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ThoughtShades

Opinions, expressions, essays and devotions. 


Sunday
Oct082017

Some Notes about This Blog

Hello!

Some of you have been perusing this blog for years.  Thank you for your interest.  You pretty much know your way around my fulminations.

If you are a visitor to this blog, however, its layout may confuse you.  I started it ten years ago when I had some down time due to back trouble.  At the time, I wasn’t sure what I was doing.  I just took a leap into the abyss and hoped it would be okay.  After a while, I wished I had set it up differently, but I just kept going.  I confess that it is not well-organized. I would call it a patchwork quilt, but I don’t want to insult all the quilting bees out there.  It’s more like an obstacle course!  Anyway, my posts follow current events, random thoughts and musings, assigned topics for periodicals, sermons I preach (or intend to preach), and responses to controversies raging at any given time.  I also include complete or sample chapters of forthcoming books.  Therefore, there is no overarching theme that informs or guides my material. 

The best way to navigate the blog is to type a topic in the search box.  Even that may not get you where you want to go.  It depends on how much time you have or how serious you are about researching a topic.  I have hundreds of postings, and many of them are analytical, cryptic and/or tedious articles mixed in with tongue-in-cheek, sarcastic or impudent rants.  Impulsivity triggers much of my writing, so you never know what you’re going to get.  That probably won’t change because that’s what makes it fun for me.  And, I’m not doing this if I don’t enjoy it. 

I’m often curious about the preponderous searches for certain subjects.  The subjects that spark the most interest are “alabaster box” and “spiritual power and spiritual authority.” (Okay, my computer says I should use “is” instead of “are.”  I don’t know.  “Is” sounds funny to me.)  I get the second topic, but why is there such interest in the alabaster box?  Maybe it’s the award-winning song, “Mary’s Alabaster Box” that my friend, Janice Sjöstrand wrote that inspires further study.  It could be the beauty of the story itself, but why this story out of so many in the gospels?  I don’t know.  Mysterious.  I guess it shows that people are greatly attracted to iconic or symbolic relics.  I heard one time that you could build a forest out of the splinters of the cross found in cathedrals all over Europe.  One would hope that the symbol is not as important as the theme it represents. 

Feel free to drill down deep into this blog.  Write me a note of response, whether it’s good or bad.  I do want to communicate my thoughts in a helpful and explanatory way—which is why I’m writing this particular piece.  (Did you know that the word “particular” is totally unnecessary?  So is the word “totally.”  My word processor fusses at me for using them.)  In the end, however, I listen to my own heart and write accordingly.  The enjoyment of the reader remains secondary to the fun of putting my thoughts into words. 

Friday
Oct062017

Race and the Church

I am heartsick.  The olive branch held out to an aggrieved race has been slapped down.  Martin Luther King’s soundbites have become clichés, rejected by activists as condescending, patronizing and phony.  Platitudes of love are out.  Peaceful coexistence is out.  Mutual acceptance is out.  We cannot merely debunk history.  We cannot just call out the founding fathers as shameful slaveholders.  We cannot offer conciliatory language, sanitized laws or affirmative actions. No.  The new campaign now embodies even more than the eradication of history.  It has gone far beyond that.  Now, it demands that we invalidate the very ideas, the basic concepts, the historic values of Americanism.  It seeks to rip the Constitution of the United States of America to shreds.  Reparations will not suffice.  America must be criminalized.

For me, a white man of a questionable age, my remonstrations are to be rejected out of hand.  I have no business offering my obviously biased opinion on race relations.  I get that.  But, let me ask a couple of simple questions that might affect all of us.  Where is this headed?  What does the endgame look like?  And one more question: how does the church deal with this? 

We are all aware of worsening race relations in society at large.  That cancer has now attacked the institution that ought to be its solution, the church. The evangelical church has traversed through a history of abhorrent racial hatred, to insipid tolerance, to outright embracing of diversity.  It has been a long, tortuous journey to this point, and I freely admit it is far from complete.  The last thing we need, however, is a general repudiation of the process.  Fred Clark and others like him preach a new kind of attitude.  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2016/11/09/white-evangelicalism-is-white-nationalism/.  In shock-intentional language, he impugns the ideas of “biblical inerrancy” and abortion as “clobber-texts” to condemn what he calls “white nationalism.”  But mad, malevolent spite only fuels the fires of grievance.  I searched for placatory language in his diatribe.  I found none.  Basically, he provides little else than the rationale for hatred.

Not only do Mr. Clark’s challenges frighten me, they dismantle all the progress the church has made to right the ship.  His views disparage all races alike.  In my lifetime, I have witnessed the purging and restructuring of offensive language, minorities’ ascendancy to positions of power and authority in the church, the celebration and pursuit of minorities’ talents in music, preaching and administration, and the recognition and blessing of interracial marriage.  I cannot speak for every individual, but, as a whole, the church has become colorblind. 

To all, let us remember that Jesus was not a white man of European descent.  He was not a black man with origins in Africa.  He was not an Asian.  Jesus was a Jewish man from the Middle East.  He was a man of color who belonged to a minority race.  He never intended the church He founded to be identified with or owned by any race, class or ethnicity.  “For God so loved the world …”  Further extrapolating that thought means that no race or class is to shape the church to its own liking to the exclusion of all others who have diverse characteristics.  Of course, depending upon where a local church is founded, any individual congregation will take on indigenous traits.  That does not mean, however, that they reject the existence of other nationalities.  In the bigger picture, we are all the body of Christ.  No one gets to re-write the doctrines of the church to suit any particular group. 

I understand that white is more than a color.  To other races, white represents everything evil.  I wish it were not so.  I deeply regret the sins of my fathers, and I denounce any tendency to give life to or continue their toxic views in any way.  As a leopard cannot change his spots, however, I cannot change my skin.  My heritage is mine.  I can’t trade it in for another.  I can only move forward—not in the documentation articulated in my political moorings—but I move forward in the love of Jesus Christ.  If we cannot work together, we will fall apart.  If we fall apart, we will destroy each other.  I do not ask for anyone to affirm me, or my views, or my race.  I humbly ask that we all affirm Jesus Christ.  In heaven, all are equal.  “ … Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”

Failing in this, none of us can survive.  If we blast a hole in the bottom of the boat, won’t we all drown?  Our best—our only hope—is to find common ground, however tenuous it may seem, and walk together.  There are eternal truths that transcend history.  Those are ideas worth fighting for.  Instead of expounding reproachful words and launching punitive actions toward each other, let us fight to preserve each other’s honor and well-being.  “Perfect love casts out all fear.”

Sunday
Sep032017

Tweaks

You may not be in the market for a complete overhaul of your ministry.  The 105 insights you will read in this little book are labeled tweaks because you may only want a slight adjustment, a clarification of something that has become a little muddled, or a way to think about the job you’re doing.  After decades in the ministry, a preacher does learn a few things.  Sometimes, a shared insight on a puzzling problem can make a world of difference. 

No one stands alone.  We are all the products of other gifted people who shined a brilliant light on our pathway, often unaware of how much they were helping.  I owe a debt of gratitude to the many mentors in my life.  Because of them, I also want to be a conduit through which the wisdom of my elders can flow to those who come after me.  

“The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:9.

Sunday
Sep032017

Leadership Is Largely Optics

Optics, a scientific term co-opted by the corporate world, refers to looks.  Leadership optics have an enormous effect on the demeanor of followers.  People are much more likely to pay attention to a leader’s body language, facial expressions and clothing style than those of his or her assistants.  Curious crowds gather by the thousands along the route of a presidential motorcade simply to see their leader.

In crisis moments, anxious times or corporate wars, a good leader displays a “take charge” attitude.  When the leader shows up, a calming influence prevails, and it’s more than words. Great speeches, in fact, have fallen flat due to poor optics.  Is it said that in 1960, Jack Kennedy won the first ever television presidential debate despite the superior performance of his opponent, Richard Nixon.  The difference was the appearance of the two men.  Noticeable beads of sweat formed on Nixon’s brow, making him look nervous and uncomfortable.  Kennedy, on the other hand, appeared “calm and confident,” according to TIME Magazine.  It is said that JFK won the election that night.

Spiritual leadership, of course, is far more than optics.  In our visual age, however, a leader cannot afford to ignore the way he or she appears.  Put inner trepidation aside.  Moses before Pharaoh, David before Goliath, Gideon before the Midianites, Paul before Agrippa, Peter before Herod—all of them found the strength in God to face down the opposition. 

People are watching.  They will feed off your strength if they can only see it.

Saturday
Sep022017

Beware of orange fingernails.

No one dips into the experiences of life and comes away untouched.  Whatever engages the preponderance of your time and interest will manifest itself in your productivity.  If you read a great deal, you will share your knowledge.  If you travel widely, you will talk about the things you’ve seen.  If you meditate for long periods of time, you will speak thoughtfully with others.  The point is, you are what you do.  You can’t hide it forever. 

The corollary is also true.  Whatever you fail to do will also reveal itself.  Little reading produces an uninteresting personality.  Always staying at home limits your scope of experiences and makes for a humdrum existence.  Dislike of meditation leads to shallowness and impulsiveness.  Moses writes it another way.  “But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out.” Numbers 32:23.

If you would rather play than pray, it will show up in your ministry.  If you would rather copy the work of others than dig deep into primary study, it will be seen in the way you preach and teach.  If you would rather escape rather than embrace the duties of ministry, the gaps will tell the story.  If you love ministry for what it gives you instead of what you give it, people will notice and pull away.  What you do or what you fail to do will tell on you.

Oh, yes.  Orange fingernails.  They let us know who’s been into the cheese balls.

Saturday
Jul222017

Even More Tweaks for Preachers . . .

 

  1. Humor is seasoning, not the main course.
  2. Lone wolves get weird.
  3. Trust your spouse.
  4. Protect your voice.
  5. College-aged sermons are lost on elementary level minds.
  6. The more complicated your sermon, the less impact it will have.
  7. Emulate, don’t imitate.
  8. Real-life illustrations are better than Reader’s Digest stories.
  9. A walk in the woods may do more for your message than quoting a Bible commentary.
  10. An ethical spirit is more important than aptitude.
  11. Don’t be co-opted by a duplicitous colleague.
  12. Never be afraid of doing the right thing.
  13. In competitive play, be lighthearted, not fierce.
  14. Make every trip educational.
  15. Treat everything thing you see, hear or read in the news media with healthy skepticism.
  16. Never abandon your theme.
  17. Under a microscope, everyone is ugly.
  18. Learn the difference between a preference and a conviction.
  19. Your ego may be your number one enemy.
  20. Only the pastor, not assistants, should define and enforce church polity.
  21. Keep your preaching from becoming haranguing.
  22. Do not empower people without giving them specific parameters.
  23. Finish strong.
  24. All programs have expiration dates.
  25. Always activate your word editor in public.
  26. Sermons are like recipes: good ones are worth repeating.
  27. Only full transparency makes your mentor’s advice valid.
  28. Occasionally, ask yourself if you would do what you do if you were not getting paid.
  29. Selfish leadership exploits people.
  30. The antithesis of gratitude is greed.
Friday
Jul212017

More Tweaks for Preachers

  1. Don’t assign giftings.  Identify them.
  2. Misdiagnosis of people’s negatives or positives lead to problems.
  3. Set people free to pursue and express their talents. 
  4. Gush sincerely over people.  They love it.
  5. Be careful who you make a hero.
  6. Articulate your vision clearly to your ministerial staff.  They are your mouthpieces.
  7. More than anything, people expect spirituality out of you.
  8. “Flying off the handle” refers to an axe head.  Collateral damage ensues.
  9. Produce proof, receipts, and guarantees even when they’re not requested.
  10. Be like Jesus.  He was the first and the last.
  11. Eventually, you get paid not just for what you do, but for who you are.
  12. Extreme makeovers of your person make people nervous.
  13. Fanaticism is mindless devotion.  Authentic devotion is based on sound theology.
  14. Celebrate intentionally.
  15. Make sure people know you are trying to help them.
  16. It’s what you do with the church’s money that counts.
  17. Decibel level bears no proportional relationship to veracity.
  18. Truth is powerful, whether whispered or shouted.
  19. From Oscar Wilde: “True friends stab you in the front.”
  20. You cannot alienate everybody.
  21. Inadvertency kills.
  22. Preach to your people’s needs, not your own.
  23. Better to preach thirty minutes than one minute thirty times.
  24. Words are like water: too much can drown.
  25. If you fail to create the church’s atmosphere, someone else will.
  26. Always give people a reason to come back.
  27. Deliberate quietness permits the Spirit to work.
  28. Don’t preach through the altar service.
  29. Leading in worship means leading people to worship.
  30. Feeling isn’t everything, but it’s not bad to feel good.
Wednesday
Jul192017

Tweaks for Preachers

 

  • Preach faith, not frustrations.
  • Never obsess on one individual in the congregation.
  • The Word is food, not weaponry.
  • Pull, don’t push.
  • Beating down a door is a criminal act.
  • Questions are not threats.
  • 100% success is not possible.
  • People do love you.  Love them back.
  • Not everyone who responds cheers.
  • A cheer leader succeeds if the audience cheers, if that’s all you  want.
  • You may be full-time, but your people are not.
  • Don’t force everyone into the same mold.
  • Not every fight is a good fight. 
  • In the church, silence does not give consent.
  • You get what you preach.
  • Training is the hardest, but most rewarding work.
  • Talk to children if you want vibrancy.
  • Talk to young people if you want to know what’s going on.
  • Talk to working people if you want to know about stressors.
  • Talk only to a few elites if you want to be warped.
  • Talk to the elderly if you want to know truth.
  • Talk to your family if you want to know what others are thinking.
  • Talk to nobody if you want to shrink into irrelevance.
  • Talk to God if you want direction.
  • People change through education, not sensation.
  • Make form follow function.
  • The seeds of truth need the preparation of the plow.
  • Diversity for diversity’s sake is demeaning.
  • Lead people to God; don’t become their god.
  • Don’t blink.  Nothing is NOT happening.
  • Leadership is largely optics.
  • To love is not only to feel, but to act.
  • You cannot say yes to something without saying no to something else.
  • Inspiration is a quivering mass of protoplasm unless you have a skeletal structure.
  • The will of God most often guts the will of man.
  • Leadership needs consensus, but often forgoes companionship.