Archive for the ‘Leadership/Pollitics’ Category

The following is published without additional comment by permission of the author.  There’s simply nothing that needs to be added to what Josh has written prophetically. -dennis-

“I know you’re afraid.

For years your nationalistic pulpiteers have so intertwined the Kingdom of God and the American Empire that you fear the fall of the latter will be the fall of the former.
For years your talk-radio teachers have told you that the Republican Party and the Bible believers are one and the same, and now you’re afraid that you won’t be able to recognize who is “us” and who is “them.”

For years you’ve been shown that following the Crucified One and holding on to your power and privilege serve the same end. And if you lose what you are holding onto, how can you still be faithful to Him?

I know you are afraid.

How could you not be? The weakness of your idol is being shown to you.
The nation you serve is slipping away from you.
The Party Priests you tied yourself to in service to that nation have betrayed you.
The covenant of Manifest Destiny has been shown to be a greed-based lie.
And you are forced to defend a choice: Evil or Greater Evil.

I know you are afraid.

But I would like to remind you that there is another Kingdom.
That there is another King.
And that His perfect love casts out all fear.

Please.
I beg you.
Forget your idol.
Walk away from your priests.
Leave the crumbling empire.
Let go of your fear.
And embrace Love.”

-Joshua Remington-

(I presented the following at the “Hyphen” session of the 2013 MA/RI District Youth Convention)

Think like Jesus! Of course, the question always is, what did Christ think like? In our congregation each year I preach on Sundays for one month from one of the Gospels…this year from the Gospel of Matthew…so that we might be more acquainted with Jesus as presented by the writers. The Gospels will show you Christ in action…but they don’t explicitly tell you what was happening in his head. We infer things about Christ’s thinking from the Gospels, but his thought processes aren’t specifically discussed by the Gospel writers.

The greatest insight we have into the workings of the mind of Christ come from the Apostle Paul, and the core of the ideas I will present this morning is drawn from his letter to the Philippian church…specifically Philippians 2:5-8. While Paul doesn’t give us a lot of detail regarding Christ’s thinking in this selection, he does provide us with three powerful categories of thinking to explore…three characteristics of thinking that if understood and applied can truly and thoroughly revolutionize the way we think.

Let’s read that text now…

  1. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
  2. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
  3. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
  4. And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

I. Confidence Without Entitlement

A brain surgeon was taking a walk when he saw a boy on a bike smash headfirst into a tree. The doctor realized immediately that the boy was seriously injured, and told a bystander to call an ambulance. As he started to treat the injured boy, another kid not much older than the injured one nudged through the crowd that had gathered and said to the doctor, “I’d better take over now, sir. I’m a Boy Scout and I know first aid.”

Confidence is a wonderful thing…particularly, the capacity to be confident that your knowledge and abilities are equal to the challenges you encounter. We have a phrase that’s used to define this kind of confidence; we call it self confidence. Even though the phrase may have a few negative connotations, it basically just refers to your ability to trust yourself and your abilities.

The first characteristic of Jesus’ thinking that Paul mentions is that Jesus was confident. Paul says it this way in verse six; “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:” This tells us immediately that Jesus knew who he was, what he could do, and all the rights and authority that he had.

That’s one of the things I’ve noticed about Jesus in the Gospels…he’s never unsure, never uncertain. He is always completely confident in what he says and does. He knows his purpose, his mission, his place, and his power. There’s nothing about the Jesus of the Gospels that communicates self-doubt. After all, he wouldn’t have commanded that Lazarus’ tomb be opened if he wasn’t absolutely certain that he could raise Lazarus from the dead! In that kind of move there’s no room for self-doubt!

So, Paul describes Jesus as confident. Yet in that same verse, Paul tells us that Jesus’ confidence was somewhat different than what one would normally expect from other powerful people. Paul says that Jesus “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”, which is a strange, hard to understand phrase in the KJV. Basically though, it means that He didn’t consider his deity something he had to hold onto for dear life, like a thief holds onto something he’s stolen.

It’s kind of a difficult concept to explain, but maybe the best way to express it is to say that Jesus’ confidence in his abilities and identity didn’t come with a sense of entitlement. He didn’t feel the need to demand special treatment because of who he was. While he was confident in what he could do, in what he came to do, he didn’t act as though his power came with all-access pass to the VIP lounge. If people wanted to show him honor, he accepted it. If they chose to disrespect him, he accepted that too. And he kept right on doing what he was supposed to do.

Christ-like thinking is characterized by confidence without entitlement.

That’s a struggle for us because confidence in our strengths and abilities is usually hard won. It’s like a phrase from a favorite Glenn Kaiser song of mine… “I’ve done the time and I’ve got the scars.” The old time preachers used to talk to young ministers about getting their “lion’s skin.” You know what these things mean; they mean that you’ve worked hard to acquire the abilities you have. You’ve studied, you’ve practiced, you’ve hammered your thumb more than once, and over the course of many years you’ve grown good at a particular thing.

Usually, along with the acquisition of skill, there is a corresponding rise in self-confidence; you know you can do it. And there’s nothing at all wrong with having that kind of confidence. If someone asks me if I can preach, I tell them, “Yes.” Can I preach to large crowds? Yes. Small crowds? Yes. To other denominations? Yes, because if you can preach to a crowd of sermon tasting Pentecostals you can preach to anybody. I’m not arrogant, I’m confident. I’ve worked hard to acquire the skill to do what I do.

But here’s the challenge; with that hard won confidence I’ve also acquired the belief that I’m worthy of respect…at least, in things pertaining to my abilities. I think that if I’m asked to use those abilities I have the right to expect a certain kind of treatment, at least in the venue in which I’m expected to exercise my abilities. In other words, if you ask me to preach then treat me right. Put me in the right kind of hotel. Pay me according to your ability, and commensurate with my skill. And show me the esteem that should be shown to an ordained minister with almost 30 years of experience.

And that, my friends, is how just about everyone in the world thinks. They have different skills and correspondingly different expectations, but just about every confident person also feels some sense of entitlement. And to be treated as less than they are shows disregard for the long years of labor and self discovery that’s brought them to be what they are.

But Christlike thinking is characterized by confidence without entitlement; the ability to do what you can without feeling the need to demand or expect honor, respect, or even recognition. And you can do this because your identity, your ego, isn’t that fragile…you don’t have to grasp it with desperate hands and hold it tightly, lest someone steal it away. You do what you do because you can do and because it needs doing. And that’s it.

II. Condescended Without Condescension

No doubt some of you have heard of the British actor Peter Sellers, perhaps from his role as the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films. It’s said by those who worked with him that once he immersed himself in a role, he was never out of character until the film ended. In his book, The Mask Behind the Mask, biographer Peter Evans says that Sellers played so many roles that he sometimes wasn’t sure of his own identity. Once, when approached once by a fan who asked him, “Are you Peter Sellers?” Sellers answered, “Not today,” and walked on.

To us, the idea of losing our distinctiveness, of loss of identity, is a frightening thing. In the western world, untold sums of money and vast amounts of time are spent on the voyage of self-discovery. “Who am I? What kind of a person am I? What makes me tick?” This realization is understood as central to being able to truly understand and appreciate others. And really, I’m not sure it’s incorrect. Then, once we begin understand ourselves, once a strong sense of identity finally begins to emerge, we usually grab hold of that sense of self and cling to it for dear life.

This is me. This is who I am. This is what makes me different.  This is what sets me apart and allows others to know me. It’s such a relief to finally know myself, to be enlightened as to who I really am! The idea that, after I have worked so hard to find myself, I would lose myself, is almost unbearable. This unique and wonderful hodgepodge of thought, feeling, outlook, habit, practice, and belief is what makes me…me. And now this sense of personal identity is so important, so significant, that I simply must retain it.

With this we come to the second characteristic of Christ’s thinking that Paul identifies; Jesus condescended. In Philippians 2:7 Paul writes, “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:” Literally meaning that he emptied himself and became us, that he divested himself of that which would have most easily identified him as different than us in order to be one of us.

He became so ordinary that despite all the wondrous works he did, he couldn’t be picked out the crowd. Not particularly tall nor short, handsome nor plain, with the same swarthy features and hard hands as the other tradesmen of his class…his accent no different than other Galileans, his rough sense of humor the same as theirs, the same swagger as they walked along, a cluster of young men together. This is condescension in the best meaning of the word; the mighty stooping low, so low that we thought he was us. He divested himself of riches to experience our poverty, of strength to know our weakness, of eternity to taste our dying.

And he did it without being condescending…in the worst sense of the word. He did it without arrogance, without a lordly attitude of superiority, without informing us that he was not us. He taught, healed, delivered, fed, calmed, raised…constantly endeavouring to lift humanity from the muck, while standing in the muck beside us. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.”

“Let this way of thinking be your way of thinking,” Paul says. “Empty yourself to become what another needs.” But, I’m so concerned with preserving myself, with holding on to my identity, that how Paul challenges me to think is more than a little frightening. After all, I can’t be what everyone needs. And it’s probably true…I don’t think I can. But maybe I can be a little more of what someone needs if I’m just a bit more willing to be a little less concerned with being myself.

Maybe this is what Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 where he writes…

  • To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.
  • To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
  • To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.

Christ-like thinking is characterized by condescension that isn’t condescending…by the ability to become what another needs, to lay one’s own identity aside for the sake of another. And to do it in such a way that it seems the most natural thing in the world.

III. Humility Without Servility

A young woman pulled her pastor aside one Sunday after Morning Worship. “Pastor, I have a problem…a besetting sin…and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I shouldn’t think like that, but I can’t help it. I want you to help me with it.” The pastor replied, “Well Mary, I don’t think you need to worry about it. In your case it’s not really a sin…just more of a horrible mistake.”

Humility is hard for us…pride comes more easily. And pride is far more natural, too. Pride of place, pride of position, pride in association, pride in origin, pride in achievement, and of course, pride in appearance. Proud to live where you live, proud of your role in society or your group, proud of the group itself, proud to be from where you’re from and to wave the appropriate flag, or to spring from a certain family line, proud that you’ve done what you’ve done and have been properly recognized for it, and proud that you’re just so good looking.

But some of this isn’t bad pride, is it? Isn’t some of this pride perfectly legitimate…even necessary? Sorting through the various manifestations of pride is a grueling process made even more difficult by the Bible’s wholesale condemnation of pride. So, we perform a series of awkward mental gymnastics trying to explain to ourselves why one form of pride is acceptable while another is insidious. This process is made yet more awkward by the slightly embarrassing truth that the system of faith we profess to govern our lives by doesn’t acknowledge the subtle differences, the varietals of pride that we’ve discerned…it’s all just pride.

On the other hand, humility is much easier to understand. And whether it’s defined from its Latin roots or from New Testament Greek, it all comes down to being low, to viewing yourself as less. This is easy to understand, but hard to practice…oh so hard to practice…because both humanly and culturally everything within us screams out a protest at the idea of being less. Humanly we strive for more, to do more, to be more…and to be seen as more. Culturally, we are infatuated with equality; I may be no more than you, but you are certainly no more than me. So while humility may be easy to understand, there’s no denying that it’s hard for us.

Yet this very hard thing is characteristic of the mind of Christ! Christ-like thinking is characterized by humility without servility. “This is how Jesus thought,” Paul said in Philippians 2:8. “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

He humbled himself, Paul said. He made himself low. This is an even greater challenge for us, because we seem utterly incapable of humility without first being humiliated. We must endure a series of mortifying events to be made humble, and then we must have our regular doses of humiliation in order to be kept humble. Our natural tendency is to rise, and so from time to time our bubble must be burst. But not Jesus. He humbled himself.

And somehow he embraced this humility without servility. He made himself low without cringing and fawning and denying who he was or being distracted from his mission. Humility like this isn’t an act; it’s not something you try to do, or a way you project yourself. It’s a state of being; a way you think that becomes the way you are.

It’s a way of thinking that is utterly mission centred. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death, because that was his mission, his purpose. He knew from the very outset of his ministry that he would keep company with publicans and sinners, that his associates would be a motley assortment of workers and radicals, that he would be counted among the criminals, and would wind up hanging naked on a cross. Since he embraced this from the beginning, none of this could humiliate him. You can’t humiliate a man who’s already humbled himself.

Christ-like thinking is characterized by humility without servility…humility that is self-imposed and focused on mission. So much so that the experiences of shame, rejection, being ignored, unrecognized, and unappreciated are all inconsequential; what matters is doing what Christ would have you do.

Closing:

Let this mind be in you. Let Christ’s way of thinking become your way of thinking. Be confident without a sense of entitlement. Condescend without being condescending. Embrace humility without servility. And the more you think like Jesus, the more you will act like Jesus.

I racked my brains trying to think of a story, an example that would best illustrate Christ-like thinking. Public speakers in general, but preachers in particular, know the value of a story that’s able to take the point of the message and make it real to life. All those stories that the regular sources suggested fell flat. I couldn’t think of one single example of a person I knew embodied all three characteristics…not one.

Then it came to me! The perfect story, the perfect example! It’s an ancient tale…no way to update it or make it contemporary. And it’s long, so I have to skip across highlights and hope you grasp the gist of it. But it’s that most ancient story of a King who became a servant, of a God who became a man…of how the Lord of Creation laid aside splendor, majesty, and honor to become Immanuel, God with us…to be with us. To be with the lowly, the poor, the sin-cursed, the crooked, the vain…to be with the wounded and the wounding, the abused and the abuser, the suffering and the one who inflicts suffering alike…to be with us.

I realized that there is simply no better example of Christ-like thinking than Christ. And there’s no better story to tell to drive home what he wants us to be than his story. So if you want to live a life that matters, a redemptive life, a life that has lasting influence for good far beyond the scope of your limited world, then think like Jesus.

Azusa; Template for Societal Change

At Azusa Street, the dynamic work of the Spirit provided a God-ordained template for radical societal change.  American society was divided along race, gender, and social lines…but when God poured out His Spirit, all of those lines began to blur at the Azusa Street Mission.  A black pastor led a multi-ethnic, multi-racial congregation of men and women, rich and poor, in one of the greatest revivals the world had ever seen.  How the world identified you didn’t matter, for a spiritual peoples’ movement had been born.  All could walk together, worship together, learn together, and work together.  It was radical.  It was revolutionary.  It was God’s design for humanity being re-birthed in His Church.  Even the first attempts at organization in the fledgling Pentecostal movement were interracial, open to the anointed ministries of all races and both genders.

But it didn’t last long.

In a matter of a few short years cultural and societal pressure splintered the movement into white, black, and Hispanic organizations, and we reverted to type…isolated from each other, suspicious of each other, even denigrating each other.  It seems especially sad that there was no large scale effort to tear down the barriers between us until the political and social climate had changed, and the nation at large began to shift.  Instead of leading change in our culture, we were led by the culture…a sad state of affairs that continues to be the norm.

Defining “Race”

But what is “race”?  How do we define the concept of race?  The definition is significant because how we popularly and culturally define “race” influences our understanding of Scripture.  We know that ideas evolve and develop, and that definitions change over time.  It only stands to reason that the ideas and definitions that we absorb from our current cultural context will be applied to the Bible.  But reasonable or no, it can lead to an inaccurate view of Biblical teaching.

Our definitions of “race” and “racism” had their origins in post-enlightenment Europe, and developed more fully as a direct result of the European and North American slave trade.  For the first time in the recorded history of humanity, human beings were enslaved because of the colour of their skin.  This hateful crime naturally added to the continued evolution of the idea that some groups of people were inferior to other groups of people.  While this idea was prevalent in all European colonial powers, the development of this concept reached a level in Britain and North America previously unknown in the world.  Whites were simply superior in European colonial eyes to all whose skin was a different colour.

The pain and injustice this idea has caused can never be measured.  Sadly, American society continues to be afflicted with its fallout.  While we have endeavoured to right wrongs by legislation, we are as a society as divided as ever.  Legislation cannot erase the corrupting influence of racism.  Legislation cannot sooth bitterness and cannot remedy hate.  The idea of racism has been marginalized and demonized, and everyone professes to believe that racism is evil.  Yet, the politics of race is more dominant than ever before.

To the Church

There is a message from the Word of God to the Church regarding this issue, and that message is, “No barriers!  No divisions!”  Our natural, philosophical, political, and culturally defined distinctions do not exist in Christ!  And it is tragic…even devastating…when we not only allow these divisions in the body, but encourage them.

When we allow and even encourage these barriers and distinctions in the Body of Christ, we are denying redemption, and the whole work of the Cross is made of no effect!  One of the greatest evidences of conversion in the early church was that in Christ all were one, all were equal, all were free, and all were loved.  The world may have identified Omnesimus as a slave, but Paul called him a brother.  The world may have identified Timothy as a Greek¸ but Paul said, “He’s my son!”  The world may have identified the lady of 3rd John as only a woman, but John called her chosen.  We dare not allow the barriers destroyed by the cross to be reestablished.  We dare not allow new divisions, other divisions, to be built up.

The Church must not allow itself to be divided or influenced by the world’s idea of race.  Establishing churches and ministries along racial and cultural lines is no more acceptable to God than establishing churches along the lines of gender or citizenship.  “Men only in this church!”  “Only Americans or legal immigrants in our congregation, thank you!”  Allowing and encouraging racial divisions is as ridiculous as having a First United Pentecostal Church of the Upper Middle Class…working poor need not attend!

The answer to racism in the Church begins with repentance, with the Apostolic Church on her knees, crying out to God, asking Him to forgive her for turning her back on the work He began.  The answer begins with the Church on her knees seeking God’s forgiveness for bowing to the pressure of an ungodly society to separate and segregate.  The answer begins with us in humility seeking God’s forgiveness for our failure to be the light and lead the way.

Love Is Hard

Jesus spent such a great deal of time talking about love that I wonder if he did so because he knew that the most difficult thing any of us would ever have to do is love each other.  One of the most difficult things that that any minster of the gospel will have to do is love his or her fellow ministers.

It’ll be hard because they’re different than you.

Often they’ll be very different.

While we most of us would profess to be find differences among people engaging, even stimulating, it’s more telling to take a look at your group of friends.  For the vast majority of people, the majority of their friends are remarkably like them, sharing the same values, same politics, same language, same culture, same race, same religion, and same philosophy.  Surrounding yourself with sameness is a natural thing, for sameness reduces the chance for stress and fracture.  You understand what you’re surrounded with, and it’s comfortable.

It’s hard to love those who are very different from you, and this truth shows up in the relationship the disciples had with each other.  The disciples were each very different.  While they were all taken from one religious group, about the only thing they had in common was a Judaism more or less practiced.   Reading through the gospels will provide even the most occasional reader with a glimpse into the tensions that existed between the disciples.

Loving someone very different from you takes a lot of effort, a lot of understanding, and the willingness to believe that some things don’t matter so much as other things.  The first two require that you are actually interested in someone enough to invest in building a relationship.  Sadly, most aren’t willing to do this.  Relationships with people who are the same as you are easy, but friendships with people different than you are aren’t.  The last is extremely difficult for apostolics because we tend to place the same level of significance on every belief we hold, and since they’re all significant we have no room to ‘give’ on any of them.

It’ll be hard because you’ll have conflicts with them.

Minsters don’t handle conflict with each other very well.  It’s rare that you’ll find two ministers who are able to disagree vehemently over what they feel is a very significant issue, and still be friends.  By “friends” I mean people who actually still like each other and want to be together, not the kind of “friends” who smile tightly at each other at conferences, pat each other on the back, and say, “Luv ya, bro” and never speak the rest of the year.

You will have conflicts with your fellow disciples because you’re a cluster of leaders, often with strong personalities, who believe in the rightness of your personal perspectives.  Since ministers deal with eternal issues, they tend to stand dogmatically, stubbornly sometimes, where they feel they are right.  Frankly, it’s hard to love people you’re in conflict with.

It’ll be hard because you’ll at times question their motives and values.

And you may be right in doing so.

Some ministers will seem to act from a hidden agenda, and may indeed be doing so.  It will seem at times that others act from motives that are less than pure and honourable, and may indeed be doing so.  Others may seem to have values diametrically at odds with those of our Saviour and the 12, and may indeed do so.  And if you’re doing your best to minister from a pure heart with pure motives, openly and transparently, you’ll find it hard to love those who don’t.

It’ll be hard because they’ll betray you, abandon you, isolate you…

…and any number of other decidedly unchristian things that will surprise you with their unseemliness.

They’ll actively recruit members of your church and feel justified in doing it because their hair is an inch shorter than yours and your bass player has a beard.  This makes them holier than you, and God gives them a pass on ethical behaviour.  Or because they are the best pastors in the world and your poor saints deserve to be ministered to by them rather than you.  And these things may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Two Responses

These types of things make love hard because love is connected to our emotions, whatever we say otherwise, nd these things affect our emotions.  It’s very difficult to ‘love’ those who affect your emotions negatively in such a core, fundamental way.  It’s challenging enough when someone who has a deep emotional investment in your life (parent, sibling, spouse, long-time friend) does these things.  Frankly, most of your ministerial colleagues will never connect to you in any meaningful way.  This means that it’s far easier for these kinds of things to drive wedges between you and your fellow disciples, and far harder to remain emotionally connected to them.

There are essentially two responses open to you, other than prayer and all of the other altruistic remedies and pat answers that you’ll be served up.

Redefine Love

First, you can redefine love.  That’s the first place we usually go; we redefine love in a way that allows us to maintain our emotional disconnect and even our ill will, while hiding behind a facade of ‘love’.  “It’s love like God’s love…distant, unemotional, not personal and invested.”

Yeah.  Right.  Sure.

But human beings can’t love like that.

Adjust Your Expectations

Or, you can adjust your expectations.  Instead of expecting your fellow ministers to be godly, or even Christ-like, simply expect them to be human, with all the associated conflicts and weaknesses.

When you expect them to be more than human…other than human…and they disappoint you, you will esteem them as less than human.  (With respect to Anthony Trollope) You will feel justified in doubting their calling, their real effectiveness, and you’ll even hesitate to connect people to the churches they may minster in.

The wilderness played a central role in Jesus ministry, especially in the formation of his ministry.  Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist, was a product of the wilderness.  In fact, the ancient prophets had identified John long before his birth as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness”.  John had that wildness in him; clothed in leather and camel hide, living an ascetic lifestyle, proclaiming without fear or favor the message of repentance…John was a wild man.  Later on Jesus would challenge those who had heard John’s message but disbelieved him by saying, “What did you go out to see? A reed shaking in the wind?” The very question implied that John was far from that image.  And it was John’s ministry that Jesus chose to identify himself with in baptism…the ministry of that wild man of the wilderness.

It’s interesting then, that immediately after being baptized by the great prophet of the wilderness, that Mark records (Mark 1:12-13) Jesus as being “driven” of the Spirit into the wilderness.  Jesus was driven…an emphatic verb denoting force and speed, of moving with determination toward an intended goal…into the wilderness.  Luke records him returning in the power of the Spirit from the wilderness. (Luke 4:14)

The wilderness continued to play a very important role in Jesus’ ministry; he taught there, he rested there, he prayed there, he retreated there.  And I guess that should come as no surprise, after all, the great evangelist of the Old Testament, Isaiah (that great prophet of the Incarnation) would say that the way of the wilderness was the “way of the Lord.” (Mark 1:3, Isaiah 40:3)

We, on the other hand, are not lovers of the wilderness…either in reality or metaphor.  We neither appreciate or value the place of loneliness, nor understand the significance of being alone.  Our ministerial self-talk is replete with battle imagery and the language of conflict.  But we don’t know how to handle wild places.  We understand conflict because it reflects our lives; busy, active, frenetic, noisy, frightening, and exhilarating.

But the wild is different.  It’s alternately quiet beyond death, and thundering to shake the world.  And it’s big…immense…and its immensity suffocates you.  In the wild you are insignificant.  There’s no battle there; you’re simply squashed like a bug.  Or, you are left utterly alone, with no voice, call, or cry coming to your ears.  No hum of traffic and honking horns, no busyness of errands and labors; nothing but the quiet.  There’s nothing to distract you from being aware of yourself, of your own condition.

We’d prefer the battle with its attending noise and clamor over the big empty of the wild.  The quiet frightens us, seems intrusive and oppressive.  The stillness seems a kind of death.

We Pentecostals are creatures of the world of noise, and we’ve worked hard to program the quiet out of our gatherings.  Our worship time is a rumpus, with every moment filled with voice, song or music.  Even the most humble of service-chores is performed to an accompaniment.  And in those rare moments when a pause drops unexpectedly into our gatherings, there is either an awkward shifting to resume the proper noise or a pregnant expectation for the Spirit itself to break the silence with a burst of heavenly sound.  Even our private devotion is filled with the busy rattle and hum of our chants and our cries.

We are discomfited by wild places, yet they are the most significant and essential proving grounds of ministry.  Every pastor must know what it is to walk in wild places.  Wild places teach you to know yourself.  Wild places are the birthing rooms of prophets.  Wild places are where you find the paths of the Lord, the highway of holiness. (Is 35:1-10, 40:3) The prophet Habbakuk declared that God came from the wild places, (Hab 3:3), and those who will know Him best must all take their turn in the wilderness.

Wilderness can be a place…or wilderness can be a condition.  In either case it forces a quiet desolation upon you, and there is nothing of the hurly-burly of ordinary life to keep you from listening to your own soul, to keep you from seeing your own heart. Those who will be among God’s greatest shepherds will be those who have walked in wild places.

Leadership.  Books about leadership.  Leadership training.  I’m sick to death of it all.

Let me tell you why.

I’m sick of it because it’s unnecessary.  Not that leadership is unnecessary…but all of this miscellaneous stuff that is supposed to instruct us about leadership is unnecessary.  I wonder how any of the great leaders in history became great leaders…especially when I consider that none of them had the chance to attend a “leadership” seminar, and probably never purchased a single book about “leadership”.

No, history’s great leaders didn’t learn their craft from leadership stuff.  They learned how to lead by being in contact with other leaders.  And they learned how to lead by having the responsibility of leadership placed upon them.

At the core, that’s still how any great leader will learn how to lead…not by spending a fortune on pages of pulp.  If very many people actually figure this out, then an entire industry is likely to collapse.  Good riddance.  If you’re going to read something, read the lives of great people…not a collection of some motivational speaker’s carefully selected excerpts of the lives of great people. Of course, reading anything of substance requires screwing on your brain and actually thinking…and thought is something that seems to be in short supply.  Especially among apostolics.  It’s far easier to simply parrot pithy predigested paradigms than to dig out your own lessons hidden away in the lives of the great.

And this is exactly what most “leadership” material does for us; it grants us the illusion of being able to short circuit the actual process of leadership development. But the fact remains that true leaders are not crafted in seminars, and they don’t learn to be effective by stuffing themselves full of the tripe that passes for leadership material.  Leadership is first learned in the wake of another leader, and then by actually engaging in leadership.  And this takes years of our lives…something that most in our “give-me-my-cheeseburger-in-30-seconds-or-less” society don’t have patience for.

I’m also sick to death of  “leadership stuff” because most of it is so far removed from  Biblical principles as to be utterly foreign to us…and is practically useless.  Breaking news!  This just in!  The Church is not General Electric. Or IBM.  Or Ford.  Or any of the other exploitative, profit-driven corporations that apostolic ministers obsessively look to for their models of “leadership”.  (Yes, all of you who think that capitalism came from God to earth on the eighth day of creation, I did say “exploitative”)

I’ve a suggestion for all of the apostolic ministers and leaders who’s bookshelves are filled with the wit and wisdom of those who’ve never laid a single brick in the Church of Jesus Christ; throw’em all away.  That’s right.  Cleanse your libraries of every influence that misdirects your efforts.  And barring taking such drastic measures, simply stop reading them.  I’m amazed how apostolic ministers can be so open to suggestions about how they should lead, when the authors of the material know little or nothing about God, or Christ, or His Church.

I’ve another suggestion for you.  Want to know how to lead Christ’s Church?  Read His Book.  Start with Jesus’ own lessons on leadership, the Sermon on the Mount.  Read it in as many different translations as you can get your hands on.  Then use whatever study materials you have to dissect it, and learn all it has to say.  Then figure out how to apply it in your life.  Then after you’ve applied it to your own life, teach it to your church’s leaders.

Sounds like quite a project, doesn’t it.  It is.  Shouldn’t take you more than a few years, though.  And the end result is that you’ll be a godly leader guided by the simple yet powerful principles of the Founder of our Church, rather than a frustrated CEO wannabe trying desperately to shoehorn earthly, ungodly leadership ideas into a place where they don’t fit.  And don’t belong.

And that’s what I think.

If that title doesn’t get the attention of my politically active Apostolic friends, nothing will.

Frankly, I’m amazed at some of the tripe and claptrap I’ve heard from Apostolics regarding President Obama.  From the sounds of things, he’s the Anti-Christ and Satan folded into one.  The hysteria following his election left me speechless, and the continued spewing of vitriol is a wonder to listen to.

“He’s a socialist!” (Gasp!)

“He’s going to destroy America!” (Shudder!)

Have you not been paying any attention?  After being elected as one of the most inexperienced presidents in American history, he’s proven to be one of the most ineffective presidents in American history.  He has effectively divided the country and the government and apparently doesn’t know how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

As for socialism; wake up, my American friends.  Socialism is well established in the halls of American government and it’s not going anywhere soon.  You were a socialist country when Mr. Obama was elected.  In fact, you were a socialist country when George Bush was elected.  A particular president may engage or eliminate a social program here or there, but overall it doesn’t alter the existence of American socialism.

Trouble is, when you think of socialism you think of Marxism…red flags with hammers and sickles, the USSR is coming, and all that.  But the historical fact is that when the US adopted a graduated income tax, it took its first steps toward socialism.  When Social Security was established, it was (and is) a socialistic program.  How about unemployment insurance?  Or Medicare, Medicaid, and Food Stamps?  Socialistic, all.  And I don’t know a single American that wants to get rid of all these.

What I hear some of you saying is that President Obama’s health care legislation is the problem.  That’s the real danger to the American way of life.  That’s what’s so socialistic!  Good grief.  Socialistic?  Hardly.  Requiring by law that each American purchase their own health insurance from one of the corporate behemoths that insure America isn’t socialism at all…it’s another step toward the corporate state, a thing quite different than socialism.

And when the corporate state is fully established, believe me, you’ll long for the days of good o’ American socialism.

But that’s for another post.