Monday, December 14, 2009

Trading Blindness for Kindness

Today's opening pitch... The fruits of the Spirit.

Yes, most of us can recite them from memory or have the general jist at least; however, one fruit has defiantly distinguished itself in my mind, given a) its history of being sharply undermined and b) possessing an importance seldom (and partially) communicated.

So without much further ado.

Kindness.

A deep fruit we'd rather keep superficial and somewhat cursory. First off, we tend to give gravity to kindness as virtue, as compared to fruit or gift. Typically we'd rather associate kindness to hospitality and chivalry, while imprudently shaking kindness free of its deserving value.

Let's bring out our Scriptural contestants.

I Corinthians 13:4-5 - "Love suffers long (is patient) and is kind...love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek it own, is not provoked, thinks no evil..." (NKJV)

Paul's love talk introduction to the Corinthians here seeks to designate love as the main entrèe to Christ-centered living within God's presence. And the fruits' role, as a whole(1), exist primarily to manifest this divine, covenant-bound love within such Christian living (or koinonia). We can see through a popular Paul passage, the close relationship between love and kindness. Though the tie is manageable to understand, it can be far more difficult in terms of application in most faith circles.

Peter emphasized the kindness-love affiliation in II Peter 1:7, 9 - "...add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly KINDness, and to brotherly KINDness love...for he who lacks these things is short-sighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was clansed from his old sins." (NKJV)

Ahhh, how beautiful! (Air kiss (2)) Our two dominant New Testament voices (3) early in their respective letters capitalizing on the chance to express the entwined link between kindness and love.

Again, if we merely slap the friendship label on kindness, we have hindered a key relational definition. If we love, we are demonstrating kindness. If we portray kindness, love should be evident, not absent. But tragically, kindness is often belittled to mere facade, essentially removing depth from the fruit's bloom. Goodbye virtuous command. Enter hapless shallowness.

The combination of personal experience and time has shed light on a weakness prevalent in my generation: though many have acquired kindness, it has remained conditional. As a result, the love that follows suit is conditional at best.

How unfortunate it is that kindness is something we save for those we simply 'click' with best. How sad it is we rather trade genuine kindness for satisfactory blindness, where the chief character - the loveless artist - avoids mental pursuits of how a simple shun can greatly affect another's heart.

Perhaps the 'kindness fail' isn't intentional, but it still happens. And if the church is going to wake up and smell the coffee, I say we absolutely cannot justify iniquity with the "unintentional' precursor.

Diving into my final passage on the matter, I call Jeremiah 2:2:

"...Thus says the Lord: I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after me in the wilderness, in a land now sown." (NKJV)

What does the Word say about kindness?

It is active. It pursues. It is courageous. It is fearless. And it's imperative to exercise and cultivate at a young age.

Also, it's worthy to note that the Hebrew definition points towards loyalty and faithfulness (a.k.a. Love's enduring backbone).

So as a final charge, I encourage you to not sleep on kindness. Robe it on when you love. And remember its depth in relation to attitude, especially when out of comfort zones. If we are called to love well, shatter the mold and trade blindness for kindness.

Footnotes:

(1) - Yay, for unplanned rhyme schemes! :D
(2) - Not sure how to appropriately describe this, but Steve Wilson did this often in his classes for all you CPA alum...the open-hand kiss display when he harped on anything he considered to be "beautiful"...
(3) - Taking John out of the mix, I refer to Paul and Peter

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Breaking Down Communion as Worship

Breaking down Hebrews 10:19-22 in three points:

Opening Question: Communion - How do most perceive the word/action?
Opening Answer: Commemorating, remembrance, conviction + repentance, etc.

Commonly overlooked element: Worship (see note on #3)

1) v. 19 - "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus..." (KJV)

Boldness in Greek implies freedom-based assurance. The key is realizing such freedom stems from sanctification, a vertical displacement from sin on route to holiness. Sanctification, at its core, involves divine separation.

Symbolic representation: the split veil

2) v. 20 - "By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through [that] veil, that is to say, his flesh..." (KJV)

Communion leads to a consecration before God in acknowledging Christ's death in relation to both personal and corporate sin. Similarly to God's love initiative to man, the Cross was His sanctifying drive, His precedented pursuit for our salvation. In other words, God consecrated to us first (through the broken body of Christ), before we could consecrate back to him. God is always ahead of man's game plan, and communion testifies to this truth.

3) v. 22 - "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water..." (KJV)

The first four words of this verse indicate a full-hearted worship posture. "Full assurance of faith" can be interpreted as a reference back to the boldness charge in v. 19. Confidence in Christ's priesthood (perfected by proactive consecration) is portrayed with much inspiring positivity.

But why? Sanctification!

The term "sprinkled" punches the "set apart" theme. God's plan of holy substitution is designed to further remove us from wrongful intentions and immoral motives AND so that we may experience higher levels of purification and cleansing (byproducts from consecrating back to the Lord when we approach His table during communion).

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Oh, You of What Faith!?!

My latest lesson with LEGACYouth took on a new facet/attribute of God's character, due in part to a solid hook I noted from analyzing both 'Jesus vs. sea' accounts in Matthew 8:23-27 and Matthew 14:22-36.

The first account has Jesus in the fishing boat when calming the mighty Sea of Galilee, the latter has him out walking ON the same body of water, intending to pass his disciples by!

Now I'm not here to repeat a history lesson, for I'm sure most of you know what takes place in each story. However, the key passage I want to harp on momentarily is the legendary Jesus line: "Oh, you of LITTLE faith."

Some translations, discussion boards, and documentaries shed false light on this trademark line by referring Jesus' words as Oh, you of NO faith."

But it's important to recognize the difference between "no" and "little" here. I feel distinguishing the difference can open the door for both accounts to be seen on a higher playing field of overall comprehension.

When I have read through these Scriptures in the past, I have imagined Jesus being somewhat condescending when speaking to His disciples. But Jesus is not scolding their faith as compared to recognizing and challenging it.

His approach is actually more tender and compassionate, though it understandably may not rub off that way.

When Jesus takes the hand of sinking Peter and speaks to him, He's not mocking or belittling him in that moment. In a backhand way, Jesus is actually giving him a backdoor compliment. Reading between the lines and applying imagination, you can almost see God giving Peter a 'love-tap' on the behind (as if in a congratulatory way) before pulling him aside to offer constructive criticism (Sorry, just had to prove a sports illustration there).

The truth is Jesus saw significant faith potential in Peter and his disciples. If they had 'no faith', what's the point then of Jesus even talking to them? In both cases, we see the brilliance of Jesus displayed as He sets up both scenarios to feed His chosen men one of many documented faith lessons.

Jesus would not have called His disciples if they had no faith. He had to choose those who possessed at least some, even if the amount pushed close to virtually null. Jesus knew if He could muster up 'fishers of men' who owned even a mere mustard seed of faith, then growth, budding, fruitfulness could eventually take place.

So while many dwell on Jesus' divine and miraculous intervention, pulling out the ace of power on his nerve-wracked men, perhaps the greatest development in these accounts takes place in the disciples' hearts as Jesus sought to expose their hearts and faith levels so they could be motivated to step up and increase their faith gauges.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Raw Verisimilitude

I’ve been marveling lately over the recoursed voyage the past five/six months (Not to sound as if my vertical climb has evaded the sporadic rocky rumbles).

Truth is the striking reality of my ‘now’ subsists in the fact I can vaguely relate to yore-ish (long-ago) thoughts, feelings, and taxing mentalities I once carried, and with that, I rejoice and exult in this fresh season of elation.

Yes, coming back to Lee had clear, principal value.

However, the sound of a bittersweet symphony has not gone unnoticed either.

For as much as I still treasure the relationships and character/skill-growth opportunities that underscored my Lee ‘term’, eluding the scar-producing memories I still see in the mirror has proven rather grueling, as if trying to pry free from a thorny bush, with no evidence of its former fruit.

Yet, such a veracity has run thick through my veins: the past four days have reminded me how much I’ve moved on.

It’s an alien feeling no doubt, but one that has brought incredible consolation. Past transitional years (i.e. 2004, 2006, 2007) seemed to induce an old ‘self’ that remained overly attached to the 'antecedent world.'

For the first time in my life, I’m not struggling or finding difficulty in pressing onward. It’s one of the greatest emancipations I’ve ever experienced, and a sure-tell sign I've tapped into a higher, more mature lifestyle. Such a sweet settling...

Still I’ve been in a relatively raw zone lately. Perhaps current climatic changes of season have succeeded to arouse altered perspectives in both heart and mind.

However, as my final dish-out of verisimilitude for tonight, I will say inspirational sources have been disembarking from more realms that just the natural.

For now I'll leave the can of suspense open wide and exit with an equation for pondering: Two words. One man. One charge. One mission.

To be continued...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Case of Philemon

A few hours post-Gate men's retreat, I am stirringly convinced that Philemon is the most underrated book in the New Testament.

A thorough analysis of the book is enough to present and pose the argument.

In our group discussion/lecture (led by Pastor Jeff Ling), which included a steady diet of background, content, and application, Paul's appeal to the wealthy slaveowner, Philemon, on behalf of slave, Onesimus, set as the cornerstone of our Scriptural examination.

Two concepts/ideas captured my attention during our pursuit in Philemon:

1) Paul reaffirmed his position as a prisoner of Christ, not once, not twice, but four times in his letter! This is imperative to understand since Paul desired Philemon to understand how both slave and slaveowner are equal before God (see Gal. 3:28). Also, though this epistle classifies primarily as a "personal letter", Paul acknowledges Timothy's presence in part to indicate his want for Philemon's church to receive the message as well. So in other words, the book of Philemon is more than just an exchange between Paul and Philemon - instead, it's a strategic dialogue between laborers and soldiers in Christ with Paul and Philemon serving as primary players of a broader platform. "The church in your house" reference in v. 2 could have been Paul's way of noting Philemon as the pastor of the church that met in his house. Either way, the themes in Paul's letter was to ripple through Philemon's realm of influence.

2) Onesimus risks death by fleeing from Philemon, given the reality of Roman law. But did he have a secondary motive in abandoning his responsibility? Did the idea of future reconciliation cross his mind in his plot of a gallant escape? Paul sheds light on the matter in V. 15, when he states "For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever."

How genius of Paul! Not only does Paul honor Philemon's free will concerning the future of Onesimus, but he furthermore addresses the existence of God's providence in the situation! A chance of a revitalized, renewed relationship was at stake, and Paul sought to drive this point home to Philemon, how in spite of bestowed embarrassment, the best option lied in treating Onesimus with consolation and love (like the thankful father in the prodigal son account).

Note Paul's brilliance in lavishing encouragement on Philemon early in the letter in v. 7 - Paul recognizes Philemon's authentic faith, granting him one of the most honorable phrases saying "the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you." In light of this, Paul beseeches Philemon to apply obedience in forgiving Onesimus of his debt (By doing so, Paul tells Philemon such action would refresh his own heart (v. 20)). Paul even willingly accepts the amount owed to Philemon (based from what Onesimus stole/damaged), a burden symbolic of the Cross. In essence, Paul was paving the way for Philemon to succeed in applying grace and genuine Christian reconciliation from wronged slaveowner to runaway slave.

So why all the hoopla with Philemon? Because it emphatically appeals to a modern-day issue that is just as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago: how to handle broken relationships the right way. Culture and the world screams to retaliate with justice bent on revenge. Paul speaks with a different perspective. No matter how others perceived Onesimus, Philemon's charge was to overlook his prior errors and silence the critics by tending to a cracked bond between slave and slaverowner - a short but sweet representation of our relationship with Christ.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Adamant Fig Tree

A question came to me the other night concerning why Jesus cursed the fig tree post-triumphal entry in Mark 11.

While I succeeded in providing an adequate answer on the spot, I knew further research was in store to suffice my mental impatience/eagerness.

So today at work I managed to uncover a few fresh nuggets of insight…

Like several other instances in the Bible, the account of Jesus scolding the fig tree appears rather random, maybe not ‘Prayer of Jabez’ random, but haphazard nonetheless…at least at first glance.

But boy, how sweet and simple it is to perform a quick front and backcheck when reading the Scriptures.

A frontcheck reveals Jesus was on his way to cleaning out the ‘temple rats.’

A backcheck shows Jesus had just entered Jerusalem on a ‘virgin colt’ (had never been ridden before) on route to the temple for what would be his final week of life/mission on earth.

Before Jesus approaches the temple, the Bible says in v. 12, that Jesus was hungry and noticed a fig tree in leaf. He searched for fruit, but could not find any, thus prompting Him to curse the tree: “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”

Now while this may seem harsh, after digging a little, I’m finding Jesus’ purpose for His ‘outburst’ was nothing short of brilliant.

Jesus was and is the Master of symbolism. He most likely cursed the tree, not so much for not baring fruit as compared to not recognizing His identity. Jesus was with God when the tree was made, correct? So regardless if the right conditions were in place for that tree to bear fruit, the fact is the tree should have had something to provide the King of Kings and Lord of Lords as He made His way to clearing the temple.

Think about it. God made the tree for His glory, in likeness to everything else created by His hand. Nature gives glory to God, so we can deduce that the tree was created to give pleasure to God. Sorry, for the ‘duh’ moment, but ‘bear’ with me (pun intended)…

In the case of the fruit-bearing tree, its mission was to...what? That’s right! BEAR FRUIT!!!

Now I know what you’re hummin’ to yourself: The Bible says in v. 13 that “it was not the season for figs.”

But that’s besides the point.

The fact is Jesus needed strength and fulfillment at that particular moment in time, not from just any tree, but from 'that' tree. The Bible bluntly states: Jesus was hungry. Not mildly famished, but ravenous!

Quickly flashing back again to Creation, we find Jesus involved in the very making of the tree. So it's safe to say that no matter what the circumstances were for that tree, no matter what had happened to the tree in the past, the fact is it did not serve or please Jesus when the opportunity presented itself. It did not acknowledge Him. It did not register nor connect with Him. And perhaps most critically, it did not provide Him with what it was created for (i.e. it forsook its original design).

Now it’s interesting to note the correlation between the adamant tree and the people of Israel - particularly the ones who cried out “Hosanna” during the triumphal entry. So many people failed to recognize and identify the true nature of the Messiah when He was right under their nose. Tragically, most were more concerned with their own sense of liberty and freedom from tyranny, that they completely missed a golden opportunity to know the full reason why Christ had arrived!

So on a symbolic level, we can see the cursed fig tree and the people of Israel in the same light in the sense both failed to recognize/acknowledge the identity of Jesus as Savior and Son of God - the very reason Christ came to earth.

But this is only part one.

Upon making his presence known in the temple, the Bible tells us Jesus and His disciples made a return run back to the stubborn fig tree. Peter observes and points out the remarkable transformation of the tree as having withered to the root.

Jesus, seizing the moment, then gives his disciples what would be one of His final faith lessons. He charges them to not just believe, but believe BIG - having the faith of 'anything is possible in Jesus' name.'

V. 23- "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him."

Jesus then interweaves the power of prayer with the illustration, reminding the disciples whatever is asked in His name shall be given.

V. 25 - "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

So what began as a curse eventually metamorphosed into a blessing. Pretty cool, eh?

In short, there's much to take away when we consider the adamant fig tree. For instance, if we forsake the faith and pursue a lifestyle we weren't made for (whether it's some form of debauchery, intentionally walking in unforgiveness, idolatry...whatever)  we will fade away and wither...like the fig tree.  Of course, there are other examples we could elaborate on, but bottom line: if we live a life cut off from the root of faith, we deprive ourselves of bearing fruit. And isn't that why God made us? To glorify and worship Him with what He has given us (i.e. our existence = identity, purpose, calling, mission, character, etc.)? To offer Him our fruit?

In closing, ask yourself: if Jesus spontaneously approached you, would you respond like the tree, and those who cried "Hosanna"....or would you respond with real, radical faith and give Him your everything?

I know for me...if I'm a fig tree, I want to bear as many figs as I can for the glory of God...and while I'm at it, provide others with food for thought...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Great Tragedy of Divorce

Last Saturday as I waited to board my Midway flight to Seattle, a heartbreaking scene unfolded outside the gate entrance. As I conversed on a phone call, my eyes beheld a young boy clinching his father's jacket, bawling and sobbing despondently. Upon processing the scene, I suddenly became cognizant of the situation.

The dad, slightly greasy and decored with an array of tatoos and sleazy outdoorsmen garments, clearly emanated the "incompetent father" appeal. Seemingly indifferent to incompleteness, his emotional aroma smelled more of mere melancholy than actual devastation. Perhaps time and unseen circumstances had numbed the grief.

As I watched tears stream down his son's face, I couldn't help but crack. The pure yet raw emotion of the instant combined to produce a snapshot in time I can (and will) never forget.

Moments later, as I searched for a window seat on board, there was the boy, only a few rows in front of me. I heard a flight attendant utter his name: "Sam." Apparently the flight attendants were made aware of the situation, given he was the youngest solo passenger on the plane.

Passing Sam by, he appeared stunned, glued to the back of his seat, with eyes still bloodshot and overcome. At that point, my attempt to role reverse with Sam backfired, as my aqueduct reservoirs finally gave way.

"God, I hate divorce. I hate it, I hate it, hate it," was all I could mumble to myself.

With such an unfamiliar burden had taken 30 minutes to reach "overwhelming status", I gently pushed my seat back and began to drift.

An hour later, I woke up from my brief interlude to find an astonishing sight. Cruising by the aisles was Sam, who evidently had decided to assist one of the flight attendants in serving snacks to the rest of the passengers. In the blink of an eye, Sam had completely changed - his attitude, emotions, his entire demeanor. Perhaps Sam was reminded of something positive awaiting him back home or maybe he was the recipient of a encouraging word helping him refocus the hurt. Who knows.

The point is that Sam's rapid conversion was nothing short of inspiring. No matter what the conditions were, for a young boy to flip the switch in such a fashion, having just left a father whom he loved dearly with a heavy heart to now serving strangers on a plane in such a selfless manner, it's so incredibly rare.

No doubt Jesus was manifesting Himself through the actions of that little boy. In short time, my despise for divorce transitioned to a thankful praise, knowing we all have a choice to respond righteously to injustice and sin, to abuse and inequality, to oppression and prejudice.

How often do we retaliate in anger when we are legitimately the victim of an abominable ordeal? Or how frequently do we succumb and hide in fear, allowing our entitlement for security to operate our will?

Without question, Sam ended up "owning" a lot of people on that plane, including myself. He easily earned his wings in my book for rising over the great tragedy of divorce so that he could generously give of himself, his time, his smile, and his heart.

Three hours later, the plane landed and my foot finally touched Washington territory. Walking a few paces behind Sam out of the tunnel, I noted the skip in his step as he scampered to his mother. The real Sam had arrived.

And though he might be the middle man in a troublesome separation for years to come, God used him to remind me (and others) how to rightfully conquer and overcome adversity in times of great sorrow.

God bless you, Sam.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Thoughts on Robert Clinton's "The Making of a Leader"

Reflecting further on leadership guidance and ministry maturing the past few days, three critical points in Robert Clinton's concluding chapters in "The Making of a Leader" stuck out.

In discussing multi-phase ministry processes, Clinton provides insight to what he calls negative preparation, a process item that involves God's use of conflict and hardship. The purpose of negative preparation is to break and humble a leader in a way that launches him/her into greater freedom. As negative preparation is experienced, God can use the time to develop perseverance and integrity in either an emerging or seasoned leader.Clinton admits that despite its necessity, this particular component of guidance processing is not meant to be viewed as an easy escape for those who often place themselves in difficult situations. Instead, the emphasis should be focused on release and "new season" preparation.

Negative preparation essentially leads to brokenness - a pathway to greater submissiveness. In His ministry, Jesus flawlessly modeled the kind of persevering humility that results from righteously navigating negative preparation. Clinton states negative preparation process items can include relationship difficulty, a crisis in job or ministry, illness, isolation, and similar life maturing processes he goes on to describe in chapter seven.

After analyzing a few of such maturing processes (i.e. life crises, conflict, isolation, etc.), Clinton summaries a few key points on quality, effective leadership, one being how spiritual authority should not be perceived as a goal but rather a byproduct. If authority is God-delegated, then how can man expect to obtain (on solely man's abilities)opportunities and positions of spiritual leadership? The better perspective reveals that God gives assignments to leaders who have learned to rely entirely on God, realizing supreme authority and power belongs to Him, and that spiritual leadership is primarily about extending God's authority, NOT exclusively the leader's authority. As Clinton points out, a leader does not seek spiritual authority, but rather seeks to know God, thus enhancing a two-way, vertical, love relationship. A heart to understand and share intimacy with God is the key. Authority comes on the road to discovering who God is; it is not a final destination.

In closing, Clinton reminds the reader how a leader should cultivate and develop a ministry philosophy in line with his ministry mission statement. We cannot simply mirror another's philosophy but must arise out of the leader's leadership development, molded by God during trials and constructive opportunities. A ministry philosophy should revolve around what Clinton defines as the central task of leadership: "influencing God's people towards God's purpose" (203). And not just surrounding the principle as to integrating the philosophy into the leader's ministry at large.

In addition, a solid ministry philosophy should have methods grounded in the right principles. Clinton's idea of labeling principles in short phrases proceeded by listing out a simple statement of that principle is an excellent approach to crafting a strong, foundational ministry philosophy.

To be continued...

Monday, August 17, 2009

"The God They Never Knew" Book Review

In "The God They Never Knew", George Otis sheds light on his interpretation of grace and its relation to real faith. Upon inspection, many readers can agree he offers a solid understanding of what grace looks like in addition to how it should be interpreted and applied.

First off, he dismisses the idea of salvation having to be paid for, citing this notion as a major division in the modern day church. He notes that if Jesus paid for our sins, then forgiveness is impossible by means of retributive justice, a lacking of mercy and compassion. Many denominational splits occur over the concept of grace. Believers associate the ultimate debt of sin as having been paid for on the cross. Interestingly enough, many of those believers claim to abide by forgiveness and grace, which contradict the point Otis is making in his book.

Grace cannot be understood in terms of penance, and Otis captures the idea by comparing release to fulfillment. Grace loses purpose and meaning if God slaps an expectation of fulfillment of sin on us; on the flip side, grace comes to life when compassion makes an appearance and nullifies that expectation of retribution.

Otis further adds to his list of what grace is not, stating problem “payment” words such as “ransom” and “redeem” are often associated with the atonement. Otis links the notion of salvation being paid for to universalism. If sin is literally paid for with Jesus’ blood, then God is vindictive and completely incompatible with biblical forgiveness, in the sense dying for the sins of the entire world converts salvation into a legal transaction, according to Otis.

As an illustration, Otis makes a wise maneuver by telling two stories that convey the importance of reconciliation. Atonement was designed to humble the sinner to repentance and realize God’s perspective on sin. The stories of the sacrificial lamb at the altar and King Zaleucas plucking the eye out of his son to preserve a just doctrine drive home this point.

Overall Otis paints an adequate picture of God’s grace by straying from a Calvinist model and bringing to the light a fitting revelation that grace is completely outside paid fulfillment. In essence, Otis’ words and emphasis on the theme of salvation and reconciliation place grace on the right spiritual pedestal. God’s grace needs to be understood on the foundation of us being dependent on God to be saved. Grace is based off God’s deep love and compassion. His thirst for justice, even His wrath, is rooted in the larger scope of unconditional, perfect love.

Otis supports the belief that grace is receiving what sinners should not receive, referencing the account in Matthew 18 – the story of Jesus forgiving the man who owed a large sum of money. Christ did not PAY for our forgiveness. He did not use an earthly means to achieve atonement and unity with His creation. God simply pressed the ‘release’ button on our sins, and shattered the mold of man’s idea of grace in relation to sacrifice.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Case for Discipleship

Today's generation of young adults have slackened in their passion and faith, having strayed from God's calling as true disciples. Discipleship, as well as mentoring, have been negatively impacted by the distractive influence of a materialistic culture fueled by media and peer pressure.

Passion has been replaced by passivity. Students, teenagers, and young adults alike have forgotten what a hunger for God looks like, and why it's essential to the Spirit-filled life. Young adults are spiritually starving but have lost the sense to recognize the urgency for Jesus. And ultimately, even in the case for most Christians, the idea of an active, passionate, and vertical relationship with the Lord has been abandoned - forgetting a love relationship with Christ is the only aspect of life where one can both be filled and hungry simultaneously.

Christians are struggling to define and live out hunger - an unbinding, unshakable desire to experience and connect with God. Hunger is an element of passion, which itself is evidence of an alive relationship with God. The hunger to draw near to the Lord maintains passion consistently and persistently.

Passivity is the absence of passion, hunger, faith, trust, discernment, and perseverance, just to name a view. It is one of the main silent killers of youth today, as it creates an arena for spiritual laziness, hindering life in the Spirit. Why? Because passivity pollutes passion and limits the pursuit to see the glory of God.

Because passion is lacking among young adults, most of the world is failing to see evidence of what Christians truly believe, often seeing facades and false portrayals of God's love. One must ask the question of what can be done to fix this plaguing problem? How do young adults commit to the Lord, and better yet, keep on track for the long haul?

At the core of the epidemic is a lack of understanding of God's love. Youth around the world haven't tasted an intimacy with God and therefore, have failed to develop a mindset of consistent closeness. Such failure has closed off passion and hunger via narrowing a knowledge of God and numbing our witness and desire to experience God's splendor.

Youth must learn to cultivate a worshiper's heart, must like the one David exhibited in the Old Testament. Churches and youth programs must find a means to draw young people to God by teaching on what genuine worship looks like, then doing so (action followed by words). Experience is critical in worship. Before radical worship can happen, however, any church must be completely focused on having leaders who are sold for evangelism and bringing people to Christ. Then upon gaining new converts, the church must take on the task of leading the person through discipleship training with a vision for apostolic ministry. To make disciples of Christ, in the way Jesus shaped and molded His disciples.

An approach to awakening a worshiper's heart must stay true to God's Word as well. A passion and drive for Christ needs to be rooted in the Word of God and in worship. One cannot be filled with the Spirit and live according to God's calling without a discipline to be faithful in these two tasks. God deserves our all, and through worship and meditation of the Word, we have two primary outlets to express love in a vertical manner.

The church and believers need to place passionate Christians in places where passion is lacking. Hunger needs to radiate and consume the many who are starving and looking for a spiritual ignition from God. We cannot safeguard and strive to maintain security and comfort. The indirect pursuit of comfort is one of several factors paralyzing the church today. Fear of failure and the anxiety of falling short in terms of being effective witnesses keeps many Christians locked in their faith behind closed doors. And mission mindsets are suffering dramatically due to partial leadership and a dwindling of passionate authority. Respect for authority has also taken a large blow, which parallels the bigger picture of Christians not living in total obedience to God's authority.

Mature believers should maintain a hunger to develop and disciple new Christians, in addition to witnessing in the dark places of the world concerning those who may have never heard the name of Jesus Christ. Ultimately the blind must see a zeal-filled group of Christians willing to abandon comfort zones.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Keys to Effective Leadership

Effective leadership calls for a collection of certain active qualities, either developing or fixed, that are rooted in the Word. Whether in an entry, training or mature ministry stage, successful leadership must have a face with select features. In analyzing its facets, leadership can be boiled down to four main principles and characteristics: 1) An understanding and knowledge of authority and submissiveness illustrated by the walk and life of Jesus 2) Consistency in complete obedience 3) Faithfulness and devoted drive in light of challenging circumstances 4) Daily repentance as a lifestyle.

The following is not merely a set of instructions on how a leader should act and behave; it is a God-centered outline in keeping a vertical relationship with the Lord alive and animate.

Whether by dominant leading or influence by example (following), a leader must live out an understanding of biblical authority. In ministry, Jesus modeled authority by humility, submission and integrity, weaved together by a passion to fulfill His calling from God as confirmed in the Old Testament. Jesus fully grasped His calling and never wavered from His anointed path. He commonly reminded the Jews and His disciples of His identity as the Son of God (occasionally Son of Man), and faithfully associated His uniqueness to the Father in times of questioning and teaching.

When Jesus washed His disciples’ feet in John 13, He told Peter and the other disciples how He sought to set an example when evangelizing the gospel. In verse 16, Jesus captured submissiveness: “No servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” Not only was Jesus setting an example for the purpose of following, but also demonstrating genuine humility via performing a selfless act of love that his disciples considered unworthy of receiving. Jesus never lost sight of His position on the authority ladder and illustrated a thankful heart in every season – an aspect of leadership that is often easier said than done.

Secondly, a leader must refrain from partial obedience, and, instead, have a contagious fervor in making obedience complete in every situation. Obedience links diligence to faithfulness; we cannot expect God to meet our needs if we do not fully align to His. Leadership, in relation to Christianity, was never meant to be viewed through an academic lens, with the idea that majority obedience is sufficient. A leader must be aware of the truth that God requires our all as an adequate and pleasing sacrifice. As a leader, possessing a consistent attitude that submits on call is essential.

Embedded in obedience is faithfulness, an authentic representation of God’s perfect love. David captures this brand of devotion many times in Psalms, especially Psalm 89: “My mouth will make your faithfulness known through all generations….Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.” One cannot have faithfulness without a drive to fully obey. Faithfulness is committed consistency. Consistency without commitment is worthless, and commitment without consistency caps effectiveness, trust and integrity, while also allowing Satan to earn a foothold in areas of spiritual discrepancy.

Finally, repentance must be engrained in the heart of the leader, not as an occasional act on Sundays, but rather an ever-active lifestyle that knits our values and desire to God’s. Repentance could be argued as the ultimate act of humility, as one not only confesses iniquity, but pledges to turn away from sin with hopeful expectancy to change wholeheartedly. Practicing repentance daily should not simply be encouraged; it should be an integral part of prayer.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Making of Mentorship

I can't imagine life without mentorship.

Not only is it foundational in terms of discipleship, but it bears unique power to shape, mold, influence, and counsel. Many of us are who we are due to appointed people who guided and crafted our minds and hearts when we were younger.

To counsel, at its core, is to extend God's authority to others, strengthened by the ability to relate and associate.

And tonight, as I craft Sunday's lesson plan, I'm reminded how essential it is to integrate reality with personal application, whether story telling or outside interaction. A wise man recently told me that to be "real" is the highest compliment a leader can receive, largely in part it provides weight and lift to being a genuinely imitable disciple of Christ. Our ability to model the Gospel is heavily handicapped if one lacks the aptitude and drive to be real to others.

This past week, I've continued to ride the waves of last week's trip to California, an excursion that opened up the vents within to receive fresh vision.

And perhaps the greatest reminder granted during my stay, in addition to what I mentioned above, was the idea of young people wanting people to be like as compared to being like them.

Again, the "real" principle has to be applied here. Many young people crave a role model figure who can develop a strong connection with them. For a large percentage of preteens, high-schoolers, and young adults, finding footholds in a community setting is generally high on the internal priority ladder.

Since time is pressing against me, I'll go ahead and "speed-run" my leftover ramblings.

First, a leader who seeks to be real must learn the art of living above reproach, a concept driven home in I Timothy 3. In a world dominated by subjectivity, one must be on guard how others perceive a behavior, action, and/or habit. In the case for a spiritual guide, one must be attuned concerning outside conception and opinion, without being hindered by anxiety and paranoia. In other words, don't live to please man, but keep in mind most people are equipped with some keen form of observation. Live as Christ, because in essence, to live is Christ.

Secondly, it is interesting to note how a leader, when placed in a mentoring position, almost instantly becomes more acute and aware of personal behavior as well as other's actions. I can't help but feel we, as believers, should not wait to reach "leader" status before aspiring to live out a certain spiritual sensitivity.

Finally, love to lead and whom you are leading. To be real isn't enough if passion and agape love seep through the cracks. The Bible is clear when it says without love we are nothing. We can possess a particular propensity to partner and unite with others, we might even have a gift in launching certain programs and ministries. But without taking the time to honor and love on God's people and strive to make a difference in other's lives, we are wasting our time. Love must be the glue, it must be the blueprint - our foundation, and it must never escape the fabric of our beings in any setting.

Such aims are ones I earnestly seek to incorporate into my current and future mentorship. After years of being blessed and built by spiritual mentors, I am thrilled at the opportunity to extend the same to those in need.

~ CF

Monday, May 18, 2009

A New Battlefield

Calm are my seas now, my course reset.

The directory has indeed altered, but time and placement have become allies again.

I'm starring out on a familiar setting, sincerely decomposed from the past four months. The year has truly been a jaded battle fought on estranged territory. And yet I feel almost victorious by some miracle, no doubt sustained by redeeming grace and surpassing faithfulness.

With my days at Lee officially sealed, I've begun to find myself again. Amidst the rubble, I've seen new light. And for the first time in months, I'm believing again.

All year long my resolve has been tested and tried.

Coming into this final semester, having been rebuilt and retooled in 2008 in making the leap from battered vagabond to illuminated pillar, I found myself standing at the pinnacle of my college career. I felt confident and complete, a byproduct of cohesion with more inspiriting and synergetic people.
The climb back to wholeness that highlighted much of last fall crafted such an indelible mark in my spirit, I finally found strength to embrace all prior despondency that for years had been operose in processing.

But recent navigation has been turbulent at best. And though I write with clearing skies and a storm in my rear-view mirror, I still feel somewhat frozen after months stuck in great instability. If you note the irony in that last sentence, kudos to you.

I never meant to start a war. I never wanted to hurt. And transposing away from true form, I became like a pacifist fighting blindfolded on a self-made battlefield.

With drama came mental and spiritual fatigue, and with it a proportional relationship sparked, where personal ennui connected with my veiled want to own a piece of God's copyrighted control.

But now I'm finding resurrecting peace, as undeserving of it as I am. Deep down, I know I'm destined to become a pillar of salt for the Kingdom. My soul longs to stand on inspired words of everlasting truth. My mind seeks to be divinely restored. So in accordance with renewed faith, I am stepping onto an untrodden battlefield, where the real war comes only after I've first found the shattered parts of me.

I'm acquiring the armor, for I can't fight without a shield. I know the outcome, but that doesn't justify the fact I must take my place on the battlefield. Thus, when I fall and fall again, I will never doubt my rising. God is my Commander. Starting now, any failure I must endure will come at the heel of hallowed appointments, so in all things my direction infallibly persists on the journey to recovery, discovery, and everything in between.