The Power of Silence.

Snark Meter

   One of the greatest responsibilities leaders have is to keep their mouths closed.

   Whether you’ve asked for it or not, as a leader—a boss, business owner, ministry leader, politician, teacher, parent or grandparent—people are watching you and listening to you. And they believe what you say (or what they thought you said). When the wrong thing is said, whether unintentionally or on purpose, the nuclear fallout can poison the atmosphere and disparaging impressions are inevitable. Here are a couple of too common scenarios:

   Scenario #1—The Offhand Comment

   Leader (scrolling through text messages): “Looks like Melinda’s going to be late again.”

   Listener: “Melinda Tardy?”

   Leader: “Yeah, she’s never on time. I usually tell her to come a half hour before a meeting actually starts.”

   Listener: “Really? Huh…”

   While that comment is not technically libelous, it hardly leaves a favorable impression of Melinda. The listener can’t help speculating as to why she’s always late: Is she deliberately insensitive to others? Oblivious to the inconvenience she causes? Too particular about her appearance? Can’t tell time? Thanks to human nature, speculations rarely favor the offender.

   Scenario #2—The “Innocent” Gossip

    Leader: “Let’s all pray for Larry and Maeve this week. They’re having some issues at home.”

   Listener A: “What kind of issues? You know—just so we can pray more effectively…”

   Leader: “Well, Larry is out of work again and the financial stress is putting a strain on their marriage.”

   Listener B: “More details would definitely help us to pray…”

   While this scenario is obviously a little exaggerated (I would hope), the point is this: Once a leader even hints that gossip is okay, others will take that permission and run with it. No doubt after the little prayer meeting, Larry and Maeve’s private problems jingled phones all up and down the prayer chain.

   As leaders, we must beware what we start.

   What leaders have to recognize is that our comments, speculations, and judgments are not forgotten by those who hear them—whether we remember them in five minutes or not. And they leave an impression—often a lasting impression.

   Sadly, I can’t tell you the numbers of times over the years that I’ve heard someone in some leadership capacity make a careless or negative comment about someone’s mistake or struggle or fault and, whether I wanted it to or not, it influenced my view of that person.

   “Well,” (you might say), “that’s very immature of you.” Not really. What would be immature would be to repeat the tidbit or to treat the person differently as a result of what I’ve heard. But let’s face it—if we hear something about a person’s bad behavior, weakness or error in judgment—especially if we hear it from someone in authority—we’re going to view that person a different light. The shift in our view may be large or small but it’s there. And it could be any change in thinking from a retraction of trust or respect for the target person to a feeling of pity. (And who likes that?) In more unfortunate situations, careless comments to others by a leader can inspire feelings of jealousy, superiority or even dislike.

   Who does not remember, at one time or another, our wide-eyed, unconditional acquiescence to some respected person’s opinion—no questions asked? If dad, in a moment of frustration, refers to grandma as controlling, then to us she is—even if she’s not. If a coach remarks to a player that “not everyone is cut out to play soccer” (or football or basketball), then forever we’ll believe that Johnny just doesn’t have what it takes—and never will. Poor him.   

   Careless words.

   In the Bible, James talks of the critical importance of controlling one’s tongue. “We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire…” (3:3-6a, NLT).

   Our words, especially those of people in leadership, can steer opinions, viewpoints, biases, and prejudices; words can start fires—rumors, lies, conflicts, and divisions. And in the end, the tongue’s poison can destroy families, churches, work places, communities—even entire nations.

   Is all of that worth the satisfaction of one snarky or careless comment?

   Do leaders get frustrated? Sometimes. And if we need to talk about it, we must be most on guard. Who’s listening? Who’s impressionable? Whether through immaturity or malice, who’s likely to misinterpret?

   As people, we must guard our words and as leaders, even more so; if we do not, everything we’ve tried to build, everyone we’ve tried to encourage—even people’s priceless reputations—can blow up in a micro-second. And let’s not forget one more thing: our own trustworthiness is on the line. After all, if we’ll talk about one person, why wouldn’t that put everyone else on notice that we’d talk about them as well?

   Jesus said we’ll be accountable for every idle word we speak. And no wonder.

                                                                               

 

 

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Kingdom Math: Subtraction = Multiplication

100 Bill

   Would you give away 90% of your income? That’s what Crazy Love author Francis Chan and his wife decided to do; they give away that 90% to the church and other charitable causes and live on the 10% left over. Have they suffered? Not at all—in fact, they’re doing quite nicely.

   How’s that happen?

   The laws of math in the Kingdom of God are different than those of the world. Are we surprised? We shouldn’t be—Jesus has mentioned that. Cases in point: the OT widow, alive during the great famine of Elijah’s time, was asked by the prophet for something to eat. Somewhat fearfully, she says, “’I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die’” (I Kings 17:7-16). How’s that for faith? But, scared or not, she shared her food, and what happened? The prophet multiplied the last of her flour and oil and afterward, it never ran out. In a NT example, a boy offered to give his lunch to feed a hungry crowd: five loaves of bread and two fish which Jesus then multiplied so that  5000+ were fed and leftovers collected (Mark 6:41).

   Principle: Multiplication in the Kingdom of God comes from giving away what we have.

   Forgiveness is another principle of giving. Really. When we break down the word, the prefix “fore” means “before” and “give” means, well, “give”. When we obey the command to give mercy to another—even before they ask or make amends, we harvest the benefit: release from anger, bitterness, shame and the lust for revenge. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we’ve lost (as the world believes)—instead, we win: peace. Maybe you don’t think peace is a big enough payoff, but try living without it.

   Bottom line: Giving that which it doesn’t make sense to give, results in receiving that which the world strives, in vain, to find.

   Time is another opportunity to give. It’s difficult to imagine, in this crazy world, that taking time out of our day or week to spend in prayer, Bible reading, church or kingdom work will do anything but suck us dry. Of all of these “giving” principles, I must confess that this is the one I struggle with the most. How to fit it all in and still have time for family, work, sleep, chores, errands and, yes, writing? But I’m reminded, of all things, of the stories of Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby…

   As you’ve probably heard, Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby refuse to open on Sunday. Most all other large businesses and even many small ones elect to stay open on Sundays for fear of loss of business, market share and, ultimately, money. But neither Chick-fil-A nor Hobby Lobby are losing money. In fact, they’re booming, making more profit than any competitors in their industries.

   Example 2: Years ago, a friend of mine was in med school which left him virtually no time for anything else, but he wanted to spend time sharing the Gospel. At one point, he found he had to choose between writing an important paper or witnessing for the Lord; he just didn’t have time for both. In the end, he decided he’d have to take the hit on the paper because the other work was more important. Imagine his surprise when he found that a paper had been turned into the professor—a really good paper—with his name on it. And he had no idea who’d done it.

   When we give our time to the Lord, it’s multiplied and things get done.

   God also multiplies faithfulness.  I didn’t realize how much until last school year when I agreed to tutor a student after school for the money to help son through college. (I tell the following story only to make that point, not to pat myself on the back.) For tutoring, a teacher is paid by the hour except when the student cancels. Unfortunately for me, my student canceled a lot—sometimes entire weeks. I could have quit and picked up another tutoring job but the district is legally obligated to provide a tutor so that it’s on record that tutoring had been offered. I knew that, given the circumstances, no one else was likely to volunteer so I stuck with it but lost a lot of money. Imagine my surprise when, last May, I found an extra $632 in my bank account. The bank verified that it was there—even though there’d been no record of any extra deposit or math error. (See post entitled “When Money Just Appears”.) When I added up all of the hours I’d missed and the money I’d lost, you guessed it—over $600.

   The fact is simply this: Math in the Kingdom of God is the polar opposite of math in the world. In God’s economy, you give and then what you give—money, time, sacrifice—is multiplied back to you, “‘…pressed down, shaken together, overflowing. For the measure that you use [to give], will be the measure used to give back to you’” (Luke 6:38). On the other hand, math in the world is a question of hoarding money, time and other resources—none of which are guaranteed multiplication or even protection from loss. I have nothing against the stock market or investing, but it’s never a sure thing.

   Doing things according to Biblical principle can be scary—after all, we’ve been programmed to do the opposite our whole lives. But when we look at the return, both now and for eternity, there is, hands down, no comparison.

   Kingdom math = multiplication. Take it to the bank.

Guardian of the Realm: You.

Vietnam Soldier 2 edit

   One dark and solitary night fifty years ago at a remote Air Force base in Viet Nam, a soldier standing guard at a gate decided that, since it was such a quiet night, he could postpone the call of duty momentarily and answer the call of nature—he’d only be gone five minutes, if that. It was, after all, 3 am, the base was miles from anywhere, and Charlie hadn’t been spotted in two whole days. What he didn’t know was that Viet Cong troops were lurking nearby, just waiting for their chance to gain access to the military base. Fifteen minutes later, security had been breached, several aircraft blown to bits, and three airmen killed. And why?

   Because the soldier had let down his guard.

   The response most people have to that story is some version of “A soldier never leaves his post, under any circumstances—he should be court-martialed!”

   He was, but that’s not the point. The point is that most people commenting on that sad tale will swear on their paychecks that if they had been that soldier, they would have never let down their guard.

   And yet they do.

   The Apostle Paul, in his advice to his young protégé Timothy, warns him to guard closely what had been entrusted to his care (I Tim. 6:20).  Now many people (not us, of course) read that warning and discount it because Timothy was, after all, a pastor, and that stuff only applies to them.

   But not so fast. Granted, Timothy was a pastor and had much to guard, but when you break it down, much of what he was entrusted with is not so different than what we, ourselves, are responsible for. Timothy had a congregation, but we have people, too—spouses, children, parents, employees, students or even co-workers in one capacity or another. Peter warns leaders to “care for the flock that God has entrusted to you” (I Peter 5:2).  Of course, this admonition applies to all who are responsible for others. In fact, Jesus told His disciples (us) that we are even responsible for our “neighbors” —that being our fellow human beings.

   Paul also warns Timothy to guard against some things, “youthful lust” being one of them (II Tim. 2:22), and Paul warns all of us “not to think more highly of [ourselves] than [we] ought” (Romans 12:3). In other words, we need to guard against lust and pride. In fact, we should guard against anything that threatens our integrity and reputation.

   Another part of Paul’s warning to Timothy is to “carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you” (II Tim. 1:14), and to beware of men who deceive and pollute the purity of the Gospel. And while we aren’t necessarily responsible for what’s taught from the pulpit in our churches, what about guarding ourselves and our children from deception—from the insidious infiltration of the occult into our culture? “Innocent” games like Ouija boards and séances, “harmless” little excursions to the fortune teller at the carnival, or amusing little forays into the horoscope section of the newspaper? What about the crossbreeding of religions—a New Age dash of Zen Buddhism here, a refreshing mantra-laced Hindu meditation there, with a little Christian spice on top? (Except not the “Jesus is the only way” part because that is so closed-minded!)

   What about guarding against that?

   And what about the money that’s been entrusted to us? Cash or credit card? Save or splurge? Charitable causes or vacation? Hoard or share?  Jesus had a little bit to say in that regard: “‘Beware! Guard against every kind of greed…’” (Luke 12:15).

   And then there’s the heart. The Bible speaks in Proverbs about guarding our hearts—and that means not just who we fall in love with but rather what we open our hearts to. “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (4:23). So— do we indulge in a perfectly-justified morsel of offense and/or unforgiveness when someone angers or hurts us? Or do we simply ignore the warnings and thereby allow those evils to take root and blossom into bitterness? And not just bitterness: “‘For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness’” (Mark 7:21-22).

If we don’t guard what we allow into our hearts, we’ll eventually have no control over the evil that comes from them.

   Do we guard our hearts?

   Finally, do we guard the most important treasure we have—our relationship with the Lord? Do we guard our time with Him? Granted, that’s not always easy, and I’m not in any position to imply that it is—but do we try? Do we go places with Him? Or are we always out with the guys, the girls, the kids? Do we read His book or watch our movie? Sunday morning worship or NFL pre-game tailgate party? (or brunch or soccer game or bubble bath?) And who has the final say in our decisions—the Lord or our Facebook friends?

   Is He in charge of our destiny or are we?

   Some not-too-distant day we’ll stand before the Lord to give an account for all that we’ve been assigned to do. And on that day, regardless of what we claim right now, we’ll only want to hear Jesus say one thing: “‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with what I’ve entrusted to you’” (Luke 19:17).

   We talk a lot about having trust in God, but the unfathomable fact is that He’s trusting us to fulfill the assignment He’s given us. But that will only happen one way.

   You have a destiny. Guard it well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hurricane Hope: More Powerful than Irma or Harvey

Hurricane Satellite Pic Edited

   Hurricane Harvey:  FEMA reports that during Harvey’s five-day insurgency upon Texas (August 24th-29th), more than 53,600 residents from over 18,700 households were forced to evacuate their homes; over a half million families (560,000) —including those who chose not to evacuate—have had their homes damaged or destroyed; and over a million cars have been lost. Sixty-eight people have died.

   Hurricane Irma: As of this writing, Irma is a huge, Category 5 storm with winds clocking in at 175 mph. This dangerous storm is being billed as the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in both the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean. Irma has decimated the Caribbean island of Barbuda where 90% of structures were destroyed by the storm, prompting Prime Minister Gaston Browne to call the island “uninhabitable”.  At least ten people have died. 

   Irma is a Cat 5 storm and since winds from a Category 5 start at 150 mph, some are suggesting that the National Hurricane Center should designate a Category 6 just to measure the strength of Irma.

   Note that a Category 5 hurricane is not simply five times stronger than a Category 1—it’s 500 times more powerful than a Category 1 storm (The Weather Channel).

   Hurricane Jose: A powerful Category 3 storm close on the heels of Irma….

   So why is all of this mayhem happening? In a quest to make sense of the senseless, one professor tweeted that Hurricane Harvey is God’s judgment upon conservatives in Texas for supporting Donald Trump. (He’s since been fired.) Others in the opposite camp insist that God is judging those who don’t support President Trump. God, on the other hand, is withholding comment.

   Maybe.

   It’s been said that there can’t be a resurrection without a death. And while death, which we primarily think of as pertaining to a physical body, comes in many other disguises, its primary characteristic is destruction in one form or another. Deadly hurricane destruction bombards communities, cities, and entire regions with chaos and fear; it shipwrecks lifestyles due to financial losses; it decimates dreams and visions that people have worked their whole lives to achieve—homes, businesses, and careers; and it breaks the hearts and spirits of those affected by so much damage and loss.

   But what if there was a reason for Harvey and Irma and for all of their tragic aftermath? What if there’s a reason for the trillions of dollars of destruction? And what if there really are reasons for all kinds of tragedies?

   What if…?

   When I was praying for Texas after the hurricane, the words “resurrection,” “restoration” and “revival” popped into my head and it occurred to me that, in God’s methodology, those words are a progression of events. In other words, after a death, God can bring resurrection—and that thing we thought long dead is suddenly given new life. However, a resurrection and a restoration are two different things. After Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jesus instructed those witnessing his resurrection to remove the cloths that bound him. In other words, that rescue from bondage, that restoration to normalcy was a separate action from the resurrection itself. The same is true today: Resurrection is and must be followed by restoration.

   Nevertheless, the question remains: Even if we experience resurrection and restoration, what’s the point of having had to endure a tragedy that leads to the need for either of those? Either one is certainly a good thing—an excellent thing, but in the eternal picture, there’s even a greater purpose to tragedy than merely a return to what once was. The truth that is there’s a vast difference between a simple return of what was lost and a multiplication of what was lost. For example, say a business fails and dies and in the process, a million dollars is lost. Resurrection brings the business back and restoration returns the million dollars. But after that? What would be the point of going through all of that if all you get back is what you had to begin with? Isn’t there a greater purpose? Yes, there is.

   Revival.

   Revival is that which takes us beyond a resurrection and a restoration—sweet as those things are—to a place of multiplication, to a creation of that which did not exist before the resurrection.

    It’s what happens when we come back from a devastating tragedy—say a person has a life-sucking addiction. When he’s snatched from the jaws of death, he’s resurrected. And when he’s returned to his prior clean physical, mental and emotional state, he’s restored. But then when he’s able to go out and minister to others from his experience, when he’s able to be the catalyst for the resurrection and restoration of others, when he multiplies his new life—that’s real revival.

   Revival is often equated with resurrection but it’s so much more; both bring new life but revival brings it on a bigger scale, often to whole regions or populations—many of which may have never experienced life to begin with. Revival brings multiplication of that life, whether it be physical, spiritual, financial or otherwise.

   The point? While many in the southern states are experiencing the tragedy of destruction and loss from Harvey and Irma, there will be a resurrection of that which has been destroyed, a restoration of that which has been damaged, and a revival which will bring a multiplication to that which existed before. New structures will be built, new relationships forged, and new spiritual life birthed in people who might never have given thought to such things otherwise. You may remember that revival broke out after the 9-11 terrorist attacks; churches were filled with people who had never graced their doors before. Souls were saved, and people were snatched from the jaws of eternal death.

   Does knowing this make it easier when you’ve lost everything? Perhaps not, not in the moment or even in the weeks and months to come. But hopefully it will bring some comfort to know that despite the excruciating pain of loss, despite the grief, despite the seeming senselessness of it all, God is still in charge and He has a plan. And it’s just when it seems darkest that He implements that plan. After Jesus was dead and His disciples filled with despair and hopelessness, then God’s plan exploded into the world: resurrection, restoration, and revival.

   That’s always been His plan—and it will never change.