Conflict = Intimacy?

The greatest thing that happened to my marriage was our first real fight.

I remember it like it was yesterday. As newlyweds we had just moved into in our brand new (to us) apartment. It was in that tiny slightly run down little apartment complex that many of our firsts happened. One of them being our first real fight. I mean, slam the door, don’t talk to me, you are the worst, kind of fights. While she sat in the bathroom crying and I sat on our bed I remember thinking… it might be over. We just started and it might be over! 

We survived the fight, actually looking back the fight opened the door to develop a new relational tool that has since caused us to thrive at a much deeper level. With the help of some counseling we learned how to have intimacy. I’m not talking about sexual intimacy, but how to speak in full transparency with honor. 

We learned how to fight right. Still to this day it is the places of conflict where we commit to be vulnerable and stay faithful to each other. To commit be fully known and to try to fully know the other all while choosing to stay committed. It feels really good to be in a relationship where you are fully known and still chosen. No masks, vulnerability and real intimacy in a bedrock of covenant. This speaks love (charity) at another level. One that only comes through learning how to do conflict well. These tools and truths aren’t only for marriage. They are for your church, your children and even things like real racial reconciliation. 

In the podcast below Todd Williams, Yamil Acevedo and I, three doctoral students working on three different terminal degrees from three different nationalities, wrestle with Conflict as a God given tool that can forge beautiful community. It is possible you are giving up on communities because of conflict, the very conflict that could bring intimacy.

Click on the button above to listen to the podcast and make sure to subscribe!

If the image above doesn’t work here is the direct link. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/made-for-more/id1533683753?i=1000499680281

WHY SO MANY YOUNG CHRISTIANS ARE BECOMING (A)POLITICAL.

Just a heads up. This will be a little more academic. 

Take your time. Read slow. Respond thoughtfully. You will help me/us work through these ideas. 

The following video will help set the stage for the reading below.  

Why are so many young Christinas becoming (a)political?

A deeper dive into the political divide and where we should go.

A Political Divide

The presidential debate this year was hard to watch. About halfway through my wife and I turned it off. One common theme stood out clear – we are divided. This is true not only at the presidential level, but in city blocks, places of work, churches and even in some homes. In my church I have seen two old friends turn to “fisticuffs.”  Is there a way to bring unity where politics have divided? I would like to address this on two fronts. First, a Christian perspective on why societies fail their constituents and ultimately fall. Second, we will take a Christian look at how we individually interact and how to improve it. 

A Christian Perspective on why Societies Fail their Constituents and Ultimately Fall

How good intentioned politics turn people into monsters.

Political struggle and social divide are woven into human history. Though there are many examples, let’s take Rome. In 410 A.D. the Eternal City, as many Romans called it, was shaken to the core when vandals under the command of King Alaric captured it. This event brought light to what had already been decaying in the Empire. Some blamed the Christians because they weren’t patriotic enough and others blamed the loss of virtue as its inhabitants became increasingly immoral, even by Roman gods’ standards. In his book The City of God, St. Augustine makes the case that all human constructions decay. [1] The City of God describes a way of interacting with each other, with nature and even God himself. It is the prime human community. It is community to the fullest and it is seen, experienced, expressed and protected in Christ, his work, nature and ways. For a city to truly and continually work, Christ must not only be king but his heart must be in the very hearts of the people. Any community that pulls away from Christ, his heart, his nature, his boundaries and his work, will decay and break down. Selflessness gives way to selfishness, humility to pride, servant leadership to power struggles, faith in others to fear of others, and ultimately the charitable love seen in the Trinity begins to disappear. Augustine sets this ideal city as the prototype of human civility and without it the core relationships decay. 

What happens when the prototype “City of God” is dropped from a powerful society? 

The renown scholar C.S. Lewis loved his country. He truly was a patriot. He fought in World War 1 and lived through World War 2. He had seen firsthand the atrocities of war. Yet, as a true veteran and deeply loyal patriot he has some cautions about loving manmade political constructs. He makes the case that we must not deify manmade social systems. Acknowledging political flaws of the past keep the true definition of right community and human interaction transcendently beyond any manmade thing. For example, when I say, “We have this mistake in our past,” I am assuming and owning a definition of right and wrong that is greater than the manmade structure I am a part of. I am also assuming there is a guide that holds my community accountable, something beyond us that can say “right” or “wrong.” Augustine is right, a City of God needs to guide our manmade social structures. If this does not happen we will justify (arguably) the worst atrocities history has seen. Listen to these words of C.S. Lewis: 

Some nations who have also felt it have stressed the rights not the duties. To them, some foreigners were so bad that one had the right to exterminate them. Others, fitted only to be hewers of wood and drawers of water to the chosen people, had better be made to get on with their hewing and drawing. Dogs, know your betters! I am far from suggesting that the two attitudes are on the same level. But both are fatal. Both demand that the area in which they operate should grow “wider still and wider”. And both have about them this sure mark of evil: only by being terrible do they avoid being comic. If there were no broken treaties with Redskins, no extermination of the Tasmanians, no gas-chambers and no Belsen, no Amritsar, Black and Tans or Apartheid, the pomposity of both would be roaring farce. [2]

History is clear and Lewis is right. When we deify and venerate our manmade systems, they begin to produce demons. When we set aside the transcendent social and moral compass, the City of God as Augustine called it, we justify the Jews going to gas chambers, enslaving Africans, the removal of Indians, purging of people with mental disabilities, euthanizing the elderly, treating immigrants as animals and exterminating unwanted babies. All because we have the “right” to. Every society needs a transcendent compass – that compass is Christ and the City of God. It is greater than any nation made by man and holds all societies that we produce accountable. As Christians the answer for human societal problems begins by confessing their faults and submitting to the City of God. What makes a nation Christian? It is not merely a self-given title; it is the heart of Christ embraced and displayed. Many nations, including Rome, carried the title Christian at times when the heart of Christ was abandoned by the majority of people. This is not a Christian nation; it is a nation in rebellion that calls itself Christian and they are using the Lord’s name in vain. 

A Christian Look at how We Individually Interact and how to Improve It

Racial tension is becoming more public, political division is increasing, mental health declining and domestic violence is tearing families apart. 

Sherry Turkle makes the case that we have traded humble inquisition for merely making assertions in conversations.[3] We are being trained to merely assert our opinions rather than seek to understand others. We are bombarded with inquires online to rate a restaurant, our doctor, a movie, a potential date in a dating app, even the churches we attend. We are trained to think the world needs our opinion and it reigns supreme. This formation slowly erodes our ability to have real conversations. To truly grow together one must equally be inquisitive and want to learn from others. Richard Foster says, “There is what the biblical writers called koinonia, deep inward fellowship in the power of the Spirit.” [4] We are formed from Trinitarian community and for community. We are literally created from a beautiful selfless family and our hearts deep down desire to be in a fully committed safe family. However, our current practices fight against this. The practice of lording personal opinion over another without listening fractures real relationships. There must be a charitable selflessness for relationships to grow. God has even set in place mechanisms and disciplines through the church to teach and heal relationships with each other and with God himself. Sin has broken relationships and salvation itself is the primary relationship restored. O’Donovan and Oliver make the case that sin is not a mere infraction but one being placed at relational odds with God, humans and even nature itself. [5] Anthropologically speaking, we can’t truly understand, enjoy, or interpret our world well without healthy relationships and healthy relationships are exemplified and demonstrated in the Trinity. [6],[7] The authors, in their own unique way, make the case that relationships are not only important to life but at the very core of a healthy human experience. 

So how do we practice better relationships?

            With the charitable love of the Trinity as the prototype family we can begin to draw relational tactics. First, we must remember those who are looking for reasons to resist coming together will find them and there are always countless reasons to be offended. Christena Cleveland, a Christian racial reconciliation activist and theologian, makes the case that being offended by another person is a guarantee. We are human with different personalities and preferences. Trying to have relationships that are free from differing opinions is impossible. It is what we do with those that will either build up or tear down a community. [8] She also points out that the pursuit of Christian unity isn’t only a good idea, it’s the inevitable future and the way we will get it right is by modeling Christ. She identifies how Christ used His power and influence and how we should use that as an example: “Rather than using his power to distance himself from us, Jesus uses it to approach us. He follows his own commandment to love your neighbor as yourself—often to his detriment, I might add—by pursuing us with great tenacity in spite of our differences. He jumps a lot of hurdles to reach us.”[9] Cleveland goes on to even encourage healthy tense conversations between believers as they pursue the heart of God: “According to Solomon, a good friendship isn’t a moral free-for-all, in which any difference is accepted or glossed over. Rather, a good friendship involves a healthy tension in which the friends challenge and encourage each other to draw closer to the heart of God.”[10]  Christine Pohl, an ethicist, clarifies this even more: “The most precious thing a human being has to give is time.” [11] She continues and clarifies the idea by saying, “People know they are welcome when hosts share their lives and not just their skills or their space.” [12]

Here is the inevitable, inescapable truth: God defined the worth of people, even people you would call lost and sinful when he sent his Son to save them, teach them and do everything He could in charitable love to bring them into His family. We have a prototype in Jesus for how we treat people and who we choose to engage with. 

As Christians we must make space. We have a compass and end goal for society, the City of God.  We have a center to our heart and a model for loving people in the person and work of Christ. It is from this vantage point that we make space to engage with others. Working to win them over in the same way Christ did with us. While we were still lost in sin He came to us (Romans 5:8). He took on our humanity and worked to fully understand us (Philippians 2:7, Matthew 4:1-11). He had compassion even for His enemies (Luke 13:34; 23:34, Ephesians 6:12). He desires to save us from destruction and prepare us for our true home, an eternal perfect community centered on the love of the Trinity (John 3:16; 14:3, Rev. 21:4). 

Conclusion

With equal regularity of celebration confess your political parties’ failures. Remind everyone, even yourself, that there is only one City of God. Intentionally become inquisitive when interacting with people. Work to get to know them, understand their struggles, fears, and hopes. Speak the love and life of Christ into those places with love and grace. Don’t be afraid of conflict but practice it with compassion and the heart of Christ in mind.


[1] Augustine, and Marcus Dods. 1950. The city of God. New York: Modern Library. 

[2] Lewis, C. S. 1960. The four loves.

[3] Turkle, Sherry. Reclaiming Conversation: the Power of Talk in a Digital Age. NY, NY: Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC, 2016.

[4] Foster, Richard J.. Celebration of Discipline, Special Anniversary Edition. HarperOne. Kindle Edition., 164

[5] O’Donovan, Oliver. Common Objects of Love: Moral Reflection and the Shaping of Community: The 2001 Stob Lectures. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002., 87-88

[6] Stone, Howard W., & Duke, James O. How to think theologically. 2013, (Nashville: Fortress Press).

[7] O’Donovan, Oliver. 89-90

[8] Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland

https://a.co/azQcVbN

[9] Cleveland, Kindle Edition, https://a.co/3dXIeX7 

[10] Cleveland, Kindle Edition, https://a.co/6PhLDYp

[11] Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Chistine D. Pohl

https://a.co/fg4WVfp Kindle Edition. Location 2001

[12] Pohl, Kindle Edition. Loc 2033 

Breaking stubborn addictions and thought patterns.

Breaking stubborn addictions and thought patterns can be tough…really tough. 

Too many Christians have prayed for healing from an addiction or a negative thought pattern only to find themselves staring down their struggle time and time again. What do we do when we just can’t seem to find the freedom we desire? Has God rejected us? Are we unloved by God? What do you do when you don’t know what to do and everything you have tried isn’t working? Let’s ask these hard questions and grow together.

Week 1: We will unpack a word called metacognition. This is the capacity to “think about what you’re thinking about.” This second level thinking is a powerful tool in beginning the journey towards health. See the video for week 1, Christ Cares-Understanding Metacognition and the notes below.

Week 2: We look at metanoia. Retired college professor and professional counselor Dawn Marie Colaw talks about the beautiful overlap of modern cognitive neuroscience and spiritual formation. See the video for week 2, Set Free-Live Free and the notes below.

Week 3:  We will look at those long stubborn addictions and negative thought patterns. What do you do and what might actually be happening? Check out week 3, Hardship Does not Mean God has Rejected You and the notes below.

Week 4: The pursuit of holiness is often a moment of awareness and a commitment to walk a road of healing. What does that road look like? What does the continual pursuit of holiness look like? Check out week 4, It’s a Journey and the notes below.

Week 1 – Christ Cares – Understanding Metacognition: Mike Colaw

Week 1 Notes: Click Here

Week 2 – Set Free-Live Free: Dawn Colaw

Week 2 Notes: Click Here

Week 3 – Hardship Does not Mean God has Rejected You: Mike Colaw

Week 3 Notes: Click Here

Week 4 – It’s a Journey: Mike Colaw

Week 4 Notes: Click Here

Lastly:

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Why God isn’t giving you what your heart desires.

 

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Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

This would be a cruel verse if it was taken as many want to take it, that God is a type of limitlessly rich uncle that will give you what you want if you just buddy up to Him enough. 

Think about it in light of Psalm 16:4-5, “Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more. I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods or take up their names on my lips. Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.”

Timothy Keller says it well.  Unlike ancient societies, “we may not believe in literal divine god-beings of beauty, wealth, pleasure, or fertility. But we must all live for something, and if we live and love anything more than God himself, we are trapped.

When we aim the deepest hungers in our hearts towards things that can run out, become lost, taken away, divorced, or even grow old we trap ourselves in the long run. It is to our harm to give our limitlessly hungry hearts to limited, expendable, or decaying things.  

God works to mature our desires before He fulfills them. 

The Psalms are not a picture of God giving a spoiled child whatever he or she wants if they would only suck up to Him. No, this is a maturing of the believer into the place where their desires align with God’s will. He literally gives us the right desires as we mature.  

Right desires are a much greater gift than mere perishable things. 

Moreover, I don’t believe God mutes or dulls our desires, I think God is always turning our desires up so high that only He can satisfy them. This isn’t to make us miserable; it’s to point the way to the true and limitless fountain. Can you see it? Over time the hunger for intimacy grows so high that no mere physical or sexual action in and of itself can fulfill it. Our desire for security grows so high that no walls or wealth can actually put our hearts at ease. Our desire to be known and loved grows so high that no amount of fame can satisfy. Lesser joys always leave us hungry for more. This is the gift of God, a growing desire for the fountain itself.  The truest of loves is “the only food the universe can grow on.”  -C.S. Lewis 

God will not give you the desires of your heart, no, He gives your heart right desires when you lean into Him. 

References: Timothy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

Want More?

Let’s take a methodical look at what pleasure actually is and how to find it.

Lastly, don’t forget to follow the sermon podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/trinity-church-sermons/id890096830?mt=2

Reflections for Ringing in 2020

By Leslie Colaw

I love the feeling of a fresh start, a new beginning.  This is why I love the New Year holiday.  It feels like an opportunity to leave the old behind and embrace the new.  I love the beginning of each month, I even love Mondays!  The dawn of each morning reminds us daily of “the new” happening.  I think it’s God’s gift to us that the ability to start fresh is built right into the calendar, nature’s liturgy that continually reminds us of the opportunity for the new.  It’s like he’s inviting us to remember his promise, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19).

As we enter a New Year it’s time for making resolutions.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly great at keeping mine.  According to Forbes.com, apparently neither are most people:

“The statistics on how many people actually follow through and accomplish their New Year’s resolutions are rather grim. Studies have shown that less than 25% of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them.”

Some of you may know people who are part of the 8% who accomplish their resolutions.  You know, those people who don’t even really need to make New Year’s resolutions because they’re disciplined all of the time.  If they make a goal, they stick to it.  It’s quite admirable.  (And sometimes annoying because I wish I was more like that!)  But not all of us are this internally motivated.

Rather than becoming discouraged by my past or future failed resolutions, I’ve chosen to approach the New Year in a different way.  For me it is a reminder of God’s faithfulness, not the lack of my own.

 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”
Lamentations 3:22-23

The hope found in this verse is that we don’t have to wait a year for another fresh start.  His steadfast love for us NEVER ceases!!  His mercies are new EVERY morning!  What a wonderful promise.

Years ago we started a New Year’s Day family tradition with a prayer jar, a gift from my wonderful mother-in-law.  We write different things we want to see God do on little slips of paper, put them in the jar, and pray over it.  Then the next year we pull it back out and see how God has answered.  It’s been pretty amazing to see the ways God has answered prayers for our family over the years.  We keep the ones that are answered separate from the ones that we are still believing for.  They all go back in the jar as a way to remind us what God has done and what we are still waiting for him to do.  The words on the front of the jar from Ephesians 3:20 remind us to dream big and to never give up praying, “I can do more than you can imagine.  Love, God.”

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Let the New Year be a reminder of the God whose mercies never cease, who desires to do more than we could ask or imagine, and who made the sun to rise each day as a way to remind us of the infinite opportunities to start fresh.

It could be simple things, like missing your quiet time for several mornings in a row and knowing this morning is the day to start again.  Or perhaps you’ve started eating junk again after making a commitment to better health, or missed a few days or a whole week of making it to the gym.  Today is a new day.

It might be big things, like that struggle or addiction you’ve prayed for deliverance for, and maybe you were really on track and then slipped up.  Or maybe there’s a friend or family member who is far away from the Lord and you’ve been praying for them for years and it seems to make no difference and you want to give up.  His steadfast love never ceases…great is his faithfulness.

Let this new year, this new decade serve as a reminder to you that God is always in the business of doing a new thing, and that work of his is never complete.  The old has gone, and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).  The enthusiasm for our resolutions may wane, but his faithfulness and mercies never do.

Happy New Year!!

Being the mom I am, instead of the mom I wish I was

By Leslie Colaw

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a mom.  I played house as a girl, had cabbage patch dolls, and ALWAYS loved babies (still do), especially my younger cousins.  As I approached college and needed to choose a major, I began to pray about what God wanted me to do with my life.  In my heart began to grow an even stronger desire for motherhood, and I knew that was my number one calling.  I still went to college to pursue a degree in Psychology, but my sights were set on a stay-at-home mom life.

I couldn’t wait.  The women who mentored me as a young girl were stay-at-home moms, and I admired them so much.  They were amazing, loving moms and in my mind, it was gonna be a sweet life.

So, got married, we moved to Iowa, and my husband and I began our ministry.  I worked a few jobs to save money as we began this life together, but the baby fever eventually won out and we ended up pregnant with our first child.  Oh, I was so excited!  I couldn’t wait to be a mom!  It was all I really wanted to do with my life and I couldn’t wait to get started.

The day finally arrived.  I won’t go into detail, but the birth of our first child, our son Noah, was slightly traumatic.  He ended up being delivered by C-section after a long labor.  I wasn’t even conscious when he made his entrance into the world.  The first time I laid eyes on him, we were in the recovery room when I regained consciousness and looked to my right to see him cradled in his Daddy’s arms.  He was perfect.

But reality hit fast.  Recovering from a C-section was difficult and he had a bad case of jaundice.  Our hospital stay ended up being almost a week and I was more than ready to take him home, but things didn’t improve much.  I ended up in a really bad place, crying all the time, struggling with overwhelming feelings of despair.  After a visit to the doctor I realized I was struggling with post-partum depression.   And on top of that there were the usual challenges: sleepless nights, learning how to breastfeed, constantly changing diapers.

Here I was, finally living out my dream vocation, and it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be.  In many ways, that’s how I’d describe motherhood…not what I thought it would be.  And I think I speak for a lot of moms when I say that it wasn’t so much motherhood itself that was a disappointment.  I was disappointed with myself.

I wanted to be my ideal version of mom, but as is often true in life, ideal and actual don’t line up.

As a mom there are all these “shoulds.”  I should be completely thrilled to have these babies.  I should love spending every moment with them.  I should find joy in teaching them things.  I should be able to meet their every need.  I should be consistent.  I should be patient.

And then there are all the “shouldn’ts.”  I shouldn’t yell.  I shouldn’t let them watch TV.  I shouldn’t let them eat junk food.  I shouldn’t feel resentful.  I shouldn’t feel like this is boring and monotonous work.  I shouldn’t get them in trouble for just being kids.  I shouldn’t grow weary of their endless questions.

The truth is, it isn’t how I thought it would be.  I’M not the mom I thought I would be.  I thought I would love it so much more than I often do.  I didn’t know how exhausting and overwhelming it could be.

I wish that I loved having them cook in the kitchen with me.  But the truth is, I just want to get it done as quickly as possible.

I wish that I loved doing arts and crafts with them.  But the truth is, I’d rather not deal with the mess.

I wish that I loved cuddling in bed with them at night.  But the truth is, I usually just want to get them in bed so I can have some alone time.

I wish that I was easygoing and relaxed about things, but I get irritated a lot more often than I care to admit.

Slowly, I’m learning to accept myself as the mom that I am, not the mom I wish I was.  I’m not the home schooling, chicken raising, gardening, Pinterest-crafting mom that soaks up every moment with her kids and responds to all their childish mistakes with kindness and gentleness. (Does this type of mom exist?  The kind that joyfully “does it all”?  If you’re out there…you want to do some stuff for me?)

This is more the mom that I am…

I need alone time.  And if I give myself freedom to have it, I’m a better mom.

I love to read.  I always have.  So I read to my kids because that’s an activity we can enjoy together.  I love to read the books they’re reading so we can talk about it and share something together. (Not all of my kids love reading as much as I do, but I hold onto hope…and keep nagging a little.)

As my kids get older, I’m finding we have more things to talk about, and it’s fun developing friendships with them.  I’m a good listener and advice-giver and they come to me to talk about what’s bothering them.

I’m a woman who’s passionate about her relationship with the Lord, and while I am far from perfect, I certainly hope I am modeling for them a life that is defined by a love for God and his people.

I’m learning to embrace the mom I am instead of feeling disappointed in not being the mom I wish I was.  I’m learning to lean into my strengths instead of focus on my weaknesses.  The truth is, in spite of my failings, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids.  I want their absolute best, and the fact that I sometimes fail them doesn’t diminish that.  I seek their forgiveness when I let them down, and in doing so teach them about humility, and they teach me about grace with their sweet, quick-to-forgive spirits.

I’m also learning to become a better version of the mom that I am.  I’m learning to relax about the mess in the kitchen because of the value of that time spent together.  I’m learning to push past my exhaustion late at night because those are opportune times for important conversations.  I’m even learning that it’s not worth it to get so irritated about little things like spilt milk and a coat on the floor instead of hanging on the hook where it belongs.  I’m learning that the best mom for my kids isn’t the ideal mom, but a better version of the mom they have.

There will probably always be moments and days where I wrestle with this disappointment with myself and this feeling that I don’t measure up to my own expectations.  But when my teenage son gives me a hug in the parking lot of the grocery store he works at for all the world to see, or when my daughter tells me I’m the “best mom ever” even though I lose my patience with her frequently…I guess if they love me as the mom I am, I don’t need to be the mom I wish I was.

 

Attracting and keeping young leaders in your organization. (And an idol that died in me.)

We have been so blessed at Trinity (http://www.encountertrinity.com) when it comes to staff. We have men, women, and even a little diversity. Could we do better? Absolutely yes. Yet, with all the areas modern organizations try to represent with their staff, there is one that seems to elude many of them: young leaders. Don’t hear me wrong. Young leaders take jobs, they just don’t stay, and often leave very unsatisfied.

In this video a couple of our amazing younger leaders talk:Attracting and keeping young leaders (1)
1)What are young leaders looking for? Heads up! It’s different than previous generations.
2)What are young leaders getting right?
3)What are young leaders getting wrong?
4)A word from them for colleges.
5)A word from them to their future bosses.
6)A word from them to their peers.

What had to die, and is still dying, in me?
As the head of the organization I had to lay before God my platform and take up a mission of building a foundation for the next generation.  I had to embrace legacy over fame.

Andy, Marcus – you all are awesome. Thanks for leading your generation well! I love that I get to work with you.

 

New Wine

By Leslie Colaw

 

Are you familiar with the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel chapter 1?  There’s not a lot about her in the Bible, just one chapter and a little bit of a second, but her story is one worth mentioning.

Hannah was a woman who desperately wanted a child.  In her time, as a woman, bearing children was everything.  And for whatever reason, she couldn’t.  Can you relate?  Any pressing desire in your heart, a hunger for something that will not cease, no matter how much you try to reason with yourself?

It’s a hard place to be when you have a deep persistent desire that doesn’t line up with your reality, and you don’t know if it ever will.

This must be how Hannah felt.  Her desire for a child was at the point of desperation.  To make Hannah’s situation worse, verse 6 tells us that her rival, the other wife to her husband Elkanah, provoked her greatly, harassing her over the fact that she had the ability to bear children and Hannah didn’t.  (Sounds like a sweetheart, doesn’t she?)  This happened until Hannah “wept and would not eat.”  Her husband, who loved her and actually favored her over his other wife (the mystery of why she’d provoke Hannah suddenly becomes less mysterious) says, “Why are you downhearted?  Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”  Have you been there?  When you are overwhelmed with heartache and people around you try to talk you out of it?  Doesn’t do much good does it?

Hannah went to the house of the Lord to pray.  Verse 10 says, “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.”  Oddly, I really like this part of the story.  It reminds me where I can take my deep anguish.  When it seems no one else understands or truly sees the depth of my heartache, God sees.  He listens, he knows my pain.  My bitter tears do not shock or unnerve him.  There is no better or capable place to bring my sorrow.

But sorrow is not the end of the story.

She continues praying to the Lord and the priest, Eli, happens upon her.  He actually mistakenly assumes she is drunk (again, another example of when people JUST don’t get it) and tells her to lay off the wine.  She tells him of her deep trouble, that she has been pouring out her soul to God.  He says to her, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

This was good enough for her.  She goes away, eats something, and her face was no longer downcast.  She takes the word of the priest as a promise from God, and sure enough, Hannah ends up pregnant with Samuel, one of the great prophets of the Old Testament.

Something about her story really strikes me.  Verse 6 tells us that “the Lord had closed her womb.”  God closed her womb, prevented her from conceiving a child.  So essentially, God broke her heart.  Hard pill to swallow, isn’t it?  It seems so harsh and unfair.  Doesn’t seem like something a kind and loving God would do.  And yet we have to admit that is what it says, we have to accept the reality that sometimes the breaking and crushing of our heart is part of God’s journey for us.

Why doesn’t he just grant her heart’s desire?  And of course we ask, why doesn’t he grant ME my heart’s desire?  We know he can, so why doesn’t he?

When Hannah goes to the temple to pray, she tells God that if he will give her a son, she will give him back to God.   Because of her anguish, because of the low point she has been brought to, it drives her to God in complete surrender.

You hear that?  Her anguish, her heartbreak, drives her to God in complete surrender. 

She has been brought so low, her heartbreak so complete, she has nothing left but her faith in God.  In her emptiness, she turns to God in total trust.

It was the breaking and crushing that purified her heart and prepared her to be the vessel God needed to accomplish his purpose.  This is often what separates the faithful from those who turn away…a willingness to accept the task God has for them, however painful.  A choice to blame God in anger, or yield to him in complete trust.

God had closed her womb.  That’s how the story reads.  But as we will see, it wasn’t for nothing.  If God shuts us out from what our hearts most desire, it is for a greater purpose, and we will be able to look back and be glad, to see that it was worth it.  There is always a bigger picture.

We see the same with Job.  This guy gets one piece of bad news after another.  He lost it all – his livestock, his servants, his house, his children – and what did he come up with as far as how to make sense of it?  “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).  That’s it.  It doesn’t feel like much, but sometimes that’s all we have to hold onto…and it can be hard to hold on.

But what we see with these examples is the things that were developed in them.  Greater strength, perseverance, character, and faith.  The process of these things being developed is often apparently fairly unpleasant.  But from their stories, we hope and trust that it will be worth it.  “For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

Perhaps one of the hardest things is to do what Job did, praise the name of God in the face of complete loss.  But it must be done. Because it is our purpose and because he is worthy.  And perhaps if we worship him in the loss it will make our worship of him in the good times all that much sweeter.

We don’t know how long Hannah waited for God to give her the son she was waiting for.  The Bible simply says, “in due time Hannah conceived.”  In due time…isn’t that just like God?  But God kept good on his promise, and so did she.  When Samuel was born, she gave him back to God.  “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28).

God had closed her womb…and he opened it when it was time, when she was ready to give all back to him, when she could fully recognize that all she had was never hers to begin with.

If it hadn’t been such a struggle for Hannah to have children, would she have recognized that Samuel belonged to the Lord?  If things hadn’t played out for her the way they did, would she have been willing to give her son back to God?

Samuel was instrumental in God’s story, and therefore I think so was Hannah’s heartbreak.

But heartbreak wasn’t the end of her story.  It was never meant to be.  She goes on to worship the Lord in chapter two, “My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is exalted in the Lord…The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.”

She comes to a place where she recognizes her heartbreak, her season of barrenness as a gift, and it becomes an instrument for singing praise.  But it happened with a perspective shift, it came after complete surrender, and ultimately she stayed in that place of surrender, recognizing the gift of her child as something that belonged to the Lord before his conception.

Her heart exulted not in her son, but in the Lord…the only thing that brings true, lasting joy, that nothing and no one can take away.

In the pressing, crushing, breaking, and rending of the heart, God is producing something good.  We cannot usually see it in the midst of our suffering because our pain blocks all else from view.  And so we put our faith in a promise, in what is hoped for and not yet seen.  We trust that in all things, God’s vocation is redemption.  If God is who he says he is, our heartbreak points to hope.

“In the pressing, in the crushing, you are making new wine
In the soil I now surrender, you are breaking new ground
And so I yield to you and to your careful hand
When I trust you I don’t need to understand
Make me a vessel
Make me an offering
Make me whatever you want me to be
I came here with nothing
Than all you have given me
Jesus bring new wine out of me.”
(New Wine by Hillsong)

A big reason us leaders keep failing you. Too many of us have fans, not friends.

 

One of the big reasons we as Christian leaders keep failing you is simply because too many have fans, not friends.

Let’s break this down with a few questions.

How did this happen?

It’s a complex set of circumstances that can cause one to build fans rather than friendships. It’s partially the posture the leader takes towards the people, partially the posture the people take towards their leader, and even current cultural expectations play into this. I don’t want to spend my time extrapolating this current complexity other than to say I believe we have made church into entertainment centers with entertainers and there are some dangerous things that have come out of this. Back to the thought at hand.

What’s the difference between a fan and a friend?

You can bring good friends in close. You can “let down” around them. Friends can push back and the relationship isn’t easily in jeopardy. Good friends help someone feel like they aren’t alone. Friendship requires that people are transparent, real, and yet still loved and safe. Friends love you, fans love what you can do. Friends love you through your hard places, fans love you until it gets hard. 

Fans are different. They can sing your praise, but the praise is fragile. Fans need the object (I choose the word object on purpose) of their affection to constantly give them what they want, to always perform. If you miss a cue you could lose a fan. Everyone knows this deep down and it can cause incredible loneliness. Fans, even when they like you, don’t bring security and wholeness. Fans drain a leader because the leader needs to keep entertaining and impressing while they are around. 

What does this mean for the church world?

As the church has let go of its familial roots and embraced the rock star production driven ways of the modern world, we traded the pursuit of what is transparent, real and a little messy for the pursuit of a perfectly produced show. This puts church leaders in an interesting spot. They are now primarily called to become “actors” who are relatable rather than having real relationships. Being relatable to your congregation and having a real relationship with them are two very different things.

This begs a great question…

How can you help your church leaders have friends and be a friend?

Let me ask it in a more poignant way. How do you help your leader step out of the lonely modern production machines they are becoming?

I honestly wouldn’t have been able to see this unless Trinity (the church I serve in) was filled with incredible people. Your pastor will move more into a friend based on how you respond to the ways they display their humanity. Meaning, do you leave the church when your pastor accidentally cusses, or when the worship leader misses a cue or sings off key? Can he/she be human? The more you help them see that you choose to love them and not only what they produce, the more they will feel safe enough to grow in friendship. Don’t just be a fan, be a friend. Remember, just like you need a real church, a real Jesus and real Christian community to love the real you, so do they. At Trinity I have some great friends, yet even in my church some of my biggest current fans I know I am not “safe” around. One leadership mistake and they would be gone. This brings up a great question.

What about the weight of leadership and if a spiritual leader is actually in sin?

This doesn’t mean you ignore sin. It means you help them feel loved all while you deal with it. Just like you would a real friend. I am not saying you ignore their messy parts. There are a lot of wonderful Biblically centered groups that help restore people. I could be fired from my position and I truly do think my friends here would still grab coffee and love me. Some would even help me find a job. Fans flee, friends restore. This is why I love our church, not because of the organizational growth and my fans, but because of my friends. I can be truly known and still loved by them.

What about your context?

You can’t change how your leader will respond or what is currently going on in their heart, but you can take a posture of friendship. My guess is the more you show yourself as friend and not merely a fan, the more your overly polished pseudo “perfect” leader will feel safe enough to be real in turn. It won’t happen at once. Especially if the system has taught him or her that there is no room for anything but the relatable actor. It will take time, like any friendship. Maybe in this case your leader needs you to lead them. Let me say that differently. I can almost guarantee this is an area the laity needs to lead in. Why? I have coached a number of pastors over the years and I promise many think you want the spiritual “showman” and the moment they can’t put on an amazing show, you’re gone. I can’t overemphasize the weight this assumption puts on them. Modern church families feel really fragile and divorce is not only an option but a constant threat. 

I know my friends have saved my ministry multiple times over and I am grateful beyond words for ministry friends, the ones who hold me accountable and still stand by my side. It makes me want to stand by theirs too. When my ministry fans wear me out, I remember my ministry friends. I owe them more than I could ever state in a blog. Let me encourage you, as a front line lead pastor, hold your leaders accountable, speak your mind and keep standing by their side in a God honoring way. It’s those loyal people that have won my heart. It’s those people I listen closely to. It’s those people I can vent on. It’s those people who I really feel are my…friends. They know me too well to be my fans. 😉

Our lack of self awareness is killing us and driving others crazy. 

Our lack of self awareness is killing us and driving others crazy.
A maxim used by the ancient Greeks γνῶθι σεαυτόν translated is “know thyself.”  In numerous ancient writings the phrase carries the idea that without knowing who you truly are and what strengths and weaknesses you actually have, you place yourself and others in great danger. Even in the Catholic tradition they have the discipline of mortification, in which the purpose is a greater self-awareness along with seeking help and guidance so that you can pursue a right and true life before God. Dr. Timothy Keller believes that this healthy self-awareness has nearly been abandoned in modern Christianity. Think about it. Even in church we look for our truth without weighing it through the lens of other believers. The infamous phrase, “God is calling me…” has become the trump card to brush off all other spiritual wisdom and blindly move forward. The first step in “knowing yourself” is listening. Not to the echo chamber of your own will and desires played over and over again in your mind, but to others. Without real honest feedback you will work to build a world that blindly supports your blind heart. This will ultimately hurt others. Here is the question we must all ask:  Who has the right to say to us, “Nope, you’re wrong and I don’t think that is actually from God”? Who actually has the right to question your motives and cause you to pause before taking action? Who can call out your blind spots and, perhaps most importantly, who will you allow to speak into your blind spots? The first step in γνῶθι σεαυτόν is to listen with true humility. If you don’t, and the ancients are right, your blind spots pose a real danger.