Posts Tagged ‘God’

 

 

People have different ways of approaching reality. Some are analytical, reasoned, logical, etc. That’s not me. Not that I can’t be analytical, reasoned and logical. But those are deliberate disciplines that I practice; in contrast to my instinctive way of approaching the world which is through my feelings. I’m just a feeling kind of person.

Maybe too much sometimes. When people talk about having certain spiritual gifts I always say I have the spiritual gift of weeping – I cry at weddings and baptisms and movies. I can’t sing Charles Wesley’s And Can It Be without getting choked up. There’s just something about the words, “Amazing love! How can it be, that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” I’m not a very good singer, but I love to belt those words out. And then toward the end of the song when it says, “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” I usually have to keep myself from jumping up and down during that verse.

Jumping up and down to Charles Wesley – go figure.

Not surprisingly, I resonate with Scriptures like Paul’s word in Romans 8 that God’s Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children; and with John Wesley’s experience of having his heart “strangely warmed.” That kind of gut oriented experience of the faith is foundational for me.

So one of the most disorienting moments of my ministry happened when I was approached by a young woman toward the end of a weekend of preaching who earnestly asked how she could really know that God loved her if she couldn’t feel it.

This was a Cornerstone Celebration weekend so she had heard me preach three times already and had been involved in my three-hour teaching session on sharing our faith. Now it was about 5 minutes before the last service was to start and she was desperate to know if what I’d been talking about all weekend long was really true.

Was it really true that God loved her enough to become human in Jesus; was it really true that God’s love for her was radical enough to involve passionate sacrifice. She was sure it was true for everyone else since they could feel it; but it couldn’t possibly be true for her because she couldn’t.

You’ve probably already guessed that I was getting all misty as my mind raced, searching for some way to respond. She continued that it wasn’t just about feeling God’s love. She couldn’t feel anything. Things had happened in her past and she had dealt with them by repressing, pushing down and blocking out any and all feeling within her. I have no feelings, she said and as I looked into her eyes, I believed her.

How is it that we come to know God’s love? Is it only when we feel God’s Spirit “bearing witness” with our spirit? Is it only when our hearts are “strangely warmed?” Is there more to it than that? If we’re not a “feeling kind of person,” does God not work in us and through us anyway?

I was really struggling as the woman patiently waited for my response. My heart was breaking and I was petrified that somehow I would compound her pain. That in my bumbling I would somehow contribute to her certainty that God couldn’t possibly love her since she wasn’t able to feel it.

Way back in the mid-400′s Patrick began preaching in Ireland. He traveled from settlement to settlement, staying with the people, loving them and working among them. Through his ministry, monastic communities sprang up. These communities were different from what we normally think of when we think of monastic communities where monks separated themselves from the rest of society for a life of solitude and prayer. These were communities of committed Christ followers who lived and worked together, sharing resources, love and life together. There were men and women, adults and kids; some were single, some were married, some had families – some were priests but most weren’t, and they were all together in community.

One of the things that made these communities so cool was the way they treated outsiders. There was always a gatekeeper – not to keep anybody out – but to be on duty all the time so that anyone who wanted to come in could come in – no matter what time of the day or night it was. If you visited the community the gate keeper would welcome you first and then call everyone to come greet you. The abbot or abbess (head of the community) would immediately come out to make sure you felt at home. It wouldn’t matter what people were doing, they would stop because making guests feel welcome was more important than anything else. Then they’d show you to the guest house – the best accommodations in the whole place. When it was time to eat, you’d eat at the head table with the abbot/abbess. It would be clear that you could stay as long as you wanted, but you were also free to leave at any time. You could eat with the community, work with the community, worship with the community – always welcome to share in everything about the community. If you stayed for a while they’d assign you a ‘soul friend’ to talk to – no agenda – just about whatever was on your mind. Eventually, if you continued to stay they’d talk to you about God’s love and offer you the opportunity to become more than a guest.

It was a slow process of revealing God’s love; a process that started with the concept of belonging and acceptance and moved only gradually toward commitment. It was a process that took time because it was about providing evidence of God’s love. Not evidence in the form of skilled argument or tight logic; not even the evidence of any specific feeling even though that was probably part of it for most people. It was the evidence of action – consistent actions of love, continued day in and day out – actions that made God’s love visible and tangible and real through the welcoming, caring, support and nurture of people. Evidence through action that people have value simply because they are.

The minutes were passing faster than I wanted them to. I could tell the worship leaders were ready to get started but couldn’t since the woman and I were standing front and center in the sanctuary. I asked her why she came to this particular church. She said that the people were kind to her and took her in when she returned to town after a long absence. In the few years since she’d been back, they’d consistently helped her and her children. Over and over they had been there for her even in really difficult times. It was kind of like they had made space – just for her.

That’s how you know.

Maxie’s Weekly Word

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012 | By Maxie Dunnam
Filed in: Maxie Dunnam, Maxie's Weekly Word

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INCARNATION

Incarnation: for the salvation of the world, the San of God, while remaining fully divine, became truly human. In taking full humanity upon himself, Christ did not lose his divine nature in any way but continued to be fully God.

At a particular time and place in history, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, lived for approximately thirty-three years, died on a cross under Pontius Pilate, rose from the dead, returned to the Father. The Incarnation actually means that Jesus of Nazareth was a man, known by his disciples as being fully human, a person who shared the limitations and temptations of common, ordinary human existence, yet was also the deliberate and unique self-expression of God.

That’s what we are celebrating these days of Christmas: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” [ln. 1:14 NIV] ‘

 

 

 

What’s Your Next Step?

vickersHaving read Jason Vickersbook Minding the Good Ground: A Theology of Church Renewal, I’m continuing to ponder next steps. Here is a second installment of those thoughts. You can read the first installment, A Death Embrace, here.

 

Selfishly, one of the things I appreciated about Jason’s book is that it confirmed my own thoughts. From my perspective, historically the church has not always held together the relationship between the personal and the corporate in a holistic fashion, which (again from my perspective) has in turn undermined evangelism in significant ways. Nicholas Perrin is on target when he say’s that many Christians are conditioned to read Scripture as God’s saving Word to them as individuals rather than God’s saving word to the church. He goes on to say that this kind of understanding has led to ‘a notion that views the church as little more than a loose association of the equivalents of Jesus’ Facebook friends.’*

Over the years, much evangelistic activity has focused on the person as an isolated entity, as though that was the entire focus of Jesus’ message. But that’s somewhat of a distortion. In Christian faith the personal and the communal don’t cancel each other out, they’re bound together, with each reinforcing the other.

That’s why Jason’s critique of the idea of the church as the ‘community of the already saved’ is so important. But it’s not so easy to swallow. Where I grew up, we’d say Jason’s gone to meddlin’.

But I can’t think of a more important word at this juncture. Salvation is not simply a private transaction between an individual and Jesus. Sin is not just about transgressing divine laws. Atonement is not merely the juridical event of pardon. And (thankfully) the church is not a ‘waiting room for heaven’ or ‘a good place to get something to eat and make a few new friends while we wait to be called home to glory,’ or even ‘a good place to come together for civic involvement or…political caucusing.’**

What is at stake, especially for evangelism, is the recognition that salvation is dramatically more far-reaching and comprehensive than a simple private transaction. Sin is deeper and more complex than the breaking of a few commandments. Atonement is far more sweeping and transformative than the receipt of pardon. And (thankfully) the church is instrumental in all of it – the very context of the Holy Spirit’s activity and the chosen vehicle through which God works for radical transformation.

But convincing folks of all that can seem like a really hard sell these days – especially in the United Methodist Church. And it’s not just because many of us think of the church as an afterthought when it comes to salvation.

Kim Reisman

Kim Reisman

One of my seminary professors, George Lindbeck talked about the importance of church doctrine to the formation of communal identity. He said that ‘Church doctrines are communally authoritative teachings regarding beliefs and practices that are considered essential to the identity or welfare of the group in question…they indicate what constitutes faithful adherence to a community.’ Think about the Quakers, for instance. If I’m a Quaker, but I oppose pacifism, I’m not going to be viewed as a good Quaker, because that’s not what a member of the Society of Friends should be. Lindbeck says that if you don’t draw that conclusion, then it’s most likely because ‘the belief has ceased to be communally formative.’*** The belief may still be a formal or official one, but it’s no longer operational.

That’s the heart of our current crisis in the UMC. Not only have we forgotten that the church is instrumental to salvation, it may also very well be that the doctrinal heritage of the UMC is no longer communally formative (at least in the US). If that’s the case, then (sadly) we really aren’t much more than a loose association of Jesus’ Facebook friends.

 

 

*Nicholas Perrin, ‘Jesus Eschatology and Kingdom Ethics: Ever the Twain Shall Meet’, in N. Perrin and R. Hays (eds.), Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011), 100, 102

**Jason Vickers, Minding the Good Ground: A Theology of Church Renewal (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2011), 83

***George Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age [1984], (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 60

The View from Here

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 | By Bryan Collier
Filed in: Bryan Collier, The View from Here

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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 

 

Emory - Brent Strawn

Brent Strawn ~ Candler School of Theology

Brent Strawn, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, posted the following article on MinistryMatters.com. It also appears in the Justice in the Church (Aug/Sept/Oct 2012) issue of Circuit Rider. It’s an excellent reflection…

 

When God Seems Unjust

I make my living teaching the Old Testament, so I’m quite aware of its “problems.” You might say it’s a job hazard in my line of work. Even if people can’t cite chapter and verse, they often have a strong feeling that things in the first half (actually, the first seventy-eight percent) of the Bible aren’t quite right—that there are some disturbing things over there if you ever bother to read it (most don’t), and many of them have to do with God.

Just a week ago I was called in for something of an emergency “Save the Old Testament!” session for a Disciple Bible Study group at my own local congregation. There I heard yet again what seems to have become the standard interpretation among far too many Christians: “God is mean in the Old Testament, but everything changes with Jesus and the New Testament. What gives?”

This is a big question connected to a large number of others. I can’t solve the first, let alone the rest, not even if I had many times the space I have here, because the “best questions,” or in this case, the most difficult ones, simply don’t have any easy answers. That doesn’t mean we are relieved of having to try, however. The Mishnah has a famous saying to this effect: “It’s not your job to finish the work, but you’re not free to walk away from it” (Abot 2.21). So, here are four thoughts on the matter.

1. It’s Not Just an Old Testament Problem

The problem is not just an “Old Testament” one. It is, through and through, from top to bottom, a biblical problem in at least two ways:

(1) The New Testament also has its share of violence and wrath—“mean God” kind of stuff for short. One need only think of the Book of Revelation, or the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), or sayings of Jesus that are far from “meek and mild” to get this point clearly (e.g., Matt 5:25-26; 10:34-36; 16:2-3; 23:1-36; Mark 10:38; Luke 12:49-53; 13:3, 5; 14:25-33; etc.).

(2) The Old Testament has just as much “nice God” kind of stuff as the New Testament. Indeed, much of the New Testament’s “niceness” comes directly from the Old Testament: The Great Commandment concerning the love of God and love of neighbor, for instance (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18), but also love for immigrants (Lev 19:34) and good deeds for one’s enemies (e.g., Prov 25:21; cf. Matt 5:39; Rom 12:20). Or, more directly to God’s wrath, consider Isaiah 54:7-10, which acknowledges God’s abandonment and anger “for a moment,” but now promises great compassion and everlasting love (vv. 7-8). It culminates in the statement that God will never be angry with Israel again—never, just as God will never flood the earth again (v. 9)! Then:

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (v. 10)

What text anywhere else in the Bible could rival this one in raw mercy and unbounded grace?

Christians who advocate the “standard interpretation” mentioned above are revealing nothing so much as their ignorance on two fronts: (1) their lack of knowledge of the entirety of the Old Testament, including its many “good parts”; and (2) their lack of knowledge of the entirety of the New Testament, including its many “bad parts.” Once again, the problem of God’s violence or wrath is thoroughly a biblical one—not just an Old Testament one.

This means, in turn, that the solution to the problem cannot be only a New Testament one, since the New Testament itself has the same blemishes. The fact that so many Christians don’t know either side of this equation reveals profound biblical illiteracy. That problem, in turn, is especially acute because it prevents Christians from findingbiblical solutions to the very real difficulties posed by biblical texts concerning violence and wrath.

2. There Are Biblical Solutions

Happily, there are solutions to the problems of violence and wrath posed by the Old and New Testaments. Let it be underscored that these are biblical solutions, not restricted to one testament (invariably the New) over the other (inevitably the Old). These solutions will not satisfy everyone, and each difficult text deserves separate, case-by-case attention. It must suffice here, and speaking only of the Old Testament, to again highlight that it knows as much grace as the New Testament (recall Isaiah 54), and that it built into it what might be called “strategies of containment.”

One example: the problem of the conquest and settling of Canaan, and thus the problem of Holy War, bothers modern sensibilities. How could this be part of God’s purposes and plans in the world? Here again is a serious issue; it cannot be addressed simply or simplistically. That granted, it is worth noting that the Old Testament does not repeatedly enjoin this kind of military activity on subsequent generations of Israelites. Nor does it continually evoke the conquest as a metaphor for faithful life with God.

This should be quickly contrasted with the exodus, which is everywhere mentioned and used as a way to describe even much later acts of God, such as the return from exile. The point of comparison is that, in the very way the Old Testament speaks of these things, it suggests that the conquest of Canaan is a limited, time-bound phenomenon never to be repeated; the exodus, however, is the way God works, period (cf. Amos 9:7). That doesn’t fix all the problems with the conquest, but it is a start.

3. It’s Not a New Problem

The problems of violence, wrath, and the like—as well as the “standard interpretation” of these—are nothing new. They are very old indeed, running back at least to the arch-heretic Marcion in the second century.

Marcion was the first to articulate the standard interpretation in full-blown fashion and he ended up throwing the entirety of the Old Testament out (interestingly enough, his position also required jettisoning a good bit of the New Testament!). Marcion’s theology was predicated precisely on antitheses like evil/good, judgmental/merciful, old/new. The church declared Marcion a heretic and resolutely retained the Old Testament (and a fuller New Testament).

The early church father, Tertullian (ca. 160-225), wrote five books against Marcion. Among other things, Tertullian said that a God who disapproves of nothing (that is, who lacks the capacity or disposition to judge or discipline), is unable to approve of anything and thus cannot save or deliver those who experience injustice. Marcion’s “god” may be unambiguously “good” but this goodness makes no (biblical) sense and cannot provide justice for those who suffer. One must be very careful to define what one means by the word “good”—and it should take more than a sentence or two! Moreover, robust Trinitarian theology means the Three are One. To say that one (the Father) is mean with the other (the Son) nice is to introduce unorthodox distinctions into the Godhead. Anyone who believes that a “mean God” inhabits the Old Testament and a “nice God” lives in the New, is making divisions that are not only uninformed, biblically-speaking, but also far too simplistic—even, dare one say, heretical.

4. There Is No Simple Solution

Finally, the previous point means we must steward ourselves to prevent any speech or thinking about God that is too simplistic. God, the Infinite, can never “get said” quite right—not even with many words or even all the books in the world. If we can imagine a situation in which God appears to be as dumb as one of the Three Stooges, we aren’t thinking about God or the problem with sufficient complexity. It would be a mistake to think that we are smarter than God, or the book about God.

Again, that is not to say that the problems of wrath, violence, and so forth (and there are many of the latter!) aren’t real or significant. They are both, and just as they admit of no easy solution, they are not easily understood. Then again, maybe they aren’t meant to be solved or understood. St. Augustine said the following in a sermon:

“[Scripture] can only be understood in ways beyond words; human words cannot suffice for understanding the Word of God. What we are discussing and stating is why it is not understood. I am not speaking in order that it may be understood, but telling you what prevents it being understood. . . What I am saying is how incomprehensible is the passage that was read to us. But in any case, it wasn’t read in order to be understood, but in order to make us mere human beings grieve because we don’t understand it, and make us try to discover what prevents our understanding, and so move it out of the way, and hunger to grasp the unchangeable Word, ourselves thereby being changed from worse to better.”

Augustine wrote that about John 1:1-3! If it holds true for that text, then certainly it holds true for even more perplexing texts. And so it is that one finds a rich history of interpretation in both Jewish and Christian circles about the most difficult of texts—including and especially ones concerning God’s wrath and violence.

Much more could be said. Much more should be said. But this is a beginning. Perhaps if ministers spoke more about these texts, addressing them in ways like I have done here but adding to that and expounding upon it, the “intractable” problems of the Old Testament would suddenly become tractable after all, and people would find themselves confronted afresh and anew with the whole counsel of God, not just the last 22 percent of it. That would be a victory in more ways than one!

 

MLM-splash-3

Making Life Matter

 

Making Life Matter is a weekly 30 minute Christian inspirational and teaching program hosted by Maxie Dunnam and Shane Stanford. Next Step partners with Kingdom Catalysts to bring you MLM, which tackles issues of faith and life in order to deepen discipleship and encourage strong connections between following Jesus and living in today’s world. Mark your calendars to visit Next Step and listen regularly. Click below to hear today’s program.

 

MLM-splash-3

Making Life Matter

 

Making Life Matter is a weekly 30 minute Christian inspirational and teaching program hosted by Maxie Dunnam and Shane Stanford. Next Step partners with Kingdom Catalysts to bring you MLM, which tackles issues of faith and life in order to deepen discipleship and encourage strong connections between following Jesus and living in today’s world. Mark your calendars to visit Next Step and listen regularly. Click below to hear today’s program.

Higgs Boson and God’s Remarkable Universe

Higgs boson

Higgs Boson

 

Before I get too far into my musings, I need to admit that I know virtually nothing about Higgs, physics or bosons of any kind. And my understanding of the working of the universe is inversely proportionate to my awe and wonder at its magnificence. That being said, I’ve really enjoyed the excitement over the Higgs boson ‘discovery.’

It began about two weeks ago when John and I were visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland where we stumbled upon the Pioneers of Science exhibit that included a portrait of Peter Higgs.

Peter Higgs

Peter Higgs - Lucinda L. Mackay, artist

The caption read, ‘The theoretical physicist Peter Higgs is known for the particle named after him – the as yet undiscovered Higgs boson.’ Here was a man who had a particle named after him that hadn’t even been discovered yet. I thought that was pretty amazing.

When I arrived in Durham for my graduation festivities, I mentioned my excitement about seeing Higgs’ portrait to my supervising professor, David Wilkinson. David has been an amazing source of wisdom and guidance to me as I’ve worked toward my PhD.

David Wilkinson

David Wilkinson, Principal, St. John's College, Durham University

 

With a PhD in theoretical astrophysics and a PhD in theology, you can imagine how intriguing our conversations have been over the years. At any rate, David told me more about Higgs, but added that his boson was no longer theoretical. In the next several weeks, he said, there would be an announcement confirming the existence of Higgs boson.

And now of course, everyone is talking about Higgs boson. The connections continue – this morning our local paper reported that the parents of one of my youngest daughter’s soccer teammates, both physicists, have been intimately involved in the CMS experiments leading up to the discovery. Who knew?

I’m not sure why I’m so intrigued with Higgs boson. Actually, it’s not the particle itself or the theories that explain it that has captured my imagination – that would require me to actually understand all this stuff. What has captured my imagination is the process that led up to the final confirmation by the scientific community that Higgs was correct – there really is a Higgs boson.

That kind of process is about the whole idea of knowing something, or intuiting something, or being convinced of something – and then asserting it, laying claim to it, standing by it – having faith in it – in the face of doubt or skepticism, and without absolute proof. That captures my imagination because it reminds me so much of the life of faith.

Being a Christ follower is in large part about laying claim to something in the face of doubt or skepticism and without absolute proof. It’s about living with confidence in the loving work of the creator God who is so much bigger than our limited ability to understand – a God wise enough to create something as amazing a Higgs boson and generous enough to give humans the ability to ‘discover’ it.

Kimberly Reisman

Kim Reisman

But being a Christ follower goes even beyond that. It’s not limited to the ‘how’ of the universe – even though astounding developments in science like the Higgs boson definitely point to how awe-inspiring and remarkable God’s universe really is. At its heart, being a Christ follower involves the ‘why’ of the universe. It’s about laying claim to the (as yet ‘undiscovered’ by some) truth that in creating the universe, God has actively entered into the space and time of that universe – transcending it, but also engaging it and relating to it in a personal way.

For Christ followers, the how of the universe may involve Higgs bosons and all manner of other fantastic things, but the ‘why’ of the universe involves relationship and covenant. Our God is the source of all creation and is irrevocably connected to its unfolding history. That’s why it’s impossible to fully understand the universe without reference to its intimate and essential connection to God. Not only that, but as Christ followers we believe that Jesus Christ is at the center of all this amazing creative activity. He is the means through which the Creator and covenantal God is supremely known. Jesus as the ‘image of the invisible God,’ (Colossians 1.15) – the projection of God into the dimensions of space-time in a way that reveals God’s true nature.

That’s a lot to lay claim to in the face of doubt, skepticism and without any absolute proof. But I like to think of myself as a theological or spiritual Peter Higgs. He might not appreciate that comparison since he’s an atheist, but I still like it. He asserted something he truly believed in, despite skepticism and doubt, despite numerous other theories being offered in opposition in that they depended on there being NO Higgs boson, despite 50+ years of inability to confirm his assertions – until one day…

We Christ followers are spiritual/theological Peter Higgs. We lay claim to a truth greater than many can grasp – greater than we ourselves can grasp. But one day…

 

 

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2.9-11)

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.

The View from Here

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012 | By Joy Moore
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GC 2012 Has a long way to goJoy Moore

The opportunity to gather every four years with those who fellowship as United Methodists is a great privilege. I am reminded of our vibrant connectionalism as I reconnect with friends and colleagues I have met over the past years at various denominational events. During the morning break, I was able to greet again Bishop Judith Craig, who ordained me in the West Michigan Conference in 1991. The day before I saw one of my former students and learned he has been appointed to be a superintendent. My current students have been surprised to see former pastors from their Field Education placements, or international delegates they met on mission opportunities. It doesn’t take long to meet many within the Methodist family, and the reunion is a glimpse of the reconciliation Jesus offers us.

The opening service of worship illuminated our diversity through its style, participation, and language. From the opening hymn written by Charles Wesley, to new choruses written especially for this gathering, our music ranges from traditional to contemporary. Whether drawn together by a Native American ritual or an African drum, the sounds of United Methodism move across time and continent.

Nevertheless, we still have a long way to go to demonstrate to the world how we love one another. Immediately after Bishop Larry Goodpastor’s sermon about following Jesus, the voting members of General Conference, in tweaking and failed votes to adopt the Rules of Order for these proceedings, exposed our deep mistrust and misgivings about how we will work together. Much of our deliberations quickly move to debate.

So much of the activity at General Conference is reworking, rewriting, and restating the language exchanged among and by United Methodists. As careful as we are to set the rules, we seem careless in our willingness to follow the guidelines once they exist. This is evident in more than ordering our process. The extravagant worship experience bears little resemblance to a service moving from gathering the dispersed members of our community together into the presence of the God who scatters us in service. Very few of our words serve as a reminder of our shared heritage as the people of the God revealed in Jesus Christ empowered by the Spirit. Very little of the time set aside for corporate worship of God, rehearses the story of God’s faithful activity to reconcile the world as demonstrated in the life and ministry of Jesus. Mirroring the culture at large, the service highlights our race, gender, age, ethnicity and culture. We are indeed a diverse assembly. But what is it we share that testifies to our unity, saying the Lord’s prayer notwithstanding.

Unlike the multinational multicultural gathering described as Pentecost in Christian Scripture, our diverse tongues fail to declare the works of God. We express pain, brokenness, and desire. We pledge to be different, we long to be better, but God rarely gets a sentence with a strong verb describing divine justice reconciling the world. If God shows up at all in our litany of prayers and songs, rarely is there a rehearsal of God’s action in a dramatic way that would cause someone to pause in reverence and gratitude. The biblical narrative is insignificant; ancient Israel absent; our hope in what God is doing in Christ to reconcile the world abandoned for Pelagian promises.

Evidently designed by committee, the ordering of worship has the feel of hearing an iPod playlist randomly shuffle from Bach to Beyonce by way of a Burger King commercial. While our efforts to include as many cultural and ethnic expressions is admirable, what is extraordinary about gathering as a community is the common unity of a shared testimony. Our shared testimony seems to be a litany of lament and longing . Where is the Christian witness to the Triune God that testifies to a hope that God transforms us and the world? Where is the testimony to the presence of God’s reconciling power that convinces a watching world that said God still intends justice and truth to prevail? Where is the good news that God’s faithful activity in the world is trust-worthy because of what God has done in the past?

We know so little of the biblical witness to God, most do not recognize that this testimony is even absent in our worship. We speak of the effects of encountering God rather than of God reconciling creation. We ignore the words of Scripture which challenge the people of faith to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly before God. God is not sought for being God, but for what we demand be done in the name of God.

In these quadrennial gatherings, much is revealed in the ways we worship. Our words name who and what is important for us; what drives our lives; what we seek and long for. Would that first we humbly seek God. If we believe Jesus promise to be with us always, maybe we can trust the Holy Spirit continues to sustain even the United Methodist Church. That would be a first step toward transformation in the world. Then all these other things will be added. Written by Joy Moore

UMC General Conference website