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Whether you’re new to the church or have been around for a while, this guide may help.  Believe it or not, but facial hair is a window to the soul.  It is my hope that this guide from Leadership Journal will help you navigate the confusing (and sometimes absurd) world of church culture.

 

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Depending on your stage of life, Valentine’s Day can be exciting, romantic, confusing, lonely, or depressing.

heart (emmy)Whether or not you are in a relationship, holidays like these raise  expectations so high that sometimes those expectations are impossible to meet.  Today, some people will be let down because they are not in a relationship.  Others will be let down for by their significant other, their fiance, or their spouse.  The plain fact is that human beings eventually let us down.

On days like these, we must remember the Kingdom of Heaven.  Valentine’s Day is not part of the liturgical calendar, of course, but as an artifact of our society, what does Valentine’s Day remind us about God and our relationship with him?

1) God cares about your loneliness.  (Gen. 2:18)

2) God establishes friendships, families, marriages, and churches, so you do not need to be alone.  (Gal. 3:28)

3) God provides companionship when no one else does.  (Ps. 62:2)

4) God restores relationships and will eventually heal every heart.  (Rev. 21:4)

No matter how this day goes for you, be comforted that God cares.  After all, He is the One who created relationships in the first place.  Although we often miss out on healthy relationships, and although we sometimes mess them up, God is always there to heal our broken hearts.  When we place our expectations in him, we will never be disappointed.

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It is important to apply Colossians 3:23 to all aspects of life. In that verse, Paul reminds us that “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men.” In other words, our work should be defined by maximum effort and the right motives.

Many of us miss the mark in one way or the other. Some people become accustomed to their situation, becoming overly comfortable, and slow down in their efforts. They may have good earthly reasons, such as a lack of pay or a mean boss, but they forget the ultimate purpose of their work. Other people work hard, but for the wrong reasons. They work to please men instead of the Lord, and in so doing, get distracted from the goal.

A.W. Tozer pointed out that we often live out of fear. We choose the easy route (fearing hard labor) or the common route (fearing opposition from others). In reality, the best choices in life are usually difficult and unpopular.

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Barak Obama’s shining moment in the State of the Union debate, and possibly the only memorable moment for the public, was his insistent call for a vote on gun legislation. His tactic —  repeating how those affected by gun violence “deserve a vote” — emerged out of necessity and sagacity. Here are two quick lessons that we can learn from the address:

Necessity. Polarization (whether in the workplace, home, or church) prohibits meaningful dialogue, and those who sincerely want change will seek to build consensus. While some will critique Obama’s mention of real-life victims for emotional effect, the point is that real-life issues require a response rather than no response at all.

Sagacity. Effective leadership calls people beyond where they, but never beyond what than they can handle. Our violent-ridden and blood-infatuated society does not want to deal with the deeper issues at hand, but certainly all reasonable people can agree to vote. After all, if you can’t vote, what are you afraid of?  Using subtly for effect, understatement attempts to move people toward a response.

Apart from politics, all of us can learn from the rhetoric used in Obama’s fifth State of the Union address.  Whether you are a leader, a parent, an overseer, or a preacher, the 2013 SOTU should remind us of the need for consensus and the brilliance of understatement.

 

 

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On this wonderful MLK day, let us remember the sacrifice and dedication of all those who have continued Christ’s work of bringing together all people. Our God is a God of reconciliation, and He is the one who unites different races and ethnicities. Let us celebrate His work through His Son and through His people.

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For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us… He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.  Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus. By God’s grace and mighty power, I have been given the privilege of serving him by spreading this Good News.

(Selections from Ephesians 2-3)

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Leaders should develop vision by “reading” three key areas:

Read situations.  Rather than ignoring the current situation, leaders should read the context.  Visions are not formed in a vacuum, apart from community, nor are visions cookie-cutters that can be applied to any situation.  It is essential to take into account the immediate context.  Vision not only looks to the future, but takes into account the present.

Read hearts.  Too many leaders die on the battlefield of their own ideas rather than taking into account the people they lead. An effective leader leads people towards change, but that change must start with reading people’s hearts, otherwise it might be change that people don’t really need.  Just as a heart surgeon asses the condition of a heart, so must church leaders asses a congregation before determining next steps.

Read people.  Church leaders must recognize that God’s Spirit is working within people’s hearts.  For that reason, vision should not be established by a single individual, such as a lead pastor.  Instead, leaders should value what God is already doing and trust that God will bring about the change.  To develop a vision, church leaders must ask questions, listen to people’s stories, determine strengths and weaknesses, and discover how God is already working within the community.

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I am deeply concerned about a trend in some Christian circles to glorify suffering, as if suffering is somehow a good thing. Over the past few months, I have heard that suffering should not only be anticipated, but gladly accepted because of its benefits. Of course, this is not exactly a “recent” trend, but one that can be traced back to Catholics in the Middle Ages. To this, I would like to offer an important clarification.

First of all, there is nothing good in suffering itself. God does not delight in the suffering of a person being killed, nor did Jesus find any satisfaction in His crucifixion. Suffering involves suffering, and we know from Scripture that God abhors violence. Simply put, God does not delight in pain.

Errantly, it has been said that “there is nothing inherently evil about suffering,” but this needs to be qualified. Although this is true for an athlete in training or a religious person who fasts from a meal, this is not normally what we mean when talking about “suffering.” Usually, suffering involves physical, emotional, and relational pain. We cannot categorize all suffering as the same. Some sufferings are voluntary or amoral, while other sufferings are involuntary or immoral.

Experiencing this latter kind of suffering, a sufferer undergoes pain, and the reality of that pain should never be diminished. There is nothing good about a child dying. Nothing good about an instance of abuse, murder, rape, or any other horrific evil in the world. Evil is evil, and it would be a tragic error to ever suggest otherwise. As it says in James 1, our good God has nothing to do with causing temptation or evil.

When the Bible speaks of finding joy in the midst of suffering — such as in 1 Peter — joy is not found in the suffering itself. Rather, the joy is found despite the suffering. Joy is found in God — in His steadfastness, in His comfort, in His healing, in His power, etc. — and not in the circumstances that surround us. Trying to find joy in painful circumstances is like trying to cool off in the midst of a heatwave; it is an empty mind trick.

We should never be surprised or be caught off guard by suffering, but at the same time, we should not anticipate or glorify it. Like Jesus, we can pray for the cup of suffering to pass from us. Since Jesus was not a masochist, neither are we as Christians. I would argue that we should pray that suffering passes from us, lest we try to be more holy than Jesus. Following Jesus’ example, we can ask God for another way and for healing from our pain.

The joy that we experience in our suffering is God Himself, not the circumstances of our suffering. For that reason, we should not fear suffering, nor should we exalt personal comfort as the ultimate goal. It is through difficulty that our vision becomes clear. We can see who God is — perfect, faithful, and safe — better than we can during other times in our lives.

God allows for suffering because sometimes suffering is a lesser danger than a false sense of perfection, comfort, and ease. God never delights in pain itself, but like an athlete in training, He can see the benefits beyond the pain.

If suffering were necessary for joy or for God’s glory, we would expect to suffer in heaven. But to the contrary, we know that the ultimate joy lies beyond the suffering of this present world. May our eyes see beyond this pain and look towards the everlasting comfort that is coming…