Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo …

Choices shape futures.

We can blame this current hard choice of a new president on Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 on our Israelite ancestors who created this mess millennia ago. Before the Israelites had kings, they were led (not governed, but led) by judges who submitted directly to God. It wasn’t a perfect system because they weren’t perfect people, but it was a God-centered system. Samuel’s sons delivered that system to its corrupt end by taking bribes, perverting justice and destroying the people’s trust (read the story here).

Call it a case of “king envy.” After seeing what his sons were capable of the people demanded that Samuel appoint a king like all the other nations had. Samuel warned them they’d be sorry. A system of kings, he said, would mean a loss of freedom. A king will draft your sons into the army and misuse the military for his own purposes. Your taxes will go up and your property will be over-regulated.

These were the desperate warnings of a prophet-judge to his people proving yet again that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ignoring Samuel’s ominous warnings, the Israelites chose to hand all their freedoms over to a king who would then set government above God. Why? The story tells us they were looking for someone to fight their battles for them.

Let that sink in. The Israelites defaulted to a system of kings so they wouldn’t have to fight their own battles.

I suspect our worst choices still arise out of that motivation. In our desire to check out of the battle, we allow ourselves to listen to voices that promise all manner of happiness or relief, at the cost of our most prized freedoms. We want someone else to fix it/ legislate it/ outlaw it, so we won’t have to step up to the plate ourselves. Nowhere in scripture is that strategy promoted. To the contrary, the prescription for good lives and communities always begins with personal responsibility translated into better choices — those that look beyond systems to the God over them.

The story of the Israelites reminds us that nothing got better with a new system of kings; it only got worse. The Old Testament is riddled with stories of all sorts of kings who came and went, often punctuated by a line that sounded something like: “King so-and-so did evil in the sight of the Lord … and slept with his ancestors.” Some of those evil kings lived for decades, only to have their legacy boil down to a few words summing up a career of inadequacies and evils.

“He did evil in the sight of the Lord … and slept with his ancestors.”

This line reminds us that as harsh as this season has seemed, kings have come and gone for millennia with little effect. While they may have wreaked havoc for a generation, their infamy was fleeting. At the end of their reign, God was still God. His purposes were still in effect — sometimes because of them, sometimes in spite of them.

And the same is true today. Whatever happens this week, God is still God.

Our most constructive response to that truth is to cultivate a better brand of choice for ourselves, one that is less political, more prophetic. Micah 6:8 gives some good bones for building a better brand of choice. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This, in fact, may be the best litmus test for a godly vote on November 8th. A solid vote begins at the intersection of justice, kindness and humility.

Think prophetically, not politically.
Justice requires context. Justice doesn’t always mean doing the obvious thing and it almost never means doing the easy thing. Justice always bears the fruit of dignity in other lives. Fences and abortion and human sexuality and the answer for national debt … for me to vote justice into those issues, I need the cross of Christ, the voice of the Holy Spirit and the heart of the Father.

Kindness requires both companionship and conflict.
In this political season the kindness (or mercy) we most lack is the capacity to honor those with whom we disagree. I cannot love people I demonize. Steve Johnson says, “The first thing you need to come to grips with is that the call to go and make disciples is greater than any political opinion you hold. And if you find yourself labeling, demonizing, or looking down on people who have different political views than you, then you have the problem. The problem isn’t that they have misguided political views. The problem is your heart.”

Humility is the antidote to pride. 
Humility manifests as self-acceptance, which is the opposite of self-centeredness. It is the primary character trait of Jesus’ own personality. Those who practice humility know how to listen well, with one ear to the world and one ear to the Holy Spirit. This is how Christians fight our battles. We don’t leave them to a political system or party, or to our kings and rulers. We take part in welcoming and advancing the Kingdom of God by acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly.

Take courage on November 8th. Ours is not a perfect system because we aren’t perfect people, but we can participate in making our system better by building a better brand of choice rooted in mercy, justice and humility. We may yet return to a God-honoring culture but make no mistake: it won’t happen at the ballot box. It will happen in our hearts.

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Two Words for Healthy Community: Trust and Freedom

Reputable organizational developers agree on this: trust breeds organizational health; without it, an organization has nothing on which to build. Trust is the foundation on which sustainable strategies are built and the link to meaningful connection.

Trust begins with transparency. A colleague at 12Stone Church in Atlanta once said, “Trust requires shortcomings without secrets. You can’t be on the team and hide things.” This is why spiritual formation in community is so important. We learn to normalize conversations about the state of our souls. Put these conversations in the “wise as serpents” category. By spending time on relational connection and by challenging one another to accountability, we not only to grow spiritually but keep dysfunction from stunting Kingdom-minded initiatives and burning out good people.

Building dynamic, strategic teams and communities begins with trust and transparency. Time spent making sure this happens is never wasted time.

Sometime back, I was with someone who told me he was just “not feeling it” lately where his connection to his faith community is  concerned. He has felt disengaged spiritually from his faith community. I listened for a while, then asked a couple of strategic discipleship questions. I asked about his sin, and also about his spiritual disciplines. Turns out, he is dealing with chronic unresolved sin, and is not disciplined in his personal prayer and scripture time. He wanted to externalize his sense of disconnection, making it a church issue. It isn’t. His issue is on him. And because he is a ministry leader, his choices affect the health of his community. His sin isn’t really just his; it affects everything he is connected to.

Sin is always systemic. And sin always means to erode our trust in God and each other. And because trust requires healthy boundaries and mutual accountability, it is necessarily connected to freedom. This is counterintuitive but true: If trust requires accountability, then accountability breeds freedom.

In his book, Culture of Honor, Danny Silk writes, “At the heart of [a] culture [of honor] is a value for freedom. We don’t allow people to use this freedom to create chaos. We have boundaries, but we use these boundaries to make room for a level of personal expression that brings what is really inside of people to the surface. When people are given choices, it reveals the level of freedom they are prepared to handle.”

It is just so easy to forget we have a choice. This is an important principle to internalize. When both leaders and community members acknowledge that we are not victims, nor manipulators, we begin to make better decisions and hold more mature conversations.

Healthy, God-honoring cultures provide the kind of accountability that refuses room for a victim mentality.

We are not victims — in our work, in our relationships, in our choices. Isn’t that a glorious truth? We have the freedom and power to refuse shame, be honest, and make changes. As we learn the art of making holy choices, we become trustworthy people. As we build trust, we build community.

Ministry leaders, how are you building a culture of trust, honor, accountability and mature choice among your teams? It begins with you. How are you progressing spiritually? Which of your issues — that you are complaining about and blaming others for — are actually on you? As a leader in the church, you are expected to acknowledge that and make progress by dealing with sin and leaning into discipline.

If your frustrations are primarily rooted in your ministry, how are you actively addressing that? Is your face set enthusiastically and faithfully toward the work for which you’re paid? Where are you passively disappointed or frustrated? Remember: our work is not to “get things done.” Our work is to put people in position to get their lives transformed. Is your posture toward your people both trusting and trustworthy?

Sowing seeds of trust and freedom into our communities will produce a great harvest of Kingdom-minded churches and mature followers of Jesus. And because this is the desperate need of the world today, it worth our earnest pursuit.

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Abortion and gender selection (or, what it means to choose death)

(This post is part of a series first published on this site last year. I am republishing in recognition of Planned Parenthood’s 100th anniversary in October.)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. – John 10:10

People involved in the eugenics movement of the early 1900s when Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood) was involved believed some groups of people should be controlled through segregation, sterilization, birth control and abortion. That was at least partly Sanger’s motivation for advocating for greater access to contraception and eventually abortion. Those ideas sound barbaric today but in the 1920s, there was some support for using technology to improve the human race through selective abortion.

Ironically, today’s Planned Parenthood considers itself an advocate for women’s health. It is ironic because while it purports to allow women a choice in giving birth, it supports and even promotes a practice that targets and endangers girls. Every day, all over the world, people hit the delete button on a life when they hear these words: “Its a girl.”

A remarkable documentary by that name details the stories of women around the world who have either chosen abortion or have chosen life for their daughters against the tide of culture. “In India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls* are missing in the world today because of this so-called gendercide.”

China has somewhere between 20 and 40 million unmarried men due to selective abortion, which leads to all kinds of other gender-related abuse. Crime rates, bride trafficking, sexual violence, and even female suicide rates have risen in areas where the female population has dropped.

Why are we doing this to ourselves? Blame it in Genesis 3. Ever since the fall, we have turned partnership in hierarchy, creating an age-old preference for males. In countries that also value smaller families, that preference results in a culling out of female babies, excelerating the rate of gender-specific abortions. It is a choice in which we all participate when — in countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways — we make our own daily choices to value boys over girls and then transfer those messages to the children in our lives.

I am blessed to know so many girls and women who are stunningly brilliant, stunningly good, stunningly compassionate. I can’t imagine a life without my daughter in it. Who can fathom a world without Mother Teresa’s story, or Harriet Tubman or Rosa Parks? But here’s the thing: our decisions about life can’t be based on the person we know and like. As long as we base our decisions subjectively on what makes us happy or what is convenient or who we like or what culture will accept, we are missing the mark.

The question is not, “Do I like girls as much as boys?” (or worse yet, “Do I like this girl?”) The question is, “Do I believe in the inherent value of life?” Do I believe God sees me as a treasure whether I’m a nice person or not? Do I believe he sees you as a treasure whether I like you or not? Do I believe God sees every life, regardless of gender, as having a value of one?

Do I believe every life matters and that life has worth as it was designed?

Clearly, there is a war on life in our world and it is most certainly a spiritual war. We devalue health in favor of immediate gratification. We devalue lives based on appearance, IQ, gender, or even difference of opinion (do I think someone who doesn’t vote like me or believe like me is as valuable as I am?).

We forget that the value of every life is one. Every life. Every human body. Every soul.

This is God’s great design. All life is sacred, and a person who engages in life-creating behavior enters into a sacred process. We are not given license to pick and choose how life happens or which children come into the world. That was never our charge. The alternative, then, is to receive life as a gift in whatever way it happens.

That means throwing baby showers for single women far more often than I’d like and toeing the line on what holiness means in unmarried relationships. It means honoring the questions, too, and the suffering caused by shattered dreams.

It also means that when I look at you — in all your messiness — I am challenged to see you as your Maker does. I am expected to develop eyes that see what God sees when he looks on his children.

This is what it means to choose life. And to choose grace. And to choose love.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live … (Deuteronomy 30:19)

 

* Vlachovà, Marie and Biason, Lea, Eds. (2004) Women in an Insecure World: Violence Against Women – Facts, Figures and Analysis. Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. – See more at: http://www.itsagirlmovie.com/en/synopsis#sthash.7xmShmtH.dpuf

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