Take Courage

UntitledWhen Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage and removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the cities he had captured in the hill country of Ephraim. He renovated the altar of the Lord that was in front of the portico of the Lord’s temple. (2 Chronicles 15:8)

Being courageous requires that we take courage. God gives it, but we must receive, accept, and use it.

Ask God for courage, then receive, accept, and use it well.

You will likely need it today.

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maxresdefaultWe can stand firm without being a smart aleck. We don’t have to taunt people. We can simply state truth. We can be bold yet respectful. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

David said to [Goliath]: “You come against me with a dagger, spear, and sword, but I come against you in the name of Yahweh of Hosts, the God of Israel’s armies—you have defied Him.” (1 Samuel 17:45)

David didn’t confront Goliath in his own wisdom, courage, and strength. He didn’t “get in his face.” He stood firmly on God’s direction and truth, then continued to follow Him.

Perhaps we think boldness means strength and courage, and it does, but not always the way we apply it. Strength and courage on our own won’t get us anywhere, or at least, it won’t get us anywhere worthy of staying, anywhere longstanding. The best strength and courage comes through humility. When we are bold with our humility, we are as bold standing up as stepping back, as bold in our discerned silence as in our declarations and confrontations.

Speak (and be silent) wisely.

A Careful Faith

d8d8a05afdb7b54cb5899108361322acCarefully observe the commands of the Lord your God, the decrees and statutes He has commanded you.(Deuteronomy 6:17)

We can easily become content to simply satisfy God’s commands. We make it more about satisfying a legalistic list instead of satisfying a loving, pursuant, patient God.

Observing His commands is not enough. We must carefully observe them. (Some translations use the word diligently.) That means we cannot check them off our lists. We be vigilant and humble, always learning, growing, and changing. We don’t place a memorial stone where we’ve experienced God, then camp under it for the rest of our lives. We mark the moment and move on to experience more moments, and God generously changes us through the journey.

A careful faith isn’t safe and sedentary. It is bold and courageous. Faith emulates God, so when we authentically seek Him, we reflect and become more like Him along the way.

Are You Willing to Walk through the Door?

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Imagine yourself on the outside. In front of you is a closed door. You’re pretty sure you’ll like what’s on the other side. In fact, you hear some voices and laughter. You see warm lights and comfortable chairs. It all seems so inviting, but you can only see a glimpse, because you’re on the wrong side of the door.

Consider a time you’ve felt out of place, as if you don’t belong, and you can’t quite get from where you are to where you want to be.

Perhaps it’s that you want be have more friends. Or perhaps it’s that you want to escape from where you are. Maybe you want more of something good, perhaps fruit of the Spirit. You stand at that door until your feet get sore. You pace back and forth. You try to distract yourself and sit on the nearby steps for a minute. But you find yourself back at that door.

Then you see it. You have no idea why you didn’t notice it before, but there is a key in the door. All you have to do is turn the key, open the door and walk in. But your heart quickens. You pause. You now have access to what you’ve been longing for, imagining, but what if it isn’t all that you expect? What if it’s not as wonderful as you want it to be? What if you’re disappointed?

We’ve all walked through the doors and found ourselves in the very places and situations we longed to be, and we still don’t quite feel complete. We stand in a crowded room yet feel alone. We feel as if we have grown spiritually, yet we long for more. We feel insufficient, hesitant. We’re not sure we can continue. We start to second guess ourselves. Doubt and insecurities creep in. Why?

Because we are living on earth. It’s a messy place, full of challenges, but also full of opportunities. We don’t get everything tied up in a neat tidy bow here, but it is worth turning that key and walking through the door…into an imperfect place with imperfect people with a perfect God. We soon learn that once we’re in that room, there is another door and another and another. We think once we’ve walked through, we will have arrived. That’s not the case. Sometimes we stay in a room longer than we prefer, and sometimes we rush through and would prefer to stay in a comfortable place a bit longer. But keys are placed in doors with different timing for different reasons. Are we bold enough to trust God’s timing? Are we courageous enough to stay alert, learn some lessons, be humble, and grow in our relationship with Him?

Before long, you’ll walk through a door. You get to choose how to leave wherever you are right now. We often move on from where we are, yet we are unchanged. If we’re not changing, if we’re not growing, what is the point? We only have a specified yet unknown number of minutes, hours, days, and years in this life. How many of them are you whittling away? How intentional are you about changing and growing spiritually?

A Call to Courage

I’ve noticed something lately that deeply troubles me: a lack of courage among church leaders.

Hear me out. I’m not saying church leaders aren’t godly people. I’m not saying I’ve lost all respect for church leaders. But as I talk to people around the country about a variety of situations in their churches, my uneasiness grows as I see a common thread. I’m sure it’s not new, but I’m confident God has brought several situations to my attention, so he could whisper something in my ear: “Be on guard.”

After listening to a youth pastor’s accusations behind closed doors for months, church leaders confronted the senior pastor with allegations of wrongdoing. Leaders did not have private conversations with the senior pastor before confronting him, nor did they encourage the youth pastor to confront the senior pastor and deal with the issue privately and interpersonally.

After hiring several new staff members, church leaders failed to ensure that everyone was working together effectively and efficiently. Job descriptions were unclear. Some staff members were unfairly criticized, while others were unfairly praised. Punishment and recognition became moving targets.

A staff member wasn’t living up to his responsibilities, but instead of confronting him and holding him accountable, responsibilities were shifted to someone else. But that person’s plate was already full because he’s an efficient and effective worker who tends to absorb the overflow of others’ responsibilities. The overworked person was then held accountable when the added responsibilities weren’t completed.

A senior staff member was weak in an area, but he had been around for a long time, and he was friends with church leaders. No one wanted to hurt his feelings or make him feel inadequate, so no effort was made to strengthen the weakness.

Church leaders decided to be united in a decision. However, once they left the meeting room, they talked one-on-one with each other as well as with friends and family. The second-guessing and rehashing of their decision raised questions, created doubts, and increased anxiety levels.

The Culture, Not the Leaders

The truth is, I have great respect for most church leaders. In fact, of the church leaders I know personally, there are few I don’t respect. I know the individual struggles and situations that make church leadership difficult. My husband and I have both been involved in various ministry leadership positions, so we know the challenges firsthand. My issues aren’t with individuals; it’s with a leadership culture.

For the most part, I don’t believe church leaders intentionally say, “Let’s not be courageous. Let’s choose the easy way.” Leaders are busy. Many issues and concerns must be prioritized and considered. In the process, some get set aside. When a concern is repeatedly raised in an elders meeting and then set aside, it becomes like a pesky fly. It gets shooed away and shooed away until, at some point, the chairman or the group has finally had enough and ends the irritation, once and for all with a hasty, thoughtless swat.

When a concern is swatted aside—even for valid reasons when other issues are more pressing—the concern becomes more irritating as it resurfaces again and again. Church leaders get tired of dealing with it, when in reality, they haven’t dealt with it at all—unless you consider an irritated flick of the wrist “dealing with it.”

The courageous response isn’t quickly to smash the irritant. People will get hurt unnecessarily in the process. The courageous response is to recognize much of the irritation comes not from the issue in and of itself, but the pressure of time and energy to deal with it fully. It’s difficult for leaders to find the right balance between coping with crises and developing long-term strategy. But here’s the truth: balance is part of leadership.

Biblical Leadership Roles

Consider a short list of leadership roles the apostles fulfilled.

Mediator

Church consultant

Troubleshooter

Training leader

Counselor

Team leader

Discipline consultant

Doctrine consultant

Church planter

Pastor to local church leaders

Visionary

It’s tempting to add “master juggler” to the list, but balancing differs from juggling. Juggling involves tossing many items in the air and trying to make sure the timing of catches and releases prevents anything from hitting the ground. One moment of distraction, and items are dropped. Balancing, on the other hand, involves decisions about what to carry and what to leave behind. It includes what can be held in a hand versus what needs to be set aside. Balancing takes discernment.

God doesn’t call us to “good enough.” He calls us to “best.” And only he really knows what’s “best.” After Jesus fed the multitudes, he sent his disciples ahead, and he went to spend time with his Father. There are many good things he could have done: healing, teaching, feeding—to name a few. All these he had done and would continue to do—when the time was right. For that particular moment, only one thing was right: solitude. It was essential for spiritual renewal.

Church leaders need to grow beyond “good enough.” It’s not “good enough” to keep the peace. It’s not “good enough” to start a program. It’s not “good enough” to put together a wonderful-sounding church vision that never gets put into action. Church leaders need to settle for only one thing: God’s best.

God’s Best

What does God’s best look like for leaders?

Listening to God’s voice for direction.

Trusting God for provision.

Obeying God even through the difficult.

Holding each other accountable to godly leadership.

Handling all circumstances with biblical guidance.

Choosing discernment over reaction.

Being a lifelong learner, a growing disciple.

Becoming transparent in struggles and issues.

Courageous leaders trust God’s courage instead of relying on their own reserves of strength.

Courageous leaders intentionally approach all issues, initiatives, and relationships.

Is courageous leadership possible in our churches?

God says, “Yes.”

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matthew 19:26).

“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

Article originally published at ChristianStandard.com.

Swaddled by God

©Getty Images
©Getty Images

Sometimes, I don’t feel God’s closeness.

It’s not that God isn’t close to me. Maybe it’s that I’m not paying attention. Maybe I’m taking Him for granted. Maybe I’m so used to living in His presence that I forget to acknowledge why it is that I have peace, comfort, strength, and courage. Maybe I start to live on auto-pilot, or worse yet, try to take control (or credit) for my daily life.

Recently, He reminded me of His closeness, and it was a wonderful…and awful…experience.

The details of the situation aren’t all that important. Basically, something a little upsetting–but not life-altering–happened. Logically, I knew it would be okay…no matter how it worked out. But it didn’t matter what I thought or even how I felt about it. It was the way God gave me peace.

It was as if God had me bundled in a secure, comforting swaddle. Then, in the blink of an eye, I breathed, and He let me have just enough space that I felt His retreat. He was still close, but the short distance between Him and me was chilling. I had more space, yet I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. I was suffocating in space.

It didn’t last long. He wrapped me in His reassurance–not about the situation but about Him. I settled into the conviction that reminded me of His presence. Comforted. Unsettled. Grateful.

You don’t have to understand God’s presence. You don’t have to feel it. But you need to seek and settle into His presence. Let Him define who and where He is. He knows just who and where you are, too.

Excuses, Excuses

Before you can tap into God’s life-changing power, you have to eliminate the excuses. (Craig Groeschel)

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You’re not the first one to make excuses. God has heard them all. Eve blamed the serpent, and Adam blamed Eve. Yet they all received consequences. Placing the blame on someone else doesn’t exclude you from personal responsibility. If you know God’s will and violate it, you have no excuse.

Saul explained why he went against what God specifically told him to do when he fought the Amalekites by telling Samuel the motivation was really to honor God through sacrifice and worship. Even when you think something you did can somehow honor God, if He tells you “no,” your change of plans, no matter what your motivation, is not going to honor God. It’s the same when He says “yes,” and you find a reason to say “no,” rationalizing your approach could honor Him better. Better than what He planned and instructed you? I don’t think so.

What about not being qualified? Moses claimed he wasn’t a good enough speaker. Jeremiah said he was too young. When God gives direction He expects cooperation not excuses. He will supply whatever is needed.You’re not disqualified by what you’ve done or what you think you can do. Excuses place the power in your hands. Faith returns it to God.

We make excuses all the time. But it’s really just a waste of time and effort. Making excuses focuses on us. When we take away the excuses, and say “I’m ready to follow you, God. I trust you, wherever you lead. I know you’ll guide and provide,” we’re humble. We don’t have to rely on our own strength, courage, knowledge, and ability…which is a good thing, because we will always fall short. Instead, we get to rely on God.

He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace. Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)