Seeing With Your Heart

I am a visual person. I like to be able to see things. I have a white board in my office where I can write out the things that I have to do and even work out ideas. It gives me the opportunity to sit at my desk and stare at the thoughts and ideas written on it. I can work them out in my head but right there in front of me as well. My thoughts come to life in a visible way, allowing me to see where I am going and order my thoughts better.

When I can’t see things, I panic. My anxiety rises up. I flip and flail like a fish dropped on dry land, struggling for breath and wondering when I will get a glimpse and see what I have determined in my head is necessary for me to see in order to move forward.

It’s funny how the things that we can so often think are necessary for our survival are far more expendable than we actually think. We obsess over things that seem crucial to us, viscerally reacting or even overreacting. Then we realize that we can live without the very thing that seemed to crucial and integral to our own plan.

Do I need to see, or do I just WANT to see? When I can see all of the pieces laid out in front of me, it’s really easy for me to wallow in my own self-sufficiency, elevating myself to a plain far above where I belong. Seeing all of the pieces may seem comfortable to me, but it mostly eliminates my need for trust and faith in God. If I can figure it all out myself, if I can seem to be self-sufficient, if there is no mystery, what’s the use of faith anymore?

A friend of mine describes the Christian life as being a combination of the two simple yet difficult tasks of trusting and obeying. It’s one step after another. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Onward. The mundane yet laborious task of putting one foot in front of the other, not always knowing where your footfall will be three steps or ten steps or twenty steps from now. Only knowing where the next step will be. Like the psalmist’s words, a light to our path doesn’t shine for miles in front of us, it simply lights the way for the few steps that lie immediately ahead.

I’m beginning to see that what I think I need to see may be just an extension of my need to control things. Maybe trusting is less about seeing with our eyes and more about seeing with our hearts. Maybe all I really need to see is what’s immediately before me so that I abstain from self-sufficiency and I lean more on God, who has promised to guide me and provide for every step.

I’ll continue to resist, I can be assured of that. I’ll continue to search for ways that I can see what I was never meant to see. But in my search and in my resistance, perhaps I will find that the same vision that I have prided myself in with my eyes may transfer over to my heart and I will begin to see things not as I want to see them, but as I need to see them. Perhaps I will find that as difficult of a task as it is to see with my heart, it will serve me so much better in the long run.

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The Plague of Complacency

objects in the mirrorBack in my engineering days, I went back to grad school and got a master’s degree in environmental engineering. Among the various classes that I took for my degree was an environmental law degree. I had always fancied myself a hack in the area of law and imagined that if I hadn’t taken the career path that I had, I may very well have ended up in the law profession.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the class other than the fact that we talked about a mindset and way of thinking that was prevalent among people called “Not In My Backyard.” We abbreviated it NIMBY and I remember evoking NIMBY often for years to come as I saw the trend play out in land development and beyond.

The basic premise is that people generally don’t care about things until they directly impact or affect them. Something tragic, difficult, or unjust may be happening to other people in other places of the world, but until it directly impacts us, we can have a tendency to turn a blind eye and even move towards complacency.

To be honest, I’ve seen this played out in my own life and in the life of others in my peer group and older. We can be given warnings and cautions but we continue to act like I did while in my 20s, as if I were ten feet tall and bulletproof. We think we are invincible and that nothing can touch us and then after countless times of ignoring warnings, when the inevitable takes place, our jaws drop and with a dumbfounded look on our faces, we exclaim, “How did this happen?”

It’s the parent who constantly lets their child get away with more and more until the child finally pushes the envelope and injures himself or someone else. It’s the individual who continues to think that “that can’t happen to me” and tests the boundaries until the very thing that could “never happen” to her ends up happening worse than she could have imagined.

Complacency is a plague, but unlike the plagues of history where people were warned and mostly understood the imminent dangers, the plague of complacency is more subtle and the its lethalness is undermined and diminished. After all, it certainly can’t happen to me.

The worst part about complacency is that I just don’t know how to fight it. In our culture, in our part of the world, complacency doesn’t really look like complacency, and just like so many other socially accepted behaviors, we not only excuse it away but we sweep it under the rug, ignoring it, justifying it, or condoning it. When we finally realize it for what it is, the damage has been done and we pick up the pieces, wondering just how to put them together again.

Complacency isn’t something new. John the Revelator wrote to the churches in the Book of Revelation and talked about complacency, or being lukewarm. Be hot or cold, but don’t be somewhere in between. Spit is lukewarm and none of like that swirling around our mouths too much. We spit it out.

The only thing to do with complacency is to deal with my own. Break it up. Destroy it. Don’t promote it. Don’t condone it. Call it for what it is and then move on from there.

The problem with complacency within the church is that we can often mask it by doing a lot of things, often a lot of good things. We meet, we plan, we execute plans, but complacency is luring beneath the surface. Instead of evoking the power that has been given to us by the ever present Holy Spirit, we conjure everything up in our own strength and power, with seeming success.

Years ago, in ministry, I heard about an Asian pastor who was critical of the western church. In seeing just how much was accomplished, he exclaimed, “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish without the Holy Spirit.” That wasn’t a compliment.

I don’t know how to fight complacency, so I’ll do my best to avoid it myself. But I can’t do it on my own. I want to plan, but I don’t want to plan first and pray later. I want to pray before I plan. I want to act, not of duty and responsibility, but out of the beating of my heart which wants to love as Jesus loves.

Complacency may seem innocuous when it’s not in our backyard, but I think it’s kind of like the passenger side mirror on cars, objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear.

Ain’t Going Out Like That

abandoned-churchI’ve been asked before whether I hate Christians, which is kind of a funny question to be asked when you’re a pastor. Digging deeper down, I think the genesis of the question was because I have a tendency to speak my mind with a combination of my New York and New England roots.

Growing up in the church, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the local church. I’ve seen people who claim the love of Christ but rarely show it. I’ve seen people who have been forgiven for much be stingy in offering forgiveness to others. I’ve seen the hypocrisy that flows freely behind closed doors, a stark contrast from the public face that some wear. And, if I’m totally honest, I’ve probably seen all of these and more in the mirror as much as I’ve seen it in other people.

The place of the local church in society has changed dramatically over the last fifty or sixty years. Once upon a time, the local church, regardless of denomination, was afforded a place of respect within our culture, but things have changed. People have run from God. They generally want him to care when their lives are a mess, even criticizing him and asking where he is in the midst of trials and difficulties. At the same time, when things are going well, they have no issue taking credit for how they’ve made themselves who they are and how far they’ve advance their own causes, giving no credit to God for the blessings they’ve received.

Within the church, it seems that many of us have been licking our wounds and lamenting this fall from grace for the church. How did we get here? Why did we get here? Why can’t things be the way that they used to be? Instead of adapting to this new normal, we’ve allowed panic and fear to drive us to find ways to regain the church’s place in society, mostly by thinking (like Israel) that politics is the way to make that happen, especially if we can just get the “king” (or president) to lead us to glory.

But the place of Christians in our society is not much different than the place of Christians in many of the societies where Paul planted churches in the first century. Corinth. Ephesus. Rome. Colossae. The Roman empire was not a “Christian” culture. Regardless of Constantine’s move centuries later (which I believe instilled a false sense of security into the Church universal), Roman culture was pagan.

Fifty years ago, the place that the church occupied within culture and society in America fostered an “if you build it, they will come” mentality. I call it the “Field of Dreams” mentality. People respected the church and pastors enough that just being there and offering opportunities was enough. You could draw people in with your programs if you made them attractive enough. Even if you made no concerted efforts to reach out to your community, people would inevitably find their way back to the church, right?

But those days are gone, and I can’t say that I lament them at all. As difficult as life can become without certain things at times, using crutches can give us a false sense of security that also removes our reliance on the muscles that we were supposed to be leaning on. But now that the crutches of false security have been removed, we need some major physical therapy in the church to begin to strengthen those muscles that we haven’t been using for so long.

Primarily, those are the muscles of outreach and evangelism. Because those things were so programmatic back in the day, we are dumbfounded in the church to realize that there is no magic formula or secret sauce that allows us to bring people into the church in droves.

Instead, it takes one conversation at a time, one relationship at a time, over a long period of time. It take intentional investment, not a one-time event that we can throw money at in hopes that it will somehow translate into a growth boom in the local church.

But, we just ain’t going out like that. Churches continue to struggle to do this.

I think there are a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which is our diminished ability to connect and relate well to other people. Our culture will generally respond to crisis, but when the crisis is gone, where do we go? Where do the relationships go?

I’ve seen some messy situations both inside and outside of the church. I’ve only seen few of those engaged by some very brave people who understand the messiness into which they are venturing. It’s not easy. There will be hurt. There will be pain. There will be joy. There will be celebration. There will be life.

Somehow, the Church needs to figure out a way to relate well to the world once again. It’s not done with picket signs and boycotts, it’s done through relationships, especially relationships with those we would consider to be the “other,” people who don’t look like us, act like us, or even think like us. Jesus’ instructions about the greatest commandment were twofold: love God, love your neighbor.

Unfortunately, we’ve diminished our definition of the word “neighbor.” Instead of defining the word from Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan, anyone who comes across our path, those who are like us or not, we’ve limited it to those who we enjoy spending time with or who we can tolerate. I can tell you, Samaritans and Jews weren’t particularly chummy back in the day, yet that was the definition that Jesus gave of showing love to a neighbor.

This is a big ship to turn, one that takes time and patience. I’m running out of both. I’ve never been a patient person and when I feel urgency, my patience becomes even more limited.

Ultimately, reaching out to a world in need of hope and in need of a Savior can’t be about building a Christian empire or nation, it needs to be about building a kingdom. But this kingdom isn’t of this world and it certainly doesn’t have values that look like the values of this world either. When we lose sight of what we’re building, we become like those inhabitants of Babel, building a tower for our own glory rather than the glory of God.

I’m on this journey, learning more every day, becoming a little bit more willing to take risks every day. I want to see the Church succeed in her mission, but it’s going to take some momentum and synergy to move things forward. I’m hoping I find some others who are willing to take this ride with me, not for our sake or even the sake of our local church, but for the sake of a King and Kingdom that will reign forever.

Developing Emotionally Mature Leaders – A Book Review

Developing Emotionally Mature LeadersAubrey Malphurs introduces the concept of emotional maturity for Christians by claiming that emotionally maturity and spiritual maturity go hand in hand. He writes, “And to be emotionally mature is to be spiritually mature.” Christians who claim to be spiritually mature yet lack emotional maturity are mistaken, Malphurs says.

This book is divided into four sections. The first section, Introduction to Emotional Intelligence, feels like an apologetic for the subject. Why is emotional intelligence important? That’s the question that Malphurs seems to be answering in Part 1. He gives a brief history, introducing some of the key influential figures in the study of emotional intelligence.

In Part 2, Malphurs seems to be answering the question, “Why does this matter to Christians?” He goes so far as to give a Biblical theology of emotions and why they are important. To be honest, this also seems like an apologetic section, as if he is trying to convince Christians why this subject is so important. To be honest, if someone has picked up this book, I would be hard pressed to believe that they wouldn’t see value in the subject to begin with.

Halfway through the book, Malphurs begins to get into the nuts and bolts of emotional intelligence and maturity. Part 3 is about becoming an emotionally mature leader. Malphurs introduces four different emotional maturity models and briefly walks through them.

Part 4 is the appendices, which are dedicated to the building of various skills such as networking, risk-taking, decision-making. confrontation,  encouragement, and various other practical skills for emotional health and leadership. Most of what is shared here is fairly practical. Nothing earth-shattering, at least to me.

Overall, every time that I opened this book and was reminded of its title, I felt a little disappointed that so much time was taken to convince the reader why the subject was important. I would rather have seen more space in the book dedicated to the models and the methods for growing and building emotionally healthy leaders. The book was far more elementary than its title indicates. I was expecting much deeper and more helpful.

For those who are already familiar with the subject of emotional health and maturity, you can probably pass on this book. I don’t think you will learn anything new. While the appendices have some helpful information, it certainly isn’t worth the price of the book as the information is most likely available elsewhere.

If you are just wading into this subject, this book may be helpful to convince you of the importance of the subject. It’s more of a primer for beginners than a handbook for the already familiar.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)