Thursday, December 18, 2008

Manipulation

In continuing our discussion of conflict and some of the problems seen in leadership I would like to briefly discuss manipulation. Your comments are welcome. Just click on "Comments" at the end of the article.

To often leaders are guilty of manipulation. Manipulation is unhealthy in any relationship and is a violation of trust. It involves the dishonest use of influence to get people to do what you want them to do and is an underhanded means of controlling people. Leaders use manipulation when they lack the ability to lead by inspiration, when they have ulterior or hidden motives, or when they are trying to get people to do what the individuals most likely would not do if they had access to all the facts. Manipulation involves giving partial truth and withholding information that would be necessary for others to make an objective decision. It means distributing information selectively, giving little twists to the facts, and sharing only that which would cause other people to respond favorably to the objectives being presented.

Being diplomatic can “put a sweet face” on manipulation. Diplomacy in its positive sense refers to the ability to handle affairs in such a way as to arouse the least hostility, the ability to deal with people wisely in such a way as to stir up the least amount of conflict. This is consistent with proverbs wisdom which exhorts us to control our spirit, guard our tongue, and to speak wisely without stirring up unnecessary strife. This can be a good characteristic in leadership. However, we must also remember that diplomacy disassociated from truth becomes manipulation. A leader who is being diplomatic in his pursuit of peace must be careful lest he become less than honest in dealing with people. A lie that makes people feel better is still a lie. A leader must adhere to truth and reality in working with people. He should not stretch the truth, give half-truths, or lie in order to pacify or to get what he wants.


Manipulation in leadership represents a failure at honesty and sincerity. It is an absence of faith in the Sovereign God to accomplish His work by the Spirit of God. It is a lack of faith in God's ability to work in other people. It is also a failure to respect other people.
Godly leaders lead by influence, example, and truth, and not by manipulation. People follow good leaders because they trust them. Many people were offended by Jesus, but they were offended by truth. Jesus never lied or misled them to get them to do what He wanted. It is not God’s will that integrity be sacrificed for vision. If the vision is of God, then God will fulfill it in His time and in His way. When leaders have to sacrifice integrity to get people to “do the right thing” then the leaders are “off track.”
Leadership should always remember that obtaining objectives by the use of specious arguments (those which appear sound and correct without really being so) only create the illusion of success. Sooner or later reality will come to light and people will be upset.
Godly leadership requires reality and spiritual substance in those who lead. People of spiritual depth, integrity, and truth do not have to manipulate. They are willing to trust God to inspire people to do the right thing, and they are willing to let the vision fail rather than use the enemy's methods to get the job done.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Problems That Get Leadership into Trouble

Introduction
The issues highlighted below are principles I learned while serving “as referee” (and in some cases a participant) in a few church “fights” and were originally written with the intention of helping pastors understand some of the issues that get them into trouble. Initially I was reluctant to share these with a broader audience, but then realized that the principles are apropos to any discussion of healthy leadership. Many readers will identify with one or more of the problems discussed.

For every issue there is a flip side. There is always the “other side of the coin.” This “flip side” issue is especially true for some of the areas covered in this article. For example, pastors usually teach on gossip, and they try to prevent unhealthy and destructive communication within their community of believers. But my emphasis here is the other side of the issue, which is leadership’s unhealthy control of communication among members.

Control of communication among members.
A typical dilemma for leadership is how to create an atmosphere of open and healthy communication while discouraging gossip and destructive talk. There is such a thing as the scorner and the gossip whose tongues can damage good fellowship, but even in a healthy group there are issues and concerns that need to be addressed from time to time. Leadership needs wisdom in this arena. Forbidding people to talk (restricting communication) can be a form of manipulation and a means of isolating people in order to control them. There are verses in the Bible that warn us of gossip and of the discord created by loose and uncontrolled tongues, but leaders have often used this principle to stifle necessary communication, and not allow people to have free communication among themselves when genuine concerns or controversial issues arise that should be scrutinized and honestly evaluated. People should be free to communicate openly on issues that arise within the group, and individuals should have the freedom to communicate their concerns and complaints. The problem here is that leaders often exhort people to not talk, while the leadership itself fails to provide a genuine, honest, realistic, and healthy platform to deal with the real issues.

The apostle Paul tells us we should “speak the truth in love.” With this statement he points out three operative principles that are necessary in healthy relationships. “To speak” means that people should communicate rather than suppressing real issues and concerns. It is not healthy to not speak. The error in leadership is that they often think that it is spiritual for people simply “to not speak.” And so they work at keeping people quiet rather than getting “all the cards on the table” and dealing with the realities, whatever they are. A wise man once told me that God gives us grace for reality not for pretend.

The second and third principles are to speak "truth" and to do so "in love." It is not hard to get people to speak, but it can be difficult to get them to do it in a godly manner. This is probably why leaders can be nervous about encouraging communication. The tongue can set the world on fire, but still, communication is necessary for a healthy community.

I think it is interesting to note here that one real problem in leaders who have control issues is that they fail to provide a platform for individuals on their leadership teams and councils to communicate their real concerns or talk about the real issues that bother them. One tool used in this form of manipulation is to plan such full agendas and organize the meetings so that the individual council members have no opportunity to “let their hair down” and share their hearts. It is possible for every member of a council or board to sit there with a shared concern over a particular issue but remain silent because the head of the group would not include or allow the topic in the agenda. The other aspect of this strategy is that leaders condemn individuals if they talk with each other individually outside the council. As a result the real concerns of people are never addressed in or outside the councils, and the consequences will be a continual stream of frustrated people who eventually leave the church.

In an atmosphere where people are intimidated into silence they become unwilling or unable to speak up, and fail to discuss genuine or perceived issues that are important to them. This becomes a potential volcano waiting to erupt as frustrations develop over time. Unspoken and suppressed problems remain unresolved problems. They build up pressure and may eventually become explosive. Insecurity and lack of integrity create a closed atmosphere where people are afraid to talk. This is an unhealthy protectionism in leaders. It is based on a suspicion and distrust of people. It assumes they will always do the worst if they have access to facts and information. In a healthy group where there is integrity, life, and security, there will be an atmosphere of freedom and openness. People will be able to speak the truth in love, which aides in the growth of the individual and the group.
The tongue can “set things on fire,” but leadership needs to remember that some issues and problems are real. Leadership falls into serious trouble when it views the discussion of a problem as being in itself the problem. This is often an evasive action that diverts attention away from the real issues and causes the real concerns to not be addressed properly. When problems arise, they do not go away by suppressing them. Problems and complaints need to be faced and addressed. It is a mistake to evade people’s concerns and attack them for "talking.” If someone complains that there is a rattlesnake in the Sunday school, you need to at least check the room and make sure there is no snake hiding in a corner before you condemn the person for making you look like a bad housekeeper with his accusation.

Other issues that I would like to discuss are manipulation, control, “using” people, apologizing without apologizing, integrity and truth. We will look at these in subsequent postings.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

He was a Christian, so he only shot him in the leg


This posting is merely an introduction to the subject. In future postings I would like to share some principles that help us to understand the spiritual weapons available to us in relational conflict. Send me a short email if you are interested in this subject and in my continuing with this topic. blong8@sccoast.net

"You got some fine children, but they will kill you!"
I met an elderly lady named Rosalie on the street in Loris, SC. When I asked her about her husband, she replied, "I ain't married, but I do have me a boyfriend". She then laughed while telling me of a warning her children gave regarding the boyfriend. "If you get married and he don't do right, we'll kill him," they had said. This obviously made the boyfriend a little nervous, but he wanted to stay in good-standing with his sweetheart, so he told her, "You got some fine children, but they will kill you."
Her boyfriend's statement would fit appropriately in many church situations. Watching how Christians often hurt other Christians, I have said, "Lord, You got some fine children, but they will kill you."

"Shoot up here among us! One of us got to have some relief!"
Jerry Clower has a great story about some men who went 'coon hunting, and one ending up in a tree-top brawl with a lynx. The man in the tree cried out desperately for the men on the ground to shoot the lynx. The fellows on the ground, unable to see through the limbs and leaves, yelled back, "We can't! We might hit you!" The man in the brawl then yelled down, "Shoot up here amongst us! One of us got to have some relief!" I once heard an elder groan this same “prayer” as he was leaving a church business meeting.

"He was a Christian, so he only shot him in the leg."

A few years ago a certain church was having some problems. The situation became so bad that the pastor and one of the deacons got into a fist fight in a church business meeting. Then, about six months later, I heard on the local radio station that the pastor had shot the deacon. He did not kill him, he was a Christian, so he only shot him in the leg.

"The Church Parking Lot?"

The photo at the top of the page was in the December 1991 issue of National Geographic. In the picture is an old car riddled with holes. There are two men slumped over dead in the front seat and one in the back seat. The photograph looks like a scene from a gangster movie or from the life of Bonnie and Clyde. Based on this description, what would be your answer to the following questions: What kind of people are in the car? What kind of people fired on the car? How would you describe the relationship between the people in the car and the people who fired on the car? What was the objective of those who fired the shots? People are very surprised to learn the true answers to these questions. The picture is from an article about the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The actual caption reads as follows: "Slain by friendly fire, shipyard workers John Adams, his father, and a friend were five miles from Pearl Harbor when their Packard was hit by shrapnel from errant five-inch Navy shells. American anti-aircraft guns rained damage on Honolulu, untouched by Japanese bombardment." The men in this car were Americans accidentally killed by Americans. They were killed by men from their own team. Now, with these facts in mind go back and answer the questions again.
How often has this same thing happened in the church and in our relationships! Tragically, this photo could figuratively have been taken in some church parking lot. Church members have often done more damage to one another than to the enemy's work.

It is no surprise that conflict issues have been the cause of many Christians and non-Christians staying away from church. Conflict has been used as an excuse to reject God. It has left many Christians spiritually disabled and derailed because it hardens the heart and causes love to grow cold. The search for relief often tempts us to compromise. Anger and the desire for revenge prevent Biblical resolution. Confusion and disillusionment cause us to quit. God's plan, however, is to give us spiritual weapons that will bring us through every distress in good spiritual health and make available His power, wisdom, and grace to help during our times of need.

It indicates a real love for Jesus when a person is able to emerge from the fires of conflict in spiritual health and continue on in his walk with God and with the church. Resolving conflict redemptively involves repentance, forgiving, sometimes restitution, and even forgetting. It means being faithful to do the right thing in as much as depends on you. Sometimes it means leaving implacable, intractable, and unrepentant people to the judgment of God. It also means to trust the mysterious and unexplainable into the hands of the Sovereign God. This requires faith, humility, a heart of obedience, and a true relationship with Jesus Christ. Otherwise, a person will find it impossible to do these things. An unbroken person can not wield the spiritual weapons necessary to succeed in this arena.

Spiritual weapons give us the ability to do what God requires of us and, just as importantly, to entrust to God those things which are outside of our own power to change. We should not have a heart of unbelief in these matters. We must believe in God's Sovereign ability to redeem the past and to direct the future. Read again Romans 8: 28. If you stand with a heart after God and walk in a Christ-like spirit, God will be with you and bring you through and onward. The key is to walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord. In future posts I would like to discuss some very practical principles that help us to understand the spiritual weapons that God has given us.

Dealing With Conflict

Sunday, August 17, 2008

LOOK AT YOUR NOSE

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” -Genesis 1:1.
"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead..." -Romans 1: 20.
"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the expanse of heaven His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their sound has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world." -Psalm 19: 1-4.


Life is infinitely too complex to have come into being randomly and by itself. There are so many interdependent systems that are necessary for the existence of life on earth; and the degree of refinement, accuracy, and perfection in the coordinated performance of all these operations necessary for life are too complex to exist apart from design. They are independent yet dependent and interdependent, and their functions must be exactly precise and with perfect timing. These dynamics testify to the existence and reality of God.

I see the reality of God in many simple, subtle, and yet so obvious aspects of life that we often take for granted. For example, look at your nose. It is located in a most beneficial and practical place on your body. The nostrils point down so you don’t have to cover them to keep rain from falling into your sinuses. It is just above your mouth so that the sense of smell can work together with your sense of taste to help you enjoy your food. I can think of other more unpleasant places your nose could have been located. Your ears have their own little “satellite dishes” on the sides of your head to help capture sound. Your eyes are in recessed sockets to help protect them. They are located in the front of your head so you can see where you are going. Your feet point in the same direction as your eyes. The size of our moon, its distance from the earth, the tilt of the earth’s axis, the distance of the earth from the sun: If you change any of these in the smallest degree you will end life on earth. This is also true of the numerous systems that operate in the human body: Skeletal, circulatory, reproductive, pulmonary, muscular, neurological, etc.
Life is just too orderly to have come into being without design. Everywhere you look you see evidence of design. The necessary interacting, interdependent, and coordinated operations of the systems required for life, from biological to geological to astronomical are so exact and precise that it is impossible for life to have developed on its own by chance.

And what about sex? I could rest my case on that point, but will continue my thoughts. Male and female. In terms of species development the world could not have seen reproduction without the complete and fully developed male and female. If you could have reproduction without these, then there would have been no need for male and female. So how could this have possibly evolved---two separate systems made to be completely separate and absolutely compatible, and yet totally interdependent with neither being able to carry out the reproductive function without the other? There would have been no births, no reproduction without fully developed reproductive systems. “SOMEBODY” had to design this, and it had to begin fully functional.

This law of “irreduceable minimums” eliminates the possibility of evolution. Scientists have discovered that there is no such thing as a “simple cell” to start with. [Just get a scientist to explain the complexity of the DNA in any single cell]. I recently saw a documentary on TV in which a scientist described the complexity even in the single-celled amoeba. Too many complex, separate, yet interdependent systems have to be in operation at the same time for life to exist. If you eliminate any one of them, life would cease to exist. In other words, for life to exist, all of these systems would have to be created simultaneously.

Evolution is a very awkward and yet convenient way for people to try to avoid God. Evolution itself is foolish, but if you do away with God, evolution is about the only thing you are left with to explain how we got here. So the very concept of “evolution” is a product of intellectual “devolution,” i.e., what you arrive at by default when you reject the reality of God. A few years ago I was reading a book in which the author had recorded his conversation with a prominent evolutionist. The evolutionist told him, “We did not evolve from anything. Life is too complex to have evolved, but I prefer to believe in evolution than to believe in God.”

I prefer to believe in God. It is more comforting to believe in God, that there is a power beyond and greater than our comprehension who created us as finite beings with limited capacity to understand the created universe, and who created us with no capacity within ourselves to comprehend or grasp the infinite realities beyond our created universe, but Who also desires to introduce us to Himself and take us beyond what we see and know. As the Bible says, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those who love Him."

If there is no God, then we face the most depressing prospects, a meaningless procession of people heading into an eternal oblivion. But there is a God and this gives us hope for eternal life. The very issues raised in the paragraphs above echo the words of the psalmist who tells us that the heavens, the earth, and all creation testify to the glory and existence of God. This means that there is more to life than this life. This is only the beginning, not the end. To see and understand this, one must look up to the One who is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega, our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ our Lord who brings us to the Father.
"For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him." -Colossians 1: 16.
"For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen. -Romans 11: 36.


[You can go to the comment page to write a response by clicking "comments" below, or you can write me an email at blong8@sccoast.net ].

Friday, June 27, 2008

He Would Have Passed Them By?

Mark 6: 45-52.
"Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side...Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them. Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by."

This story is full of spiritual implications, but I will point out only a few.
[Please feel free to post any comments or questions that merit further discussion].

“He made His disciples get into a boat.”
The “boat” is significant because it represents a context from which we can not easily escape. The disciples, on that small boat in the middle of the sea, could not simply change their minds and walk away from the problems and issues at hand. They could not escape the process; they had to ride it out. The Lord desires to work deeply and significantly in our lives, but He knows that human nature wants to run from the fire and will attempt to escape if it has the option to do so. We would rather than sin than suffer, and in the crunch we seek relief rather than the purpose and glory of God. We tend to be like the Psalmist who cried out, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.” It is interesting to note that a "successful" escape leads only to “wandering” and to “the wilderness.” Wandering gives the illusion of freedom, and the wilderness gives the temporary illusion of comfort, only because it is less intense than the crucible God designed for our change and growth.

This explains the boat. He places us in a class room (boot camp?) from which we can not escape, by-pass, or take the easy way out, at least not with integrity and righteousness. This is a good thing. It shows that God loves us enough to work with us in spite of ourselves.

“He made …His disciples go before Him.”
Jesus promised to go "before His sheep" when He sends them forth, but here He commands His disciples to go “before Him.” This seems to be in contrast to the promise, and when it happens to us we are tempted to feel alone and left to ourselves.

But the reality is the opposite. The psalmist, in his dark hour, feeling forgotten and forsaken, and crying out daily with sorrow in his heart, came to understand that God was actually dealing bountifully with him. Sometimes our darkest moments indicate God’s most intense presence rather than His absence. We must remember that the disciples, although in the middle of the sea in a storm at night, were not really alone. Miles away and through the darkness “Jesus saw them.” With Him there is no darkness nor distance. God may be out of our sight, but we are never out of His sight. He saw them and went straight to them. They were not ignored by God. To the contrary, the whole experience had been designed especially for them. They were getting special attention. As one story goes, we see only one set of footprints not because He is not walking with us, but because He is carrying us.

“He…would have passed them by.”
This sentence requires more discussion than can be done in this short space. It represents a principle that Christians often miss. While there is such a thing as Divine resistance which is accompanied by the absence of grace, there is also an area in our training where we encounter what appears to be Divine resistance but which is actually the Lord’s desire to stimulate us to aggressive faith and prayer, to provoke us out of passivity and apathy, and to move us to the assertive and determined action of obedient children passionate to do His will. It is a place where we work together with Him through intercession and patient endurance. How often do we let the Lord pass on by because we think that is what He wants to do? How often do we interpret His apparent reluctance as a genuine lack of interest? We think He does not want to engage us and so we back away, drop the subject, and let Him pass on by. It is clear that Jesus never intended to pass by that boat. His heart was with those men. They were the object of His special care and focus at that moment. We should take note and learn from this example.

There are other Biblical examples of God’s children pressing into Him when on the surface it appeared they were encountering resistance. The two men on the road to Damascus constrained Jesus to stay with them when He made as though He would have left them behind and gone on further. The Canaanite woman cried out to Jesus and obtained healing for her daughter after Jesus had given her three negative (almost offensive) responses (that would have caused most of us to turn and walk away). In wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless bless me!”

I don’t fully understand this principle, but I do know that God wants us to “trouble” Him with things. Our quickness to let Him pass on by is not courtesy, but rather complacency, passivity, and spiritual laziness. Sometimes it reflects our low self-esteem. We think we are not worthy of His attention and help. But ultimately it reflects our lack of understanding of God’s love and desire to be involved in our lives.

“He made His disciples…go…to the other side”
Our destiny is the “other side,” which means we will make it through. We must not be afraid of the storm that comes on the way. Jesus will silence and still it as soon as its purpose is completed. The experience in the boat was to make them grow and to cause them to know Him at a deeper level. Peter even had the opportunity to walk on the water with Jesus at this time. So maybe our goal should be not simply to get to the other side, but to be at His side. Let’s not jump to the conclusion that the Lord does not want to be bothered, that He has better things to do. Let’s touch the hem of His garment and cry out to Him to abide with us. Let’s also cry out to Him as Peter did, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” We will find that He is not only present, but very present, "a very present help in time of trouble."

Biblical references for further study:
Mark 6: 45-52; John 10: 3-5; Luke 24: 28; Mat.15: 21-28; Gen 32: 22-32; Luke 11: 5-8; Lu 18: 1-5; Psalm 13; Matthew 14:22-32; Hebrews 10:19-23; Psalm 46:1.

Please click "comment" below if you would like to make a comment or share an insight.
Mark 6: 45-52 is an account of Jesus’ walking on the water to go to His disciples who were struggling with the wind and waves in a storm in the darkness about three or four miles out on the sea. The story is full of spiritual implications, but I will point out only a few.

“He made His disciples get into a boat.”
The “boat” is significant because it represents a context from which we can not easily escape. Once out on the sea the disciples could not simply change their minds and walk away from the problems and issues at hand. They had to ride it out. The Lord desires to work deeply and significantly in our lives, but He knows that human nature wants to run from the fire and will attempt to escape if it has the option to do so. We would rather than sin than suffer. In the crunch we seek relief rather than the purpose and glory of God. We tend to be like the Psalmist who cried out, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Indeed, I would wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest.” It is interesting to note that the when we attempt to escape God’s working in our lives we do end up “wandering” and “remaining in the wilderness.” The worst case is Esau who gave up his birthright for relief when he was tired and hungry.
This explains the boat. If you are His child He will sometimes place you in difficult circumstances from which you can not escape, take the short-cut, or by-pass, if you walk in integrity and righteousness. But this is a good thing. It shows His love and His desire to work with us in spite of ourselves.

“He made …His disciples go before Him.”
One of Jesus’ promises is that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He also promised that when He brings out His own sheep He goes before them (John 10:4). But here He commands His disciples to go “before Him.” This seems in contrast to the promise. This is what it often feels like when we are in “the boat.” It feels like we been sent out alone.
But the reality is the opposite. The psalmist, in his dark hour, feeling forgotten and forsaken, and crying out daily with sorrow in his heart, came to understand that God was actually dealing bountifully with him. Sometimes our darkest moments indicate God’s most intense presence rather than His absence. We must remember that the disciples were in the middle of the sea in a storm at night. They felt helpless and alone; yet the Bible says that “Jesus saw them straining at rowing.” He saw them. God may be out of our sight, but we are never out of His sight. He saw them and went straight to them. They were not being ignored by God. To the contrary, the whole experience had been especially designed for them. They were getting special attention. As one story goes, we see only one set of footprints not because He is not walking with us, but because He is carrying us.

“He…would have passed them by.”
This sentence requires more discussion than can done in this short space. It represents a principle that Christians often miss. There is a such thing as Divine resistance, and it is accompanied by the absence of grace; however, there is also an area in our training where we encounter what appears to be Divine resistance but which is actually the Lord’s desire to stimulate us to aggressive faith and prayer, to provoke us out of passivity and apathy, and to move us to the assertive and determined action of obedient children passionate to do His will. It is a place where we work together with Him through intercession and patient endurance. How often do we let the Lord pass on by because we think that is what He wants to do? How often do we interpret His apparent reluctance as a genuine lack of interest? We think He does not want to engage us and so we back away, drop the subject, and let Him pass on by. It is clear that Jesus never intended to pass by that boat. His heart was with those men. They were the object of His special care and focus at that moment. We should take note and learn from this example.
There are other Biblical examples of God’s children pressing into Him when on the surface it appeared they were encountering resistance. The two men on the road to Damascus constrained Jesus to stay with them when He made as though He would have gone on further (leaving them behind). The Canaanite woman cried out to Jesus and obtained healing for her daughter after Jesus had given her three negative (almost offensive) responses that would have caused most of us to turn and walk away. In wrestling with the Angel of the Lord, Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless bless me!”
I don’t fully understand this principle, but I do know that God wants us to “trouble” Him with things. Our quickness to let Him pass on by is not courtesy, but rather complacency, passivity, and spiritual laziness. Sometimes it reflects our low self-esteem. We think we are not worthy of His attention and help. But ultimately it reflects our lack of understanding of God’s love and desire to work in our lives.

“He made His disciples…go…to the other side”
Our destiny is the “other side,” which means we will make it through. We must not be afraid of the storm that comes on the way. Jesus will silence and still it as soon as its purpose is completed. The experience in the boat was to make them grow and to cause them to know Him at a deeper level. Peter even had the opportunity to walk on the water with Jesus at this time. So maybe our goal should be not simply to get to the other side, but to be at His side. Let’s not jump to the conclusion that the Lord does not want to be bothered, that He has better things to do. Let’s touch the hem of His garment and cry out to Him to abide with us. Let’s also cry out to Him as Peter did, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Biblical references for further study:
Mark 6: 45-52; John 10: 3-5; Luke 24: 28; Mat.15: 21-28; Gen 32: 22-32; Luke 11: 5-8; Lu 18: 1-5
Matthew 14:22-32; Hebrews 10:19-23.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The earthly, a shadow of the heavenly

Hebrews 8: 1-5; 10: 1; Colosians 2: 17.
I took this photo while standing on a roof in Florida. The photo gives the image of heaven and earth in harmony, which to me is a "Thy kingdom come" prayer. The trees and clouds seem to be performing a duet, and the top of the tree line seems to mirror the lining along the top of the clouds. I was also struck by the obviously bright light of the sun that is hidden behind the clouds. It is as if the trees shaded in darkness are reaching up to touch the glory of the sun whose rays and beams are breaking past the clouds.

The trees mirroring the clouds remind me that the earthly tabernacle and its rituals were only shadows of the true, which is the heavenly. The same is true for our existence. The earthly is only a shadow of the heavenly. The glory and beauty that is ours in eternity will be so much more wonderful than we can imagine now. The apostle Paul spoke of being caught up into paradise and hearing and seeing things that are inexpressible. Jesus told the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise." Look up for your redemption draws near. The Bible says He will come in the clouds, and every eye will see Him.
This life is not all there is. For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
"Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved."  Acts 4:12.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

L.D. and the Religious Folk

L.D. was a colorful character who ran a country store a couple miles from Longs crossroads where I grew up. I used to stop in occasionally, and visit with him and any of the local farmers who happened to be standing around the old wood heater that sat in the middle of the one-room store. He watched and listened as people from the local churches dropped in. From his position behind the counter he would hear all the latest gossip and get a good whiff of all the “dirty laundry” to which he was exposed on an almost daily basis. Consequently he did not have a favorable impression of many of the church members who passed by. When one of the local pastors tried to talk with him about his need to repent, LD quickly responded, “You surely don’t want to check behind your members too close. Cause if you do, you’re going to be disappointed.” LD knew all that was going on. He could tell you who had been “on a drunk”, who was having an affair, and how the various communities took turns with their episodes at sin.

As you would expect, he never attended church, but like so many people who believe in God but don’t claim to be a part of any Christian fellowship, he did have his own philosophy of religion which he was quick to share, especially if he thought you were about to “preach” to him. He would share his own philosophy of religion with the added implication that you might want to clean your own house before you try to clean his.

He had an amazing insight into human nature, as well as an almost humorous insight into the life he observed around him. He once told me, “It’s a shame for a church to have more doors than members. That being the case, if they live long enough, that church will eventually die.” Referring to one of the cult groups that came knocking on his door, he said, “The thing that makes me feel so bad is how people treat them. It’s about as wrong to mistreat them as it is to believe them.”

There came a time when L.D. became very sick and soon learned he was dying. And even then he had some interesting things to say. Knowing death was imminent he told me, “If I have to take the early bus, that’s okay.” A local pastor visited him and was telling him he needed to change his life. His response was, “Well, there ain’t much sin I can do right now---unless I do it in my mind.”

In spite of all this, he did make a commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord while he was in the hospital. A local pastor, Owen Johnson, prayed with him one evening during a visit. I went to visit him shortly after that and found him very eager to tell me about his experience. He told me, "The time was just right. It could have been you or any other preacher, but the time was meant to be. Owen was leaving. He got to the door, stopped, and turned to me. My hand was sort of stretched out toward him. He came back and started leading me in the sinner's prayer. It wasn't planned. It was like two trains colliding. Like lightning striking. It just happened.” His encounter with the Lord was real.

Soon afterward, I went again to visit him in the hospital. As I walked up to the door of his room I overheard a pastor talking with him and telling him that his recent conversion experience was not valid, and that he was not saved because he had not been baptized in water, and that it had to be by immersion. I thought, “How can this religious leader say something like this to a man who is on his death bed and unable to walk?” I entered the room as the pastor was leaving. L.D. looked up at me from his bed, and the first words out of his mouth were, "That little man was telling me that what me and Mr. Owen did won't but a bunch of sh_ _. If I won't felling so bad, we might a had to call 911."

I assured him that the Lord had honored his prayer and his commitment. I told him that normally a believer should be baptized in water out of obedience to the Lord’s command, and I personally believe in immersion. However, I reminded him of the thief on the cross next to Jesus who went to paradise without being baptized. I told L.D. that he was already in right standing with the Lord, that the Lord understood his inability to get out of that sick bed, but if it would help him feel better about it all, I would baptize him by sprinkling right there in that hospital bed. He was delighted. We invited a couple other people to join us and we had a little ceremony right there. The Lord’s presence was with us, and LD was at peace.

It is amazing how unloving a religious spirit can be. It is a religious spirit that makes us so rigid, cold, legalistic, unbending, and pharisaical. This type of attitude will not reach our contemporary culture. We who follow the Lord need to “oil our hinges” and “loosen our joints” in order to reach the people in the world around us today. We don’t have to throw out our convictions in order to reach sinners, but there are many things we are uncomfortable with that are not sin. We have to be careful that our religious convictions are not just religious rather than spiritual. We often separate ourselves into irrelevancy. Those who desire to be fruitful in reaching this current generation will find themselves being led into strange and religiously uncomfortable territory in the season ahead. Jesus did ask the Father to sanctify us, which is to set us apart from the world. But then Jesus said to the Father, “As You have sent Me into the world, even so I send them into the world” (John 17: 18). Sanctification is God’s taking the world out of us. A religious spirit is our taking ourselves out of the world and separating ourselves into being out of touch, out of reach, and irrelevant to the very people we need to reach. How do we obey Jesus’ command to not eat and drink with the drunken, while following His example of eating with sinners and being called a drunkard? There is a place where God’s love brings wisdom. A religious spirit is so sanctimonious it keeps us away from the very people we need to reach; and when it does not keep us away, it drives them away. Jesus told the Pharisees, “The harlots and sinners will get into heaven before you." Sometimes we are so busy keeping the outside of the pot clean that we lose touch with the inner living fountain of God’s life and love.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Miraculous Healing

John 15: 26-27
“When the helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of me. And you also will bear witness…”
Acts 5: 32
“…And we are His witness to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
These verses tell us two things.
1. That the Holy Spirit will anoint us to bear witness to Jesus Christ, His Lordship and His kingdom.
2. That the Holy Spirit will ALSO, apart from us, bear witness and give testimony to Jesus.
We usually think in terms of Him enabling us to witness, but we should not overlook the “also” in the verses referred to above. We should remember that He will walk beside us to give His own witness. It is this second dimension of testimony that adds power to our sharing the gospel. Below are two examples of how I have seen this happen.

In 1971 when Laurel and I were first married we were asked to speak at a youth retreat for a group of high school kids from a Baptist church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The youth pastor had prepared for the event by calling friends and intercessors to pray and fast for the Lord to visit these kids. There were about 40 of them at the event. Most of them attended church, but I am not sure if any of them really knew the Lord or had a real personal relationship with Him.

Laurel sang and I spoke. While I was sharing our testimony of our walk and experiences with the Lord, you could have heard a pin drop. It was as if Jesus was walking among us. His presence became more real each time I mentioned his name. A couple of the kids expressed a desire to know Him. Then a few more. Suddenly twenty of the group were on their feet and praying for one another. The other twenty, along with the football players, remained seated and just gazed in wonder at what was happening.

Then a young man named Rob came up to me. He had both emphysema and asthma. His breathing was a loud wheezing and was so labored that it could be heard all over the room. He had a breathing machine with him, and his doctors had recommended that he not go to this retreat. But there he stood before me with a look of despair and desperation. I pulled him off to the side and said, “Rob, do you want to know Jesus?” He said, “Yes,” but then pointed to his chest to communicate the agony he was going through with his lungs.

I quoted Jesus' words about laying hands on the sick, and then I laid my hands on his head asking Jesus to touch him. Suddenly he fell back and began to shout, “I can breathe! I can breathe!” The Lord had instantly healed him of the emphysema and asthma. I then yelled out to the group, “Hey, everybody, God just healed Rob!” Immediately the other twenty kids rose up like a covey of quail. All forty kids were standing with arms uplifted to the Lord praising and thanking Him for the miracle. They all instantly gave their lives to the Lord and stood there weeping, laughing, and praising Him.

I did not orchestrate this. This event seemed so spontaneous; I simply watched it happen. I had told the group that Jesus died for our sins, that He had risen from the dead, and was alive now as living Lord and Savior. But as I was speaking, Jesus was moving around that room apart from me and was speaking to them by the Holy Spirit. Their lives were transformed because God revealed Himself to them.

On another occasion (circa 1968) when I was still in college, a friend and I were preaching and telling people that Jesus is alive and that the Holy Spirit is present to reveal Him and demonstrate His presence. We could sense the presence of God, and people were being healed. A young man was there wearing a back brace because he had broken his back in a car wreck. I prayed for him and the Lord touched him. He began to weep and to leap up and down, crying out, “I’m healed! I’m healed!” He took the brace off and began to twist about. I turned and saw a young child about six or seven years old with tears streaming down her face. I asked her, “Kindra, are you okay?” She looked up at me and said, “Jesus is in this place. Jesus is in this place.” Other people were healed of various sicknesses at that meeting. Again, I felt I was an observer watching Jesus work among this group of people. I was testifying, but He was there also giving his own testimony, apart from me.

We speak of faith and of the need to believe, but there was in those days a dimension of God's presence that arose from Sovereign acts of Divine grace, providence, and purpose that transcended what we wanted. We did not cause it to happen, we simply responded to His presence. We testified, but He also testified. May we even in this day again proclaim the presence of Jesus expecting that God will again, "...also bear witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will" [Hebrews 2: 4].

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

THE SILVER LINING

I remember years ago working on a construction site with my uncle who is a follower of Jesus. He hurt his arm, and the first words out of his mouth were "Praise the Lord!" One of the fellow workers said, "You just hurt your arm, why are you praising the Lord?" His reply was, "I could have broken it." How often in our unpleasant situations do we fail to give thanks that the Lord did not lay on us more than we could bear? If we look closely at the storms we face, we will see the silver lining traced by the hand of God and which represents a small glimpse of the greater glory of His presence and working that is hidden in and behind the apparent darkness. The sparrows do fall, but Jesus said that not one of them is forgotten before God, and not one of them falls apart from His knowledge. Jesus is reassuring us that the Father, who loves us with a stedfast and everlasting love, is aware of where we are and what we face. Like the sparrow we may face unpleasant situations, but not without our Father’s love and care.

In my travels I have experienced what on the surface appeared to be unfortunate incidents, but which were permeated with obvious signs of God's providential care and protection. Here a few examples:

I had transmission work done on my van and then made a round-trip drive to Raleigh, NC from my home near Myrtle Beach, SC. Upon returning home, as I was driving on the gravel lane leading to my house, a front tire and wheel detached and came off. I lost control of the van but I was only driving 15 mph on the dirt road and so there was no accident. The transmission shop had failed to set a pin in place, and the whole left front axle and tire had detached. I had driven to Raleigh and back at 70 mph speed on the interstate. But the tire waited until I turned onto the gravel road at home to actually fall off. I hate to think what could have happened had this occurred on the interstate.

On another occasion I was traveling to Florida on a job project. I stopped off to spend the night with friends in Bluffton, SC near Hilton Head. As I was leaving their home the next morning to resume my trip down I-95 one of my front tires blew-out and went flat in their drive-way. It turns out that a sharp piece of metal had been scraping the inside of the tire for a while and had been cutting into the tire each time I made a sharp turn. It was very inconvenient having a delay and having to get a new tire, but I was so thankful to the Lord that the tire went flat in my friends’ yard instead of somewhere on I-95 on my drive to Florida.


Once I was driving on a Sunday afternoon to be at a work project the next morning in Goldsboro, NC, about 3 hours from my home. The alternator on my van died in Whiteville, NC about 2 hours from where I needed to be. It was a helpless feeling. Sunday evening, everything closed, and my needing to be at work early the next morning. I called a good friend who lived in that town. It turned out that I was stranded across the street from his brother’s auto shop. He came and picked me up, and we left my van at his brothers shop. He loaned me a vehicle to use that week while his brother fixed the van. Here was another situation that on the surface was inconvenient and something for an ungrateful heart to complain about. But yet, there were the clear and unmistakable signs of God’s providential care and provision.


Last week I drove to Atlanta for a class that the company requires of its employees at the beginning of each year. I made the 7 hr return trip from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach, and parked the van in my yard at home. It sat there for the last few days except for one trip to the grocery store. Yesterday when was I started to leave my house, I smelled gas, and the engine shut off. It appears a fuel line has broken. Gas was draining underneath the van. I am now waiting for a tow truck to pick it up to take it to the shop for repair. Again, an inconvenience as well as a cost, and on the surface something to complain about. But yet, I am so thankful that this happened in the yard at home instead of in the middle of nowhere on the Interstate between Atlanta and home.

One interesting point of note in the experiences listed above is that while God allows problems, He will never forsake us in them or to them. In each situation above I was protected from undue complications and distress. Each incident occurred at home, at a friend’s, or close to available help. I was not stranded in dire and helpless situations. The tire fell off, but on the gravel road near my home rather than on the freeway at 70 mph. The gas line broke but not on the Atlanta rush hour freeway or in the middle of nowhere. It seems that in every difficult experience, there is something to be thankful for. We should especially be thankful that God our Father sees and knows. The sparrow may fall, but not without his knowledge. The hairs of our head may fall, but nevertheless, He has them numbered. Psalm 121 encourages us to know that our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. “The Lord shall preserve your going out and coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.” Ps 121: 8