Three Warrior Angels

March 31, 2009 at 11:47 pm (change, Introspection, Leadership) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I have been cursed with the ability to see the big picture.  I tend to put things into perspective and focus on the longterm opportunities, or consequences, of a particular issue.  Unfortunately, this often puts me in the minority position – my viewpoints make me look like a pessimist, or a rebel.  When in reality, I tend to take a realist approach – and looking past the problems, I see lots of opportunities.

I realized last week that some of the conflict I’ve been facing is because the conversation never progressed past the “identification of the problem” phase.  We, as people, don’t like to hear bad news – but realists, like myself, see reality and the identification of the problem as just one step in fixing it.  Actually, the popular vernacular will say, “Recognizing the problem is half of the solution.”  Yet, when it comes right down to it, very few of us really want to admit that there is a problem.

So, as I approached last night’s leadership meeting, I was determined to get past the identification of the problem.  Many of the people who were trying to shut me down, were not feeling any hope.  I knew I had to get to some concrete solutions and help them to see the hope that these solutions offer.

In order to do this, I knew I had to enter the meeting with a non-anxious presence.  I had to avoid any defensiveness, anger, or frustration.  I could not resort to being argumentative.  Unfortunately, I have not inherited a lot of tact or articulate speech – I tend to shoot straight, and from the hip.

So I prayed.  I also asked others to pray.  There were people praying all over the country.

The meeting last night was crucial.  I couldn’t pretend I didn’t see the problems I was seeing.  I couldn’t stop caring for the people God has entrusted me to lead.  And I can’t stop being myself.  But, unfortunately, one of the big-picture views I was taking in involved the future of my employment.  It seemed as if I were to continue pushing for change, I would find myself employed elsewhere – and yet I saw no way out.  So, we prayed.

Two months ago, in a meeting with the same group, I went in ready to accept the direction of the leadership team – even though I saw things drastically different.  I was broken, disheartened, and ready to quit.  But for the sake of my family, and my employment, I was ready to roll over.  Unbeknownst to be, my wife and several others were in deep prayer.

At that meeting I was hammered.  Yelled at, reprimanded, and chastised.  I humbly took it and walked away with a new mandate.  Afterwards my wife told me that while she was in prayer, she had a vision of two warrior angels standing beside me – and another standing next to one of my friends at the meeting – a friend who was in deep prayer for the process.  Interestingly, I was at peace that night.

Last night, I entered the meeting prepared.  Spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually.  I had written out my thoughts – which always helps.  I apologized for miscommunications and a breakdown in trust.  I gave them a road map, an agenda if you will, of what I was going to say.  I told them that I wasn’t interested in changing their minds.  I didn’t come to make them agree with me.  I just wanted to know that they understood what I was saying.

I told them that I was going to 1) lay out the problem; 2) talk about some solutions; and, 3) share the vision of what will happen should we follow this path.  And then I did that.

The amazing thing was that they let me get past the first step this time.  I was able to talk about solutions and cast some vision.  I saw eyes light up, I saw hard hearts melt, and I saw people share their own desires for similar visions.  One man in particular, who has been spreading toxic ideas about me behind my back (seeking my ouster), put his arms around me after the meeting and told me he loved me.  Wow.

We ended the meeting with a plan and we left united.  The Spirit of God was in that room.  There was peace and determination to do the next right thing.  It was amazing.  I had given it to God, and He won the battle.

“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

When I got home last night, my wife told me that she saw those same three warrior angels standing over me during the meeting.  She wasn’t as amazed and surprised this time.  Two months ago it was amazing, last night, it was almost as if it was a normal occurance.

I am humbled by the presence of God’s Spirit.

Then he said to me, “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” (Zechariah 4:6)

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Warlords

February 28, 2009 at 6:53 am (change, Feedback Received, Introspection, Leadership, Musings, Social Networking) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I was listening to an interview with a NYT reporter who had spent some time in Afghanistan.  He talked about the chaos and the violence.  He talked about the tribes and the warlords.  It was quite interesting, to hear from someone who has walked in the streets of a place so war torn.

Fresh Air from WHYY, February 25, 2009 · New York Times foreign correspondent Dexter Filkins reports that the Taliban are waging an increasingly aggressive campaign in Afghanistan — a fact evidenced by a 40 percent increase in Afghan civilian deaths in 2008.

Filkins said that Afghanistan is now the leading producer of opium in the world.  He said that the president of the country is really no more than the mayor of Kabul.  The warlords and tribes have taken over the country.  They have established “cooperative” agreements with one another – a sort of, let bygones be bygones arrangement.  However, the US and allied forces have become their common enemy.  They work together to push back against the invading army.

The one thing I found fascinating was the religious zeal of the Taliban.  Here is a group of religious conservatives.  They hold strongly to the laws of Islam, but at the same time are unkind, vindictive, and killing others.  They produce opium to support their armies, and they are oppressive to women, children, and anyone they deem to be against them.  I can’t seem to wrap my mind around this.

It was at this point that I had an epiphany.  In many ways, church is like Afghanistan.  We have thought leaders, people of influence, who have gathered their own tribe (clique?) around them.  Some have great influence and others have very little.  Some are well respected, while some are shown respect, but in reality have little political capital.  These thought leaders have, over time, learned to cooperate and not encroach on other’s territory.

One of these church elders told me, “Well, [he] and I don’t see eye-to-eye, but we’ve learned to get along.”  Another told me, “I don’t really trust [him], but we’re good friends.”  And still another told me, “Ever since he [did this], I will never trust him again.  But we get along great!”

Coming in as a relative new comer, I can feel the tension.  Everyone acts as if they are great friends, but in reality, they have just learned to operate with informal treaties.  These leaders have their own cliques and they rarely steal followers from another.  Some are based on philosophy, some on theology, some on cultural differences, and some on a mutual survival strategy.  But each little tribe is very aware of loyalty issues surrounding the various members.

It’s all handled in an outwardly fun display of good humor, but there are obvious pressures put on tribal members to conform, cooperate, and pick a team.  Those that wander from tribe to tribe are seen as spies.  Those that have not chosen a tribe are viewed as losers.  Those that are faithful to the tribal leader are given much power and respect within the group.

Some tribes are family oriented, with a matriarch or patriarch.  These family groups are seen as benign and without the political moxy to influence the greater church.  Some groups center around socio-economic social commonalities.  But common to all the groups is the safety in numbers, herding instinct.

What really saddens me is that the majority of the church is not in a tribe.  They are a loose collection of people.  Some too wounded to belong, some too broken to get up out of the pit they’re in, others are too independent to submit to another’s leadership, and still others are so discouraged and disenfranchised to even care about the workings of others.  What saddens me about all of this is the relative indifference shown by the various tribes and their leaders.  There seems to be no attempts to be inclusive and to embrace the so-called “losers.”

Until the tribes learn to work through their differences, prayerfully, biblically, and with great grace and love, I don’t see a solution.  Their pride keeps them from repenting, and their fear keeps them from letting go of the pride.

As an outsider who has come in to unify the church, breakdown the barriers to growth, and seek better outreach and service opportunities in the community, I am often viewed as the evil invader – and a likely target that helps the tribes to have a common goal.

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Is this the Destiny You Want for your Kids?

February 23, 2009 at 4:47 pm (change, Feedback Received, Introspection, Leadership, Musings) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been contemplating my role as a spiritual leader.  If they don’t want me to be a prophet, a priest, or an apostle, what is my role?  I already know that I’ve not been called to be a traditional pastor – in the shepherd sense of the word.  My gift of mercy is too low for this and I tend to do more damage than good.  A friend sent me a link to an intriguing article that helped me to see a potential role as a poet – an artist who helps bridge the gap between truth and reality.

I actually see great potential for this role, however, my strengths are not well suited for this.  I love ideas, I love to write, and when I have the energy, I love to speak to groups of people.  However, I have a high need to see results.  It isn’t easy for me to sit back and wait for things to happen.  So, I’ve been thinking.

Well, in addition to moping, sulking, and grieving, I’ve been thinking.  I may have even been doing some denial, bargaining, and anger.  But, I’ve been thinking – I’m nothing if I’m not introspective.  Ok, I’ve also been doing some insomnia and depression – but that’s all – some bad eating habits, some insomnia, and some sulking – but that’s it.  Really!  All of that, and some thinking.

In the midst of all this thinking, I’ve had a couple of crucial conversations.  One person was seeking to change me – to fix me, if you will.  The other was seeking to enlighten me to the realities.  Though both conversations were intense, and both had relatively good outcomes, I was left more hopeless after each one.

“Hopeless?” You ask, “Why?”

I’m glad you asked.  I’m beginning to see more clearly the absolute desperate state of the Church in Western Society.  I’ve known that our culture has moved beyond Christianity as a belief structure that is relevant – let alone attractive.  We are a post-christian society.  I know that.  But, I’m coming to the conclusion that even our churches have given up on the beliefs and practices of Jesus Christ.

“What!?”

Yes, the church is good.  We are moral, we are good – to a fault.  We do the right things, but we don’t necessarily do things right.  We have the form of godliness, but we are denying the power” of God.  It really is no wonder that people see the church as irrelevant.  It is irrelevant to me, and I’m one of their leaders.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I am a friend of God.  I am a follower of Jesus.  I take the Bible to be the inspired Word of God.  I believe the Church is called to represent Him on this world.  I have no doubts about who is my Creator, Savior, and Salvation.  I just don’t think the church, for the most part, is representing our mandate very well.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t do a lot of things well.  That doesn’t mean that we aren’t a good refuge for families, the disenfranchised, and others.  But, we have ceased to be a viable force in the lives of people – in the church and out.

What I’m talking about is greatness, or the lack thereof.  We have sacrificed greatness for the merely good.  We have good intentions, but you know where that road leads

I look around and I am struck by the fact that we have no young adults in our churches.  When kids get their freedom (ie; Drivers’ License), they start finding alternatives to church.  Many remain absent until they get out of school, get married, and have their own kids.  People start returning to church around the age of 30 (give or take).

I asked one of my friends (which was also one of the crucial conversations I mentioned above), if he thought the church was attractive to his kids (ages 20 & 22).  He said no.  I asked him if he thought the church was relevant to his kids.  He said yes – but then he launched into a long explanation of why it was his kids’ fault that they didn’t come to church.  It was classic – “blame the victimdogma.  I’ve heard it before, wrapped around a thousand stories.  “We have the truth – and THEY know where to find it.  All they have to do is come and get it.

I asked my other crucial conversation friend the same basic question.  “Is this the church you want your kids (4 & 7) to grow up in?”  It was one of the few times in this conversation that he stumbled.  “No,” he replied.

It was at this point that I began to ask my wife if we could raise our kids in this church.  As we discussed it, we were afraid to pursue the question to its end.  It is a scary question for those whose livelihood depends on the church that is supposed to take care of their children.

Once again, I settled into another round of insomnia, grief, and sulking – rounded out with some unproductive introspection.

I didn’t like where this question is leading me.  I don’t like leading questions.  Last week, it was only a matter of putting in my time until retirement.  Just stick it out, lay low, and don’t make any waves for the next couple of decades.  I don’t like the sound of that – but for the sake of my family, “I could stand on my head and stack BBs” (to quote my Dad).  We talked about starting a small home church where we could be fed – a place that provides the spiritual community that we are created to crave.

Just about the time I was coming to accept this choice – well, that’s when the Spirit gave me Part 2 of the quandary:  “Can my/our children survive this unhealthy state of affairs?”

The answer is no – in case there was any doubt.

Being a strategic and analytic thinker, my mind began to run ahead of the issue.  Where will we find spiritual community then?  Where will I work?  How will I support my family?  Where will we live?  How painful is this going to be?  There is also this thought: “Is God big enough to save my children, even if we live in Egypt?”

During the course of the two crucial conversations, I mentioned my employment concerns – based on the current state of the world economy.  Last year, I was confident that “I” could provide for my family.  This year, I’m not so sure.  It was at this point that God reminded me of Goliath’s threats to the Israelites, and David’s response.  “But,” I challenged, “David didn’t have a wife and kids.  All he had to lose was his own life.”

It was at this point that I became desperate for God.  I can’t do it.  I’m not big enough, strong enough, or capable enough – not to mention, I’m not smart enough.

I am a coward – and I am thinking cowardly thoughts.  So, yesterday, I turned it over to God.  I lay on the couch, in sleepless anxiousness, tossing and turning, and I gave it to God.  Then I slept.

As I left the house today I told my wife.  “We have to fight.”  We have to be smart about it, but we have to fight the complacency.  We have to fight the push to put us back into our place.  We have to work smarter (with God), and not harder.

I don’t want to.  I don’t have the courage yet.  I’m not ready.  I haven’t completely come through the stages of grief.  I don’t have the heart for the fight.  But, in my heart, I know – we have to fight for what’s right.  Not just for our kids’ sake.  Not just for our sake.  Not just for the sake of those who have decided that God has nothing for them.  But we have to stand up for God – to be reflectors of His character.  The Universe needs to see that God is not mediocre, He is not vindictive, unmerciful, uncaring, or un-hearing.  He lives – and He saves.

“David said to the Philistine, ‘You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.'” (1 Samuel 17)

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