Friday, June 09, 2006

Playing God: The Role of the False Friend Leader

I have some unbelievably gracious, and faithful friends. Why is it that there are still moments of dark consideration, lonely observation, and struggle? I suppose that it is the result of treachery.

I am not a sad man naturally. Well, at least that has not been the case for the last 25 years. I had a stint of severe sadness in my late teens, and early twenties, but those days are long gone. Now I move into the melancholy as if being drawn there by the recent past of lies, and coverup which have been perpetrated against me.

Yet, this melancholy causes me to think, and hopefully draws me into wisdom as well. I recall a song I heard sung many years ago (and oh how I wish I could find it again!), which had the gracious words "I walked a mile with sorrow, and sorrow walked with me." It went on to speak of the wisdom gained in the seasons of sorrow.

So, what have I learned now?

I remember that I have taught for years that fellowship is a discipline of the Christian life. Fellowship can not happen without friendship being in the equation, and so I also am reminded that friends are people who have disciplined their lives to consider others first.

Jesus said these words, "You are my friends if you do whatsoever I command you." Jesus words seem so harsh and self serving.

Hearing these words I would be left feeling as though friendship with Jesus was very one sided, if I did not parse this phrase properly.

First, he says, "You are my friends...." He does not say, "I am your friend...." He is our friend. So much so that He gave His life for us, but we are not necessarily His friend, because often I give very little consideration of Him.

Second, He says, "...if you do whatsoever I command you." That is the really tough part of this statement. Yet remembering that He only does what is good for me, and that He is God incarnate, I also understand that my obedience is trust in His infallibility. Trust is a necessary element of friendship.

Does this mean then I must obey my friends on earth in the same manner? Must I fully comply in all obedience to my friends in ministry without questioning them, and especially if they are in ecclesiastical leadership over me?

My answer is no. Any church leader who expects to be obeyed without being questioned, and bases his treatment of you on whether you silently obey his every whim is playing God, and is a sick individual in need of long term counseling. Leaders above all people need to be approachable, and open for correction when they are in error. Should their judgments be askew, or their behavior unethical they need to be willing to discuss the issue, and make corrections, and amends where necessary.

A leader who expects to receive the same level of unquestioned obedience given to God is nothing but a self serving ego-maniac, and can not truly develop friendships in ministry. I am convinced that this kind of control freak does not know what a friend is. Even God is gracious enough to handle our struggling questions, and so I know that He is my Friend.

Pastors must learn to be friends. It is in our job definition. If we can not handle being challenged, we can not be friends to challenging people, and we can not model the friendship of God. At best we can merely play God, and get ourselves in a heap of trouble.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Guinness and a Toast to Heros

I have come to the conclusion that heroism is an attribute of real friendship.

Of course, I run the risk of making people feel guilty by saying this. But I am not talking about guys who look like Arnold, or women who shine like medieval renderings of Joan of Arc - halo attached.

True heroism is often something far more subtle. True heroism is faithful, and relentlessly dependable in the face of opposition. Perhaps it is a bit stubborn at times, it holds a position which is unpopular, or potentially has something to loose.

When we find ourselves in desperate times, such as my family (and yes, the church family is included in this as well) has recently experienced, we discover who is willing to stubbornly hold their ground, and faithfully stand beside us during the most difficult times. These people show a heroism which is reminiscent of larger world figures such as Joan of Arc, and they become our personal heros, and heroines.

While I was walking through our most recent trial, two separate men, at separate times spoke words of wisdom which I will not forget. These are not words which one would typically place into the category of "wise sayings," but they spoke life into my heart, and gave guidance during our most difficult times. I related events of treachery, and dashed hopes during a meeting where I was being falsely accused, and supposed friends sat, and said nothing despite knowing better. My wise counsellors heard the story and both said these words, "These people are not your friends."

Oh I knew them for many years, and thought they were friends, but the friendship fell short of defending me against false accusations. Yet I discovered that there were others who were willing to speak up even when it was not in their best interest. These people showed themselves to be friends, and I feel as though I owe my life to them. "There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." This kind of friend is a hero in my book.

True friends are heros. They carry all the deep values of heroism in their hearts.

False friends are only there while it is expedient to be there, and cowardice will drive them away when things become too difficult.

Amazingly, true friends will never think of themselves as heros. They are simply doing what is right, and loving you during your most difficult times. They show the heroism of Jesus Himself, Who died for me while I was yet a sinner.

If I had a Guinness, I'd raise it in the air, and make a toast, "Here's to true friends and heros - iechyd da!"

Monday, June 05, 2006

Repost of Old Story

Gentry posted this on his blogspot sometime back, but I thought it was appropriate to post it here on my site too (since I wrote it.)

Krishna, Hospital Visits, Preachers, and Dictionaries for France

I don't like places which have too many things happening at the same time. It makes my brain slow down. When my brain goes slow, my body goes slow too. What is even worse is when I am in a place with too many things, and big words I don't understand. When that happens it is like when my wife asks me to do more than one thing at the same time. I have to ask her to put it on a list, because a list is just one thing, and I can do a list, because it is one thing.

Last week my son went to the hospital. His name is Elijah, and I don't have any other sons - or daughters either. Some people have more than one, but like God I only have one.

I don't like hospitals when someone in my family is in them, because they are busy, and in hospitals people say things I don't understand. Then my brain goes slow, and so does my body. Somebody should do something to make hospitals easier. I think that there should be a hospital dictionary, like the dictionaries for people who go on vacation to France.

This is how Elijah got to the hospital: Elijah's left eye became blurry in the peripheral vision, over the course of a day or two. The peripheral vision is that place on the side which you can't really look at, because once you try to look at it, it isn't on the side any more. Apparently, when your peripheral vision gets blurry suddenly your eye is telling you that something is wrong, like when the airplane on the way to France makes a strange new noise.

Elijah called his friend Jim Trick. Jim is a another musician, a preacher, and an optometrist. That's a lot of different things to be. I wonder if Jim goes slow in a hospital like I do. I don't think so, because he can do all those smart things. Elijah is a musician too, but he's not a preacher, or an optometrist. I am a musician, and a preacher too, but I'm not an optometrist either. Maybe if I was an optometrist I'd like hospitals better, because they would make sense to me, and I would be someone who could do many things at once. Being a musician and a preacher is not really very different. They both get up in front of people and talk, and sing about stuff. The musician can sing about any kind of stuff, but the preacher only has to talk about God stuff, so he doesn't have to be as smart. He only talks about one thing. Then again God is a big thing to talk about, so maybe we have to be a little smart about one big thing.

Jim Trick sent Elijah to a Doctor. The Doctor was very nice, and saw Elijah that same day even though he was busy. He looked at Elijah's eyes. He said that Elijah needed to go to the emergency room at the hospital.

The Doctor's name is Krishna Gaddipati. He is Indian - from India, not from a reservation in America. He is an opthamologist. Opthamologists go to school for a long time to learn to look at eyes. So he is smart, and probably doesn't go slow in hospitals, because he does surgery on people's eyes, and he probably doesn't need a dictionary for the words. He probably knows them all by heart.

Elijah went to the emergency room, just like Dr. Krishna said. They checked his blood pressure. They told Elijah's wife Rhonda to fill out the paperwork for him, and they took Elijah back into the emergency ward.

Elijah did not have to wait to be helped by the doctors. No waiting is usually good, but now I know that it's not always good at the emergency ward.

Elijah's blood pressure was 209 over 125. People have strokes when their blood pressure is 209 over 125. When they write out the blood pressure it looks like this... 209/125 mmHg. MmHg is millimeters of mercury. The hospital used to use a machine called a sphygmomanometer, but that was a long time ago. Mercury would rise by millimeters in a long thin tube to tell how strong someone's blood pressure was. Today they use electronic devices and blood pressure cuffs with no long, thin mercury tubes. But I had to read about that after the visit to the hospital.

Elijah was sitting in a little room with three walls, and a curtain for another wall, but the curtain was open. Doctors and nurses came in and went out. There were needles, and Elijah got shots. There were IVs in his right arm. IVs are intravenous tubes which medicine is sent through. Little things called sensors were placed all over his chest. The little sensors were connected to the machine which said "beep, beep, beep...," and made the wavy lines which tell you if your heart is beating properly. There were doctors saying they were very concerned. They said that young men Elijah's age should not be having problems like this, especially if they don't smoke, drink too much alcohol, or take drugs. Elijah is 21, and he doesn't do those things, so they didn't know what was wrong.

It is not good when the Doctors don't know what is wrong.

Elijah did not know what was happening. Rhonda did not understand what was happening either. So Rhonda called Bev on the phone. Bev is my wife. Bev is a Dental Hygienist. Bev is like Jim Trick. She can do a lot of things. She can play the flute, preach, and do Dental Hygiene too. Playing the flute is not like preaching, because you don't talk, or sing when you do it, and Dental Hygiene is like a hospital kind of thing, except you never have to stay for five days to get it done, but you do have to know big hospital words. So I think that Bev is more comfortable in a hospital than I am. Bev told Rhonda, "I don't clean people's teeth when their blood pressure is 209 over 125."

Rhonda cried.

Rhonda cried because she began to understand a little bit. Elijah was not doing well. He was very sick, and this was strange. It was strange, because Elijah looked and acted healthy. The only things wrong were that he had headaches, and blurry vision in the part of his left eye which you can't see when you are trying to look straight at it, and his blood pressure was 209/125 mmHg.

209 is the systolic pressure. Systole is when the left ventricle of the heart pumps and makes the most pressure on the blood vessels. The word systolic comes from systole. A ventricle is one of the little rooms in the heart, but it is not one of the rooms which preachers talk about when they say that we try to keep God from certain rooms in our hearts. The ventricle is just a place for the blood to go in, and then to get pumped back out, and I don't think that we can pump God out. The left ventricle pushed hard enough to rupture some blood vessels in Elijah's eyes, and that's why Dr. Krishna sent Elijah to the hospital. Dr. Krishna knew something was wrong with Elijah's blood pressure. He knew that Elijah could have lost his eyesight permanently, or had a stroke, or any number of other bad things which happen when your blood pressure is 209/125 mmHg.

Rhonda filled out paperwork while Elijah had needles, and IVs put in has arm. The hospital was a new place to Rhonda. But not a new exciting place. Some new places are fun. This was not one of those fun, new places. It didn't have a dictionary.

We came to see Rhonda a little bit after Elijah went back into the emergency ward. The hospital was not an exciting new place to us either.

It took a long time for the doctors to bring Elijah's blood pressure down. It was three days later, and then the blood pressure was 120/55 mmHg. That is a normal level, but it only stayed normal when Elijah took pills for his blood pressure. We prayed really hard on the day it went down to 120 over 55. Maybe Jesus heard us, and helped the doctors. Doctors need help from Jesus. They don't always know what is wrong, but Jesus always knows those things. Maybe Doctors have slow brains in the hospital sometimes too, and that's why preachers like me need to go to the hospital and pray for them.

After five days Elijah was able to go home. That was two days ago. The doctors still don't know what is wrong with Elijah. There will be more tests, and more needles.

In a couple days I think that I'll be better, but right now I'm still going slow in my head. I don't think that I will need needles, or IVs, and that is good, because I think that would make my brain go even slower. My brain should go back to normal on its own.

We are all very thankful for Dr. Krishna, but it is funny that his name is Krishna. I am a Christian, and I believe in Jesus. I don't believe in Krishna. Krishna is a Hindu god, and I am not a Hindu, but the doctor's name is Krishna, and he is not the Hindu god. He is just a good doctor who helped save my son, and only his name is Krishna.

A few months ago I sat in a room with other preachers. They told me that I was not being a good preacher. They said things which were not true, and said that I was aberrant. Aberrant is what someone calls you if they think that your teachings about Christianity are wrong, but they didn't know my teachings. They were only guessing, and they made things up about me. I still don't know why they made things up, and so my brain went slow for a little while then too.

That meeting was like the hospital. It was not a fun, new place, and people were saying things which I didn't understand. I didn't need a dictionary like the ones which people get when they go to France, because I understood the words, but I did not understand why they said the words they were saying, because I thought that preachers were supposed to say true words, and they were not saying true words about me.

I think that these same people might not understand when I say that Krishna saved my son's life. They might think that I am a Hindu, but I am not a Hindu. I am a Christian, and I know that Jesus saved my son's life, but Jesus used a Doctor named Krishna to help.

I think that it is funny that a Doctor named Krishna helped save my son, but I know that there are some people who aren't funny people, and they wouldn't understand. Maybe they need a dictionary to learn how to be funny, like the dictionaries which people get when they go to France. Maybe someday I'll write a dictionary to help people learn to be funny, but that will have to wait till my brain gets back to normal, and I am not thinking so slow.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Is it Style Difference, or is it Heresy?

Our gang at The Gathering was challenged by leaders who accused our activities in relationship with people involved in the occult as being aberrant theological behavior, and practice. We believed we were fulfilling the Great Commission by loving those whom other Christians were afraid of. To us it appeared to be a matter of differing missiology (style of evangelism). To our accusers it appeared to be a matter of doctrine.

This has given me a new perspective on the issue of doctrine, and heresy.

Our accuser spread the rumors of our aberrant behavior throughout our denomination without warning. He did not speak to me first. He did not come with two or three brethren to discuss the issue with me. He never visited our church, or our outreach. His much information was wildly exaggerated, or completely false.

So I ask myself, "Who is aberrant here?"

It seems to me that orthodoxy in behavior is as important as orthodoxy in belief. No one was able to point out a belief we held which was unorthodox, yet when they violated the methods of correction, and information gathering outlined in scripture (2 or 3 witnesses, Matthew 18...) it was merely a "different style" of leadership, and not open to discussion

In a relational kingdom relational violations which are excused as style differences may be something far more eggregious. They may well be heresy. They certainly are aberrant behavior.

I am finding myself far more concerned with relational interaction of Christian leaders, than their doctrinal purity these days. Is this because I do not believe in the importance of doctrine? No, it is because I believe that in all its importance it still falls a far second to the inner transformation of the soul, with such beautiful attributes as humility, love, gentleness, and grace. Could it be that a heretic is not just someone with peculiar beliefs? Could it be that a heretic could also be someone who violates the relational dynamic of the kingdom of God, and justifies it as leadership style? Is this what Jesus meant when he said to "beware the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."

If I can talk about grace till I'm blue in the face, and get the lines all straight, it still is not the same as having it working in my heart.

I have come to believe that violations of relationship by church leadership have soteriological ramifications. Those are big theological words for saying that it affects the issue of salvation, but that is another post.

This I do know: orthodoxy is connected to action in a powerful way. "For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world...."

For now, we are a part of another fellowship of churches who celebrate our style of outreach, and so we move on, but we remember the lessons leadership we have gained.