Are You a Building Block or a Stumbling Block?

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxCome to the Lord Jesus, the “stone” that lives. The people of the world did not want this stone, but he was the stone God chose, and he was precious. You also are like living stones, so let yourselves be used to build a spiritual temple—to be holy priests who offer spiritual sacrifices to God. He will accept those sacrifices through Jesus Christ. The Scripture says: “I will put a stone in the ground in Jerusalem. Everything will be built on this important and precious rock. Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed.” This stone is worth much to you who believe. But to the people who do not believe, “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (1 Peter 2:4-7)

In these verses, Peter is encouraging believers to be like the stones used to build a holy temple for God. In order for the building blocks to do what they needed to do to fit together with other building blocks, they needed to be carved, molded, and placed together. In order for believers to fulfill individual and collective purpose for God, we must be willing to let God shape us and place us where he wants us to be. That means we don’t decide who we sit alongside. We don’t decide our exact shape. We don’t decide how we serve within the building. We don’t get to decide how pretty our rough edges are or how smooth is smooth enough. God does all that. It’s not about us; it’s about God’s building. It’s about unity. However, in order to come together to make what God intends to make, each piece has to be worked on and fitted together. Each has to be yielding in order for the building to be sound and holy.

We have another option other than yielding. Instead of being building blocks, we can be stumbling blocks. When we don’t allow God to shape us into the right shape for the right fit into the building, we will become displaced. We’ll fall to a place we’re not intended to be and create a stumbling hazard for those around us.

You get to choose which you’ll be, so ask yourself, “Am I a building block, or am I a stumbling block?” Avoid quickly giving the Sunday School answer. Think about specific situations you’ve been involved in recently. Of course, we all want to believe we’re building blocks. We want to believe we’re doing exactly what God wants us to do, but are we…really? Have we checked with him before we’ve proceeded, or have we moved forward in the direction that makes sense, responding first, then asking him to bless the process once we’re in motion? The popular adage “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” isn’t a biblical principle.

In order to fit well within a body of believers, you must invite God to shape you in order to fit where he intends you to fit. You don’t decide where you fit, then reason through why you’re such a good fit. You don’t decide you were made for such a time as this. God decides the time and place. He decides the process. You seek. You trust. You obey. You can certainly be stubborn about it, but when you don’t allow him to place you where you’re supposed to fit, you’re not just impacting yourself and your purpose. You’re impacting the body of Christ.

So, are you a building block or a stumbling block?

I beg you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that all of you agree with each other and not be split into groups. I beg that you be completely joined together by having the same kind of thinking and the same purpose. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

Unique You

uniqueWhat spiritual gifts do you believe you have?

Are you content with what gifts you believe God has given you?

How well do you fit and work together with others who are different but can complement your gifts?

 

God gives us instructions. He deals with us as a general group of people, yet He also communicates with and relates to us individually. He is personal. He keeps the whole in mind and intends for us to serve alongside each other, working together to accomplish His work; yet He gives each of us very specific gifts, instructions, and timing. He has certainly not created drones.

Life—and faith—isn’t about uniformity. It’s about unity in God’s will and conformity to Him. We live by the same standards, but we lead different lives. We have different struggles, personalities, and experiences. We have different relationships, abilities, and weaknesses. He knows the details of each of us, and He invites us to be unique in the ways He’s created us…but unified together for His purpose. He doesn’t want us to be the same with each other…just the same with Him. Of course, that means as we conform to Him, we will have many similarities. But we will never become drones that follow the exact same pattern of life.

As we follow God well, we have a lot of freedom. We don’t have to demand everyone else respond to the instructions in the exact same way that we do. We don’t need to copy or envy someone else’s work because we like it. We need to follow God and be creative. After all, He is creative, and He made us in His image.

 

As you walk behind or sit with someone today, try to carry yourself, walk, sit, and gesture in the same way as him or her for at least one minute. How uncomfortable is it? Celebrate your differences as well as similarities. Thank God for your uniqueness.

There’s One In Every Group

Have you seen the Southwest Airlines commercial about the solidarity in a group when one member, Fenwick, faces pending attack and probable death?

 

As men in the group stand up for him with the bold statements of “I am Fenwick,” I want to stand up and cheer: “Yes! Stand up for each other! Band together!” And then, another man in the group ruins it all.

There’s one in every group.

I’m a “group” person. I coordinate small groups at church, and I encourage people to build healthy friendships. I know the value of finding people who will stand up with you (and also be honest with you when it’s time to sit down or move on).

But groups are messy. Relationships are messy. Over and over again, I see people shy away from groups because they don’t want the mess. They usually state other reasons; often they claim to be too busy. But when I have a conversation and listen to past experiences and concerns, whether they can admit it in words or not, they are apprehensive. They don’t want to be annoyed, inconvenienced, or vulnerable.

Life is messy enough. Why open ourselves up to people who are immature and messy?

We’re immature and messy, too. By someone’s standards. We might not see it, but each of us can be annoying. But we’re also worth the risk. We’re in need of others, whether we want to be in need or not. Connections help us grow. They also challenge us. In fact, being challenged through our connections is often what spurs us to grow. That means it’s sometimes the connections with people who seem very different from us that impact our lives the most.

We might claim to be Fenwick when we feel a strong connection with others, but we also speak out in bad timing, stay silent in bad timing, and become “that one” among others. Be patient, gracious, and available.

The Familiarity of Foreign

unnamedI regularly write for a website that posts daily devotions. There is a team of us who write each month to share the responsibility and provide a diversity of voices. While the site is written in English, it is equipped with translation capability, so people around the world can read it. After this month’s post, the site admin sent me the following message she received about it:

Bonjour à Qui de droit  !

Merci pour  ce texte qui parle de lui-même ! J”ai beaucoup aimé   Tes écrits ….Gloire à Dieu ..Il est important de s”humilier

et de faire “comme Jésus a fait pour Nous ” !  Alléluia !
Merci d”exister !!!!!!!!!!
I don’t speak French. I have just enough experience with a variety of languages to (very) loosely translate.
It’s always fun to get encouraging feedback.
There’s an added “cool” factor when that feedback is in another language.
But I hope encouragement is never foreign. If it is, we can’t relate to or receive it. We have to find some commonality to find meaning in it. And in that way, the foreign becomes the familiar.
Perhaps it’s not always as familiar or as comfortable as our native tongue. Maybe we encounter people or situations that seem to pull the comfortable rug from under us. But isn’t that part of the joy and adventure, being able to consider what is outside of ourselves?
Let’s celebrate differences, not just for differences’ sake but for the pursuit of connection and unity in the midst of it. We don’t have to be uniform. There will always be enough to divide us. May we determine to see beyond the barriers and reach out with a hand, a hug, or a simple smile.

The Difference Between Us and Them

259800a843d2b1dafa21b021b88e0ab2“So now, may my Lord’s power be magnified just as You have spoken: The Lord is slow to anger and rich in faithful love, forgiving wrongdoing and rebellion. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children to the third and fourth generation. Please pardon the wrongdoing of this people, in keeping with the greatness of Your faithful love, just as You have forgiven them from Egypt until now.” (Numbers 14:17-19)

We get reassurance from the promise that God “will not leave the guilty unpunished,” and we apply it to the “them” in our lives, often a “them” we categorize and distance ourselves from. It’s easier to make accusations from a distance. When we get close, we realize just how human people are. We see that we have much in common with “them.” Really, there is little difference between us and them. We are guilty, too.

We sometimes focus so much on the promise to punish the guilty that we forget the context of this promise, which also includes the reminder of God’s character of being slow to anger and rich in faithful love. Yes, God is just as much those things to “them” as He is just. He is just as much those things to “us” as He is just.

Also in these verses is a humble plea for God to pardon “their” wrongdoing, asking for forgiveness for “them.” It’s not a blaming, condemning plea. It’s not an assault on “them.” It’s a plea to God. There is no finger-pointing, declaring that YOU need God’s forgiveness. It’s having such compassion, gentleness, and mercy on people that we go to God on their behalf first and foremost, continually and confidently. We tear down the wall between us and them so that we stand and speak on their behalf.

 

 

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.

We Rage Because We’re Lazy

humilityI got involved in a social media “conversation” a while back that had an important discussion at stake. It was an invitation to listen to different perspectives and try to understand each other. It was an opportunity to consider solutions that might actually yield results if we could work together. But how can we expect to come together as a nation, state, community, family, church, workplace, and the list goes on, if we are only willing to toxically spew why we’re right and how everyone else is wrong? Our solutions are so easy…

If people would only raise their children right…

If people would only believe the right things…

If we could just get rid of “stupid”…(I’m not kidding. That was actually a suggestion! I refrained from giving my response to that one.)

We often rage because we’re too lazy to lament about the woes of something. We don’t want to feel the personal pain that results from a choice, situation, or act. We want to distance ourselves enough from it so we can come up with a solution that neatly fits without complications of reality. We don’t want to dip our toes into humility enough to consider–let alone admit–that we might be wrong, even if it’s just a little bit.

There’s a place for passion. There’s even a place for anger when injustices need to be confronted. But let’s use our filters and our brains. Let’s be responsible enough to engage in humble, intelligent, God-honoring, respectful conversations with people, especially people different than ourselves.

Will you join me? We can hold each other accountable.