GENERATIONAL THINKING, PART ONE

Want to change a culture? Get married, have children, think generationally. The world has yet to see the impact of a group of families committed to living generationally. What’s that?

When we talk family, we think nuclear. Like the guy prayed: “Dear God. Bless me, my wife, our son, his wife, us four, no more.” When the Bible thinks family, it talks generations. Sin impacts four generations out (Ex. 20:5). And blessings accrue from one generation to the next.

Look at the staggering impact of the family of Jonathan Edwards during the founding of this country. He and his wife Sarah had eleven children. When an American educator traced their descendants 150 years out, their legacy included: 1 vice-president, 3 senators, 3 governors, 3 mayors, 13 college presidents, 30 judges, 65 professors, 80 public office holders, 100 lawyers, and 100 missionaries. We are seeing an impact in this generation, though not as dramatic, in the Billy Graham family. What if thirty families chose to do this and succeeded? Or three thousand?

I have told my children: “Go farther than us. Then give it away to your children.” What if each successive generation is stronger than the last? By the fourth generation, children are stopping cancer cold, seeing things that we have dreamed of.

Psalm 112 says, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands. His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed” (1,2). What is “mighty” to the fourth power?

Scripture speaks of both physical and spiritual fathers and mothers who pass the baton to their children. A successful passing brings an acceleration of righteousness. What happened when Moses passed the baton to his spiritual son, Joshua? They took the land. And when Joshua passed it to—whom? No one. Read the book of Judges. Momentum was lost.

A discouraged Elijah was told to mentor his replacement. When Elisha received the mantle as Elijah rode to heaven, he cried out, “My father, my father.” Elisha doubled the miracle output of his spiritual father. And when Elisha passed the baton? He didn’t. Momentum was neutralized and sin abounded.

Certainly we would not see this principle applied when the Son of Man passed the baton to a group of unschooled common workers. In fact, they turned their world on its head. Jesus spoke about “greater works than these.” They did them. The world will take note when a group of parents agree to raise godly children who raise godly children who raise godly children.

Generational thinking is foreign to us but not to the Word of God:
“Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it” (Ps. 22:30,31).
“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come” (Ps. 71:18).
“Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the Lord” (Ps. 102:18).
The prophets made sure the faithful were mindful of this reality: “Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation” (Joel 1:3). There it is: four generations in one sentence! (Part II coming).

THE POWER OF UNOFFENDABLE LOVE

“Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

“ABOVE ALL.” Love is the preeminent virtue. Let’s excel in it. “HOLD UNFAILING.” If you don’t know what to do in a situation, ask, “What would love do?” Paul already told us that “love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8). Hey, I could succeed every time–by loving!

“YOUR LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER.” This is one of 59 “one anothers” in the Bible. Peter directs our love to people. We run into that type all the time.

“SINCE LOVE COVERS A MULTITUDE OF SINS.” Peter learned how to live above offense, covering sins rather than exposing them. Some people feel an obligation to uncover the sins of others. Peter recommends the opposite. Unoffendable people are non-judgmental, easy to live with, full of understanding.

“He who covers over an offense promotes love…” (Proverbs 17:9). It takes the power of the Spirit to be consistently unoffendable. Solomon also wisely said, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10:12). One more: “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).

Paul calls us to “lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). To forbear is to endure, refrain from. People who forbear keep their mouth shut. Some people go public with every grievance. They don’t have a clue about unoffendable love.

Unoffendable Christians
.know that they need forgiveness, so they extend it to others
.show the love of Christ to those who don’t deserve it
.are champions of grace, which makes them fun to be around
.choose to look past peoples’ faults to their future
.put courage in while others are draining it out
.know that mercy triumphs over judgment

Jesus was full of grace and truth, but what rubbed off on people was grace: “Of his fulness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16?). Amazing that the Holy One of Israel saw into the depths of the human heart and yet beamed out grace.

Two examples of how Jesus covered offenses: when the woman caught in adultery was about to be stoned by self-righteous sinners, Jesus was releasing her by declaring, “Neither do I condemn you.” The one Man who could have sent her into a Christ-less eternity lifted guilt and shame with one personal proclamation.

Another woman may have felt shame when Jesus straightforwardly revealed her brokenness: “You have had five husbands…” By the end of the conversation she was drinking from living water, feeling acceptance from the Prophet of Israel. Her vulnerability back in town brought the single most effective evangelistic campaign of Christ’s earthly ministry, because He chose to “cover a multitude of sins.”

Guilty, broken people expect shame when they mess up. They are surprised when grace is extended instead of judgment. It’s hardest to do with the people we know the best–parents, siblings, children, bosses, co-workers. What would it be like if both spouses were unoffendable?

A TIME TO WEEP

Weeping has its appropriate time. Paul gives us one occasion: “Weep with those who weep.” Our culture is not as good at weeping as some others. Perhaps these truths can help.

God gave you tear-ducts.
He has given you the equipment. It can happen, even for big boys. Enlist the eyes more than the tongue. When Job’s three friends heard of his troubled, they traveled to him. “When they saw him…they could hardly recognize him…Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days…No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:12,13). It got messy when they opened their mouths. Presence beats preaching!

Acts of kindness trump words. Hugs and hamburgers work well. And you do not need to represent God and correct the sloppy theology of the grieving. That will right itself in time.

One sign of love is the ability to weep with people. When my wife lost our son one week before his scheduled birth, Karen said on the phone to her brother, “Thanks for crying with me.” Paul told the Corinthian church, “If one part suffers, all suffers with it” (I Cor. 12:26).

God suffers with us.
The story of Hosea is a picture of God the grieving Lover, whose heart is wrenched by His prostituting wife. He knows what grief is about. The psalmist writes, “Put my tears in your bottle” (Ps 56:18). God saves the evidence of a broken heart.

The book of Judges tells stories of Israel’s roller coaster ride with rebellion and revival. At one point we read, “And God could bear Israel’s misery no longer” (Judges 10:16). God knows our pain and enters our sorrow. Isaiah wrote, “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (63:9).

The psalmist said, “He is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). We sometimes feel that God is distant in our pain. This scripture tells us that He is closer than ever. God holds a bias for the broken.

Jesus wept.
He was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” What a description for the triumphant Son of God. He said, “Blessed are those who mourn…” Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, knowing He was going to raise him. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He said in the garden, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. Watch here with me.” He asked for help in His grieving.

The Spirit Grieves
God the Father has emotions of joy and sorrow, anger and peace. Then the Spirit within us does as well. He doesn’t leave us when we violate His will, but He grieves. That is why we are commanded to offload destructive sin with the exhortation, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit…” (Eph. 4:30).

The People of God wept
After Moses died, “The Israelites grieved for…thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over” (Deut. 34:8). When Stephen was martyred, “Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him” (Acts 8:2). They did not just say, “Oh, we’ll see him in heaven.”

One day weeping will end. Tears will be wiped away. In the meantime, we cry. Don’t save up your tears, because you can’t use them in the new earth. If you need help, the Holy Spirit who knows how to grieve can help you.

LEADERSHIP–JESUS’ STYLE, PART II

Jesus turned leadership on its head (Matt. 20:25-28). It’s not how high you get but how low you go. These truths come from His words:

Leadership by character is compelling. Leadership by position isn’t. Billy Graham has had influence more because of his character than his preaching. The Pharisees ruled by position; Jesus led from character. He said, “Come to me…I am meek and lowly in heart.” Pastors who lack character might use humor, personality, or intimidation to get the job done.

We lead by serving, and we serve by leading. The biggest need of sheep is to be led and fed (Matthew 9:36; Psalm 23:2). Some parents over-control and under-lead, as did the Pharisees. Leaders who give people what they most need rather than want are serving them.

We lead by going low. The disciples, with glory on their minds, liked the view from the top. It feels good to sit and be served. Jesus got off His seat and served. He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:7), grabbing a towel when the disciples were unwilling to budge (John 13:4,5). True leaders look for ways to get under, to influence not by position but by performance. How low can you go?

Serving requires character more than leadership skills. A psychologist who has excellent counseling skills but a messed up family can do more damage than good. Who we are often impacts people more than what we say. That is why when Paul lists fourteen qualities necessary for those aspiring to leadership in the church (I Timothy 3), at least twelve deal with character qualities rather than skills. Those who lack the necessary character are not qualified for ministries of oversight. God is concerned with what He can do to us in order to work through us. Character is shaped in the crucible of suffering, and that means going low.

One liability of leadership is wanting to be served. We may think that our vision is more important than those “under” us, that our position is more critical than theirs. And we would rather be over than under. Where people fail to respect us, we are offended. When they criticize our leadership, we judge them rather than forgive. Our offense shows that we are going high, not low.

The face of humility is courage. The Lamb of God is the Lion of Judah. The humble are the most courageous because it isn’t about them. They risk their reputation because they don’t have one.

Courage leads to insecurity, which leads to vulnerability, which leads to relationship. If you are secure, maybe you are not risking enough. The fight on the front lines can be ferocious, which produces insecurity. If intimidated by our insecurity, we back off. If we acknowledge it to others by transparency, it increases fellowship, which brings courage, enabling us to risk!

LEADERSHIP–JESUS STYLE, PART I

Jesus modeled leadership skills, but He taught character. Leadership training sometimes focuses on skills. When choosing a church council, for instance, the emphasis is sometimes more often on skills. I heard a pastor say, “He is not a mature Christian, but he’s good with finances.” Danger sign.

The problem: difficulties on leadership teams result more often from character flaws than inadequate skills. King Saul had some leadership skills, but he lacked character. Skills are what a leader can do; character is what a leader is. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln had both skills and sterling character, and they enjoyed great influence, unlike Bill Clinton.

I once hired a man to work with our young adults who had skills and vision. I overlooked the warning that he had some unfinished business. Remind me not to do that again.I went on promise more than performance—and regretted it. Skill does not make a leader.

A DESIRE FOR GREATNESS
Do you desire significance? You’re not alone. Two young fishermen had not only been chosen as disciples of Christ; they also found themselves a part of the inner circle. They alone saw Jesus transfigured, and they accompanied Him in the Garden. As they considered the approaching kingdom, perhaps they thought, “There are only two seats. We had better go for them before Peter grabs one.” They asked: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37).

What was good about their request? They wanted to be with Jesus.They saw that Jesus had prominence in His future. They were bold, and Jesus had said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you.” They had an ambition to be leaders, and greatness is a legitimate longing. They were thinking into the future and planning ahead. Bravo!

But their timing was clearly off. Their request came on the heels of Christ’s announcement of suffering. And it showed that they did not understand leadership—Jesus’ style.

THE ROAD TO GREATNESS
The response was not: “You shouldn’t be making such a request.” Jesus gave them a two-fold answer. “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (38). In effect, “You’d pay a high price for those seats.” Once they signed on, He told them that He couldn’t give them the seats anyway. It was assigned seating, and the Father did the assigning.

Courage is a function of character, not of personality, and courageous people are willing to pay the price. Leadership requires boldness, and many play it safe. Some would rather live with mediocrity than pay the price.

The other disciples heard the discussion and became indignant, probably because James and John had beaten them to it. Jesus then gave the second part of His answer, taking the normal picture of leadership and standing it on its head: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (42-44).

Jesus said in effect, “It is not how high you go but how low you get.” Gentile leaders are sitters, not servers. Slaves, by contrast, have no rights, no titles, no seat, and no ambitions. They are not served; they serve. This is leadership from the bottom up, not the top down. Want to lead like Jesus?

I FAVOR BURIAL OVER CREMATION, PART II

Wow! I wasn’t expecting such a response to the last blog–on both sides. Some are shouting, “Amen!.” Others are crying, “Legalism!”

So what is my side? I scripted the blog as my outlook, hence the title. I closed this way: “I am not ready to be dogmatic (meaning you don’t need to believe as I do), but I hope that convenience or budget are not the only considerations being taken. ‘Whatever is not of faith is sin’ (taken from Romans 14 that discusses matters open for different opinions). I have more faith for burying than burning. What about you?”

As a pastor, I would not give my opinion regarding disposition of a body unless I was asked to. And then I would do so carefully. This is not a matter of doctrine but of practice.

I said to my number one son recently, “If only everyone was more like me…” Fortunately for both of us, he laughed. How we deal with non-issues is an issue. How we deal with debatable issues is not open to debate. Relationships are a high priority in the New Testament. Love wins over personal preference. We can’t say, “Don’t be offended!” or, “You should believe like me.” We are going to have differences in the body of Christ. Can we live peaceably together and not judge others? Is your way better? Do you make people feel second rate for doing what they do or believing what they believe? Do you make secondary issues primary? “I’m right!” is not the best way to handle peripheral matters.

Paul takes a full chapter in his primarily doctrinal letter of Romans to deal with the doubtful things, those matters that are up for grabs. The first issue in Romans 14 is eating. People had different convictions about what to eat. Still do. Say the word “organic,” and you just split the crowd in two.

The issue is simple: If God accepts your brother the way he is, you get to as well. What about worship styles? Drinking habits? Entertainment? Politics? Music? Dancing? Clothes? Don’t make an issue of a non-issue. We do what we do fully convinced in heart and in thanksgiving to God–and we let others do the same. (For a longer article on the gray areas, ask for Kevin McClure’s article on adiaphora. kmcclure730@comcast.net).

Since the discussion is open, here is more on my outlook:
The disciples were not thinking burial, because they were not thinking death. Jesus, however, was thinking both. Jewish men would be concerned about what would happen to their bodies. So were two unlikely Sanhedrin members, Joseph and Nicodemus, who took care of the burial, referenced in all four Gospels, in the absence of shocked and fearful disciples.So was the woman who anointed Him a few days before His death. It meant so much to Jesus that He memorialized her gift for all time: “In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her” (Matt. 26:12,13).

I FAVOR BURIAL OVER CREMATION

A few decades ago we hardly heard about it. Now it is common and growing in popularity. The national average rate rose from 3% in 1958 to 40% in 2010. Projections suggest 55% in 2025. Finances and mobility favor cremation. If you’re seldom visiting the place where you grew up, visits to the cemetery seem unlikely.

Consider why you might want to pay for the burial:

The example of Christ. “…that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scripture, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day” (I Corinthians 15:3,4). The message of the gospel includes the burial of Christ. Paul writes that “we were buried therefore with him by baptism into death” (Romans 6:4). We not only identify with Christ in His death; we identify with Him in His burial. Baptism, not cremation, is a picture of burial. That reality must have impacted the early church to favor burial over the pagan practice of cremation, and it has persisted through history until the last two decades. Burial for a New Testament believer was a theological statement, not just a mode of dealing with the dead. And it found its way into the major creeds of the Church. Every immersion of a new believer rehearses the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, into which the baptized one participates.

Bible analogies. Burying is like planting. “What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable” (I Cor. 15:42). Burying is also like sleeping (I Cor. 15:18, 20). Eyes will be opened again when the Bridegroom returns to wake up those who sleep. The picture of burning a body in the Scriptures is not a positive one, either in time or eternity.

The theology of the body. Christians honor the body as the creation of God and the temple of the Holy Spirit. That the Word became flesh forever gives value to our bodies. This is not the theology of major religions of the world, that typically honor the spirit over the body, that seek release from the limitations that the body imposes upon the spirit. Burning bodies in the Old Testament was reserved for idols, criminals, and enemies. Joseph had his brothers take an oath that they would carry his bones back to the homeland. It was such a big deal that Moses referenced it (Ex. 13), then the book of Joshua as well (24:32) when they made it to the land–with the bones! David commended the people of Jabesh Gilead for burying Saul’s bones (see also Amos 2:1). The early church would not have considered cremation an honoring of the body that Christ died to redeem. They saw it practiced by the pagan religions and considered it a devaluation of the body.

Most of the religions of the world, including Hinduism, Buddhism, atheism, and neopaganism encourage cremation. Many Buddhists choose cremation because the Buddha was cremated, but burial is also permissible. Reincarnation is the basis for Hinduism’s association with cremation, which encourages the soul to leave the body and move toward emancipation.

I have never heard a teaching on burial over cremation. It has not been an issue. Now it is. I suspect that the apostles would have had a stronger outlook regarding burial as over against cremation than most Christians do today. That concerns me. I am not ready to be dogmatic, but I hope that convenience or budget are not the only considerations being taken. “Whatever is not of faith is sin.” I have more faith for burying than burning. What about you?

IDENTITY AND LION KING

A sabbatical will slow me down a bit on my blog output, but first a word from a favorite movie!
Significant people in our lives, and mainly parents, build an identity in us, or by indifference or abuse give us a confused identity. Simba knew who he was because he felt valued rather than being ignored. His father, Mufasa, gave him truth and love, which built an identity and produced a destiny. He knew he was called to be the Lion King.

Until Scar tampered with his identity. Jesus said that Satan comes “to lie, kill and destroy.” Sounds like Scar. He was responsible for the death of Mufasa, but he convinced Simba that he killed him, and guilt and shame replaced joy and self-confidence. Scar made Simba believe that he would be rejected if he went home. His sense of value plummeted, skewing his identity and clouding his destiny. He ran from his chosen purpose and became irresponsible. He learned to eat grub in the forest when rescued by Timon and Pumba, and lions don’t eat grub. They taught him to live for pleasure. Hakuna matata.

When Nala found him, she lovingly tried to call him back to his real identity and destiny. Like a victim, he said, “You don’t understand. I can’t go back.” When life is clouded over by guilt and shame, the prospect of walking into a positive destiny looks daunting.

Rafiki came to an orphaned Simba and convinced him that he had to go back. Rather than live in the past, he called him to his future. One of his best lines: “The past is past.” Victims live with “if onlys” rather than with “what ifs.” They get stuck in passivity and victimization, and if you don’t support them, they check you off their list of supporters. Simba heard his father say to him, “Remember who you are.” That was a call to his true identity, which then gave him the authority to walk into his destiny.

Simba was finally able to say, “I’m going back.” That means confronting shame, lies, false identities, irresponsibility, and passivity. It causes fear to mount up within us. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the willingness to do what we must, regardless. Fear prevents many people was walking toward their God-appointed purpose. It requires taking some risks, and they choose the mediocre life of pleasure to fulfilling their destiny. As one poet said, “Most people die with the music still inside of them,” and Simba almost became another statistic.

When he did go back, he had to confront Scar, just as David confronted the giants in his life. Fear keeps us from facing those things that stand in the way of our destiny. We must take God-honoring risks and go for it.

Scar made one last effort to neutralize a re-fired Simba by reminding him of his past. This time Simba was strong enough not to buy into the lies. Perception is reality. We are who we think we are. What Mufasa had built into Simba was recovered, and he was able to overcome his irresponsibility. The family was reunited when the true source of the death was uncovered. Simba found support from his family, whom he now realized believed in him, allowing him to walk into his true calling as the Lion King. His authority was restored and victory was achieved. (Thanks to Bob Neumann for many insights).