This is the first article in a three part series. Most of what is written below was written over a year ago as the result of a challenging and valuable Seminary class called Shaping the Heart of a Leader. I share it with you as background for the following two articles, Wrestling With the Word and Unfiltered. (Note that references to the present or recent past have been left as they were written back then.)

Listening to God
Reggie McNeal says succinctly in his book A Work of Heart, the function of the Christian leader “is to reflect God’s heart to God’s people. This cannot be done apart from a leader’s firsthand knowledge of God’s heart.” I’ve discovered that a great way to practice listening to God is to be willing to pause and reflect on what is happening right now and how it relates to your own growth. Maybe this has occurred because of a lack of structure in my own life, but I often see/hear God responding to me not when I set aside time, but when I simply set aside my own agenda. To that end, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting, listening, and figuring out what my own “agenda” (desires, wants, dreams, etc.) is. It has been said that you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. So I am going to look backward so that I can better examine my life now to open up my life to God’s work in me.

The Past Does Matter
The church I attended throughout my youth was conservative and growing. Truth and scriptural authority were highly valued. Emotions on the other hand were mostly ignored. When I was young, I was committed to church, to youth group, and to growing. I sought and was directed toward a leadership role at church in the youth group as well as in starting up a bible study at school. A couple of times as I was growing up I had encouragement to go into preaching by other Christians. The narcissistic side of me thinks that what they saw was pride, self-righteousness, and over-confidence, and those things very well could have been there, but those few comments were a big part in me going into full-time preaching.

My church was growing large as I was growing up, but we always had a certain group of family friends that we interacted with. The mentoring and teaching of more mature Christians was vital in my understanding and foundation for life in Christ (not that I internalized it all). At the same time, I believe the negative interactions to church leadership at various times created in me a conviction to be a part of the solution for church health. Typical reactions included complaining, infighting, and/or leaving the congregation. In college this turned into dreams of healing and rebuilding the churches instead of just giving up on them and starting new ones.

Wax On, Wax Off
I recently saw the movie Kung Fu Panda and was reminded of my long-time desire to learn the martial arts. I’ve always been in awe of the speed, strength, agility, and discipline of martial artists. Granted, TV and film has done great damage to the authenticity of martial arts, but there is one key element that is maintained by most portrayals of martial artists – the importance and defining role of practice. There is no speed, strength, agility, or even discipline without regular practice. The acts of practice build and grow to become the thing that the martial artist seeks. Karate Kid is probably the iconic film for my generation of disciplined practice that produces results.

God has been slowly growing and changing me, sometimes with my involvement, and other times in spite of me. I’d like to be able to do a little bit of work in a few places in my life and then wake up one day and be a mature Christian. But I know it doesn’t work that way. And so day in and day out, through the disciplined practice of reading, prayer, reflection, and silence (to name a few), God is transforming me into the likeness of His Son. Some days that means great and awesome revelations that fuel my passion for Christ, other days it means patient practicing that wonders where the results are but still trusting that His Word and Spirit are working in and through me, and still other days it means delving into the deep dark recesses of my heart and life, struggling through the doubt, fear, pain, and self-loathing as I let the light of Christ shine into every part of my life.

You Can’t Handle the Truth
The last week or so (I know God’s been working on me about this a whole lot longer than that) has been the difficult, dark, shameful exposure of who I am and how I live. I realized a few days ago that I am a jerk. That may not come as a surprise to some people (okay, most people) but it did to me. It’s very hard to admit to such a terrible character trait, especially when I’ve been devoted in thought to loving others for years and years. It is as if I am in a time warp and a large part of my heart is just now catching up to the rest of my heart and my mind after six years. This is not easy for me to do, but I believe that writing it out will help me be more open to God’s work in my life and more equipped at practicing loving others.

Don’t Dish It Out If You Can’t Take It
When I was in High School, I had this friend that would give everybody in the group a hard time by teasing them, or joking about them, but then when you would do the same thing to or about them, they would explode in anger and sadness. That’s always particularly bothered me since I noticed it in my friend in High School. The more time I’ve spent with people around me the last few years, the more I’ve noticed it in them. I have had a hard time not getting upset with others when I respond to them in similar ways to how they act toward me. Not realizing that the entire time (probably even back to before High School), that I am that person at times. As many wise ministers have said, if you’re with a group of people and you can’t figure out who the E.G.R. (extra grace required) person is, chances are, it’s you.

I Kid, I Kid
I developed greatly in the art of sarcasm in my teen years. Not something I prize these days, even though I still use it. I’m not sure why I so quickly revert to sarcastic comments, but I realize that it’s not healthy and does not build others up. People often can’t tell when I’m joking. What makes it worse is that I have apparently developed body language that does not communicate humor when I am joking (sarcastically or otherwise). This has been confirmed by three people I would consider good friends and strong Christians. Unfortunately, I still don’t see how and/or when I am doing it, but I trust them and seek to take great measures to learn to laugh with others, instead of at them.

I Crack Myself Up
Something else that doesn’t help in how I come across to others is that I think I’m hilarious. I laugh out loud at my own jokes all the time. I genuinely think I’m funny. I’m coming to the conclusion however, that I’d rather be corny and not all that funny than sarcastic and hilarious.

This Is How You Do It
This attitude should have clued me into my problem a long time ago. And I see now that others have been trying to gently tell me that I’m a jerk but I either am too stupid or have not been emotionally ready to hear it. I’ve been called abrasive, cocky, egotistical, arrogant, harsh, and gruff.

I Don’t Think So
I love a good argument. I’ve always been enthusiastic about what is right or how to do something well. When I was a freshman in High School, I made an older girl cry during Bible study. In as much as I could determine later from others, it was because I pretty much presented my understanding of the passage (we were studying Revelation) and when a dissenting view was given I responded with something to the effect that “no, my view makes more sense.” I still tend to do that.

Holding a Grudge
One night my mom found me by her bedside with the phone in my hands in the middle of the night. She asked me what I was doing and I told her I was calling the police on my brother. That still brings laughs to our family gatherings. I don’t ever recall doing it but I was known for a little sleep walking and a lot of sleep talking. Despite my aggressively definitive answers to everything that might come up, I never really expressed much emotion during the first 20 years of my life, except anger and frustration.

You’re Killing Me, Smalls
I have a lot of stress in my life and I don’t handle it well. I have continued health problems and I become emotionally sensitive during times of greater stress. Stress isn’t just damaging to my physical and emotional health, it’s also damaging to my relationships with God and man. The more stressed I am, the less time I spend practicing the spiritual disciplines and the less time I think I have for others. I become short and impatient with my family, friends, and neighbors. But I am just now discovering that if the Sabbath was created for man, then we have been given a tool, an opportunity to develop and maintain a holistically healthy life. We can achieve spiritual and relational health through regular and disciplined rest, worship, and conversation.

I Put the Pit in Hospitality
My wife and I enjoy having people over to our home, and we enjoy visiting with others. We’ve been in our current location for a little over six years. (Note that we have actually moved since this was written.) Every time we have an open house kind of party, the number of people that attend get smaller and smaller. We’ve tried to have neighborhood cookouts, we’ve tried to host numerous bible studies and small groups, all with the same results. We could not figure out why people won’t come to our house. We thought it might be because we don’t keep it extremely clean, or because there’s a stigma in the community about the “Pastor’s house.” It now seems that much of it is because of my general approach toward others. I could be wrong again, and would love some insight, but it makes sense that so many people don’t really want to spend a lot of time with me.

Truth Has Little Value Outside of Relationship
Right relationships are crucial to our lives in Christ. First and foremost is our relationship with God. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6) In that restored relationship do we not only find the truth, we are shown how to live in truth, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13) Out of that relationship comes a right relationship with every other person in our lives, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22)
We like to try and separate things into individual categories and get all confused when Scripture combines them. Faith and works, justice and mercy, grace and truth, and all of these wrapped up in love. Or maybe love is expressed through works, mercy, and grace. My separation of truth from love isn’t so much intentional, but it is how I have lived. And yet our right relationships with each other in the church is a part of truth, “If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)

Thanks Be to God
I’ve gained a new gratitude to God and appreciation for patient, forgiving, and loving people who were and are willing to be an involved part of my life and for those who call me friend in spite of who I am, what I’ve said, and how I’ve (miss) treated them. It hurts sometimes to change. But It hurts so much more that I have hurt so many people and that I have betrayed God for so long. But this is what God does for us. This is what He does to us. This is what He does in us. He convicts, He changes, He heals, He transforms.

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This entry was posted on Friday, February 26th, 2010 at 1:25 am and is filed under Devotional. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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6 Comments(+Add)

1   Chris L    http://www.fishingtheabyss.com/
February 26th, 2010 at 4:15 pm

As far as putting the “pit” in hospitality, you’ve not driven me away yet…

…yet ;)

2   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 26th, 2010 at 8:43 pm

“the function of the Christian leader “is to reflect God’s heart to God’s people. This cannot be done apart from a leader’s firsthand knowledge of God’s heart.””

Wow…wow. Just wow.

3   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 26th, 2010 at 8:53 pm

I must admit, after reading your entire post, this just might be one of the best posts on this site entirely.

Really. It goes to the heart…at least mine and I thing God’s.

4   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
February 26th, 2010 at 8:54 pm

“…and I think God’s”

5   Christian P    http://www.churchvoices.com
February 27th, 2010 at 10:38 am

Thanks Rick.

6   Christian P    http://www.churchvoices.com
March 1st, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Although I would have to say Jerry’s last article was the best I’ve read.

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  1. Prophets, Priests and Poets » Blog Archive » Transforming Faith Part 3: Unfiltered    Mar 03 2010 / 9am:

    [...] is the third and final part of this series. You can find the first two articles here and here. I would appreciate it if you left a comment about how God has transformed you. Since you [...]