • are grumblers and fault finders
  • follow their own desires and boast about themselves
  • flatter others for their own advantage

And these folk were in the church.  They weren’t part of the Associated Godless Evil Doers of America (AGEDA).

If Theoden was part of that church, he’d ask the same question… “how did it come to this?“  How indeed?  Well, Jude says they secretly slipped in among you.  What?  How does something that blatantly  bad secretly slip in among those called by the name of Christ?  How could you not notice it, not opposed it, not rise up in righteous anger against it?

Before offering some ideas, we should identify a baseline relative to this position of infiltration by evil:  it’s somewhat normative.  There’s no perfect church, no unblemished organization, and always spurious motives in the minds of some.  Jesus said the Kingdom of God is like a man who sowed wheat.  Later, while he was sleeping, his enemy secretly came and sowed weeds.  So both grow together.  Then and now.  Always (Matthew 13:24-30).

Jesus doesn’t identify the technology used by the evil one, or the time of night he came.  Rather, just the facts.  As Joe Friday might say “Sir… he came by night and sowed.  That’s all we know!

Still, whether it’s the enemy in Matthew 13 or the evil in Jude, “secretly slipping in” suggests a few things…

  • It happens when you’re not looking – as in “secretly slipped in among you“.  Sometimes we’re just not paying attention.  Maybe it’s because we’re sleeping or focused on something else.  Security in our world is big business: whether its protecting a building or guarding a personal computer.  We pay for someone to be on guard 24/7.  The church is greatly  mistaken if they think evil comes to slip in only on Sundays.  And so are you.  What’s your security suite?  What filters have you installed?  Have you installed them privately and corporately?
  • It happens when you’re not looking closely – as in “secretly slipped in among you“.  The Greek work sophos means skilled or wise.  You’d think therefore that sophistry would mean the use of wisdom.  But only in the sense of manipulating the building blocks of logic to produce false wisdom.  In the ancient world, the Sophists were those who prided themselves on proving black was actually white and vice versa as money required.  Any well established truth could be logically inverted for a price.  Sophistry was apparently at work in Jude’s time – a kind of elegant evil rooted in Gnosticism, whereby the simple truth of Christ’s grace was “enhanced” with secret knowledge available only to a few.

Secret slippery is still happening. Good looking falsehood has been lubed up and slid into surprising places.  Maybe even next to you.

Beware of the secret slippery…  It’ll always be part of the reason we are called to fight for the faith.  But catching it earlier makes the fight easier.

Contend now or lament later – your choice.

Houston, we have a problem…

One of history’s great understatements.

It comes of course from Apollo 13′s mission to the moon, and was made famous by history and Hollywood.  Though credited to James Lovell, the phrase was originally issued from John Swigert Jr. on April 14th, 1970. I’m not a space historian, but it would seem the conversation went something like this…

Swigert:  ‘Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.’

NASA (Houston):  ‘This is Houston. Say again please.’

Lovell:  ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.’

This doesn’t sound like a big thing.  But it was.  Lives were at stake; a mission was at risk.  And leadership had to emerge from both ends of the problem to create hope.  Both ends.

When situations forbid problem solving from multiples ends, missions will suffer, and lives could be lost.  It’s true in business, in families, and government (I know, if only…).  It’s true in the church as well.

Gaius (one of the most common names in the first century world) and his congregation had an all too common problem:  their mission of supporting those on mission was jeopardized by a self-commissioned leader.  His name was Diotrephes, meaning “suckled by Zeus” (no really… so I’ll just call him Mr. D.).  Mr. D’s leadership style was “me, me, and only me”.  3 John 9 states that he loved to be first and would have nothing to do with the Apostle John.

So… what happens in your head to reach the notion that you don’t require input from others on important issues, especially when it comes from one of the twelve apostles?  I mean, who else won’t you listen to?

This was common man versus uncommon delusion.

Mr. D. rejected other’s input, rejected apostolic authority, rejected those in need who we’re on mission for the Christ he claimed to serve, and rejected those who rejected him.  All in all, not a fun guy.

They had a problem.  How do you know if you have one?

John was a pretty simple fellow:  “Anyone who does what is good is from God.  Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.”  It’s the old “you’ll know a tree by its fruit” recast.  If leadership doesn’t listen, has no authority figure, has a loose tongue, is inhospitable, and rejects any/all who don’t agree, that’s bad leadership according to John.  I think it still is.  And just as the apostle pledged to call attention to the problem, you may need to call attention to yours.  Because so much is at stake.

If you are a leader, does a hard look in the mirror suggest any similarities between you and Mr. D?  Are you helping the “Gaiuses” of the world or making it hard for them?  If you were to interview Mr. D. he’d likely couch his actions within language such as “its best for the church” or “I really do love Gaius and his efforts, but these kinds of things are a waste of resources“.

John saw through that.  The problem with Mr. D. was simply this:  he loved to be first.

What do you love?  I hope it’s not to be first for two very important reasons:

  • first theological – Jesus taught that those wanting to be first should become last and take up the role of servant hood, just as He came to serve rather than to be served
  • second statistical – As one of my favorite de-motivational posters states:  “For every winner, there are dozens of losers.  Odds are you’re one of them.”

The lessons of 3 John are worth considering.  They suggest a gut-check regarding your consideration of others, your care of others, and your help of others.  And those are all leadership issues.

It’s doubtful you can be in first place and be successful at all three.  But then again, maybe first place isn’t really… first.

-Anthony

Love’s “Click”

I have a lock on all my doors.  And I use them.  I’m thinking you do too.

Fact is, I’m quite choosy about who gets into my house.  Family, friends and well meaning visitors are always welcome.  But there are those who will find it hard to gain admittance:  salesmen only after a sale, strangers I don’t know, criminals, wild animals, etc.  They will find the door locked.

The more I think about it, I suppose more people have been locked out of my house than have been let in.  Why?  Because I value what’s within.  I value my family, our memories, and our stuff (stuff last).  You may be the same.

Value applies criteria to the privilege of admission.

This informs our definition of love.  The apostle John is well known for his big picture view of God and faith.  And love lies at the center of that definition.  But make no mistake – love, for John, has clear criteria.  When it comes to love of God, it means to follow His commands as expressed through Christ (1 John 5:3).  When it comes to love of others, it means to love God (2 John 6).  Love has little to do with our cultural concept of something that you fall into (and later, at a convenient time – fall back out of).  No, it’s more like something you step into with full force of will, and remain in because of clear criteria.

You “love” your teeth so you go to the Dentist.  You “love” your child so you raise them with discipline.  You “love” being connected 24/7, so you buy a Smartphone.   Hi speed oral drills, discipline, and giving away cash, have little to do with feeling good.  They are the criteria of admission.

And 2 John has something to say about admission to your home.  If someone comes to your “front door” with these credentials, don’t let them in if you love God and you value what’s behind your door:

  • a deceiver who is anti-Christ (this is not some person dressed in red with horns and fangs, but rather someone who does not hold to the life, mission, sacrifice, and resurrection of Christ – they are “anti” Christ), AND…
  • they are a teacher of the anti-Christ concept (they are not interested in having a conversation with you; they are interested in destroying your faith by subtle or not-so-subtle means)

This is someone with something to sell.  Something that is anti Christ.  Don’t buy.  Don’t even open the door.

In the late first century AD, this was a growing problem.  People had become “so much smarter” in the nineties than they were in the sixties (AD) that they had run ahead of the teaching of Christ.  Kind of reminds me of how our culture today thinks about the nineties (as in 1990s) – “what did we do before the internet?“  A little historically untested knowledge can make anyone think they’re more sophisticated than they really are.  And by the way, we did a lot.

Back to the nineties – religious salesmen were showing up at churches/believers “front doors” with new knowledge to teach.  John’s word sounds unloving:  “don’t let them in/don’t welcome them“.  But in reality, it was very loving for those who lived within.

I don’t think I know person who loves strangers with bad intent coming to their front door.  But I know many (including myself) who pay money to have such strangers bypass our front door entirely and stand right before those we love most, and speak anti-Christ.  They come in through cable, satellite, radio, internet, literature, books, etc.  The front door has changed.  Are we paying attention?

Have you listened to what you’re laughing at?  Is what you’re paying for something that does not “have God“?  Are we loving our families?  Are we loving God?  Or should we be a tad more willing to lock the door?

This begs another question.  Do you know the criteria of admission?  Do you know the commands of Christ in the first place?  In true love, as in most enduring areas of life, content is king.  What you know matters.  Knowing what Christ commands (what God desires) enables you to know when to turn the lock of love.  So study, learn, and turn.

I’m still listening… for the click of love.  Maybe we can encourage each other to turn that lock.

-Anthony

Inconceivable

That’s what Vizzini repeatedly exclaimed as the Dread Pirate Roberts advanced on his well-oiled kidnapping of the lovely Buttercup (The Princess Bride).  After the apparent incongruence of the word’s repetition and the obvious closing of the gap that existed between the two parties settled in, Inigo Montoya (the Spaniard Swordsman) finally responded – “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I think the same could be said for leadership.  There’s often an apparent gap between popular or “successful” leaders and good ones.  It can be frustrating to know who to follow; who to believe.

The residual questions remain… How do you influence others?  How do you guide through an ethical dilemma?  How do you urge redemptive progress in a deep canyon of unmovable circumstance?  How do you build reliable superstructure on the quicksand of poor decision making?

These are issues leaders constantly face (you may face them).  Some appear better than others.

Some seem to lead with a chainsaw (see Al Dunlap, ex-CEO of Sunbeam).  Others appear to lead with victory and diversion (see Lance Armstrong, ex-7 time winner of the Tour de France).  The fact of the matter is this – it’s often hard to tell a good leadership “engine” from a bad one until it’s got a lot of miles on it, and you have a chance to “pop the hood” and learn how it really works.

Time will tell.  Maybe we should be slower to emulate until we have time to extrapolate.

The Apostle Paul ranks pretty high on the historical leadership chart.  His “engine” acquired a lot of miles.  With the hood closed, you’d tend to see him as harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving… an emotional IQ of “0”.  If you like his level of success, it’d be easy to make that approach your own, thinking to yourself “if I’m the same way, I can get things done, move people, and change the world!”

Read Philemon first.

In it we find clues as to how the engine of Paul’s leadership really worked.  He found himself in between a run-away slave, an angry owner, the bizarre ethics of slavery as an accepted culture in the ancient Roman world, and a freshly minted follower of Christ in Onesimus – wondering if change mattered.

This letter ‘pops the hood’ and lets you see beneath the appearance of how Paul led to how he actually led.  You might be surprised at the differences.

Specifically, that he led with relationship – the letter is laced with the request of one man toward another based on partnership, friendship, fellowship, and gratitude.  Philemon wasn’t merely an employee or church member to Paul.  He was known by Paul.  And on that basis Paul requested cooperation and forgiveness on behalf of another.  Paul didn’t just know Philemon.  He had served Philemon.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… Who are you presently serving?

He also led with product – the heart of the letter concerns a run-away slave who’d been changed in a way most of us need to be changed: from “how can I escape?” to “how can I do what’s right?” Nothing helps a matter more than actual product.  Superior to marketing, diversion, and political pressure, true product influences.  Content is king.  Paul didn’t change the world with religious sleight-of-hand.  He changed it with reformed men.  His “product” wasn’t preaching.  His product was embedded in his message – the power of Christ to change lives from the inside out and alter character.  He could’ve tried to change the system.  Instead he focused on people who make and unmake the system.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… What are you relying on to create change?

And he led others with trust – Paul sends a transformed slave home to face the unknown; and it could have gone badly.  He sends him home with trust.  He extends confidence to a man who had a choice.  But he does so with trust that his request will be honored because of the relationship and the product.  He had confidence Philemon would do what he asked and more.  And I think he did just that.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… What level of trust are you offering?

I’m thinking about the last picture above.  Could be you or me.  There are a lot of leaders out there; lots of models to choose from.  Choose wisely and change your world.  But some of the best leadership happens “under the hood” or behind the scenes.  So lead on… where it counts.

-Anthony