Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The flawed leader

Recently, I was talking with a friend about a great tidbit of wisdom from one of my mentors in ministry, about the importance of character in both the private and public eye. My mentor, it turned out, at the time of the advice, was involved in some serious character issues--hence in my telling, I was highlighting the hypocrisy and expressing my frustration. My friend commented, "Yes, but as a leader, I have given advice that I'm not living out. I don't always walk the truth, even if I know it."

My friend's comment helped me settle the struggle I was having; it served a purpose for me. And yes, we do often know what to do and not be doing it, and there are times we must share a truth we are personally struggling with. I know one time, the Lord brought someone across my path, and as I gave her Wise Counsel from my Knowledge of the Truth, my own words became a lecture to myself, as if the Lord were clearing His throat in my ear during the entire conversation. He was probably pointing at me sideways too, if anyone happened to be watching. While wearing an "I'm with Stupid" shirt. Okay, maybe it just felt like that.

This leads me to two thoughts. First of all, many of the leaders in churches I'm involved in have small children (or no children). The Bible says that our elders should have children who obey them, because they manage their households well. Their children should be believers. Some leaders are off the hook, because at when your kids are age two, they almost all look like they follow Jesus. They at least sing the songs pretty loud. With a child age fifteen, more parents struggle.

I tend to gravitate toward naturally dynamic people who lead in the church regardless of elder qualifications. Like most of the youth pastors I know. The good parents I know wouldn't be as much fun to follow, if they were the leaders. And yet...maybe I should be following the people who have managed to raise their kids well. Just because you can throw a good party and engage my kids in great relay games doesn't mean you are setting an example for a godly family. I wonder what THAT youth program would look like, the one run by successful, grace-filled parents. I bet they'd have more meetings with the parents, and we wouldn't have to drink a blended Happy Meal.

Secondly, I wonder if it's not appropriate, more often than we think, to share our struggles, even when we're leaders. I've been leading a Bible study, and one night I complained to my husband how hypocritical I felt. I'm not a teacher, I told him...I just want to read the Bible with these women. That conversation led to a change in the format of our study that has richly blessed me. I didn't confess in front of the group, but the honest confession, even in private, helped propel me to something more genuine.

Today during our study, I confessed wildly and freely how anxious I have been, especially as a parent, and the women in our group encouraged me to apply God's truth (Philippians 4:6-7). Instead of me exhorting the group to be thankful and trust God with their situation, I let my own bad example hang out, and they laughed and corrected me. That's good stuff right there. It's good for me to not always be the Wisest Person in the Room, and it is good for them to apply the Scripture to me in an honest environment.

I don't have any great conclusion about being a flawed human and being a leader. Do you have any thoughts?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Sometimes we don't focus

Take a minute to read the story we title "At the Home of Mary and Martha" from Luke 10:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I wonder if Mary was ADHD.

Have you ever lived with someone who has the condition we now call "attention deficit with hyperactivity disorder"? I think ADHD, like autism and Asperger's, are not mental illnesses to be cured. They are descriptive of people's brains, and because these brains tend to lack some of the skills for successful people in American culture, we have identified them and seek to "help." In truth, we all need help. We need nurture and guidance and discipline. Our culture finds it useful to identify these particular groups. It would be funny to me if a culture diagnosed it's Type A people as the disturbed ones.

"The Type A's in my class have me so concerned! They just can't relax," one frustrated teacher expresses in the teacher's lounge to her colleagues.

"I know," another answers. "It's so unhealthy."

So let's pretend Mary is ADHD. She grows up never really doing the chores assigned to her, while her older sister, a true Type A, faithfully carries out her duties as well as often picking up the slack for little Mary. Mary daydreams. Mary forgets things. Mary is irresponsible. Of course, Martha is eventually placed in charge of the household, and her reputation as a good and industrious woman spreads for miles. But her

You would think, just this once, when someone as important as JESUS, the possible Messiah sent from GOD, comes to their home, that Mary could once, just once, actually focus and help.

But Mary is focused. She is focused on Jesus.

This time, she's not lost in thought while standing over a sink full of dishes. She's not sitting with the trash bag next to her, scratching in the dirt, forgetting that she's supposed to be taking it to the neighborhood incinerator and then hurrying home. She's sitting with Jesus. Mary has heard all her life about how she's not doing things right. This time, this fragile, unrespected soul is doing the right thing.

Martha knows that finally an authority is here to correct her flighty sister.

But Jesus corrects Martha instead.

Mary was the gift to the family. Mary, at this crucial visit, made the best choice.

And the warning in this story is like the warning Jesus gave so many of us: So you think you're doing everything right? Come and sit down.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Attractive is easy

Grace is a beautiful thing, but it messes with me. Religion, however, provides a comfortable environment, where I can feel good about myself. After all, religion lets me line up the rules that I personally keep well, quietly ignore the ones that trouble me, and condemn those who don't keep my Top Three. Religion allows me to gather around me people who are like me, and we can feel comfortable together. It's a pretty good system. Trust feels good!

Imagine Jesus' disciples. I don't think they were a homogenous group. You have blue collar fishermen, your basic good Jewish people, mixing with a zealot, a former tax collector, followers of John the Baptist, these women that He seemed to attract (from rich ones to former harlots). People would join the group and then wander away--sometimes the really good ones left, like that one rich young ruler, but then people who had received healings would stick around. It sounds good, but someone who has lived their life as a beggar doesn't have the best social skills...always excited and happy, hugging people and just really inappropriate and awkward. No sense of social boundaries, ya know?

And Jesus is not very "with it" either, sometimes. He accepts rich gifts, and yet there's no clear headquarters, more homeless wandering than any sense of belonging. Sometimes He heals the weirdest people, and then Lazarus gets sick and He won't budge. He doesn't really address the real problems, like the Roman oppression. And He draws confusing lines, like that whole thing about the most blessed people not making it into heaven. God pours out blessing on our wisest leaders, the best families, and Jesus is like, oh, they're a den of thieves.

Everyone gravitates towards the familiar, the comfortable. But lately, I have been overwhelmed by people who make me uncomfortable. When I look at their hearts, I see their value--intrinsic, beautiful value given them by God. And yet, their choices offend me. The Lord is watching me like Gandalf, that wise, knowing look, and simply saying, "Hmm," while I struggle with my prejudices. Did you know that the actor who plays Gandalf is gay? Why is the Lord standing near my shoulder in the guise of a brilliant gay British actor?

To find the photo towards the top of this blog entry, I googled "images happy group." When I tried "images ugly people," I was presented with a list of webpages inviting me to laugh at pictures of "ugly people." One of them was tagged, "A collection of weird people that will make you feel extra normal." We don't love what is unattractive to us. We don't look at someone who is making different choices and see their beauty. We just laugh and feel better about ourselves. We've picked a Top Three that makes us feel good and safe.

Jesus doesn't give us that option.

Are there people in your life who offend you? Good for you. Love them with the grace that God gives. Ask for His eyes, and pray, pray, pray. If everyone in your circles is like you, then ask for the eyes of Jesus. He is glad to provide heart-stretching exercises.

I was once ugly and outcast. Jesus looked at me and saw my value, despite my decisions, despite my flawed efforts. He is in the business of seeing the unattractive, and I am grateful.

The photo of flowers was taken by Dawn McKenney-Acree on a trip to Moore, Oklahoma, after the devastating 5/20/13 tornado. The roses were blooming amidst some demolished property. Thanks for letting me use this great shot, Dawn!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The word "follow"

Jesus said, "Follow me." In my churches, we talk a lot about "asking Jesus into your heart" or "trusting Jesus with your life." But let's just look at the word "follow."

You have to decide to follow someone. Even if you inadvertently walk behind them for a few blocks, you can be going about your own business, and those blocks were just coincidence. You follow by decision. You stop doing your own thing and having your own purpose. Instead, you submit to the choices that another is making.

If you are going to follow someone, you have to keep your eye on them. You can't just announce, "I am following Shirley!" and then Shirley goes around a corner and you pick up your magazine again. In Christian circles, we talk about the importance of going to church, praying, reading your Bible. These activities can get legalistic, but their purpose is clear: keep your eye on Jesus. Remind yourself of the One you are following, or you will lose track and end up with your nose in that magazine again.

Finally, if you are going to follow, you have to keep moving. Jesus doesn't stand still. (Okay, sometimes He does, and that can be maddening if you are the high-action type. But if you're following, then you stop when He stops. It's one way you learn that you're not in charge.) Sometimes Jesus will turn into a neighborhood where you don't want to be, or walk up to someone to start a conversation that you would rather avoid. Following involves the ongoing realization that you are not in charge. Your steps are no longer your own.

Pretty simple, right?