Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Lessons From Elijah

In this past Sunday's message I talked about Elijah listening for God in the midst of the noise surrounding him. This is a time of year when the noise of life can get extremely loud and we can miss the very voice we are seeking to hear. There are five key lessons to learn from Elijah in 1 Kings 19.

1. Positioned Correctly It seems Elijah knew he needed to hear from God, and needed help from God. Rather than simply keep going in the situation he found himself, he took time to get himself positioned to be able to hear God. I am not saying we need to go off to a cave and listen for God, although that might be it. In the midst of all the noise of life we need to find a place, time and way to connect with the God who loves and calls us.

2.Seeking to Hear Elijah not only gets in the right position to hear God, Elijah seeks God. Once positioned well Elijah could hear God ask why are you here? God knew Elijah was looking for God and for peace. Sure we look for it, but where and from whom are we seeking it? Elijah did not complain to someone else, did not give up of God. In the midst of the noise and chaos, Elijah sought after God.

3. Being Real With God There was no sense of Elijah trying to fool God. There was no pretense of being religious and having it all together. Nowhere to be found was a proper address to God. Elijah simply told God where he was at. The best summary I can offer is Elijah told God, life just sucks right now.

4. Knew What He Was Listening For When the wind blew, the earth shook and the fire raged, Elijah knew those were not the voice of God. Interestingly there are other times in scripture when they were the voice or God, or the voice of God was heard in them. Yet it was the whisper after that contained the voice of God. Only by knowing the voice he was listening for was Elijah able to find what he was looking for.

5. Peace Does Not Mean Easy God tells Elijah to go back the way you came, he came from the people trying to kill him. Elijah seeks God for peace and in the imparting of peace God tells him to go back to the most dangerous place on earth for him. Further, God gives him a task which not exactly the easiest, anoint new kings in places that already have them, and anoint your successor. God says I have got this all covered and you are worried about things which you cannot possibly control. Simply follow what I ask you to do and peace will be your companion.

If you would like to hear the entire message go to: Noise: Hearing Peace

The question is not whether God is still speaking to us, the question is can we hear the voice of God in the midst of the noise. The offer of peace is there, along with the offer of hope, joy and love. I pray we will all have ears to hear what the Lord has to say.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Crisis Of Leadership

It is no small secret the mainline, denominational church in America is in serious decline. Most of the major denominations are now wrestling with the how to remain in existence, not just for the long term, but in the next five years. Consultants have been hired and paid, studies and reports have been released, and all the cash and effort have produced the results that many have known by painful experience, the cause of the decline is found in the area of leadership. Much ink has been and will be continued to be consumed talking about issues like discipleship and evangelism. Books have been written and are being written about how to bolster a children's ministry or how to engage this population or that population. Some have turned to the Emerging Church, or the Missional Church models to find a way out. These are all good things that have been happening and are happening, yet the statistics still point in the same direction. The issue is leadership.

John Maxwell is often quoted as saying, "Everything rises and falls on leadership," the church is no exception to this. When the local congregation I serve is struggling it is more often than not due to a leadership issue with me. During this time of crisis in the church there is a need for strong leadership to come forward and lead, the problem is we have a crisis in leadership. Sure we have all the people in leadership positions, and for the most part they are wonderful people, they just are not very good leaders. They might even be fantastic managers, but they are not good leaders. Talk is on the rise about developing leaders but at least in my tribe, the UMC, talk is all we are experiencing. There are small pockets working to develop leaders but overall there is little progress being made.

Over the past few months I have wondered why something so important get so little attention. When I have asked those in position of leadership I am assured that leadership development is a top priority and things are in the works to address it, however there are many struggles facing the church. Many of you reading this have traveled life longer than I, however, it is clear to be that if something is called a top priority, yet there is no effort in that area it is not a priority. All the other things which are allowed to pull attention away from leadership will continue to get in the way if effective leadership is not applied. That which we spend out time, energy and other resources on is what will grow. When we focus on the fires they will grow. When we focus on the financial woes, they will grow. When we focus on the lose of what was, the lose will grow. If we were to focus on leadership, then it would grow. If we were to focus on mission, it would grow. But it all takes leadership to create a clear focus.

So what are we to do? Edgar Shine would remind us that once a culture is in place, the culture determines who leads. In the mainline church the culture is well in place and the choice for leaders are not leading. Actually, they are managing very well to maintain the status quo. More than just a present day buzz word the status quo is a powerful force which is never neutral. Only courageous leadership will break the cycle.

As for the rest of us who do not lead denominations, or judicatories, what can we do? If you are a leader, then lead. Work at becoming a better leader, develop the leaders around you, and lead the people God has given you care over. A symptom of poor leadership is waiting for someone else to provide leadership. If those who hold a position of leadership will not lead, waiting for them to provide leadership will being about a certain death.

So, search the Scriptures, find the examples of leaders in the Bible who did just that, lead. Allow your life and character to be shaped by the compelling love of Christ. Lead, seeking the justice of God, offering the hope of Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. A crisis as severe as we are experiencing will not be solved by distracted management, it will be solved by leaders who take action. So lead in your life, family, your workplace and your church. Do not wait for someone else to lead.

Let us set our hearts of Christ and follow the path of life that leads to the Kingdom of God being experienced by all the people of creation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Falling Back

Wow, it has been a long time since I posted something, I needed a few tries to remember the password. Anyway, life has a way of going through seasons and for the last little season my writings been done in other forums. More to come at a later date. Today I have been thinking about the practice of Daylight Savings.

Last week as we were leading into the change of clocks for most of the United States, I heard several people complain about the fact that they lose an hour of sun once we turn the clocks back. Every science teacher should grown at that kind of statement. It is not that we lose any amount of the sunlight, it only get rearranged. Sure for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere the sun is around less during the winter but that has nothing to do with the clocks on the wall it is the little thing called creation.

No matter if we see it as losing an hour of daylight, or we remember our basic science lessons, I am struck by something even deeper about the issue. We are the one of a handful of countries that continue to have the audacity to manipulate this thing called time for our own benefit. Interestingly of the countries who continue to observe the crazy practice, there is a high frequency of countries in the privileged world, meaning North America and Europe with a few other highly developed countries. For most of the world the thought of manipulating the cycle of creation was given up, while others still never bothered. There are many reasons stated for the practice, and the proponents will be loud about how important it is to our economic system and other very treasured things. I say, it is pure audacity and self-interest.

There are many places where we can clearly see the shifting times from the Modern era, the Enlightenment, to the Postmodern era. In world that is increasingly postmodern holding onto this tradition of time change has a strong grasp in the Modern era. During the Modern era it has been common for humanity to rearrange the world and the way it functions for their personal benefit. This is the birthplace of the idea that we gain or lose and hour of sunlight because we change the clocks. Quite simply we could manipulate the clock all we want to and it will have no impact on the amount of sunlight one area gets. Further the claimed benefits of the time change are all steeped in consumerism. We want to maximize the amount of time we can make money, and we do not want to be inconvenienced by this pesky thing called darkness.

If you are still reading this, you probably have that look on your face accompanied by the thought of, okay I think Aaron is loosening his grip on reality and what is most important. You might be right. This is not the most pressing issue we face. The change of the clocks on the grand scheme of things really does not matter, unless you pay attention to the related health issues due to the change. The issue for me is that we as humanity repeatedly manipulate creation for our benefit and pleasure. True we were given stewardship over creation, and we are to enjoy meeting God in creation. However, we are not suppose to change it for our benefit.

In the end, I am sure we will continue to have Daylight Savings because we have always done it that way. I simply wonder if we stop and think about the foolishness of manipulating creation for our benefit, I am sure that doesn't happen any other place of situation, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.