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The View from Here

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 | By Bryan Collier
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The View From Here: Working For God or Walking With Him?

 

Then the Lord gave this message to Solomon: Concerning this Temple you are building.  If you keep all my decrees and regulations and obey all my commands, I will fulfill through you the promise I made to your father, David.  I will live among the Israelites and will never abandon my people Israel. (1 Kings 6:11-13)

 

These three verses come right in the middle of the chapter that is entitled Solomon Builds the Temple.  The first half of the chapter leading up to these verses is replete with details about how high and wide and long the Temple is.  Included in the detail is the number of rooms and a descriptive floor plan.  The back half of chapter 6, the verses that follow 11-13, detail the Temple’s interior and inner sanctuary.

 

You can imagine Solomon, having surveyed the preparations his father David had made and the finishing preparations he had made wanted to get to work—and he did.  But in the middle of all that work, God interrupts—“Concerning this Temple you are building.” (11).  God has something to say to Solomon.  We might expect, and maybe Solomon did as well, that God had an opinion about the Temple.  Maybe God wanted to change something or remind Solomon of something or share His opinion about the Temple itself.  Instead, God re-orients Solomon by giving him a message about the role of the Temple.  “Concerning this Temple you are building…” God begins and then adds, “Solomon, you need to know that the basis for My presence is not a place, but obedience and faithfulness.”  You might think that because you build me a house I will live there (God seems to be saying), but the basis of my presence is not a place or what you are doing for me, but our relationship.

 

How many times leaders and especially ministers confuse working for God with walking with God.  The call and demands of ministry can distract us from the very thing that gives us the passion and power for the ministry we are called too—a vibrant ongoing relationship with God himself.  In the service of the Temple, its building and care we can be distracted from the real work of ministry—leading people to intimacy with Christ out of our own intimacy with him.

 

Some of the maladies of our denomination can be directly attributed to this distraction.  But this sickness has infected many of our local churches as well.  This is primarily because our leaders and pastors have forgotten that working for God is not the same as walking with him.

 

I never will forget when one of my mentors confessed that he realized that in hindsight a number of his early years of ministry were spent working for God but not walking with him.  “The problem with that arrangement”, said my mentor, “is that God doesn’t have any employees in His Kingdom, only sons and daughters.”

 

The godly leader pursues a relationship with God out of which the work of God through their life becomes fruitful.  In obedience and faithfulness God finds a son or a daughter through whom His purposes can be accomplished in the world.  How wonderful for the son or daughter who lives in this truth and doesn’t have to be interrupted by God to be reminded.  It is equally wonderful for the people they lead.

Bryan Collier 

The View from Here

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 | By Bryan Collier
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The View From Here: Wisdom Comes from God

God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite and the sons of Mahol—Heman, Calcol, and Darda. His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs.  He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the Wisdom of Solomon. (1 Kings 4:29-34)

That is quite an impressive set of accolades.  Not only was Solomon’s wisdom extolled but so was his fame, his writing, his speaking, and his popularity.  It is easy in the reciting of all of the accolades to miss the opening two words of the passage—“God gave…”  What a difference in the opening years of Solomon’s life when he knew where his wisdom came from and the end of his life where he began to “believe his own press clippings.”

Ministry offers us many opportunities to accumulate accolades.  If not formally through awards and recognitions, certainly we can accrue fame and popularity that unchecked can leave us believing that we are as wonderful and impressive as others say we are.

I am reminded of a story about Corrie Ten Boom, the little Polish woman who grew up hiding Jews from the Nazis and spent time in German prison camps for it.  After the war and the publishing of her book The Hiding Place she would speak and in response people would heap great compliments on her.  She never deflected the compliments in false modesty.  She simply said, “thank you” and received the compliment. “I take each remark as if it were a flower.  At the end of each day I lift of the bouquet off flowers that I have gathered throughout the day and say, ‘here you are Lord, it’s all Yours.’” (The Five Silent Years of Corrie Ten Boom, page 92)

That kind of humility and perspective never let her forget what James announces: “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father…” (1:17)

Few of us will ever receive the levels of fame and renown that Solomon, but those we do receive are no less a distraction that lead to self-deception.  It is with Corrie’s prayer and this truth clearly before us that we are reminded that the source of whatever attention we receive is God…who gave.  Leaders seek Wisdom, but they know where Wisdom comes from and readily acknowledge Him.

Bryan Collier

 

The Second Need of Leadership: Wisdom

(This is installment 3 of Leadership Lessons from the Kings)

Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around.  And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong…(1 Kings 3:7-9)

Solomon, the boy king, was offered a “blank check” by God and instead of cashing it on material possessions, fame or power he asks God for wisdom.  I am not sure that Solomon at his age knew what he was asking for.  In fact it was likely out of desperation that made his request.  No doubt, his court was full of advisers and wise men who would have gladly filled the request.  For some reason, Solomon did not think their wisdom sufficient and so he asks God for it for himself.

If the first need of a leader is a relationship with God, the second need of a leader is the wisdom that comes from God.  There will always be plenty of people who offer their opinion and call it wisdom, but the leader has to be able to discern what is foolishness, what is worldly wisdom and what is God’s wisdom on the matter.  Leaders often find themselves surrounded by people who want what they want for the leader or they want what the leader wants for the leader, but finding people who want what God wants for the leader even thought it may cost them is a rare thing.  The leader who can claim such an adviser can certainly count themselves as blessed.

However, there is another level of wisdom that cannot be assigned to advisers.  When decisions come, surveying the data is important, listening to wise counsel is equally important—but seeking God’s wisdom is the key to leading wisely.  Sometimes the data and counsel both point to something that make sense in the moment, but only God can see clearly the outcomes.

Bryan Collier

Bryan Collier

The Israelites, under Joshua’s command found themselves in this position when they made a peace treaty with the Gibeonites (9:14).  The Israelites examined the “data” and did what seemed right and faithful, but the telling words are “…but they did not consult the Lord.”  The consequences of what seemed like a wise decision were substantial.

Solomon asked for godly wisdom, for a constant consultative relationship on the front end of his tenure.  He didn’t wait for a crisis or for a specific incident in which he needed God’s wisdom.  He knew given his task and responsibility that his need for godly wisdom was going to be a constant.

The godly leader understands the need for wisdom beyond the data, and beyond wise counsel…it is a wisdom that only comes from God.  Blessed is the godly leader who asks for it before they need it.

Bryan Collier

Bryan Collier

Finding OR Losing Our Way

 

On April 24th of this month, The United Methodist Church will gather for its quadrennial General conference. I have either observed or participated in five of these gatherings, but this year I am neither a delegate nor an observer. I have been less involved in denominational matters than at any time in my ministry, and because of that, this last year has been a startlingly revealing year to me. My greatest revelation is a personal one—“I don’t care.” I don’t care about most of the issues that we will spend ten days arguing about. I don’t care about many of the things we will spend ten days celebrating. I don’t care what decisions are made because the Church will survive, even if the denomination doesn’t. Picture with me a worse case scenario and I can point to at least ten positive scenarios that are created out of it.

Another revelation for me during this year that parallels my indifference is that I have found that, like me, most of the people in the pews don’t care either. Our culture has moved to the place that it looks upon behemoth, out of touch, organizations as organizations not to be trusted—and I am not sure that this wariness is undeserved. Most of us sign on for the “best” parts of the organization content to live with the “worst” parts of the organization—but at what point is the trade off just too great?

Now lest you think I am only ranting about what I don’t care about, let me clarify that there are things that I do care about. What I DO care about is being part of an Organism that has as its core motivation the advancement of the Kingdom of Christ.  I want to be a part of a community of faith and a network of local churches that want to win people for Christ, raise them up to be like Christ by discipling them, and send them out into the world to serve Christ’s purposes by serving others. What I am not sure of is whether am I a part of that kind of community or not. We talk about it, think about it, publish resources that claim to be aimed at it—but this central work that Jesus gave us to do (Matthew 28:19-20) is not a priority for the General Church and that distraction hampers the work of the local church—where lives are actually changed.

I hope that we can find our way back to what we were called to be but I have little hope that re-orientation will happen when our delegates gather in Tampa. We have lost our way, and finding it again means that we make difficult decisions about the denomination, how it works structurally, how it works functionally AND what our priorities will be. You can always tell someone’s priorities by what they celebrate; watch what we celebrate at General Conference and draw your own conclusions.

My conclusion is that we have lost our way, and finding it again will determine whether or not we CAN or SHOULD expect to be useful to God in fulfilling his purpose for humanity.

Written by Bryan Collier


The First Need of Leadership

Bryan Collier

Bryan Collier

The book of 1 Kings is a study in leadership.  Adonijah, whom we read about in chapter 1 (and in my last post) was an agent of his own demise and other’s demise because he had never been disciplined.

Chapter 2 and 3 introduce us to a child king whose story is very different.  From the undisciplined passions of David came Solomon whose great restraint in chapter 3 honors God and therefore God honors him.  However, a key conversation between Solomon and David occurs in David’s last days that are recorded in chapter 2.

As the time of King David’s death approached, he gave this charge to his son Solomon:

 “I am going where everyone on earth must someday go. Take courage and be a man.  Observe the requirements of the LORD your God, and follow all his ways. Keep the decrees, commands, regulations, and laws written in the Law of Moses so that you will be successful in all you do and wherever you go.  (1 Kings 2:1-3)

One wonders what might have become of Adonijah if David had instructed him as he did Solomon.  Solomon was only a child but he heeded his father’s charge about what the first need of a leader was – a relationship with God.  David did not tell Solomon to pursue wisdom or provision, or blessing—but to pursue the One who was the Source of those things and more.

I am often tempted as a leader to pursue the “thing” and not the “Source.”  I can gain understanding through study, provision by effort and blessing by courting the favor of those who can bless me.  But there is something dangerous in my pursuit of the “thing”—it becomes my god.  When I pursue understanding for understanding’s sake I elevate the importance of knowledge and judge (and often belittle) those who don’t possess as much knowledge or regard knowledge as highly as I do.

The same thing can be said for provision and blessing.  If provision is my pursuit then I make an idol out of the level of provision I desire and I become a slave to favors I owe when blessing comes by human favor.

Solomon, as his inheritance, already had more than enough provision and blessing and his decrees would have been obeyed even if they were unwise.  But he wanted something more.  He wanted the life that he had seen his father David enjoy in relationship with the living God.

There is a reason that David is regarded as the greatest king the nation of Israel has ever known and a reason that Solomon is regarded as the richest.  Solomon lost his way as he began to revert to his own idea of blessing and provision—and in doing so he laid Godly wisdom aside.  How different his life might have been if he had finished as he began.

We see both in David’s end and in Solomon’s beginning the first need of a leader—a relationship with God in which the Source, not the thing is pursued.  For what we pursue will not only determine our beginning, it will determine our ending.

 

Seek Boundaries and Discipline

Now [Adonijah’s] father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, “why are you doing that?” 1 Kings 1:6

Bryan Collier

Last year I worked my way through Scripture; as I finished one book I would let my heart and the Holy Spirit lead me to the next book to read. As I finished Matthew’s Gospel and asked God for a leading, it was clear that I was being led to 1 Kings. “1 Kings?” I asked God, “are you sure?” I knew there was that great story about Solomon offering to divide the baby between two quarrelsome women, but other than that, “1 Kings?”

Only six verses in, however, I begin to find plenty of interesting guidance for my circumstances and these truths cropped up twenty-two times in twenty-two chapters.

Adonijah was never disciplined.  In fact, as the text points out, he was never questioned. This is dangerous for a child, but the consequences for the adult who was treated this way as a child are devastating. Adonijah moved into a position that was not his and his life was endangered—simply because no one ever told him “no.” He never received discipline or the discipline of boundaries that keep us back from the bottomless pits of self-destruction.

I wonder how many times I assume roles and positions that were not meant for me. For lack of discipline, both “being disciplined” and “acting disciplined,” I end up in places that are not only a danger to me, but endanger others and God’s will for them. Patience, waiting, listening, and seeking need to be a part of any leader’s discernment. The humility to received discipline and the seeking of those who will administer it in our lives is a Divine necessity in any next steps that we would take in furthering God’s Kingdom. Discipline and boundaries are to be sought, not avoided if we are to help someone take Next Steps…or take them ourselves.

 

 

 

 

The View from Here

Thursday, December 8th, 2011 | By Bryan Collier
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Bryan CollierThe View from Here: Insisting on My Own Demise

The Lord had clearly instructed the people of Israel, “You must not marry them [foreign wives], because they will turn your hearts to their gods.”  Yet Solomon insisted on loving them anyway.  He had 700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines.  And in fact, they did turn his heart away from the Lord. (1 Kings 11:2-3).

Solomon insisted on his own way, even though that meant disobedience to God.  Even though Solomon got what he wanted temporarily, the consequences were immediate (see 1 Kings 11:14, 23, 26) and generational (see 1 Kings 12).  I wonder if the tradeoff was worth it?  Of course I ask that question rhetorically because we know the answer—Israel as a nation and people would never fully recover.

The life that we want, settle for, and often insist on is rife with consequences of choosing life as we define it instead of life as God designed it.  This choosing is both sinister (we know it and choose it anyway) and insidious (we choose it without choosing it) and the consequences are both immediate and generational.

I am reminded of a Dennis Kinlaw’s devotional entitled “Subtle Calls to Sin” in which he says, “Satan disguises himself under the ruse of personal autonomy.  He never asks us to become his servants.  Never once did the serpent say to Eve, ‘I want to be your master.’ The shift in commitment is never from Christ to evil; it is always from Christ to self.  And instead of His will, self-interest now rules and what I want reigns.” (A Day with the Master, November 14).

Too often I am Solomon (except for the wives!) insisting on my own way even though it means disobedience.  Obedience to my own desires always carries with it an impact that I am unprepared to measure in the span of my life.  My decisions mark a trajectory for those who come after me that they may not escape but by the grace of God…unless I by the grace of God do not mark that trajectory of disobedience.

What is the antidote to Satan’s deception and my corresponding self-deception?  Obedience that comes from trust.

The trust that the devil murdered in the garden still gets assaulted in my heart unless I am continually connected to the God who proves, in Jesus Christ, He can be trusted.  Then, and only then, will my obedience come not from duty, but from a love that is a response to knowing that I am loved, and that I can trust the Lover…and therefore no longer must insist on my own way (1 Corinthians 13:5).

Denominations as a Starting Place…

 

Several years ago I was near Quito, Ecuador on a short-term mission trip with a group from The Orchard.  We were staying in the dormitories at SEMISUD which is the largest South American Seminary for The Church of God of Cleveland denomination.  On the way to my room I met one of the General Secretaries of The United Methodist Church.  He was there as part of a World Council of Churches delegation who had come to South America to dialogue with Pentecostal churches about their unwillingness to participate with the WCC.  He was amazed to find a United Methodist Congregation doing what they had traveled thousands of miles to discuss.  Amazed, he asked me about how we, a United Methodist Church, were able to work out a partnership with the Church of God of Cleveland Seminary.  My reply was simply, “because we are both more interested in the kingdom than in the denomination.”

One of the principles of growth that stands out about vibrant congregations is that the denomination is a starting place, but it is not their final destination.

The stated mission of the Mississippi Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church is to equip the church to make disciples for Jesus Christ.  That is an outstanding mission, fully on target, one that is true to our call.  However, theory and practice can prove to be radically different, even in well-intentioned denominations.

Denominations, if not kept in their proper perspective, can demand so much of the pastor’s time and the church’s attention that they actually prevent us from accomplishing its and our stated mission—to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

The local church must be the primary location of ministry and transformation of the denomination must take place by the overflow of the local church.  This is not only the most effective way of transformation; it is also the most congruent with the call of the Gospel.  We are called first and foremost to be builders of Christ’s Kingdom, not our denominations.

In John chapter fifteen, verse sixteen, Jesus makes very clear the mission of the disciples.  They were to go and bear fruit that would last.  No one would argue that Jesus meant that the disciples would add people to the Kingdom (see John 4).  Somewhere along the way Jesus disciples began grouping and in grouping became more concerned with adding to their group than in fulfilling Jesus’ mandate.

In any community there is plenty of Kingdom work to be done.  Jesus himself recognized that the fields were ripe for harvest, but the laborers were few (John 4:36).  Statistically in any community of 50 to 5 million, 50 percent (or more) of the residents do not have a personal relationship with Jesus or a connection to a community of faith.  Some would argue that this is simply not so in their community.  My response is that they simply do not hang around the right kind of wrong people.

This statistic should inform our work in several ways.  First, if 50% of the people in our community do not have a personal relationship with Jesus or a connection to a community of faith I am not in competition with the other churches in town because there are plenty of people to go around.  The real competition is every other available use of a person’s time.  We are not competing with other churches in our community.  We are competing against soccer, t-ball, sitcoms, bunko groups and the like.  Any time people choose to be in a growing discipleship process it is a Kingdom win.

Secondly, we need to be supportive of the other churches in our community because we are not trying to make the next generation of Methodists (or Baptists, etc.).  We are trying to make the next generation of Christians.  This is not an idea that sits well with denominations.  But pastors or denominational leaders who lament a family the next church down the road instead of ours have a very narrow view of the Kingdom of Christ.  In Tupelo, there are 20,000 unchurched people.  If one person joins the local Presbyterian Church, then that only leaves 19,999 to go.  That is a Kingdom win.

The reason we so often miss this is that we are focused on who we do have—how many in comparison to the other churches in town or in our denomination.  We must stay focused on our target group, the group to whom we were sent—those in our community who are outside the Kingdom.

Third, we need to partner with the other churches in our community because if all the unchurched people in our community decided to show up at our church this Sunday, our church wouldn’t hold them all.  The only hope we have of reaching the whole community is if the whole Body of Christ is focused on this task.  Competitiveness among churches and between denominations is counterproductive to the Kingdom.  It only confirms to those who are outside the Kingdom what they suspected all along—that we are petty.

Finally, we need to help people find a place to belong, even if they belong at another church.  This is true because we are in the business of helping people find and enter into a relationship with God.  If they can do that better somewhere else, we should encourage them to do so. It should be no big deal if a family or 10 families leave our church.  If we are focused on the outsiders there are plenty of people there to replace them.

This is what it means to be the Body of Christ.  Just as within any community of faith (church) there are many and diverse gifts, within the church universal there are particular roles that each denomination plays.  There are appealing (and not so appealing) aspects to each of these groups.  But we need each other if we are ever going to reach our communities.  This will become more and more apparent to us when we are honest enough to admit to ourselves that by ourselves we will never reach everyone in our community—as bad as we hate to admit it—not everyone will like us or be attracted to Jesus at our church.  But if we remember that our primary task is building the Kingdom then we can work together to do so.

Bryan Collier

Bryan Collier

Neither my wife nor I are morning persons.  We get up, but it is usually really slow going.  When my daughter was two we moved her out of her baby bed and at first she would wander down the hall into our room at all hours of the night.  We came up with a plan.  Every night we would put her to bed and tell her that she needed to stay there until the sun came up.  Shortly thereafter, she wandered into our bedroom at daybreak and announced as loud as she could, “THE SUN IS UP!  Careful what you wish for!

We often make plans that seem logical to us when we make them, only to find out that when they are enacted they leave something to be desired.  Flawed results don’t often come from a perfect plan.  Most often, flawed results follow a flawed plan.

For most of the last 20 years that I have been in ministry I have witnessed churches and denominations (mine included) keep trying to get better results from a flawed plan.  That plan has led us to believe things like: “if we build it they will come,” “bigger is better,” and that the way to “save our church” is to invest in the structures and decisions that got us into this mess in the first place.  The plan—the same one we have been working for 50 years—is flawed.  Jesus had a simple plan and he laid it out for his disciples.  Remain in me (John 15:1-15); bear fruit (John 15:16); love one another (John 15:17); under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit tell others about me as those who know me best (John 15:26-27).

Now I am sure that when our denominational plans were first articulated they aimed at just these things.  But over the years, the have ceased to be the means to the end and have become the end themselves.  If any local congregation or any denomination seeks to remain vibrant, its plan must simply be Jesus’ plan—everything else is flawed—and the results will show it.  God has a plan for His Church; a good plan for fruitfulness.  But we have to follow his map to that destination—not ours.  The flaw in our plan is often that we want to arrive at God’s blessed destination while following our selfishly designed road map.  When we give up our plan for God’s we find that we not only get what we wished for…we get what we needed, AND God’s purposes in the world get accomplished.

Bryan CollierI read with great interest Dr. Dunnam’s recent blog post “The View from Here General Conference: A Balancing Act of Responsible Action. I not only deeply respect Dr. Dunnam’s observations but also wholeheartedly agree with each of them. I wonder, however, if the work of pruning might be simplified by an equation we use around The Orchard. It goes like this—“If we will do what is right for the Kingdom of Christ it will always be what is right for the church.” That is the equation, but then we tack on a reminder—but the equation won’t work the other way. If we do what is right for the church we have no assurances that those decisions are right for the Kingdom. One equation is Christ-centered and world focused; one is self-centered and preservation focused.

Now I know at the General Church level we have sharp disagreements about what is right for the Kingdom. In truth, sober-mindedness about the severity of this divide might be the thing that ultimately separates us. We want different things. Some want to preserve the United Methodist Church and yet are making decisions that are killing it. It is only as we make decisions about what is right for the Kingdom and act in accordance with those decisions that The United Methodist Church continues to be a useful instrument in the hand of God to accomplish his purposes in the world. When we lose this usefulness we should expect to be laid aside by God. Wesley and his friends tried desperately to reform the Anglican Church and when it would not be reformed, something new was born—a Holy Club that became the seed of Methodism. We should work for reform, but not be surprised, if this church will not be reformed, that something new is born. Only “something new” that is focused on doing what is right for the Kingdom of Christ and that understands the equation doesn’t work the other way, will see the vibrancy that Christ intended for his Body because it is aligned with His purposes.

People ask me all the time why we are experiencing exponential growth at The Orchard. One of the reasons I give them is that we desperately want to do what is right for the Kingdom of Christ—knowing that is what will be right for the church. Some of our greatest failings have come when we got the equation backwards—because it is a one-way equation. I fear most of our denominational failings can be attributed to the same mistake.

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