Truth in Love – How Does that Work?

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More than ever, we are living in a time when dealing in truth and in love seem to be moving further apart. We find that being truthful often means being course, abrupt, inconsiderate and even downright insulting.

Conversely, engaging others in love can mean we don’t question or challenge, even lovingly. Political correctness and a desire to avoid conflict or disagreement at all costs, results in a lack of meaningful dialogue and learning. Truth becomes relative.

In Ephesians 4:15, Paul tells us that we should be “speaking the truth in love…”. But what does that mean and how does it work? Are we to speak truth, but walk softly, beating around the bush so as not to offend. This might minimize our risk of confrontation, but likely results in the truth never actually coming into play.

Do we simply blurt it out knowing that, since our doctrine is sound and our beliefs correct, they must receive it as truth and in their receiving, we can feel confident that we’ve loved them? Certainly this approach could result in the hearer reaching an epiphany one day, but more likely it will push them further from you and more importantly, further from God.

Perhaps we just show love and let God use someone else, or some other mechanism to show them truth. We absolutely should seek God before sharing a truth that might be uncomfortable. He may want to use someone else, or may be aligning the proper time for us to share, that will result in greater receptivity. So, while this may in some cases be the right approach,  in Galatians 6:1, Paul gives this instruction to believers: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently…” (emphasis mine).

In addition, Jesus gives us specific instruction on dealing with wrong behaviors within the body of believers. In Matthew 18:15-17, He tells us to point out their fault to them, and continues with what to do if they aren’t receptive.

So what then, is our role and how do we know what telling the truth in love looks like?

First, be sure that the truth you may be called to share, is really “the” truth and not your truth. God may speak to you on an issue, and that’s awesome when He does. But be sure that what you’re hearing lines up with the Bible…the whole Bible, not just a particular passage that fits with your personal passion, paradigm or politics.

Now that you’ve got that squared away, a good question to ask is, “am I in relationship with this person? Do I have permission to speak into their lives?” This can make all the difference in how your sharing of truth is received.

“So, I can’t share truth in love if I don’t have a relationship with someone?” No, you can. Questions to ask in this case could include things like, “have they asked me a question” or “do they seem to be seeking something”. In these cases, even folks you’ve just encountered, may well be open to hearing some truth.

“OK, but what about the love part, is that about how I say it?” Well, partially, but it’s actually simpler than that and this is the key. Telling the truth in love requires that you first, love. Do you love the person you are sharing truth with? If you have relationship with them, the likely answer is yes. But what if you barely know them…or don’t know them at all? Do you love them just the same? As you look across your local Walmart, your church worship center…your city, do you love those people? Does your heart ache along with God’s for those that are hurting, struggling or far from Him?

If you can truly, deep in your soul answer yes to that, then telling the truth in love should not be difficult. Love is less about the approach and more about the heart. If the heart is filled with love for your fellow man, then the truth you tell will be in love. It will be the only way you’ll know how to tell it. You’ll be mindful of the fact that God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. Your communication will be filled with care, grief, and an overflowing heart; not anger, judgement or condemnation. And you’ll ask as many questions as you’ll offer answers.

So, as you contemplate how to tell the truth in love, understand that it’s not a formula, but a natural out flowing from your heart that happens when, before sharing truth,  you first love.

Jesus or Cheez-Its?

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It’s 2020! Time for new commitments and resolutions. We’ll resolve to do everything from losing weight, being kinder and saving more, to reading more, praying more and watching less TV. All of these resolutions and more, are worth our efforts.

The question always comes back to, why is it that we struggle to follow through? Why do we find ourselves back on the couch, in front of the TV (or in front of our phones) with a box of Cheez-Its; our books or Bible sitting on an end table unopened, while we continue our “drive-by” prayers and move from couch to fridge, or activity to activity? Why do our resolutions lack resolve?

Perhaps it’s not that our resolve is weak, or that these less productive activities are so attractive. Perhaps the truth lies in something more disconcerting…That we have chosen to place value on things that provide only short term and often empty fulfillment; and by doing so, we have chosen to worship them over the things of God. Like the Asherah poles of wayward Israel, they have become our idols.

It seems strong to suggest that a little too much TV or too many Cheez-Its result in those things becoming idols in our lives. But the reality is, wherever we place our time and resources, becomes our priority. When something becomes a priority, it means that we’ve drawn a line in the sand. Intentionally or unintentionally, we’ve said; “this Cheez-It is more important than anything else right now”. Once we’ve done that, we just may have made it an idol.

Now, in the interest of total transparency, I love Cheez-Its! I’ve eaten more than my share in my lifetime. But when I combine them with too much time on the couch in front of the boob-tube, ignoring the Bible that sits five feet away, and settling for drive-by prayers, I’ve made those Cheez-Its an idol…or maybe it’s the TV that’s the idol? In either case, I’ve allowed my priorities to be turned upside down.

God has given us all things, including the TV and the Cheez-Its. But we must remember that these things are gifts, they are not gods. How we use them (or allow them to use us), determines which they are in our lives.

Many Israelites who chose to worship things other than the one true God, did not stop believing in their God, they simply wanted a back-up plan; or a back-up god (1 Kings 18:21). They looked for their satisfaction in things of the world…created things. God was no longer first. Now let me be clear that too many Cheese-Itz (or donuts or football games) does not mean your salvation is at risk. It could mean however that we’ve added another god to our portfolio of gods.

I share this because I think it’s healthy for us to challenge ourselves. What are the things that have become our Asherah poles? While it might be Cheez-Its and TV for me, for you it could be watching sports, playing golf ; perhaps adding another item of clothing to your closet that in all honesty, you really don’t need.

God entrusts us with time, relationships and resources. As we approach each of these gifts, are we doing it with an eternal focus? Let’s cut down our Asherah poles and put our focus back, not on the things of this world, but of those things that are eternal (2 Cor 4:18). When we treat our time, relationships and resources with a heart and mind that is rooted in things eternal, we once again, put God first and cut down our other gods.

Praying that, when it comes to the things of God, 2020 is an Ephesians 3:20 year for each of us!

Not Seeing the Trees for the Forest

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If you’re thinking that the title of this post is backwards, you’d be right. The famous saying is the reverse of this. It says; “you can’t see the forest for the trees”.  It’s a statement that basically says that you’re too close to the detail to see the big picture, and it certainly has its application. We can often be so close to a problem, that we fail to step back and recognize the larger issue.

In today’s culture however, I’d suggest that more often, the opposite is true. Everyone and everything is categorized, pigeon holed and put into a box with a name on it. We’ve lost the ability (and frankly the interest) in taking the time to know those who may be a little different from ourselves. We don’t even take the time to know the people that are not so different, which in reality, is most us.

As we do with the trees, we stand at a distance and see the forest, but each individual tree just becomes a blur. The fact is that each tree is unique. It has it’s own root system, each is a different size and there’s typically a number of different species within the same forest. They’re different ages, with different life experiences.

Some trees have had healthy, uneventful lives with plenty of sunshine and water. Some of the older trees may have seen seasons of drought, flooding or fire. There are trees that have been attacked by disease, infestation or the ax.

But if we stand too far back, we don’t see any of that. It’s just all a bunch of trees…no real differences and if there are any, we’re not all that interested. It’s a forest and we don’t really need to know much more than that.

But this is not what Jesus teaches us. In fact, his life and ministry demonstrates just the opposite. Story after story demonstrates Jesus’ interest and care for the individual. Beginning in Luke chapter 8 vs 40 we see Jesus’ care for the dying daughter of a synagogue ruler, and the bleeding woman. In Luke 19:1-9 we see the calling of Zacchaeus from the tree (there’s that tree again!). These are just a few of the many examples, of Jesus stopping to recognize, care about and for, the individual.

There are perhaps, no greater teachings on the value of the individual, than those found in Luke 15. Here we find in succession, the stories of The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin and culminating with The Lost Son.

In the first, we see the story of the sheep owner who leaves his 99 sheep, to find the one that’s lost. Bare in mind that he must first recognize the fact that one is missing. Not an easy task in a flock of a hundred. In the parable of the lost coin, the woman must have kept careful account of her coins to have recognized that one was missing. Are we as cognizant when “one” is missing at work or at church, or do we just see the forest and not notice?

The Story of the Lost Son (or the prodigal son as it is commonly known), is perhaps the most poignant in terms of driving home, not only the value of the one, but the joy that takes place when that one is found.

As we walk through our day, let’s make a commitment to do three things. First, recognize the one among the many. Next, place value on that one and recognize that the one has a story that needs to be told and heard. Lastly, render care to the one. That care can take many forms, but if we’re listening, both to the Holy Spirit and to the one, we’ll become sensitive to what that care should look like and how we’re supposed to provide it.

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know this. If a man begins to fall among us, we must have our radar up so that we hear the falling and once having heard it, are there to catch him. The one is unique and matters to God, and so of course, should matter to us. Let’s take the time to see the “tree” and not just lump it in with the rest of the forest.
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Hiding or Healing

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This morning, I was going through some notes and scraps of paper that had been stuffed in my bible. Most were notes from studies I had taken my men’s group through. One note however, was on a napkin (I kid you not, a napkin), scribbled as God had given me an idea for a message. This was from a few years back, when I was blessed to serve in the recovery ministry of Faith Promise Church in Knoxville, where I would periodically deliver the evening’s message.

The notes on the napkin contained the title of this blog post, followed by a few scripture references. I don’t know if that message will ever take full form, or be delivered, (that’s up to God) but I felt Him nudging me to share its premise here.

All of us have gone through painful experiences, whether that be loss of a loved one, financial or relational struggles, devastating illness, deep addictions or other poor life choices. The question is not whether we have or will encounter these valleys in our lives (we have…or we will). The question is what do we do with them when they come? We have two choices.

The first is to hide and frankly, this is our nature. It started with Adam and Eve attempting to hide from God in the garden (Genesis 3). That didn’t turn out well for them, or us. We see it again when Jonah attempts to hide from God by hopping a ship going in the opposite direction of where God told him to go (Jonah 1). He ended up in the digestive system of a large fish…not a good turn of events for Jonah!

Through the profit Isaiah, God gives us clear warning about hiding our plans and activities. I’d encourage you to read what He says about that here. The bottom line is, there’s never a good outcome when we hide our bad habits or hurts, thinking somehow that the darkness will cover them over. It never does. 1 Corinthians 4:5 says, “…He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts…”. This is not to punish us, or because God is a mean, stick wielding God. This is because He knows that our healing, and the healing of those we may have impacted, cannot begin until the issue is brought into the light. In fact, it is to save us from the punishment we inflict upon ourselves, by attempting to keep it in the dark.

So what about that second choice; the choice to bring our problem into the light. How do we know that’s the way to go? Just look at the bleeding woman from Luke 8:43-48. A woman with bleeding of this type, in that time and culture, would have been considered unclean. She certainly wouldn’t do anything to draw attention to her plight. Yet because of her faith and her desire to be healed. she stepped out boldly to encounter Jesus in a very personal way. Because of her willingness to bring her circumstance into the light, she received the healing she so desperately needed.

Or what about the ten men with leprosy (Luke 17:11-14) who called out to Jesus for healing. Lepers were kept separate from the rest of society, barred from any interaction with others. These men however, knew that Jesus brought the healing they needed and so they stepped out from the shadows and asked. That’s exactly what we need to do.

If you have a bible app that allows you to search key words, plug in the word darkness and see how many times it comes up, and how God talks about it…and keep in mind, it’s not just physical darkness He’s referring to. It’s the spiritual darkness that permeates our lives, when we refuse to seek the light…His light. To hide in the darkness is a ridiculous notion. Simply read Psalm 139:7-12 to see why.

But there is great news to be found; in the stories of the bleeding woman, the ten lepers and in Psalm 112:4 which tells us: “Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man”. Whatever you’re tempted to hide in the darkness, bring it into the light and allow God’s grace and goodness to do for you, what He’s done for so many others.

To my brothers and sisters who have shared with me, the healing you’ve realized through bringing your hurts into the light, thank you for your inspiration and example; you know who you are. You demonstrate to those around you, that the healing light shown to the bleeding woman and the ten lepers, is not simply a historical story of a God that used to be, but a tangible living reminder of a God that is.

All Things Great & Small

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Now more than ever, we are living in a world and a culture that values the big, the glitzy, the grand, and the extravagant. Just watching the evening news we find that, not only is the overwhelming majority of the news bad news, but it’s also all about the enormity of the story.

Earthquakes have to be at least a 6.0 to garner any interest and if no one is injured, or if no buildings collapse, we really don’t pay much attention. Shootings where only one or two people are killed might make your local news, but will certainly be passed up by the national networks.

If a Hollywood star or music icon makes a statement, our culture rushes to listen, and share it as if it came from Solomon himself. But the grandfather who likely has experiences and wisdom that few others posses, is never heard…And why is that? Because the entertainer is grand and glitzy in our eyes. The grandfather?..not so much.

Those of us who consider ourselves Christ followers, run the same risk. We know well, and are drawn to the grand stories and characters of the Bible; and we should be. Noah building the arc, Moses parting the Red Sea, David slaying Goliath, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. These are fantastic stories that encourage us in knowing that truly, all things are possible with God.

But what of Tychicus, without whom several of Paul’s letters would never have been delivered? Without the delivery of those letters, we have no way of knowing what the impact to the early struggling churches might have been, or whether we would even find them in our Bibles today!

And how can we forget Jonathan, son of King Saul, confidant and loyal Christian brother to David? Jonathan literally saved David’s life from his father Saul, and supported him through incredibly difficult circumstances. It is not an overstatement to say that we may never have had “King” David, had it not been for Jonathan.

In our present day, we marvel at missionaries who are instruments of salvation for entire remote villages, or raise up orphanages in impoverished communities…and marvel we should. We are captivated by preachers (communicators they’re now called) who bring God’s Word in bold and innovative ways, and I for one am so very thankful for them. If these pastors really want to leave a mark, they’ll need to be published, and be on the speaking circuit at major Christian conferences. Only then, will they be looked to, followed on Twitter and quoted by the larger Christian community.

But what of the “missionary” right here in our own backyard that is ministering at a coffee shop to a brother or sister that is hurting and broken. No book deal, no entire community being brought to salvation…just changing one life at a time for Jesus.

What of the pastor shepherding the 50 person country, or inner city church? No speaking invitation to a 5,000 person conference, no Twitter account with thousands of followers…just a man or woman discipling and caring for a small group of believers who’s lives are enriched by that pastor’s commitment and dedication to God’s work.

Our worship (and I’m a huge fan of contemporary Christian music) is only considered worthwhile, if the decibels are high enough, the band cool enough and the lights so over the top, that you need solar eclipse glasses to even look toward the stage.

Don’t hear criticism in any of these examples. I truly am thankful for great worship, dynamic and insightful preachers and bold missionaries who throw away the comfort of the first world, and in some cases risk their very lives, for the cause of Christ. Surely all of these warriors will one day hear, “well done good and faithful servant”.

This writing is simply to help draw attention to and encourage, the millions of missionaries who are impacting God’s kingdom here on earth, one or two, or a few of God’s kids at a time. I know many of you reading this are one of those, and I pray that God counts me among you.

God’s Word says; “Who despised the day of small things…”. Today I stopped at the supermarket to pick up breakfast treats for my team; something I do each Friday. As I left I saw Logan, the young man who often bags for me. He is always incredibly friendly and engaging; traits not often found in supermarket baggers. I stopped and said: “hey Logan, you want a donut?” (I don’t often offer people food from my grocery bags so I’m thinkin’ God has something to do with this). Logan paused and said: “yeah, I could use a donut”. So I set my bags down at a vacant check-out, opened the box and let him pick out a donut.

No angelic choirs sang out, I won’t be invited to speak or write a book about “the famous donut incident”, and my Twitter feed won’t likely light up as a result. But I hope that in some small way, Logan saw Christ in me through that donut.

My encouragement is that each of us continue to go and share a smile, a cup of coffee, an encouraging word and a little of God’s Word…and to do it one or two people at a time. I believe God honors that, and smiles a little Himself. I also believe it’s one way of living out Matthew 28:19 which tells us to “go and make disciples”. So let’s share a donut and see if we can’t make a disciple or two along the way.

Do We Mean What We Sing?

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If you attend church on a regular basis, and/or listen to Christian worship music in your car as you make your daily drive, it’s likely you sing along with the songs you’re hearing. In many cases, we sing passionately, raising our hands and hearts to God as we lift our voices with the modern day psalmists who lead us.

But as we do that, do we regularly ask ourselves two very important questions? The first is, do I believe what I’m singing? In other words, am I singing along because the words seem God honoring and the tune catches my attention or do I truly examine what the writer is expressing, and do I believe with all of my heart, that what has been spoken in the lines of a given song, is truth?

The second question is, do I mean it? When we sing “I will follow You” by Chris Tomlin, do we mean that? One of the verses of Mercy Me’s “All of Creation” says; “The reason we breath, is to sing of His glory”. As you go through your day, do say to yourself that the very reason you breath is to “sing of His glory”?..and the bigger question is, do you then do that?

My wife and I are members of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. This week, the worship team did a powerful rendition of Hillsong United’s, “So Will I”. It’s a song that calls us to proclaim that if the earth and everything in it, cries out to give God all the glory, and follow Him in whatever He asks, then “so will I”…

“If the stars were made to worship so will I
If the mountains bow in reverence so will I
If the oceans roar Your greatness so will I
For if everything exists to lift You high so will I
If the wind goes where You send it so will I…”

It was this last line that grabbed me. It prompted me to want to ask the 4,000 people worshiping with me, “Is that really true for you?” It forced me to ask myself once again, “Is that true for you Kevin?”

Over the past several years, it was true for me in some very tangible ways. I walked away from my secular career as God pulled me deeper and deeper into ministry. His wind sent me and I went. He then sent me and my family away from everything we knew and loved, to “a land that He would show us”, uprooting us from 20 years in Knoxville, TN to go to our new home in Colorado. It was difficult but His wind sent us and we went.

I’ve watched others be called to the mission field in far away lands, or give selflessly of so much of the precious time God gives them, in service to others. It’s awe inspiring to see. When His wind blows, He may not be sending us to another vocation or location. He may be sending us financially or relationally. But the question is, when we feel the wind and know that it goes where He sends it, will we go as well.

At New Life, we say that we pray our songs and sing our prayers. The heart of that is that we really mean it when we say it. That we’re deeply engaged and connected with God as we worship and cry out from our souls. I know that God hears us when we worship in this way. He hears us clearly when we say “so will I”. I pray that we understand what that means, and that we mean it when we say it.

The world needs the truth and hope of Jesus now more than ever. We are His vessels to deliver that. I hope you’ll pray that God searches your heart, as I’ll be praying that He search mine, and that He reveals the truth to each of us of what it means to say “so will I”.

Train, Empower & Trust

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“Wow, you’re such a great leader. This place runs so well with you steering the ship. When you were out a couple of weeks ago, it just wasn’t the same, you know?..Things just didn’t click the way they do when you’re here.”

As a leader, have you ever had anyone say something like this to you? Ever said it to someone who leads something that you’re a part of? Sounds good doesn’t it? A nice compliment…The reality is, it’s one of the last things you want to hear as a leader.

One of the signs of a good leader, is how the machine runs when they’re not there. Are there processes in place to ensure the product or service gets delivered? Are staff or volunteers trained and committed to ensure that that delivery takes place? If problems arise (and they will) is the team empowered to rectify them? Have you built a culture of trust…not just that you trust your team to handle things, (which you’ll have to if you truly want to lead) but that they trust you enough not to fear making a mistake?

Too many organizations rely on a select few individuals to ensure tasks get accomplished or decisions get made. Have you ever called a business to obtain a service or rectify a problem, only to be told; “Sally is out this week and she handles that. She returns on Monday. Call back then and she’ll be able to help you.”? This is a terrible response. Why is Sally the only one with the knowledge or authority to help? What if Sally gets hit by a bus…will the entire organization collapse?

Being a leader means exactly that; leading. When you’re the one making all the decisions, ensuring customer needs are met and solving all the problems, you’re not leading. Leading means putting wheels in motion that turn whether you’re there or not. It means training and empowering your team to take care of business without you; and then trusting them to do it. The best leaders lead themselves right out of a job…and on to another.

We can learn a lot form Jethro. No not the goofy guy on The Beverley Hillbillies. Jethro was the father-in-law of Moses. You know Moses, the guy who got over 2 million folks to follow him into a perilous situation to an unknown destination (now that takes some leadership!).  Now Jethro doesn’t get a whole lot of p.r. but he just may be the guy that kept the wheels on the tracks of Moses’ organization.

See one day, Jethro saw Moses sitting in front of this line of his followers that was wrapped around the block (or around the sand dune as the case may be). He told Moses, you are killing yourself and wearing these people out. Well Moses didn’t know what to do so Jethro (the quiet leader) told him. “Train up and empower some good men to handle most of the questions these folks have. You can deal with the really critical stuff, but otherwise, let them take it.” Now I’m paraphrasing here…To see the exact quote, you can go here. The point is, there’s no way Moses could effectively lead his people and run his operation, without a trained, committed and empowered team; and neither can you.

Harry Truman was right when he said: “The buck stops here”. Ultimately, it is the leader who is responsible. The fact is however, there’s a whole lot of loose change that can be handled by others, before the buck ever has to make it to the leader’s desk.

If you’re a leader, look around you. Are you scooping up all the loose change in an effort to keep things rolling, or do you have a team that can handle that change (and some of the bucks as well), so you can focus on vision, strategy and staff development? If you’re following a leader that holds all the decisions and implementation to themselves, offer to help. Let them know you’re willing to carry some of the load if they’ll show you how, and hand the wheel barrel over to you.

For more on leadership and leadership development, see these other blog posts:

A Little Help From My Friends

Lead Like An Aspen

Leaders Creating Leaders