Archives For Transformation

“Spiritual leadership starts with listening for the one true Voice and learning to distinguish it from all the other voices that clamor for our attention.” ~ Ruth Haley Barton

No leader is perfect. Even the best leaders I know (and I’m blessed to know several) regularly flub things up. Some even make huge blunders from time to time. Just like everybody else, really. In fact, the only real difference between a leader and a non-leader in this regard is that a leader’s mistakes get magnified 100-fold because of their position. Their missteps are more readily on display for all to see.

Faith leaders, in particular, face unique challenges because of the split nature of their role as both spiritual and organizational leaders. Because of this interesting dichotomy, some of the mistakes they make can have much more serious consequences not only to their leadership but to the world at large.

Here are three big mistakes that come with far-reaching costs for faith leaders:

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“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?” ~ Galatians 5:13-15

The 4th of July (a.k.a. Independence Day!) happens this week in the United States. It’s the big day each year where we celebrate our country’s freedom. As a nation, we may not agree on as many things as we once did, but we do all still agree that our freedom as a nation is important. We know that freedom never comes free, and we value those who have laid down their lives so that we may live ours in freedom.

That said, you may have noticed in recent years that we don’t all actually agree about just what that freedom is supposed to look like — what it includes or ought to include. Nor do we agree about what’s it’s for — whether our freedom’s purpose is primarily to serve ourselves, or primarily to serve others who are not as free.

So for this week in which we celebrate our freedom as a nation, I thought I’d offer some questions to spark a little deeper thinking about this freedom of ours, what it actually is, and what you actually want to do with it. Feel free to copy the questions below and carry them with you this week. That way you can pull them out and think on them whenever you get a few minutes here and there. If you prefer, grab a group of friends and talk through the questions together. It could make for some very interesting and insightful conversation.

Happy 4th of July!

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Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” ~ John 6:29

The number one job of a follower of Christ is to believe in Jesus. This belief is not merely an intellectual assent to the reality of Christ, nor is it a dogmatic checklist of doctrinal truths that set you securely in the “right” religious camp. Believing in Jesus isn’t really even about being right in all our doctrines; it’s about being right in our hearts, and those are very different things.

(If that statement sounds heretical to you, consider: Did any of the original disciples have all their doctrine right about God? Was a doctrinal test the measure by which Jesus admitted the thief on the cross into paradise? Did he give a doctrinal exam to the woman at the well, or the lepers he healed, or Zacchaeus, or to any of the disciples before he called them to himself? Has any generation of the Church since the first one been correct in all of their doctrine? Even a cursory look through history shows us that every generation of the Church has missed or even perverted some key element of the truth of God and of Jesus. If right doctrine really were the criteria for being right with God, then no one in the history of the world would make it into heaven save Christ himself.)

The word “believe” in the original Greek goes beyond how we think of Jesus in the abstract. When it comes to the work of faith, what really matters is how much and to what degree we actively trust in him, and entrust our lives to him. In real belief, Jesus is not merely a consultant for our lives, not merely a helper, not merely a comforter, not merely a guide. He is our life. He becomes the air we depend on to live moment to moment, the ground beneath our feet that holds up our very existence.

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“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard

I recently listened to a fantastic podcast series on Envy from the good folks at Ransomed Heart, and by “fantastic” of course I mean deeply convicting and painful to listen to. But it’s so so good and so worth the personal angst it will undoubtedly stir up. Here’s a link so you can listen to it yourself:

RANSOMED HEART PODCAST ON ENVY (PART 1 OF A 4-PART SERIES)

As they say on the podcast, Envy begins with a simple question: Why do I not have what they have? There’s nothing particularly dark or sinister about the question itself, but it quickly devolves into Envy (and then to resentment, hate and self-destruction) when it follows this path:

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“One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find that he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.” ~ Henry Ford

Vison…rather, a compelling vision, sets boundaries on our lives. It creates restraints (Proverbs 29:18). Certain ambitions become possible when counter productive behaviors are no longer an option. It this discipline? Yes…but it’s the compelling vision that’s Key.

Of these, there are two varieties: the “Hell, Yeah!” vision, and the “Hell, No!” vision. One moves you toward a vision of your life that you truly deeply desire and have faith you can attain. The other moves you away from a negative vision of your life that you absolutely loathe and have faith you can avoid.

Sidenote: ALL vision requires faith to activate. You may have a truly compelling vision of the life you genuinely desire, but if you don’t believe it is attainable for you (or for the world), then it’s just a fantasy dream, and will provoke you not to action, but to envy, hopelessness, and self-hatred.

As a coach, I have tended to look down on the “Hell, No!” vision as being too negatively motivated to be sustainable over the long haul. (We can’t meaningfully live solely off of what we are against; our hearts need something beautiful and worthy to be “for.”) Also, “Hell, No!” visions can sometimes be fueled by fear, which is a toxic motivation long term. (Who wants to build a life around avoiding what we fear? It’s much better to build a life that promotes and nurtures what we love.)

But, maybe I’ve been too quick to judge. Maybe “Hell, No!” visions have their place in our lives. After all, not all such visions are rooted in fear; some are born of righteous anger and a deep commitment to justice. And even if there is some fear fueling the vision, that has a formidable potency all its own. When confronting a viper in the wild, we all feel the pure rush of urgency to run away. Such a deep reaction to danger can be clarifying. It makes life simple, and the path clear. We are compelled to act, and such action can then take on a momentum of its own, even after the immediate threat has passed.

Even more than fear, however, a “Hell, No!” vision can inspire anger ~ the kind of anger that establishes firm, healthy boundaries around your life (which is, by the way, what anger is for). You may not yet have faith to believe you can attain the positive compelling vision you want for your life, or for the world…but you can nevertheless be crystal clear on the negative outcome you don’t want. That cannot be. That will not be.

And that is a faith of its own kind.

What do you think? Are “Hell, No!” visions ultimately helpful, or not?

“Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.” ~ Henry Ford

You have Agency.

Agency is the power to take action, and through that action have impact. Agency is not about having absolute control (you don’t); neither is it about praying hard and “trusting God” to do all the acting for you. Rather, it is the recognition that real change comes via an active partnership of faith and action forged between you and God.

This faith-fueled action is the opposite of victimhood ~ that is, the despairing belief that nothing you do matters, or will matter, that you are essentially destined to lose. This is the most tragic form of faithless fatalism: The vapid conviction that nothing you do will ultimately make any difference.

It’s not all up to you; but neither are you impotent. You have a critical role to play in your own victory.

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“Our culture has accepted two huge lies: The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” ~ Rick Warren

Not too many days from now, billions of people around the world will gather with their families to celebrate the holidays. Even in the most ordinary of years, these gatherings can be stressful. In most families, not every member sees the world in the same way. Not everyone agrees on what’s to be done about the common challenges we face. Not everyone likes the leaders we’ve had or have now, or the decisions they’ve made, or plan to make.

In a year like the one we’ve just experienced, these tensions of difference are running particularly high for just about all of us. You’ve probably already wondered just how volatile things might get around the holiday table this year. Even in the calmest of families, the likelihood that somebody will say something that sets somebody else off are considerably higher than they may have been in previous years.

If this past election cycle has shown us anything, it’s that we need a better way of talking with each other. Attacking, judging, shaming, yelling, condescending, hating, breaking off relationship…these approaches may feel justified in the moment, but they’re very unlikely to produce any sort of lasting solution that honors us all.

Thankfully, there is an alternative approach. It’s called “Civil Conversation,” and it’s a skilled way of talking and listening that every one of us needs to learn for the sake of the common challenges we share and must find a way to resolve together.

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