September 2011

Like so many, I’ve been challenged and inspired by God’s call to His people to “be strong and courageous.”  In fact, one of the Scriptural occurrences of that phrase has been chosen as the 2011-2012 verse of the year for IWU – “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6, NIV)

As one of my mentors has often stated, “pastors have been taught to be caring but not taught to be courageous.”  I’m not sure it’s something that can be taught.  I also don’t believe that a courage shortage is limited to pastors. But it is awesome if one of the outcomes of an education at Wesley Seminary at IWU would be that every graduate would be inspired and infused with courage to take kingdom risks.

This is different from mere recklessness or risk-taking.  A “Kingdom” risk speaks to Source and focus.  Its Source is the heart of God Himself, who expresses His will through a call upon your life.  It is not taking a chance as a result of comparing oneself with others or copying what others are doing, but the unique expression of His will personally delivered to your heart by God’s Spirit.

Its focus is Kingdom advancement.  It is not personal thrill-seeking, trying to prove something, or a display of bravado. It is not fueled by a negative reaction to the “institutional church” or the need to spite authority.  You step into the realm of the insecure and unseen because you believe God is prompting you to further His Kingdom in a specific way.

A week ago I met with a group of undergraduate ministry students who all sense a call to involvement in church planting.  Gabe Melian, a student leader, is exploring with these students the formation of LAUNCH, to nurture the courage and calling to engage in the risky endeavor of church planting.  As part of this gathering they each shared their story, which was truly inspiring. It also prompted a trip down memory lane for me (and yes, that lane is getting longer as the years go by!).  When I was a Senior at IWU I sensed God’s call to plant a church that would be healthy and reproducing (plant other churches).  I passed on an offer to pastor an existing church though it seemed “safer.”  My times in prayer partnership with another IWU ministry major, my good friend Dennis Jackson, convinced me that seeking greater security would have been an act of disobedience.  I couldn’t help but muse as I sat with those students – “Do I have the same ‘risk tolerance’ I had back then?  Should our sense of risk change with the season of ministry?  Is an occupational hazard of long-term ministry a growing tendency to play it safe?”

The forward movement of God’s Kingdom requires men and women willing to take risks by planting churches, evangelizing unreached people groups, investing in transforming urban areas, and carrying the good news locally in their neighborhoods or globally in their employment.  It is being salt and light in the course of whatever their career path may be.

So I’m challenged, and perhaps you are as well – enter the zone of sacrifice, stretch what may seem like faltering faith, cross the line of predictable and reasonable, grow your capacity to live with uncertainty –all for the sake of an adventure yielding eternal results!


The tag read “3 for 3.79” – an incredible sale. Needless to say I grabbed a container of those lemon, poppy seed muffins and cheerfully headed to the checkout.  When the price for the muffins rang up as $3.29, I nicely informed the checkout lady that the price was wrong – I was confident that I was right.   I was making a sound argument and she had begun to read the receipt to look for the error, when the young man bagging my groceries pulled the muffins back out, read the label, and said, “Mam, that’s the expiration date not the price.”

Dreaded bad eyesight!  My readers were on my head, holding back my hair, rather than on my eyes, and I completely misread the expiration tag, making the assumption it was a sale tag.  I jokingly told the young bagger that they shouldn’t use such small print on middle-aged women’s groceries, paid the full price, and headed home.

There are times when my spiritual eyes aren’t a whole lot better than my physical ones.  How about you?  Are there times when you too rely on your own imperfect vision? We make assumptions about what we see and mistake an expiration date for a sale tag, hurting people for hurtful people, and people in need for needy people.  We are confident we see the truth clearly but have forgotten our “readers” on top of our heads.

Donovan Graham in his book, Teaching Redemptively, suggests we must see those whom we have an opportunity to lead and serve as God’s image bearers, and we in turn should reflect the nature and character of God in our responses.[1] What difference would it make in our behavior if, when we come across someone who is rude, hard to get along with, self-obsessed, or has the nerve to disagree with us, we saw them as God’s image bearer?  They may be in need of reconciliation, restoration, or healing, but they bear His image – Imago Dei – nonetheless.

How would we behave if we saw clearly?  What does it look like to reflect God’s nature and character in our responses?

  • We would extend grace over judgment. (Ephesians 2)
  • We would be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19)
  • We would offer a hand of help rather than words of advice (Matthew 25:34-36)
  • We would share a message of hope instead of shame (Hebrews 6:18-19, Romans 8:1 & Romans 15:13)
  • And we would remember what we were before He saved us (Titus 3:3-7)

Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled and became slaves to many lusts and pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy, and we hated each other. But—“When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he declared us righteous and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.” (Titus 3:3-7, NLT)

In the moment-by-moment everydayness of life and ministry we each have an opportunity to see, and what we see impacts our attitude and behavior.  Every once in awhile we need reminded to take our readers off of our heads so that we can see clearly.

How well can you see? How is your vision?

[1] Graham, D. (2009). Teaching redemptively: Bringing grace and truth into your classroom (2nd edition). Colorado Springs, CO: Purposeful Design.