Generosity

3 Oct

I’m a minimalist at heart. Or at least I like to think of myself as such. I’m also generous. Then again I’ve learned my self-image isn’t always accurate. Take a purview my personal property and I’m not as a minimalistic as I confess. If a window could be opened to my heart when I give generous may not be the descriptor of what is seen.

Generosity came to mind when my wife and I were performing a toy purging. If you don’t know what a toy purging is then you are a hoarder, or you don’t have numerous small children.

Clutter & Generosity

Clutter & Generosity

‘Toy purging’ in the Johnson house is a process of weeding through toys, and even clothing, we no longer use or need; this process is a way to keep the clutter down, which is necessary with five kids ages 10 and under, and it is a way for our children to learn to be generous as well as learn what is necessary—or minimally what we think is necessary… Anyway, we were collecting toys, to give to the St. Vincent DePaul thrift store, when my oldest daughter brought me items to give away. As I rummaged through her bag I noticed none of her items actually belonged to her. After setting her strait, which meant she could only collect her stuff, I began to think about my own heart regarding possessions and generosity. Yes, my possessions are also on the auction block during a toy purging. What do I give? How do I give? Why do I give and what do I consider necessary? Am I giving begrudgingly? I hope not. Am I happily giving away other people’s stuff? My children always think so.

Generosity is easy, when what’s being given is not desirable or when it isn’t yours. Generosity is also pain free when we have more than we desire. Sharing Doritos with the kids is easy when I have a large bag, but I’m rather stingy with only a grab bag.

Giving generously is desired when it benefits the giver in some way. But is this the true heart of generosity? Or is all generosity/giving done with the benefit of the giver in mind? And is that good? Does generosity need to be selfless to be truly generous?

I’ve witnessed, and been party to generous displays of giving as mercenary acts of a benefactor seeking allegiance from a beneficiary. These acts can be done for the purpose of self-exaltation. They also can be performed as a matter of duty, or guilt, or convenience; by convenience I mean giving is consequence of a convenient action by the giver—needing more space in the garage or unloading something unwanted; much like people giving their unsold garage sale items to the St. Vinny Thrift store; or as in my family, we give to un-clutter our house.

Is true generosity a result of the desire to no longer be bothered by the stuff we’ve given? Is it simply a matter of duty? Or am I as pastor responsible to guilt people into giving? Should we give to exalt our self, or exact benefits from the recipient?

As I see it, true generosity is difficult. At some level all giving can be traced back to a mercenary heart. Generosity needs to come from a different heart that what I possess and even from the most beneficent heart that humanity can produce. While giving from a mercenary heart may still benefit the recipient it does not benefit the giver, and it seems, well… mercenary; which is always derogatory. Can generosity come from something other than a mercenary heart? More thoughts to come… Tell me what you think.

Free To Be Average

3 Sep

                            

In years past, I considered myself an intellectual. That’s why I originally ‘loved’ the sciences, and eventually studied philosophy. And it is one of the reasons why I enjoy discussing controversial issues, be they political or theological. In fact, I remember well one instance as a teenager where I infuriated my best friend to the point of temporarily rupturing our relationship. I knew he was right about the issue at hand, but I wanted to assert my intellectual dominance. I ended up looking smarter than my friend, yet I sacrificed our friendship for it. We soon carried on as before, but when finally separated by the years and miles of university life, I learned that he despised me and felt that he had lived much of that time in my shadow and under my thumb.

However, I am increasingly aware of my limitations. For reasons which I don’t understand, and much to my chagrin, God did not gift me with anything more than an average intelligence. And this fact has become increasingly clear in recent years. The effect of this realization has been fairly devastating. I’m a bit reticent to speak about things which I know nothing about, and I find it difficult to speak with real authority on any subject. Not being exceptional of mind can be paralyzing. Here are a few reasons why:

1) I’m lazy. Almost everything in life has come to me fairly easily, but I’ve never achieved greatness in anything. I was a gifted athlete, but not exceptionally so. I’m a good guitar player, but not great. I can think and write better than most (or I could in the past, at least), but not well enough for any sort of recognition. Often, I say that I am good at everything, yet great at nothing. But my mediocrity does have a root–laziness. I have never worked hard enough at any of these things to reach my full potential. Discipline does not come easily for me.

2) I have an appearance idol. This idol stems from my childhood. I learned early on from my parents that what is important in life is being entertained and making sure people think you are a good person. So, when I argued with my friend, I was more concerned with looking intelligent than actually being intelligent. Arguing, if done well, gives the appearance of intelligence. And I love looking smart.  Speaking in a certain tone, or asking certain questions, or using a particularly academic vocabulary can easily mask my ignorance and hide the fact that I don’t really know what I’m talking about.

3) I have nothing new to offer the world. Anything I can add to a discussion I have borrowed from someone else. So, why just repeat what others have already said? Even this blog post is probably patched together from my conversations with people and books. And, since I am increasingly conscious of my weakness, I assume that all those other voices have already spoken more clearly than I ever could. That being the case, why should my voice be added to the existing cacophony?

4) In general, I will look and feel better if I make no attempt at positing answers to life’s hard questionsThis last one is really a synthesis of the others, or at least it is the inevitable product of the previous three reasons. Each of the previous points build on one another. Why bother putting in the hard work of understanding difficult issues if you can just look like you understand them? And why bother finding new and interesting ways to describe things, even if it might help others better understand an issue, if you can point them to books that they will never read? After all, you will look smart and will avoid taxing your mind. Sounds good to me.

Earlier this year I ran across these verses in Ecclesiastes:

I said in my heart, ‘I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is but a striving after wind. 

       For in much wisdom is much vexation, 

       and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow.“—Ecclesiastes 1.16-18

Acquiring great amounts of knowledge, or even practical wisdom, will not guarantee a perfect and manageable life. In fact, the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know or understand about life. That is what really scares me, that no matter how much I will ever learn, it will never be enough to fully grasp all that comprises our tiny, insignificant lives (at least, when compared to all of history, the entire universe, etc.!). But, I think what the Preacher is getting at in Ecclesiastes is just that—we will never really know or understand the universe, but we can know The One who does.

At first glance, these verses seem to sap us of all ambition to know anything. That was definitely my initial reaction. But, without going into great detail, there are some amazing benefits to this realization. First, we learn that we are ultimately dependent on God for everything, even in our pursuit of knowledge. Second, many idols are exposed when we acknowledge our I sufficiency before God. My laziness and desire to look good in front of people could have remained hidden were it not for my learning humility in this area. And, thirdly, appropriating this truth in my life allows me to sit back and watch God work. It relieves the pressure of living as my own master, in evangelism and life, and lets me see my existence as a part in His plan. Nothing I do can thwart His designs, and it is He who has created me as a normal human being in order that His strength and sufficiency would be displayed in my life.

So, I am free to be normal, free to be me.

What Church Leadership Needs

28 Aug

Leadership is frequently written about. This is particularly true in the vein of church leadership. Just visit your local Christian book store and you’ll find that this subject has its own section. Then again maybe I’m the only one with twenty-five plus books about leadership on my shelves. The gross number of books on leadership might be due to the fact that true biblical leadership is so infrequently modeled in the church. Or it is simply the church following the fads of our era. Then again, maybe it is because there is a felt need for the church to return to a more biblical governance. I don’t know.

However, I do know that what the church needs is godly, faithful, and biblical leaders. I do not say this feigning the ability to actually lead, nor do I hold the corner of truth for what church leadership really needs. I fail at leading everyday. I also learn how to better lead everyday. I’m guilty at times of not modeling biblical leadership both at home and in the church. Seeking to lead my wife and children is at times more than I can handle. And the church I’m serving often feels the sting of my leadership failures. Nonetheless, I praise God for his grace and strive with all his might to be faithful in my work.

To be faithful in the ministry it is important to learn to be a more effective biblical leader. Just to be clear, this is part of faithfulness as a pastor, but not the whole. I found the article below by Alexander Strauch to be very useful toward becoming a better biblical leader. Strauch’s article truly does help the reader know what church leadership needs. Even if you are not a pastor this article can be useful for you.  I hope you find this true.

Bless Those Who Admonish You

by 

“Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Ps. 141:5). If there is a religion that unapologetically emphasizes human fallenness, sin, moral corruption, self-deceit, greed, pride, and perverse selfishness, it is safe to say that it is the religion of the Bible.

Because of our foundational beliefs in the reality of sin, Satan, and human depravity, we should understand well why people in positions of authority are easily corrupted. In fact, the more thoroughly we understand the biblical doctrine of sin, the stronger our commitment will be to genuine leadership accountability.

BIBLICAL ELDERSHIP: SHARED LEADERSHIP

God has provided for his church and its leaders a formal structure for genuine accountability, the collective leadership of a biblical eldership. Not only is this concept scriptural, it is psychologically and spiritually healthy for leaders.

The shared leadership of a biblical eldership provides close accountability, genuine partnership, and peer relationships—the very things unhealthy leaders like Diotrephes shrink from at all costs (3 John 9–10).

Shared leadership can provide a church leader with critically needed recognition of one’s blind spots, eccentricities, character weaknesses, and sins. We all have what C. S. Lewis called “a fatal flaw.” We can see these fatal flaws so clearly in others, but not in ourselves.

These fatal flaws or blind spots distort our judgment. They deceive us. They can even destroy us. This is particularly true of multitalented, charismatic leaders. Blind to their own flaws and extreme views, some talented leaders have destroyed themselves because they had no peers to confront and balance them and, in fact, they wanted none.

But this is not God’s way. God made us to live in Spirit-knit community and to have strong accountable relationships. The New Testament teaches that every member of the believing community is responsible for encouraging, praying for, exhorting, serving, admonishing, teaching, building up, caring for, and loving one another (1 Cor. 12:25Rom. 15:14Gal. 5:13Col. 3:161 Thess. 4:185:11Heb. 3:1310:24–25James 5:16;1 Peter 4:101 John 4:7).

The church elders should model for the entire church the one-another commands, including admonishing and exhorting one another. To hold one another accountable for sin is Christlike love in practice. To fail to admonish one another demonstrates not love but cowardice and selfishness.

DISCIPLINING LEADERS IN SIN

The Scripture emphatically charges the elders to confront sin within its membership or lose credibility before the church and walk in disobedience to God. The important accountability factor of a shared leadership does not work if leaders do not have the courage to confront fellow leaders regarding their sin and if there is no desire to faithfully follow the instructions of Scripture regarding a leader’s sin (1 Tim. 5:19–25).

No part of Christian ministry is more difficult than investigating, confronting, or disciplining sin in the life of a church leader. One can easily think of a thousand excuses for evading the correction or discipline of a church leader. Knowing the human propensity to avoid such harsh realities, Paul solemnly charges Timothy (and the church and its leaders) to comply with his instructions in 1 Timothy 5:19–20 regarding the discipline of a church leader: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality” (1 Tim. 5:21). Holding one another accountable for sin or failures is a matter of obedience to the Word of the Lord—it is not an option.

WELCOME CORRECTION AND REBUKE AS THE INSTRUMENT OF GOD’S HAND

Godly leaders recognize that they may be misguided or in error, so they welcome constructive criticism and correction. Proverbs repeatedly makes this point: “reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (Prov. 9:8–9).

Sadly, most of us take criticism and rebuke poorly. Because of our perverse pride, we are defensive and overly sensitive to criticism—even truthful, constructive criticism. But we can’t change for the better or grow into Christlikeness without others correcting us. In affirmation of this principle, one Christian leader said to me, “My critics have been my best teachers.”

The psalmist David expresses beautifully the attitude of humility and wisdom with which we should welcome correction: “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (Ps. 141:5).

I do not hesitate to say that the relationship with my fellow elders for almost forty years has been the most important tool God has used, outside of my marriage relationship, for the spiritual development of my Christian character, leadership abilities, teaching ministry, and sanctification in holiness.

So I ask you to get down now upon your knees before God, and with all your heart, bless those who have the courage and love to “care-front” you about your sin and character flaws. They are your real friends and teachers. They are the instruments in the hand of God to perfect holiness in your life.

Do you know what church leadership need? If so I’d like to hear from you.

Passive Acceptance

13 Aug

I’m amazed at what I and others passively accept. And in the same breath I’m amazed at what is deemed unthinkably unacceptable. Look to ancient Rome, the day of gladiators, the Parthenon, slaves, and prisoners of war; all thrown to destruction for the sake entertainment and the building of a warrior society. The modern mind might think, ‘how could that be entertaining, or justifiable as an ideal? Those deeds were unthinkably unacceptable.’  Indeed, how can loss of life at the hands of a gladiator, a seasoned killer, or against a wild beast be entertainment or anything else?

 

Maybe the ancient mind can be understoodif we think from the seat of the ancient spectator. The reasoning of some may have proceeded like this: Slaves are used in these barbaric arenas. Slaves are regarded less than human or at least not worth as much as they are sold and traded like livestock. So, seeing them die is of no consequence. Remember that was the mind of the spectator or event coordinator and not my own. gladiator Now consider the prisoner of war, they too were placed in the gladiators arena. The prisoner once threatened safety and the life of the Roman, along with the Roman dream, therefore they were deemed enemies and worthy of death, not to mention useful toward the end of building a warrior culture. Seeing them perish at the hands of a famed gladiator was a delight as it presented the promise of victory, safety, and power.

Don’t misunderstand, there were plenty of people who found these practices offensive. My point however is that people, including myself, possess amazing blindness to self and culture; coupled with uncanny powers of self-justification. I have found in others, myself included, the tendency to justify our culture and its deeds, all the while criticizing others for their ill deeds. And when we do criticize our culture it is a part of the culture that we seemingly feel detached from.

notebook

Not convinced? Well, think about things in our culture. As children of our culture it is common to end up supporting things of culture that are base, immoral, and against God.Think of a love story. In numerous movies the audience ends up rooting for the adulterous relationship to workout because it represented true love.  Yet, while it is evil in the eyes of God, most people have the feeling that true love is more important than marital fidelity. Or at least that it is better to sin and seek forgiveness than end up unhappy. Pursuing the notion of true love–the illusive once in a life-time thing–brings an audience to permit all sorts of treachery, as long as it works for the character to whom we’ve been endeared.

 

Still not convinced? Consider the action movie. ramboThis genre of movie allows the viewer to satisfy blood lust while abstaining from actual violence. The story is written in such a way to justify revenge and violence, as if there were no other way. The hero doesn’t really want to, but…the back-story justifies the deeds; therefore the audience roots for the ‘hero’.  Some acts of justice and heroism might be legit in movies—I mean Sharknado must be full of heroism and justice—but mostly action movies glory in one-ups-man-ship, revenge, and twisted notions of justice; while the deeply engaged viewer is sympathetic to the ‘hero’s’ atrocious behavior.

Still not convinced? Think about abortion. Abortion is something that the masses have accepted as perfectly fine. How? By redefining personhood. If we regard a person to be such only at later stages in life, rather than at conception, then abortion is justifiable. If a person can be deemed not a person then what does it matter? The same is true with euthanasia, if we regard personhood to be terminated because of certain inabilities, problems, or infirmities then putting someone down because they became less than human makes sense.

I’m not wanting to debate euthanasia, abortion, movies, or ancient Rome. What I do want to point out is how desensitized we are to the horrors of our age. We mustn’t criticizing others for their blindness to injustice, while we blindly justifying our culture and ourselves. Rather than criticizing others maybe each person should withhold judgment, look to his or her own self, and accept their share of guilt. A little self-awareness reveals the hardness of the heart against God and all that he has commanded. Maybe a time of self-reflection along with prayer and reading the Word of God will help reveal the hardness of your heart? I know it has mine.

Praying

11 Jun

prayingPraying is a personal discipline I hope to grow in and write much about, here is a previous blog on prayer. If one were to examine my prayer habits they might witness a great diligence in the discipline. It might be assumed that I have prayer figured out. Believe it or not I’m not boasting in this, if my heart were as transparent as my visible acts a different conclusion would be made. There is no boast here. After years of exercising the discipline of prayer I still struggle in a number of different areas. To possess a rich and thriving prayer life is more complicated than submitting to the Nike theory of prayer—Just Do It! In this post I will share a few of my personally struggles in prayer. I will engage with each idea briefly with the intent to expound more fully in later posts.

First, repetition breeds laziness in my heart. This is not repetition’s fault; it’s my heart’s fault. When one devotes daily time to pray beyond mealtime prayers it will become evident. Shoot, even in prayer at meals it’s evident. When people become familiar with anything we have a tendency to take it for granted or be lazy in it. Ceasing in prayer, giving into a fleshly tendency, is not the solution. We are to pray with out ceasing. Unfortunately I don’t have a spontaneous desire for prayer that would be labeled unceasing. Thus, by faith I must discipline my heart to submit to Scriptural command for unceasing prayer. One prayer I offer up frequently when I feel my heart grow cold is, ‘Father, grant me the strength to pray unceasingly with all my heart.’ Unless God grants this I will continue to flail in the laziness of my own heart.

Second, manipulating God in prayer. Sounds ridiculous, I know—like, who thinks that God can be controlled by the ever changing-flippant-incessant-fickle-demands of people? Nonetheless, I’ve found at times I use prayer in a way that I abhor. I’m rather sure I have preached that Christians shouldn’t use prayer as a means to control God. However over time prayer has become for me a means to an end. While I no longer praying for that Lamborghini, I do pray in churchy and selfishly ways. What I mean is that I use prayer to get what I want, feeling at times as though my devotion earns me the favor of getting prayers answered. This is not how prayer works. If God answers prayer it is because of grace and not my devotion. Don’t get me wrong we need to be devoted to prayer, but prayer is not for selfish gain, and if God answers the fervent prayers of the righteous his answers are because of the grace of Jesus Christ’s imputed righteousness to the one praying . ‘O Lord, incline my heart to your testimonies and not to selfish gain. Teach me of your grace and make me to know your ways.’

While the Nike theory of prayer is necessarily good, so is disciplining our heart and not only our time spent praying. Christian, we need is to discipline our hearts to actually pray and not just give lip service. Prayer is not a tool to control God. Prayer is a most magnificent gift from God as a means of communing with Him. How have you struggled in prayer? or How have you overcome in your struggle as you learn to pray?

Deconstruction Dan

25 Apr

My friend Dan the artist told me about a book he’s been listening to about idols of the heart. The author said that the idols he was talking about always came back to the concept of debt. Somebody owes somebody something. Then he dropped a bomb on me. I’ve been screwed up ever since. Maybe I should call him Deconstruction Dan. Or, Dan the prophet.

Jealousy is telling God that He owes you something.

Unsatisfied with what you have, you complain that He hasn’t given you what you actually need. And so you look for what God owes you in the lives of others.

Guilty as charged.

Soon to come, some thoughts on how I’ve been trying to battle jealousy with God’s promises.

Beauty of God in Creation

18 Apr

L-11Woke by a flash of light and an eruption of noise: the One who said, “Let there be light” and, “let light shine out of darkness,” brought forth a burst of radiance into my room early this morning, as he once shone into my heart the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Thunder and Lightning covered Southern Indiana’s early morning sky, reminding me of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. My mind recalled a familiar passage, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork,” O’ a sweet moment of worship. Power, beauty, and splendor shook the walls of my home in the watches of the night. An electrified sky rattled windows telling me again, “God is Lord over all.” Burning flashes of light penetrated every corner of my room, running before crackling and rumbling skies—“Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.” Creation spoke the power and excellence of its Master. The psalmist asks, “For who in the skies compares with the Lord?” None compare, beside him there is no other. I praise God through Jesus Christ my Lord for such sweet thoughts early this morning.

Jonathan Edwards found such beauty and majesty in creation. In many ways my simple meditation regarding the beauty of creation and the manifest glory of God are inspired by his writings. Here is an excerpt from a book detailing his views of God’s excellency and beauty in creation.

And scarce anything, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning. Formerly, nothing has been so terrible to me. I used to be a person uncommonly terrified with thunder: and it used to strike me with terror, when I saw a thunderstorm rising. But now, on the contrary, it rejoices me. I felt God at the first appearance of a thunderstorm. And used to take the opportunity at such times, to fix myself to view the clouds, and see the lightnings play, and hear the majestic and awful voice of God’s thunder: which often times was exceeding entertaining, leading me to sweet contemplations of my great and glorious God. And while I viewed, used to spend my time, as it always seemed natural to me, to sing or chant forth my meditations; to speak my thoughts in soliloquies, and speak with a singing voice.” (Works 16, 794; The Essential Edwards Collection on Beauty, pg 52).

Do you see the beauty of God in creation? Or his majesty in the midst of the storm?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 83 other followers

%d bloggers like this: