DO CHRISTIANS IN HEAVEN CONNECT WITH EARTH?

Do they know what is happening with loved ones? Do they pray for us in the presence of the King? If they do, would their prayers be more powerful than ours? If we have great victories–or defeats, do they know about them?

Paul said, “Absent from the body, present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). I have always felt that meant no more contact with earth, no more praying, no more awareness. After all, wouldn’t hearing bad news impact an otherwise pain-free experience? On a car trip up to San Francisco, I read from Hebrews 12:1 about how “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” My wife and Steve and Betty Luttio said, “Sounds like they can see what’s going on.” I disagreed and looked at commentaries. They confirmed my outlook that death brings a separation from earth and from knowledge of what takes place.

Then I looked at what Randy Alcorn , who wrote an excellent book called Heaven, had to say. He disagrees with me and opened my eyes to the possibility that people on the other side can see us. He said, “The key to heaven’s joy is not ignorance but perspective.” I could buy that. He brought up several good arguments:

1) After Moses and Elijah died, they met with Jesus on the mountain and talked about His impending death like they knew what was going on.

2) Revelation 6:9-11 speaks about martyrs asking God when He is going to avenge their blood. To ask they would have to know that it had not happened yet, so they were aware of what was taking place. They also remembered that they were martyred. One big difference between being on earth and in heaven is that on the other side we are “the righteous made perfect (Hebrews 12:23).

3) Christ said that there is “rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:7). Alcorn points out that these folks are not the angels as we might expect, because three verses later Jesus says that “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (10). if it is not God and not the angels, that leaves the folks who have gone before us. Looks like they are aware of those coming to faith and it brings much joy. (Hey, they were already exuberant).

4) Now back to what we started with, who does the “cloud of witnesses” refer to? It is those who have preceded us in death and have conquered the grave. What are they witnessing? The contest suggests that they are viewing our race and are somehow cheering us on. Though we can’t see them, they can see us. Thank you, Mr. Alcorn, for a new perspective of the thin veil that separates earth from heaven.

So what does it do for me? Picturing my father and mother before the throne cheering me on gives me incentive to run a good race. I know they will meet me on the other side and congratulate me if I succeed. Saying “goodbye” was difficult, but the reunion will be glorious, and even more so believing they are rooting for me. Let this truth cause your hope to swell today!

GARBAGE MAKES GOOD COMPOST!

As a student at UCLA I worked with a guy named Hal Lindsey. Through his influence I went to Dallas Seminary two years, then finished at Luther Seminary. At Dallas I was given the answers; at Luther I got the questions, but they didn’t match, and I struggled emotionally. Fears replaced confidence. At times I thought I was going crazy.

I attempted to get close to fellow students, but they rode on a different track. While at a reception, I was introduced to a young pastor they all considered cool. He said to me in front of them, “I know you. You’re the good basketball player—and a little weird.” They laughed–I died inside. Someone had just exposed me. Had I not been operating at such a fragile level, I might have responded, “Hey Pardner, I am weirder than you think.” But because I heard what I thought might be truth, I couldn’t manage a response.

Garbage is waste material. People don’t store smelly garbage, they toss it. But even garbage can be used productively. Think compost.Some people enjoy collecting garbage, then dumping it on others. I had a load dumped on me that night. So have you. It doesn’t feel good, but the good news is that garbage can serve a good purpose.

The apostle Paul had a compost pile. He wrote the strangest thing: “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10). I don’t know many people who enjoy insults. But Paul found that when insults came his way, it made him go low. And grace is found in the lowlands. I lacked the maturity as a seminary student to know how to handle garbage. I just internalized it.  Years later I realized that I needed to extract the smelly stuff through forgiveness.

Garbage in the soul festers. Most people don’t possess compost piles, but those who do also have beautiful flowers and fruit growing out of their lives. Rather than being victimized by garbage, they know where to put it.  Those who own compost piles know that

  • God doesn’t waste anything
  • God uses even criticism to accomplish His purposes
  • Maturity means overcoming evil with good

Reacting to people who dump garbage on us means that the garbage makes its way into our souls rather than onto the compost pile. Responding to God enables us to put the garbage where it belongs. The difference between reacting and responding is about ten seconds, long enough to offer up a quick prayer and take deliberate action.

Here are two scriptures to help dispose of garbage:

“Now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips” (Col. 3:8). “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13).

Forgiveness does not mean that people didn’t dump on us. It does not mean that we let them off the hook by saying that they didn’t hurt us. It does mean that we turn them over to the love and justice of God rather than trying to punish them by staying angry. Do you have a compost pile?  If so, you are a good gardener, and the fertilizer is developing fruit in your life. Garbage in the heart poisons us. Garbage properly used brings forth a rich garden.

IS TITHING TAUGHT IN THE BIBLE?

Yes, but only in the Old Testament. The word “tithe(s)” is used thirty-nine times, including three times in the gospels and four times in Hebrews 7. The Hebrew and Greek words for “tithe” mean “a tenth.”. It is used of a Pharisee who is bragging about his spirituality–in his prayer! Jesus used the word only once (recorded in two gospels) in a hard-hitting rebuke of religious teachers for ignoring heart issues of the law. They proved meticulous about the details (obeying the command to tithe their “crops”) but blind to ethical ramifications. Hardly a mandate to tithe.

Paul does not use the word. Not once. The only other place in the New Testament the word is found is in Hebrews, where the writer is addressing the issue of the excellency of Christ. To the natural children of Abraham, struggling over two different covenants, the giving of tithes showed the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham. The author then went on to say that Jesus is like Melchizedek, and the Melchizedek priesthood is greater than the Levitical priesthood. He was not giving a teaching on tithing, and he didn’t use the word anywhere else in his thirteen-chapter message, although he was writing to Jews schooled in the practice. If he was teaching on tithing, he did a poor job, because Abraham tithed only this one time, and it wasn’t produce as was commanded in the law but the spoils of battle. So Jews who were well acquainted with the practice would not have considered Abraham’s singular tithe as reflecting their custom.

The rest of the thirty-nine references come from the Old Testament. Here is a representation:

“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord…The entire tithe of the herd and flock–every tenth animal…will be holy to the Lord” (Lev. 27:30,32). So if people didn’t own property (land or herds), were they required to tithe? Doesn’t sound like it. Call it an income tax!

“When you [the Levites] receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering” (Nu. 18:26). So even those who received a tithe tithed.

“Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year…And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns…” (Deut. 14:22,27). If they didn’t tithe, the priestly system, which undergirded the whole culture, collapsed, which did happen too often in Israel.

“Bring the whole tithe [they were commanded to give three different ones] into the storehouse [a literal room in the temple to store food for the priests, the poor, and the sacrificial system], that there may be food in my house [they tithed what they possessed–crops and animals]” (Mal. 3:10). If the crops failed or the animals died, they had no tithe to give. This verse is often used in a coercive way to urge people to give so they don’t come under a curse (v. 9). The New Covenant does not reflect the strict, linear blessing-cursing outlook given in the Deuteronomic Law. The tithe was given for the sake of the poor, and the poor end up the biggest casualties of financial finagling with relation to the tithe. They are hoping to get out of debt or pay their rent, and when the preacher promises financial reaping for financial sowing, they buy in!

So what does the Old Testament teach about the tithe?  It was done for the care of the priests, who were not property owners.  Tithes were also given and stipulations made (such as gleaning) for the care of the poor.  Offerings (not tithes) were received for other projects, like the building of the tabernacle and temple. (Normal length–this one is longer).

What does Jesus say about finances, if He doesn‘t ever talk about tithing? Have you heard it said, “They’re always talking about money?” Well, Jesus did!  He said that when it comes to money matters, money matters. Put your money where your heart is, not your mouth.

And what does Paul say about money?  Our giving encourages others to give (2 Cor. 8:1-4).  Our giving blesses God (5-7). It is godly to give because it is like God to give. Giving is an investment–for spiritual dividends, not for greater material wealth (2 Cor. 9:9). We don’t give to get riches; we give to get righteous. That’s a far cry from telling people to sow generously so they can reap financial gain. Paul was not manipulating people, but some leaders today are.

And what does Paul not say about money. He gives two whole chapters on finances (2 Corinthians 8 & 9), and yet he never mentions tithing. He doesn’t ask them how many tithers the Corinthians have in their church, but he urges them toward generosity.

A simple guide for giving from the apostle: Care for your family, give to meet the needs of the saints, especially in the local church, give to what God is blessing, and don’t forget the poor.

So should we teach on the tithe? I regard it as an Old Covenant carry-over that does not apply to New Covenant Christians but can provide a positive example for giving. At worst, it could become a standard of performance or an occasion for pressuring to give. We are not properly dividing between the Old and New Covenants when we teach tithing. If tithing still applies, so do a lot of other laws that we are not practicing.

However, if I were a part of a church that taught on the tithe, I wouldn’t make a big deal over it unless I felt that they were using it for religious manipulation. We can derive principles from the Old Covenant that apply in the New, like supporting spiritual leaders (I Tim. 5:17) and caring for the poor.

I don’t think it is wrong if people want to use the tithe as a place to begin or as a personal discipline. But if we followed the tithe in a strict Old Testament way, we would give about 23%, since Jews gave three different tithes, one to the priesthood, one to cover the festivals, and one that came up every three years for the poor.  Most evangelicals give 2 to 3%, so, as I said to my kids, “We’re not there yet.” I told the young adults in our community that God is not happier with them if they tithe than if they don’t. He, however, wants His children to imitate Him, and He is extravagantly generous. If we take our cue from Jesus and Paul, we will encourage some kind of deliberate, proportionate, generous pattern of giving, first to the local church, then to other ministries.

WALKING IN VULNERABILITY

A young man called to tell me he was being tempted to give in to porn. I said, “I have told many young men to do what you are now doing. You are the first to call before giving in. Others get prayer when they yield to temptation and need forgiveness to lift the shame. But you are ahead of the game; you are calling for strength to resist. Way to go. That is what it means to walk in the light, to share your weakness, to acknowledge that you need support. You’ll get it, and you will resist the devil.” I was proud of my young friend.

He was surprised. When I encouraged him to do this a few months before, he had assumed that because I had been mentoring young men for decades many would have called to solicit prayer at the front end. He was the first. We need to walk in the light together, to confess our weakness, and ask for help. How easily we pretend that we are strong when we are weak. We would see a thousand more victories among young men battling sexual temptation if they were willing to check in when they faced temptation, not only after they had given in. I hope that the victory my friend experienced by walking in the light encourages others to do the same.

One of my sons came to me and Karen as a young man. He was crying. He said, “I have felt like the flawed son in a flawless family.” I asked, “Didn’t I ever share with you my defeats? Haven’t your brothers talked with you?” No on both counts. How critical it is to walk in honesty, beginning in our families and continuing in the Christian community. Too many are trying to make it alone and failing. They need parents and leaders who model vulnerability, so they can share their weakness and need for support.

My favorite professor at seminary said, “The first thing I do when I mentor someone is to share my weaknesses.” Why does he do that? Because we are not used to sharing our dark side. We hide it even from friends. When we begin to meet with a mature brother or sister for mentoring, we don’t want to do what we most need to do–confess our struggles, our weaknesses, our failures. We want this person to think well of us, not to think that we are wimping out. So we shine the bright side. But if he or she starts with a weakness, then those being mentored are a bit more comfortable sharing the dark side. What a humble thing to do. In our pride, we prefer sharing our victories. But James urges us, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). We would see more healing if we practiced more transparency.

One reason so many pastors are failing is that they have not practiced walking in the light. Some have been taught not to share personal matters with members, and they often lack close friends. They desperately need to learn to be vulnerable with other pastors and leaders. Otherwise, the epidemic will only continue. May God give you grace to walk in appropriate transparency–and see much victory!

WORK IT OUT!

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…”

This is no light assignment. People are often too casual about their salvation, some so flippant that they lose it. They fall asleep. The five foolish virgins were naive and unattentive–and missed the Party.  I can take the gift of salvation lightly and not invest in my future.

Am I indifferent to the truth that Christ was obedient to death, that he took abuse and injustice for my salvation? How cruel to stomp on the work of Christ by my indifference or neglect. How easy to take our salvation for granted because it was won in a battle that we did not fight.

“Fear and trembling” does not describe the frame of mind that we sometimes take toward our salvation. Passivity is a killer. Jesus would not let the helpless father off the hook. When a distraught parent thrust his boy at Jesus in desperation, asking Him to do whatever He could, Jesus threw the responsibility right back at him. He said, “If you can. All things are possible to him who believers” (Mark 9:23).  Faith without works is not faith. Jesus proved it by calling the father to responsible faith. A passive investor found out that burying his gifts (and the master’s money) did not please his employer one bit. He was called “lazy” and “wicked,” two words I probably would not have used in the same sentence (Matthew 25:26).

I told a young man I was once working with that he had a huge part to play in his destiny. He was saying, “God is going to make me a dad. I’ll have kids. I am trusting Him.” In a reality session with him I said, “It’s not going to happen unless you make a hundred good decisions in a row. You have made some bad ones, yet you expect God to come through. You can’t do it without God, and He won’t do it without you. Don’t underestimate the part you play in your destiny. Faith is empty unless it is accompanied by what Paul calls ‘the obedience of faith.’”

Paul says that God gives the gifts of the Spirit sovereignly “to whom he may” (I Corinthians 12:11). So do we sit back and wait for Him to make His choices? Not even close. We are commanded to “eagerly desire the spiritual gifts” (14:1).  Our very passion for one or more may even indicate God’s sovereign choice. There is cooperation between heaven and earth.

“…for God is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

This statement is as positive as the first phrase is pointed and serious. From a warning to a blessing. From “be careful” to “be encouraged.” Here is what you do because here is what God is doing. Putting them back to back gives power to both statements. They support each other because they are two sides of the truth. Work it out because God is working it in. Grace and truth. If we only heard what God was doing and not what we are called to do, we may chill out and not take our assignment seriously. We have a part to play and it is a sober one. To ignore that is to fail to see what God is doing to make it happen.  We see human responsibility and divine sovereignty in two powerful phrases. Both are important. Divine sovereignty without human responsibility turns God into a detached deity with an ironclad will. The Bible gives us a very different picture. There is a dance between heaven and earth and both sides are true and necessary for scripture to mean what it says. Paul takes very seriously how we are to behave and how important grace is. Have at it!

BREAKING THE STRONGHOLD OF JANTE, part 3

HOW TO OVERCOME IT

  1. I identify the stronghold. The whole culture of the upper American Midwest has been impacted by a Jante spirit.  Acknowledging a stronghold, a habitual and unhealthy way of responding to life, begins the process of deliverance.  
  2. I confess my attachment.  I acknowledge that I have been influenced by lies more than the truth, by laws of the flesh rather than laws of the Spirit.  I have been held back by a false humility, by passivity, by a spirit of lethargy, by cowardice. I have operated as if the lies were the truth and I was bound to them. I am not.
  3.  I renounce the lies, their impact on me, my family, and my heritage.  Instead of clinging to the lies, I expose them and resist them actively. I refuse to let these laws influence my life anymore.
  4. I forgive others.  Where I have been wounded because of a Jante spirit, I forgive  anyone who has hurt me, including pastors, the church, my heritage, my parents, and friends.
  5.  I affirm the truth. Clinging to lies invites the devil to work me over.  Standing in the truth invites the Spirit of truth to work in my life.  I make the choice to move in the opposite spirit. I walk in boldness rather than in timidity. Dr. Gary Sweeten wrote the Law of the Spirit to counter Jante Loven (the law of Jante). I confess these truths as who I really am in God:
  • I am a person of worth, created in God’s image.
  • I am as good as anyone else because God says so.
  • I have the wisdom of God’s Spirit.
  • God has gifted me to be a winner.
  • I am filled with the knowledge of God.
  • God honors me as much as anyone on earth (especially as I choose to honor Him).
  • I have God’s destiny and plan for my life.
  • What others think or do will not control me.
  • God loves me and so do His people.
  • I have a teachable spirit.
  1.  I receive deliverance.  We pray (for ourselves or for others):  “In the strong name of Jesus I command the Jante spirit and any spirits associated with it to leave.  They have no power or right in my life. I lay claim to the freedom that is in Christ Jesus. I lay hold of the inheritance that belongs to me as a child of God purchased by the blood of Christ.  I break off the influence of an unhealthy inheritance. I cling to Jesus as my true stronghold.”
  2.  I ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  I reject all wrong spirits and I invite the Holy Spirit to fill me.  I rely on the power of the Spirit to overcome the negative impact of the Law of Jante in my life.  I learn to walk in the Spirit day by day, moment by moment, yielding my life, my destiny, my time, my choices to Him.  I make decisions that keep me open to Christ’s work in my life. Deliverance is both an act and a process. I must establish new thought patterns and resist old ones and do this as God gives me grace.

BREAKING THE STRONGHOLD OF JANTE, part 2

WHAT THE LAW OF JANTE CREATES:

 

  • An appearance of humility which is in fact pride
  • A passive rather than an active faith.  Fatalism replaces faith
  • A lethargy difficult to overcome
  • A lie which engenders a false religious spirit
  • A uniformity rather than true unity; unity requires diversity
  • A stifling of courageous leadership
  • A resistance toward doing good works
  • A legalism that opposes grace
  • A spirit of judgment and suspicion rather than of Christian fellowship
  • A cap on emotions, making a person feel emotionally restrained
  • A climate in which true prophets are not welcome

 

The Law of Jante neutralizes what is positive in the Viking spirit.  It levels everyone off, so that no one shines above the others. It creates a democratic spirit, the strong side of which encourages the rich to share with the poor, as they do in Scandinavia but the negative side of which keeps people from feeling special to anyone, even God.  So to hear how freely God loves them for Jesus’ sake is good news, although some find it too good to be true and prefer sticking with their own feeble efforts.

The Law of Jante stands in contrast to God’s assessment of His crowning creation when He said that it was “very good.”  It says, “I’m not okay, and you’re even worse.” So it makes people reluctant to affirm others, to show honor where honor is due, to live with positive attitudes toward themselves, and to exercise faith. God blesses people; I just don’t happen to be one of them.  Of course, God loves the world, but I’ll never play on His first team.

Of course, all of us are prone to this sinister outlook. We need to fight it in ourselves, our children, and those we love.  The spirit of Jante creates a heavy legalism that makes people uncomfortable with a spirit of celebration and where duty overcomes delight.  Sober living is deep in the Scandinavian soul. They laughed at the jokes I told in sermons, but they let me know that their pastors do not tell jokes when they preach.  I could get away with it, because I was an American. All of which means that peer pressure is a big factor in the Christian culture and in the community. Pastors fear more than they do in America becoming mavericks, disappointing their bishops, creating waves, and stirring up opposition. One can fall off the horse on either side.  Where you find the legalism, it will be followed by license. Both operate in the flesh rather than the spirit. Legalism creates license, because legalism resists grace, condemning people to pull off holiness and resist sin by their own effort, which is impossible. So the Pharisees were out-of-control sinners, although they hid their wickedness behind a vale of religion.  

Dr. Gary Sweeten, an American pastor/leader who did much teaching and ministry in Scandinavia,  took people at the retreat through an eight-step process of deliverance prayer. “Amazingly,” he wrote, “after all this teaching, discussion, confession and repentance, there were still many leaders who were confused about why the Law was wrong.  It had become so much a part of each person’s mental map that change was almost impossible. Thus, that very night I did another complete teaching, confession, small group sharing, burning of the vows, public confession and repentance and burning of the Law of Jante” (part 3 next).

 

BREAKING THE STRONGHOLD OF JANTE

Scandinavians are as far from Italians as Scandinavia is from Italy.   A famous Norwegian author once wrote, “Every joy you have you pay for with sorrow.”  Many Norwegians think it’s from the Bible. They take it seriously—and I mean seriously.  They, and most Scandinavians (and I am one), tend to value even-keeled emotions rather than the highs and lows more prominent in Mediterranean cultures.  Expressions of affection and praise tend to be guarded. When a gifted girl asked her mom why she didn’t affirm her, she responded, “We didn’t want you to get proud.” That is all too typical.

Many children grow up wondering if they are valued, which they then pass on to their offspring. Not vastly different from any other place in the world, but maybe more pronounced because of their disposition.  Garrison Keillor helped us laugh at some of these cultural patterns. Sometimes they aren’t funny.

These attitudes, a part of Scandinavian society for centuries, were reinforced in a book by a Dane who moved to Norway and came across attitudes of negativism and depression. His novel, The Escape from Jante, tells about the dark side of Scandinavian small-town mentality. The term “Janteloven,” which means “the Jante Law” has come to mean the unspoken rules of such communities.  It is a curse, not a blessing, but Scandinavians have owned it as their DNA. Sandemose may have chosen ten laws to give it the seriousness of the Ten Commandments, which interestingly are called the “Moseloven” (or Mosaic Law) in Norwegian.  

WHAT IT IS

Here is the Law of Jante which Sandemose wrote after observing it:

  1. Do not think you are anything special.
  2. Do not think you are as important as we are.
  3. Do not think you are wiser than us.
  4. Do not fool yourself into thinking you are better than us.
  5. Do not think you know more than us.
  6. Do not think you are more than we are.
  7. Do not think that you are good at anything.
  8. Do not laugh at us.
  9. Do not think that anyone cares about you.
  10. Do not think you can teach us anything.

Heresy is truth in distortion, and there is an element of truth in these statements. The Law of Jante, however, takes an inaccurate picture of humility and applies it to others in a kind of pseudo-democratic fashion.  It levels people off so no one feels like rising above anyone else. The Japanese have a saying, “The nail that sticks out is pounded down,” and the Law of Jante has been used for decades to pound people down, so that they question their value to others and even to God.

A Swedish pastor told me it is opposite the American spirit of “rugged individualism.”   “If you ask a Swede if he plays an instrument, he says, ‘Well, not much. I just practice a little bit,’ even if he is a concert pianist.  If you ask an American, he says, ‘Sure, I’m going to release a CD soon,’ even if he only knows two chords.” Both outlooks need the influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. I am not going after Scandinavians. I love my Norwegian roots–and fruits. And I love where God has placed us for twenty-three years, in American Scandinavia, the upper Midwest. As we embrace the culture, we also wish to embrace the healing that comes from Jesus (part 2 next).

“LET HIM WHO THINKS HE STANDS…”

…take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).  A friend at seminary asked me, “If Satan wanted to take you out, what would he use?” I said, “Pride.” Then I asked him the same question and he said, “Sex.” He was right. He divorced a godly wife who had given him four wonderful children and chose a single woman instead, leaving the ministry and a trail of suffering behind him. He knew enough to answer correctly but not enough to deal with the issue at hand. Sad, stupid and selfish. What do you tell his kids?

I wish he had a mentor that helped him to walk in the light, confess his sins, and deal with his problems. Might have saved a lot of people from a ton of pain. I ask young men I mentor to tell me their strengths and the weaknesses. Then we discuss them–in detail. I want to see if they know what could take them out and what they are doing about it now. Many of those who have good plans for their future and leadership gifts never get there. They are sidelined for a host of reasons. If they had been taking heed, maybe they could have prevented the fallout. If they had coaches to help keep them on track with probing questions, they might have learned to be on guard.

We are looking for older, wiser men and women who could help steer these young people into a bright future. Too many in their seventies think it is time for them to sit back and be spectators. Or perhaps the church they attend makes them feel that way. We desperately need mature fathers and mothers prepared to be a shining light with millennials who need their example and wisdom. Dear older friends, let your pastor know that you are available to work with young people one on one.

I am sad for every pastor who experiences a moral failure. That wasn’t on their agenda when they were ordained and took vows of ordination and when they were married and made promises to their spouse. Somehow, they didn’t take heed–and they fell. The potential is in every one of us. A man after God’s own heart created pain in his family for years through moral fallout. He was forgiven, but the consequences played themselves out for decades.

What could keep you from your God-appointed destiny? The master called three servants and gave them jobs. Two did well and were commended. The third buried his talents and had a miserable ending. The master called him a “wicked and slothful servant.” That was not a compliment. He was both mean-spirited and lazy. He didn’t take heed–and he fell hard.

“Taking heed” includes:

1) Vulnerability. James urges us: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Walking in the light means that we don’t have secrets. If we have a secret for more than a week, it has us.

2) Awareness of Satan’s sinister plans. He wants to take us out. Oh how Satan rejoices when someone with a successful ministry is picked off. Paul called it “craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14). We are called to “stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). May you stand–as you take heed!

A “BALANCED” LEADER

A TRIBUTE TO LARRY CHRISTENSON

I want to be a balanced leader. By that I do not mean that I want to straddle in the middle between excessive passion and passivity. Don’t ask me to be balanced in my passion for my wife, the Minnesota Vikings, or, most important, the Lamb of God. Balance finds no place in the high worship of heaven. It rather means being able to go to this extreme, then that one, in response to the initiative of the Spirit instead of walking the delicate tightrope.

When I think of balanced leaders, I picture those who are not thrown by the latest theological fad when everyone else jumps in with a knee-jerk reaction. But their life cannot be described by lack of passion. They just know what to be passionate about, when to be passionate about it, (timing is critical in the life of the Spirit), and what to be circumspect about. They are not easily fooled or manipulated. They know that we can fall off the horse on the side of either legalism or libertinism, form or freedom.

And yet they know that Jesus holds high regard for those who get out on a limb, not for those who play it safe. Some who appear to be balanced may, in fact, just be chicken. Truly balanced leaders are not cautious in a way that reduces their boldness or tames their zeal. Neither are they predictable. People of the Spirit never are. How could you guess the way Jesus would bring healing to someone? Go ahead—write the manual. He taught His disciples to be men of the Spirit, not men of technique. Formula Christianity does not describe Spirit-anointed leaders.

They know and preach the whole counsel of God—sooner or later. You hear them teach about heaven and hell, judgment and mercy, unity and relationships, sin and grace. You look hard to find the hobby horses, except for the Lordship of Christ and the empowering presence of the Spirit. If they have pet doctrines, they are so powerful and impacting as to be universal, such as the apostle Paul’s common phrase, “in Christ.”

Larry Christenson struck me as a man of both great passion and great balance. He didn’t pull his punches when he needed to strike with fire. And yet he didn’t jump on and off the wagon like some are prone to do. When he went to the edge, you felt like going with him.

Balanced leaders understand the dialectic tension between such polar truths as transcendence and imminence (the God beyond and close at hand), holiness and happiness, suffering and glory, and crisis and process. An unbalanced leader is impatient with those who question him, spurns history in the quest of destiny, talks too easily of recovering lost truths, presumes to know and therefore stumbles over pride, uses proof texts more than the wide breadth of Scripture, likes shortcuts, and does not understand the difference between kingdom now and kingdom then.

I thank God for the impact of Larry on me and many. He influenced me toward marrying Karen, a great decision. He helped to shape my ministry. I followed him at Trinity and at Lutheran Renewal. I sometimes find myself asking, “WWLD?” I was happy to be his follower, and “though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4b).