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I definitely need to preface the presentation of the following list with the understanding that I’m not saying that these traits are ungodly or undesirable; but as the church in America has in many instances veered dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality, I think it is important to understand that these characteristics are only worthwhile to the degree that they are brought into submission to Christ Jesus, and the power of His Holy Spirit.

 

  1. Knowledgeable: Though warnings about the danger of being led astray by our emotions seem to be more prevalent in the church today, the scripture puts a far greater emphasis on how our thoughts and ideas can pull us off track.  The Bible cautions us that knowledge can puff a man up, warns us not to lean on our own understanding and reminds us that even in the best case scenario our perspective will only be a partial piece of a much bigger picture.  In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were the most knowledgeable authorities on matters of scripture and yet they were unable to discern the very One those scriptures pointed to, even as He stood before them.  Though I’m not an advocate of empty-headed theology, we cannot put our hope in what we know and/or understand. In fact, Jesus said that anyone who will not receive His kingdom like a little child will not enter it.
  2. Practical: While I tend to be a fan of what most people refer to as “common sense”, my enthusiasm is tempered by the understanding that God’s ways are much higher than ours and thus what He wants may not always make sense to me.  The Bible goes so far as to say that there is a way which naturally seems right to a man, but that it will ultimately lead to death.  In the well known Bible story of Mary and Martha, we see Martha take the more practical approach with her guest, only to have Jesus tell her that Mary had made the wiser choice.  We too can fall into that same trap, as we endeavor to serve God when we really need to be cultivating our relationship with Him.
  3. Confident: Undoubtedly God wants us to be confident about some things, but I’ve noticed that those things are always centered on Him. He wants us to know that we can come “boldly” before His throne of grace; that He will never leave us, nor forsake us; and that He works all things to the good of those who love Him and are called to His purposes.  The problem with confidence is when it drifts from who He is and what’s He’s accomplished for us to who we think we are and what we want to accomplish.  While God has indeed given us good gifts, our confidence cannot be in the quality of those gifts, but in His willingness to work through them.  A common term for misplaced confidence is pride, which inevitably invites God’s resistance.
  4. Charismatic: One of the most misleading images in all of Christendom is the representation of Satan as a little horned creature with a pitchfork.  The Bible says that our enemy comes disguised as an angel of light; that false prophets, performing signs & wonders, will deceive many; and that when the Anti-Christ comes, he will initially be perceived as a man of peace.  The idea that evil will present itself in a way that is repugnant to us is foolishness and yet there seems to be an increasing willingness in our culture to place our confidence in those whose appearance is attractive and whose words seem compelling.  Recent history is littered with examples of persona and personality eclipsing issues of character; but character is at the heart of God’s plan for us.  The Bible says that it is the destiny of every Believer to be transformed into the image of Christ and that the fruit of God’s Spirit dwelling within us is Christ’s character being revealed through us.  For a follower of Jesus Christ, an attractive appearance, an engaging personality and a persuasive argument, are hardly qualifications for leadership; ultimately it is the character of Christ that is the essential trait.
  5. Goal Oriented: As with all of the other traits on this list, setting goals certainly has its place within our lives; but the danger in becoming “goal oriented” is that our goals can take on an unhealthy prominence within our priority system.  Goal oriented people often seem willing to sacrifice people and relationships for the sake of attaining their desired outcomes; and their focus on goals often seems to impair their ability to maintain a healthy perspective in other areas.  The Bible tells us that we need to fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  It also says that the fulfillment of God’s law is found in loving Him and loving other people.  Goals that are unrelated to these priorities threaten to be little more than distractions.
  6. Empowered: To be sure, it is God’s intent to grant His children access to the power of heaven, which He accomplishes through the in-dwelling of His Holy Spirit, but I believe that it is important to realize that there is nothing virtuous about the pursuit of power. The world loves power, Satan loves power, our flesh craves and responds to power.  While we may rationalize that the pursuit of Gods power is somehow different, I would submit that isn’t necessarily true.  The Bible warns that the heart can be deceptive and I believe that it is essential that we continually check our motivation.  While we serve a God of power and while His power is inherent in the gifts that He’s given us, I don’t believe it was ever meant to be the object of our pursuit.  Our pursuit needs to be after the person of Jesus Christ and of a loving, meaningful, personal relationship with Him.  The fact that this power comes infused within His very being indicates that it was never His intent for us to implement that power apart from Him.  Those who attempt to apply spiritual authority (i.e. power) in areas or ways that God has not ordained are at risk of unwittingly deriving their empowerment from “other” spiritual sources.
  7. Visionary: In our culture, the word “vision” can mean many things; it can mean how well we see (i.e. our visual acuity); or it can refer to a dreamlike state, where images permeate our conscious mind; or it can refer to our long term goals and the strategies for achieving them. Just as the term vision has multiple contexts, so has the term “visionary”.  Whereas there was once a very spiritual connotation to the term, it now seems that anyone who has an active imagination or the ability to “visualize” their ideas can be viewed as a “visionary”.  The problem with such visionaries is that they can tap into any number of sources for their vision.  Visions that are not birthed from the Spirit of God, but are instead derived from observations, imaginations, aspirations… would probably be more accurately called wishes, dreams or fantasies.  Proverbs 28 (NIV) addresses the idea of fantasies when it says, “one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty”.  In view of this scripture, it would seem vital that we discern the origin of a “vision” before we choose to embrace it.  I believe that apart from divine inspiration, a “visionary” will inevitably just build a monument to themselves
  8. Proactive: It is commonly held that God helps those who help themselves, but that’s not something that God chose to say about Himself (in scripture).  In fact, the Bible says that they that wait on the Lord are the one’s who renew their strength and rise up as on the wings of eagles.  It could be argued that the Israelites were being proactive when their attack on the Philistines caused them to lose the Ark of the Covenant; just as it could be said of Peter’s efforts to protect Jesus from the Temple Guard in the Garden of Gethsemane.  While being proactive is generally viewed as an essential element of what we consider to be good leadership, for a “follower” of Christ, responsiveness (i.e. to God’s direction) is the greater virtue.
  9. Experienced: It has been said that with age comes wisdom and hopefully if we endeavor to learn along the way, this should be true. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed certain patterns in life, which makes it easier to anticipate what might be around the next bend.  But the walk of faith differs from our natural journey in that God isn’t necessarily bound to work in the same way twice.  Throughout the Old Testament we see Him orchestrate victory for His people through many different means.  In one case He brings Joshua victory through Moses upheld arms; in another the walls of Jericho fall to the shouts of His wandering tribes (Joshua 6); in yet another case the angel of death wipes out 185,000 enemy soldiers in their sleep because of Hezekiah’s prayer (2 Kings 18 & 19); while in still another instance their enemies turn on each other as Jehoshaphat leads the people onto the battlefield while praising the Lord (2 Chronicles 20).  The danger for those who have experienced victory in their faith journey is that they might come to presume that they have found the formula for success with God.  Today’s Christian Bookstores are filled with books (& other media) that have been built on the premise that, My Experience + God Moved = This is How to have Success with God.  Since faith is an essential element for God’s pleasure, it seems unlikely that He would honor any sort of rote approach.  Experience in our walk with God is only valuable to the extent that it convinces us that He is our only source, our only hope and our only goal.
  10. Open Minded: Jesus said that we must love God with all of our heart, soul & mind (Mat. 22:37); and that He wasn’t willing to do anything that He didn’t see the Father do first (John 5:19). This is not a picture of a mind that is open (i.e. receptive) to just anything, but of one that is reserved for a single purpose.  The scripture also says that we must test everything by the Spirit (1 John 4:1); taking every thought captive, making it obedient to Christ; and demolishing every argument & pretense that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5).  This is not a picture of an open door, but of a guarded gate.  The open mind looks for “new truth”, while the Christ-centered mind seeks a greater revelation of the truth that has always been.

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The problem with continually trying to numb yourself to pain is that you eventually lose the capacity to feel anything, other than the steadily growing anxiety that your next step might hurt.

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I grew up in a military family, normally living on Air Force bases with other military families. After high school, I joined the Navy, and for another decade lived/worked amongst people with differing backgrounds, diverse ethnicity, and varying belief systems.  The military made little allowance for our differences; once you donned the uniform you were expected to work together toward the greater mission.  I didn’t recognize it at the time, but this dramatically affected my understanding of community and family.  Even decades later, I still have many friends (and family) who don’t necessarily believe the things that I believe.  They grew up differently than I did, their life experience has led them to draw different conclusions than I have, and ultimately they view the world through a different lens than I do.  To me, this is not only how it’s always been, but also how it ought to be.  This doesn’t mean that we have nothing in common.  They love their families, value their communities, and hope to live in peace, just as I do.  I find my life is enriched, and my understanding is expanded, by remaining engaged with people who don’t necessarily think, act and live like I do.  Thus, I continue to seek the common ground that we all share.

 

When social media platforms like Facebook emerged, I found them to be a great way to stay connected, especially with friends and family who are literally spread all over the world. At its best, it has allowed us to remain connected in ways we couldn’t have otherwise.  No doubt, I want to celebrate their joys with them, and pray for them when they’re in a struggle, and to honor them when they’re gone.  But these days there seems to be a lot of pressure to use social media (and every other available platform) as a bully pulpit, where we exalt our preferences, ridicule those who have a differing point of view, and dare people to “Unfriend” us if they don’t like what we have to say.  People who refuse to participate in this battle of angry rhetoric are increasingly being criticized for not taking a side, accused of remaining “neutral” on the important issues of the day, and even being compared to those who stood by in Nazi Germany, doing nothing to stop the Holocaust.  As it goes with all the other points of view floating around cyberspace, they’re entitled to their opinion, and they’re also entitled to express it, but I don’t find their arguments compelling.

 

I believe that finding and cultivating the common ground that we share makes for stronger and more united communities. Building and strengthening these bonds of community is an essential first step in addressing the larger social issues we face.  Standing on opposite sides of the street, throwing rocks at each other isn’t going to achieve anything other than our eventual destruction.  I’m not sure what people think their vitriol achieves, but if posting an angry meme on social media is the extent of one’s activism, they’ve not done much.  Getting a bunch of folks, who already agreed with you, to “Like” your post doesn’t really effect change. If there is genuine oppression, it’s going to cost a lot more than some heated words to stand up to it.  If we are successful in alienating everyone who doesn’t look, think, and act like we do, we’ll have simply set the stage for civil war.  If we want to better understand the issues, we need to engage in meaningful dialogue with people of diverse viewpoints.  If we want to battle racism, we need to engage in meaningful relationships with people of other races.  If we want to battle poverty, we need to engage in the process of creating opportunities or providing aid to the underprivileged…  If we were that committed to change, we’d probably be too busy to spend so much time on Facebook.

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It’s a dangerous thing to mistake imagination for intuition.

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When we praise the Lord, we are acknowledging what He has done in the past, what He is doing today, and what He’s going to do in the future,  We are recognizing His influence on our lives, bowing to His will, and submitting to His authority.  There can be great power in those times, and a tangible sense of connection between the spiritual and natural realms.  Unfortunately, when we indulge in self-pity, we are doing the exact same thing for our adversary.  In such moments our struggles are magnified beyond reality, and our view of God’s provision becomes eclipsed. 

 

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I heard a couple of sermons on Sunday, one of which spoke of “The King”, and the other that addressed holiness. They put me in mind of something I wrote many years ago.  I guess I never published it, because I had to dig it out of an old notebook.

 

Church Government

 

I saw a picture in my mind of the British Parliament, and I sensed the question, “Is England a Monarchy or a Democracy?”  Now this seemed to be a fairly unspiritual question, but I began to ponder my answer.  My immediate impulse was to say it was a monarchy, but the picture of the parliament reminded me that it was in fact a democracy.   While England does have a “Royal Family”, they actually have no real function within the day-to-day running of the country.  While some might claim that they still have a “monarchy”, it is not their way of government.

 

As I continued to meditate in this vein another question came; “Why are the people of England willing to pay the expense of this royal family, when they serve no real purpose in the governing of their country?”  I sensed that the answer lies in the people’s desire to be associated with the monarchy. That all of the pomp and trappings of royalty make the people feel royal about themselves, as though this distinguishes them from other countries.  It occurred to me that if the people of England really believed in the concept of a monarchy (i.e. that the royal family was God ordained and bred for leadership) that there wouldn’t be anyone else they would want to run their country; but instead they have chosen democracy as their form of government.

 

Certainly as an American I can appreciate democracy, because as a citizen I want my beliefs and desires to be reflected in the leadership of my community, my state and this nation.  There is nothing wrong with the British choosing democracy over a monarchy, but their desire to maintain the trappings of royalty creates an interesting illusion; it helps them to view themselves as one thing when they’re really something else.

 

As I continued to pray, I sensed the Lord say that this is a picture of His church.  He said that though we claim Him as “King”, He is rarely allowed to be involved in the decision making process, or the day to day affairs of the church; that decisions are primarily made by the people and for the people; that though we desire to be associated with His majesty, we do not necessarily desire to submit to His authority, and that though His name appears on the letterhead, the words of the message do not necessarily come from Him.

 

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul warned of the body becoming disconnected from the Head; he said, “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.  It seems that much of popular Christian culture has based itself on “the basic principles of this world”, and that in attempt to become relevant to the world, we’ve conformed ourselves to what we think will be found appealing in the marketplace.  Much of the “Christian” guidance (i.e. books, tapes, seminars…) on subjects like marriage, child rearing, inner healing… are more rooted in psychology than in God’s word, and we’ve even begun to study the corporate world for marketing strategies to be deployed within the church.  Based on these strategies, which put “what the people want” at the forefront, we are now seeing new interpretations (read; not necessarily translations) of scripture, which subtly distort anything which might offend someone who has adapted to the current cultural view.

 

In the book of Revelation there are messages to seven churches, which seem to be representative of the end time churches.  Within those the Lord points out some positive things, but He also gives stern warnings about the things He has against them.  He warns about forsaking our first love (i.e. allowing something other than Christ to be at the forefront of the church); that we must being willing to endure hardship and suffering (i.e. be willing to forsake our comfort); against adhering to false doctrines, which allow us to indulge our flesh and still believe that we are righteous before a Holy God; against tolerating sexual immorality within the church; against falling asleep, and not fulfilling His role for the church and against being lukewarm in our relationship with Him.  It is hard to deny that all of these things are prominently featured within modern Christianity.

 

At the end of each message there is a promise, but those promises are reserved for those who overcome these things.  Despite warnings throughout the New Testament, the Western church seems to be falling into many of these deadly patterns.  Our only hope is to re-connect to the Head, to tune our ears to His Holy Spirit; to renew our relationship with our “First Love”, to seek the Lord while He may be found, and to be like Jesus (e.g. to only do what we see the Father doing first).

 

Within this portion of Revelation, the one group the Lord doesn’t seem to have an issue with is the church of Philadelphia, which He says kept His word and did not deny His name.  This seems to be such a basic principle and yet this is the only church of which He could say this.  If we would choose to be that church, the promises of God are waiting for us there.  “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  He, who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

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Back in the early 1970s, Motown artists, “The Undisputed Truth” had a big hit with their song, “Smiling Faces Sometimes”. I appreciated the “Sometimes” in the title, because more often than not I believe there is something genuine behind a smile, but not always.  Aside from being a great record to listen to, the song’s lyrics contained a warning that is still worth remembering today. They said:

 

Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend

Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within

Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes they don’t tell the truth

Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies and I got proof

 

later it adds

 

Beware of the handshake

that hides the snake

I’m telling you beware of the pat on the back,

it just might hold you back

 

The fact that people can be deceptive isn’t exactly breaking news, but within our current cultural climate I’m sensing a growing level of susceptibility toward soothing and sympathetic voices. Given the terse rhetoric that dominates our societal landscape, it’s not hard to understand the desire for a friendlier, more welcoming tone, but like the song says, appearances can be deceiving.

 

Beware of the sympathetic voice that encourages you to see yourself as a victim, it may be the thing that keeps you from overcoming the past

Beware of the compassionate voice that tells you that you can’t help being addicted, it may just want to be your new drug (e.g. Suboxone, Methadone…) supplier

Beware of the benevolent politician who offers to take care of you, they may well be working on their own private pension plan

Beware of the zealot who offers you a scapegoat for all your troubles, they may be distracting you from the real enemy

 

Remember that not everyone who agrees with you is for you, and not everyone who disagrees with you is against you.

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