Thursday, January 24, 2019

Deceptive Discernment

“Suspicion is not discernment.” – Bill Johnson

“Pastor, I need to talk to you about Jim.  He’s new to the church and I need to let you know that I have a ‘red flag’ about him.” 

“You do? Why is that?”

“I don’t know, I just have a red flag, you need to be careful.”

“Well, I appreciate your concern, but I’ve known this man for more than 15 years.  We’ve walked through a lot of ‘life’ together and he really is a great guy.”

“I understand, but I have a red flag.”

“I understand too…I don’t.”

This is a real conversation I once had with a trusted elder who was genuinely concerned that a new member of our church, and a long-time personal friend of mine, was some sort of wolf in sheep's clothing.  (Name was changed to protect the innocent.) He was wrong in his discernment.  It happens.  And the gentleman of concern ended up becoming a good friend to this spiritual leader.

There are several lessons to learn from this interaction that are very common in many spirit-filled churches today:

1.    Don’t mistake discernment for suspicion.

A suspicious heart is usually a critical heart.  It often looks through the lens of past hurts and usually takes either an overly aggressive stance or a debilitating defensive one. Oft times those in spiritual leadership will mislabel their own paranoia, past hurts or disappointments as “spiritual discernment.”   When not properly handled, this spiritual mislabeling becomes a finger-pointing tool meant to isolate and damage others in the Body of Christ.  We don’t agree or don’t like someone else’s method or ministry and we “discern” they are a false prophet. Just do a quick Google search of Joel Osteen…you’ll be amazed at how horrible a person he apparently is. (sarcasm intended)

2.    Understand that the different ministry gifts are different for a reason. 

Are you ready for this?  The five primary ministry gifts denoted in Ephesians 4 are different.  They certainly can work together, but they are very different in their primary motivations. 

Pastors are not prophets.  Prophets are not pastors.  Apostles are not teachers.  Evangelists are not pastors.  Teachers are not pastors.  I did not say that a pastor cannot function prophetically, or that a prophet cannot “do the work of an evangelist.”  But understand…these gifts are very different.  Pastors (poimen) are shepherds.  They are care-givers, lovers of sheep; nurturers and exhorters.  Pastors love to lead and feed.  Prophets tend to be…well…prophets.  At least the real ones do.  A sharper word, sometimes of warning of correction.  The Old Testament prophets typically had one message:  “Repent or die!”  My experience is that true prophets tend to be loners, not typically people-oriented.  They are message-oriented.  Apostles are pioneers, breaking up fallow ground and plowing new fields. 

My first youth pastor hire was a powerful young man of God.  When he preached, the anointing was palpable.  He was passionate about “going into the highways and byways” and ministering to the most helpless.  I loved being around him.  But he had little patience for the church.  He felt most church people were self-absorbed and not as passionate about reaching the lost as he.  He wasn’t necessarily wrong…but he also wasn’t a good pastor.  I was cleaning up a lot of messes.  I told him one day, “Dude, you are John the Baptist. You’re out in the wilderness crying, “Repent!” wearing funny clothes and eating strange things.  We need those prophetic/evangelists in the Body.  But we also need the church to take care of those new converts when they come to Christ.

I could go on and on illustrating the differences.  My point is that we need to recognize the differences and appreciate them.  Prophets usually make terrible pastors.  They can clear out a church quicker than anyone. They tend to break legs rather than mend hearts.  Apostles are usually so forward-focused that tending existing sheep is very difficult for them. 

I remember telling a very prophet-gifted church member:  “There is no way I can pastor these people the way you see them.”  He chuckled.  He understood.

The Father spoke to me one day:  “Don’t ever pastor my people paranoid.”  I knew exactly what He meant.  Never look at new people who walk in the door as potential problems with huge amounts of baggage.  Look at their potential and what they are about to become.  See the gift inside each of them.  Yes, they may be wounded or broken, but Jesus came to heal them.  The God who saves and heals them is the same God who deposits precious gifts within each.  The very people that others have labeled as “trouble” will become the greatest blessings of your ministry.

Pastors, drop the paranoia. You’ll never get anywhere with it.  It will alienate you from some incredible gifts from God.  Being a  perpetual victim is not an appealing character trait.

However, don’t let the pendulum swing too far the other way and throw the mantle of “pastor” onto everyone who walks in the door.  The ability to Google search a Greek word does not constitute a degree in Theology.

Find the balance.  Seek the gifts in others.  Be life-giving.  Watch God do incredible things!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Don’t Push Send!

“Too much talk leads to sin.
Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.”
Proverbs 10:19 (NLT)

The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.”
Exodus 14:14 (NKJV)

I watched with great humor as Coach Herm Edwards was offering advice to a group of rookies coming into training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs.  He warned them that in the age of social media, it is incredibly tempting to post things on social media or by text or email that may seem right in the moment, but later will prove difficult to defend.

Let’s be honest. This is true for everyone.  Social media is riddled with people “working out” their personal issues in a public forum, attempting to garner sympathy, right an injustice or simply tear someone else down.  We watch as people make bold statements in the heat of an emotional political season.  We witness embarrassing barrages of anger and rage from a jilted ex-husband toward his ex-wife. We attempt to decipher coded verbiage of a wounded spirit trying to accuse someone else without coming right out and saying what they really want to say.  I’ve preached many times from the pulpit, “I’ve never had to apologize for what I DIDN’T say. But those time I spoke before thinking…yikes!”

Social media, text messaging, email all offer cover from direct confrontation.  Suddenly, the meek become bold, the bold become bolder and the angry go over the top. Barbs are traded that most would never have the guts enough to speak directly to the recipient’s face.

Admit it. Haven’t you pushed “send” and wished you could retrieve the message the second it left your finger?

However, in the immortal words of Rush Limbaugh: “Words mean things.”  In the incorruptible words of holy scripture, words can build up and words can tear down.  Proverbs 18:21 says, Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.”

Today’s exhortation is simply, “Don’t push send!”  If you must write the long, rambling email in response to an insult, then write it.  You will probably feel better.  It’s wonderful therapy.  Then delete it.  I’ve done it many times.  But don’t push send.

The proverbial “grapevine” has delivered to you a hurtful accusation based in half-truths and innuendo.  Don’t respond even when every fiber of your flesh is crying out to cut loose.  Remember, when you step into the flesh, you leave the realm of grace.

I’m a pastor. Early on, I was given the gift of being able to “not respond.”  I’m not sure why…but I’ve always been able to hole my tongue, listen intently, then…let it go.  Much of the time I did not respond to an accusation because I knew it would harm someone else and could harm the church. 

Silence is powerful. Silence doesn’t tell lies.  Silence doesn’t spread gossip.  Silence doesn’t speak ill-will.  Silence protects.  Silence conceals.  Silence covers “backsides.”  The ability for a pastor to hold such confidence is absolutely vital to his or her success.  Too many ministries suffer because leadership can’t hold their tongue and flippantly speak their minds.  Their un-quieted minds often betray them.  (And remember, what they say ALWAYS goes beyond the original recipient…ALWAYS!)  The ability for any follower of Christ to restrain themselves reaps untold rewards. (And…if the truth be made known…it really bothers the accuser that they doesn’t get your response.  So…that’s a bonus!)

But I believe there is more to it. I believe it’s what God wants from us most of the time.  Certainly there are proper moments to confront, to clarify and to “speak the truth in love.”  But I have learned that silence goes along way to victory and is often times the only path to personal peace in Christ.

Concerning those who have been falsely accused, lied about or diminished, I recently read:  "Let your character speak! The fruit of your life will always outlive a lie. Godly character is the greatest defense."

I don’t suggest that you bottle it up and not “vent” when you need to. But be sure it’s with your spouse, a trusted friend or a pastor who can understand that they are simply helping you process the frustration and pain.  But please…please…don’t retaliate.  Don’t say something you will regret.  Don’t carry someone else’s ignorance to others and allow it to place you in the unenviable position of becoming a gossip or talebearer. 

Trust God…let it go.  And whatever you do…


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