Shrinking My Digital World

Hello friends, it has been awhile. I’d like to briefly share with you some of the things God is doing in my life and how that is changing how I use my time.

First, this is a very good season in my life. Having just come out of a time of fasting, I find myself with renewed interest and hunger for the things of God. This desire to draw closer to God has caused me to reexamine various aspects of my life and make modifications and changes where needed.

The main thing I feel called to do is slow down! Fasting has a way of naturally slowing one down. When there is no significant intake of food, life adjusts. I want to maintain this slower, more intentional way of living. In my normal day to day affairs, I feel almost frantic on the inside. So much to do, so much to see, so many people to keep in contact with – it is, frankly, too much for my brain to deal with in a healthy way. So in the interest of health and authentic relationship I have made the following adjustments.

1) TTFN Facebook – Facebook is possibly the largest time waster in my life. I do not believe that Facebook is inherently evil or anything, it is just too easy for me to waste time looking at it. While I do pick up valuable tidbits of information from people’s profiles and status updates, I don’t feel that it justifies the 1-3 hours it eats of my life each day. By no means do I think everyone needs to get rid of Facebook to live and intentional life, I just no I need to. So, for now, I will.

2) No more Twitter on Smart Phone – Second to Facebook, Twitter is another time waster. I used to like Twitter, not so much anymore. It used to be a place where people posted insightful quotes and meaningful happenings from their day. Now it has become another vehicle to sermonize, spam and add to the general “noise” in my life. I have found myself skimming over comments made by closest of friends because I just can’t take in anymore information, but I feel compelled to stay current. I may tweet from time to time, but checking out others tweets is too much white noise and bother.

3) Blog – You may have noticed a sudden drop off in blog posts. I value you, my readers, and I value your time and emotional energy. I don’t want to add to the noise in your lives by posting thoughtless entries and worthless material. I want the things you read on this blog to be of the very best quality, insightful, biblically sound and I want it to edify and advance you in some way. Material like that doesn’t come to me easily – it requires work and refinement. In the interest of offering you the best, I will post when I am happy with the content and article, but there is no guarantee that it will be a thrice weekly deal. I highly recommend subscribing to this blog so that, when I do update it, you will receive an copy in your email.

4) Journal – Where the first three things are purges from my life, this is an addition. I love journaling. I think a journal is the second most important tool in spiritual development (the Bible is the first). Writing down my thoughts, as opposed to typing them, slows my brain down and puts me into an almost meditative state. I like the slowness journaling provides and I like the art of writing. It is my resolution to put an entry into my journal everyday for the next 28 days.

5) Reading the Bible/Prayer – Many of you know that I take my job description as a Pastor from Acts 6:4 “and we will give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Half of my time as a pastor should be spent in prayer and meditation of the Word, asking the Spirit to teach me and reveal God’s heart to me. If I do not do that, my ministry will be weak and powerless, my life as well. I need this time spent with God – it is nonnegotiable and items 1-3 were detracting from it.

6) Being Outside – I connect best with God when I am in His Creation. Walking and praying, reading by the river… these are things that feel my soul. I am blessed with the time to do these things, so I want to make the most of it while I can.

Well, I think that about sums everything up. I do appreciate you all and I think these modifications will allow me to serve you better.

 

Sincerely,

Ben

Sleepwalking Through Life

I am continuing to enjoy “Champagne for the Soul.” I read a passage for today and was really challenged by something the author said. “In today’s polite and airbrushed society, it is entirely possible to sleep walk through life…” For whatever reason, that phrase hit me hard in the gut. Sleepwalking through life is something I am more guilty of than I would care to admit.

But it is true, isn’t it? We live in the midwest and “Iowa Nice” is a fact of life. The majority of people in Iowa are unfailingly kind and polite, which is something I love about living here. But the greatest fear, in my opinion, that people have in Iowa is… having a hard conversation.

I’m not talking a knockdown, drag-em-out kind of argument either. I am talking about authentic communication with another human being. I am talking about conversations like “Hey, when you said that, it really hurt my feelings.” Or “Hey, I want to challenge you about something you said. It sounded a little off base.” We in Iowa are so afraid of confronting people, challenging them to deeper and fuller thinking and living. We would much rather sweep it under the rug, forget about it and move on.

But rather than make for a more enjoyable life, not communicating authentically with people leads to shallow, superficial living. We have trained ourselves to ignore our feelings (believing that they are wholly deceitful), take the path of least resistance (thinking it will enhance our quality of life) and maintain the comfortable status quo. I know there is a huge social pressure to be kind, polite and respectful, but those good things must not come at the expense of being dishonest or deceitful.

I believe God wants His people to awake to fuller living, the kind of abundant life that Jesus promised and modeled for us in the Gospels. Jesus was certainly not one to shy away from confrontation even as He modeled what it meant to take the log out of His own eye to see clearly to remove the specks in others. Jesus was not an exception to His own rules, rather, He demonstrated for us what it looked like when all of those virtues and commands were synthesized into one human being.

Do we need to be kind and respectful? Yes. Do we need to give others the benefit of the doubt and examine our own heart motives first? Absolutely. But our job is also to help refine one another into the image of Christ. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” goes the Proverb. We all have blind spots and we need people we can count on to loving expose them to us. We all have a tendency to sleepwalk through life and we need to be alarm clocks for one another, exhorting each other to make the most of the time God has given to us.

Paper Training a Pastor

I bet many of you clicked in just to see how I would connect pastoring to paper training a puppy. Here is your obligatory photo:

In actuality, though, I am stealing the term “Paper Trained” from the art of music, not puppy training.

“Paper Trained” was a term I came across when I was learning to fiddle. It was used by fiddlers to disparagingly talk about classical violinists. Fiddlers highly value “feeling” the music and were rather hard on people who could only play with sheet music in front of them. The goal of the fiddler is to tap into the music of the moment, which could be any variety of style. This required a finely tuned ear (which it turns out I don’t have) and a willingness to give oneself to the moment. The rigid style of classical music didn’t fit this philosophical stance of the fiddler.

The reason I bring this up is that, very recently, I was praying for a guy named Boomer and the word that the Lord gave me for him was “It isn’t the paper that makes the pastor.” Boomer looks like a rough and tumble kind of guy, he is grizzly and tattooed and quite in love with God. He is also going through the Vineyard version of seminary, which is great and I highly encourage, but I could sense that the Lord didn’t want Boomer to lose his edge. Pastoring is a lot like fiddling, we need a sensitivity to what the Holy Spirit is doing in the moment and not come try to dogmatically fit every situation to our theological understanding.

Jesus once spit on a man’s eyes to heal him. How silly would it be to make that into a theological practice? “Oh yes… in order to heal glaucoma one must first produce a sufficient amount of phlegm. Having blessed the phlegm, one then proceeds to administer it to the area in question via projectile propulsion.” Nonsense. Jesus did what He saw the Father doing, He was led by the Spirit every moment. He never healed the same way twice and rarely prayed in any given format. When Jesus gave His disciples the Lord’s Prayer he was teaching them how to pray, not giving them a set-in-stone manuscript.

Pastors must give themselves to the moment. Pastors must surrender themselves to what the Spirit wants to do in the lives of His people. We are conduits of the Presence of God and we need as clear and unhindered a flow as we can get. Rigid philosophical or theological ideas of how God works get in the way. Our ears must be attuned to the music of Heaven so our feet can enter the Dance.

One the flip side, fiddlers are limited in their playing. They can only play the music they themselves can hear and this is a major limitation. For this reason, paper is a wonderful conduit of revelation. I am not knocking books, education or learning in any way, I simply want to relegate it to its proper place. I think mainline denominations are crazy – they take their future leaders out of a congregation, cram their heads full of inapplicable knowledge and then turn them loose to care for the hearts and soles of people they have never met.

But we in the Charismatic world have a lot we can learn from our Mainline and Liturgical friends. Pastors should be people who study, especially the Word. Pastors should be students of history so our culture doesn’t trap us into a one size fits all type of religiosity. Pastors should be, as Malachi says, “those whose lips guard knowledge.”

Physical training has some value, so does mental training, but godliness has value for all things. Learning to be led by God, learning to Listen and Obey, is foundational for the work of Pastoring. Do we need to check these words against Scripture? Absolutely! In fact, so much of my hearing from God comes through the written Word of God. But it is also possible to fall into the plight of the Pharisees who studied the Scriptures diligently but weren’t able to recognize the Voice of God speaking to them.

There is a renaissance afoot in the Vineyard, a reclaiming of the “radical middle.” We will once again be the people with Evangelical theology and a love for the written Word as well as those with Charismatic practice – the gifts of the Holy Spirit manifest in full flower. We will be led by those who pray, who study, who listen and obey. I am so excited for what God has in store!

Ministry Misconceptions: Leadership, Part Two

DISCLAIMER: This is a rant/ramble post. It’s sole purpose is to get thoughts out of my head so that I can process them better. It is an idea generation post, so I would be welcome to any input/response you have while reading it. Thank you.

A few weeks ago, the Lord spoke to me as I was praying. “You have a leadership crisis.” Being slow on the uptake I said, “I know!” I am still processing His reply (hence these posts), for He said, “No, you don’t understand. You have too many leaders, too many people doing what they want to do. I want people who want to do what I want to do. You need to get rid of ‘leadership’ and become ‘leader-sheep.'” Hmmmm.

Leader-sheep… My friend Marty uses the term “first followers.” Paul says “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ,” 1 Cor. 11:1. Follow me as I follow Christ, that is about as iron-clad a definition of Biblical leader-sheep as I can find. We are the sheep, Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the Good Shepherd. I’m not interested in parsing Greek, but I will say that Matthew 23:10 is better translated, “Don’t let anyone call you ‘leader’ for you have one leader, Christ.”

Follow me as I follow Christ – my wife, Amy, is a very wise woman. She simplifies the whole of Christian discipleship to this, “Listen and Obey.” Listen to the Word of God, be that through the Bible, prayer or Holy Spirit – and then do it. There is no need to complicate. It is my firm belief that following Jesus should get simpler as time goes on.

Call me crazy, but I take Jesus very seriously when He said, “I will build My Church…” (Matt. 16:18) The people I am privileged to pastor… they are His, not mine. The ministry I do… it is His, not mine – I simply do my best to partner with what He is doing. He will build His Church, He will be our Shepherd and the Spirit our Teacher and Guide. I study the book of Revelation a lot. I love the opening letters to the churches, specifically one phrase “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Hahaha. The Spirit speaks and gives direction to the churches! The Spirit gives concrete, locally applicable advice to each and every church so that it will be acceptable in Jesus’ sight and complete in the eyes of God.

The Israelites wandered in the desert for 80 years in order to get to the Promised Land. The journey should have taken them less than a week. So what took them so long? They were following the Presence of God. Our God is Process-Oriented, not Goal-Oriented. If Moses had been a goal oriented leader, he would have abandoned the Presence and set out for the Promise. After all, the Lord had promised Canaan to Israel, they would just be speeding up the process.

We in the Church know that the Kingdom of Heaven will come to the Earth when Jesus returns… not before then. We can exert a lot of influence in the world today, but it will always be far short of the Kingdom. God actually challenged Moses in Exodus 33 to go to the Promised Land without Him. God said He would pave the way and give the Israelites all they thought they wanted, but He wouldn’t be with them. Moses refused. I wonder if ‘leaders’ today would refuse? Are we more interested in building our resumes and putting notches in our belts than being with God? I hope not. But I wonder if we would even notice if we parted ways with the Almighty.

My hope for the church I serve is that we would so order our lives that things would fall apart if God didn’t “show up.” If God’s Presence isn’t with us, I want us to fail. Phew, I said it. How dangerous would it be for us to “succeed” outside of His Presence?

I think this vein is tapped out, but I would still love your insights. If you have too much to say that it wont fit in a comment, write a blog response and link it in the comments. Or, you can always find me on Facebook and send a message. Thanks friends!

 

Ministry Misconceptions: Leadership

DISCLAIMER: This is a rant/ramble post. It’s sole purpose is to get thoughts out of my head so that I can process them better. It is an idea generation post, so I would be welcome to any input/response you have while reading it. Thank you.

There are times when I am tempted to think that we have gotten things completely backwards when it comes to leadership within the Church. Even the term, leadership, gets under my skin from time to time. It is very rare that we see anyone of noble character aspiring to be a leader in the Bible. In fact, leadership in the bible seems like a duty that most saints are looking to avoid! The only reason many become “leaders” is because of God’s own choice and these people almost never have their acts together. They are people who struggle and whose only hope for discharging their duties well is in obeying God’s commands.

I think of Moses or David, chosen and called out by God. Moses had God’s literal Presence with him and chose to have frequent conference calls with the Almighty. David was forever retreating to the Temple of the Lord to seek the wisdom needed to lead a nation. Neither of these men had a “master plan” for leadership, they stumbled into.

Then there are the Apostles. I read a contemporary description of “apostle” as a spiritual gift as “visionary leader” or “one known for their long-term vision.” Really… I wonder where they got that from? It certainly isn’t the Bible. More often than not, the Apostles didn’t know which end was up (remember, they were termed Apostles as early as Mark 3). When the Holy Spirit falls upon them at Pentecost, there is a dramatic change in their lives, but I wouldn’t say that they became “visionary leaders.” They became men full of the Spirit who testified to who Jesus was, what He did and what He gave them power to do. They didn’t come up with a plan for evangelizing Jerusalem, Samaria and all the ends of the Earth, Jesus did. And they were led by the Spirit every step of the way.

Are there visionary leaders? Absolutely, I am privileged to known several of them. But so often we confuse idea generation with vision. “Visionaries” are generally nothing more than people who dream up a bunch of tasks for other people to do. The majority of these ideas are never acted upon, they just excite the person generating them so they keep going. (I am well aware of this tendency within myself so please know that I am critiquing my own silliness and not underhandedly meaning to insult anyone.) And even when all of these possibilities are on the table, we still must ask the Holy Spirit which ones (if any) we are to act upon.

So, who would I consider a good leadership candidate, hypothetically speaking? That is a good question, I’m glad I asked myself. A successful Church leadership candidate, in my opinion, is someone who (in no particular order):

  • Is full of the Holy Spirit
  • Asks the Holy Spirit a lot of questions.
  • Obeys what the Holy Spirit tells them to do.
  • Is passionate about God. Not someone who discharges religious duties, but who is a serious student of God’s heart.
  • Diligently studies the Bible for themselves and doesn’t rely overly much on other people’s interpretation.
  • Is respectful and honoring to those in authority over them.
  • Is respectful, honoring, servant hearted, compassionate and patient with those under them.
  • Speaks in Love what they believe is True in every circumstance, even if it means going against popular opinion.
  • Wants to love God first and foremost.
  • Wants to love others as Jesus loves them.
  • Embraces humility, meekness and gentleness as chief virtues
  • Is quick to listen and very, I mean very, slow to speak – someone who sincerely wants to understand others.
  • and at the very end, someone who operates in a leadership gift as mentioned in Ephesians 4 (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher.) This is negotiable since hearing from God and doing what He says supersedes these smaller gifts. (i.e. hearing from God and doing what He says or saying what He says is prophetic and will always work for the benefit of God’s people through instruction (teaching), loving counsel (pastoral), exhortation (evangelism) or clarifying of doctrine and practice (apostolic).)

Those requirements are achievable by every believer in my opinion. Does this mean that every Christian is a leader? Absolutely not. Every believer should be in the pool, but it is up to God to decide who is going to lead in any given circumstance. Jesus “chose those he wanted” in Mark 3, chose Matthias to replace Judas among the Apostles and chose Barnabas and Paul to do missions. Why do we think the Holy Spirit is incapable of making such decisions in this day and age?

In part, because it is a much slower, more prayerful process. In part because the Holy Spirit seems to pick the most unlikely of people. In part because “we have a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for Him,” as Hilary of Tours would say.

Jesus is our Leader and we are simply followers. “Come and follow me,” is still Jesus’ invitation.  I think we need to surrender leadership back to Him and be patiently prayerful, never ceasing in our communion with the Holy Spirit.

What do you think? Am I off base? What are your most desirable (and biblical) traits in leaders? I look forward to your replies!