Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Words Have Power

Your words are so weighty that
They have power to bring life or release death,
And the talkative person
Will reap the consequences.
-- Proverbs 18:21 The Passion Translation

A powerful example of the life-giving power of words occurred in our first year at the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.  Our small group of men had gathered around our revival group pastor, Abi Stumvoll for time together.

After a few moments of small talk, Abi turned to me and began to tell me all the good things she saw in me. She went on and on, a few precious seconds turning into golden minutes that felt like warm liquid love cascading over and through my soul.

Life experience has taught me to expect first the honey and then the smackdown -- and really, it doesn't take very much looking to find some not-very-pretty places in me. But the smackdown never came. And in the almost four years I have known Abi, it never has. Always she tells me some new area of gold she sees in my life and calls me higher still.

She did the same for each man in her office that day. As we left, it seemed that we all looked a little taller and walked a little straighter.

Those golden words are a memory stone in my heart of the life-giving power of the tongue. Abi has the wonderful gift of being able to store up memories of the gold in others and play them back so as to build people up.

While Abi has an extraordinary gift in this area, the reality is we can all do this. Our words of love and affirmation are a medicine for the hurt places in others. They restore courage weakened by the vicissitudes of life. They help others to remember who they are.

Words can also release death. While we must sometimes speak painful truth to others, there is a way of doing so that brings life......and another that releases death. Words that bring life are the way of the Kingdom of God.

I am striving to eliminate from my tongue words that release death and replace them with words that bring life.

Words that bring life are a powerful gift of love.

What has been your experience?  Your thoughts are welcome, below.

Read more about our experience since 2012 with Bethel Church in Redding, CA

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Leadership in Christian Communities

Jesus told us how it should be with leaders among His followers. It's a way we can gauge those who lead in our Christian communities.....and a guide for our own leadership.

Here is what the Lord said: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 ESV)

Put another way:
  1. Christians don't lead as is the norm in our culture
  2. Christian leaders are servants
  3. Great Christian leaders are the best servants of all
As I look back over my own leadership history, I know that I have succeeded in this at times.  But I also know that I have often failed badly....even as I have led in the Church.

It's oh-so-easy to bring the top-down leadership patterns of the culture in which we live into our own personal leadership.  I know that because I have done that.

In the Kingdom of God, top-down leadership is a poor choice.  Good leaders in the Kingdom do the hard work of figuring out how to lead their community with love and service.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Stopping Mass Shootings in America: The Role of the 1st and 2nd Amendments

It seems to me that the 2nd amendment (right to bear arms)
killed no one in San Bernardino. 
Neither did the 1st (freedom of the press). 
But consequences of both cost lives and injury that day. 

So, I have two questions: 

1) Why do some politicians quickly attack American gun ownership, while pretending not to see how sensational media coverage contributes to each new tragedy? 

2) Is it not hypocrisy when the media excoriates gun ownership after each new tragedy, but does not criticize its own contribution to our national grief?

Here are some additional thoughts on these two questions:

The first amendment of the US Constitution guarantees freedom of the press.  It's an important addition to the constitution.  In addition to providing basic news coverage, the press -- and by extension, other media -- have the potential to keep governments and other institutions honest.  The media also has the potential to pursue its own agenda and vision for what America should become.  We have seen all of this.

In the days when the American Bill of Rights was being crafted, freedom of the press mainly meant "the press" -- newspapers and other circulars printed on a "press".  Circulation of these papers was mainly local, and distribution beyond the cities of publication was slow and non-local readership of the news small.  Non-local news was not quickly available for republication.

Today, of course, news of mass murder tragedies such as we have seen in America and abroad are covered quickly and can be known by majorities within the nation, and by large audiences around the world. Television, radio and the Internet provide almost realtime reporting. 

And this realtime reporting is often in gory detail. Rival media jockey for juicy tidbits. Those with the best tidbits and most viewers are rewarded well by advertisers.  Sensational news makes money for news organizations and investors.  Reporters learn early the old maxim, "if it bleeds, it leads".  News gathering and dissemination is mainly a profit-making enterprise.

Sensational news coverage provides a stage for killers to play out their evil.  In the case of terrorists, it's part of the feedback mechanism that keeps them on point.  The more sensational the reporting, the better was the attack.  

Bluntly, sensational reporting contributes to more injury and death.  Whether mass murder is at the hands of a looney, a local with a score to settle, or Islamic jihadis, sensational reporting paves the road to the next murder.   

That is the basis of my first question: Why do some politicians quickly attack American gun ownership, while pretending not to see how sensational media coverage contributes to each new tragedy?

Whatever the reasons for the dead air on this from some political leaders, it feels as if some coldly ignore the obvious problem of sensational reporting in pursuit of their own anti-gun agendas.  

There is no easy solution for this problem.  Must we infringe first amendment rights to solve this problem just as second amendment rights have already been infringed?  

Why aren't we talking about this right now?  Why isn't the media uniting to establish a set of best practices to solve this?

And that raises my second question: Is it not hypocrisy when the media excoriates gun ownership after each new tragedy, but does not criticize its own contribution to our national grief?

After each new set of murders, the media generally call for greater control of guns.  Pursuit of solutions is noble, but failure to examine its own culpability is irresponsibility and hypocrisy at best, and cold blame shifting at worst.

While I have read some good thinking on this subject by the media (see this guest article in the Wall Street Journal, for example), the coverage is microscopic in comparison to the the full-court press on guns.

It feels like hypocrisy.

Finally, I do believe there are ways to reduce the number of guns legally being sold to those who should just not ever have them.  Even if we only keep loonies and jihadis from easily purchasing firearms, lives will be saved.

But will massive gun control solve the larger problem?  One need only examine the much more stringent and largely useless French gun control in the Paris attacks.  It didn't seem to help.  How could it?  Gun control is a symptom...evil in men's hearts is the problem.

We need a more comprehensive solution of which the media must be a part.  And, like it or not, the right to keep and bear arms is still a fundamental right of Americans.

What do you think?  I'm interested in your thoughts on this.  Please leave a comment below!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Syrian Refugees: Yes

America should take in Syrian refugees. The ancestors of every single person in this country came from somewhere else. Every wave of newcomers has contained risky people....that joined some risky people already here. 

Some of my ancestors were refugees from economic hardship or religious persecution in Northern Europe. Not all of us have refugees in our family tree....but my guess is that most of us do. 

Arguably, we should admit these desperate people in part because OUR decisions contributed to their misery. OUR decision to withdraw from Iraq before Iraqis were ready opened the door to ISIS. OUR decision to back the opposition in Syria has deepened the misery in that country. 

I do think that refugee resettlement must be done in consultation with the states. Setting aside constitutional questions of questionable federal authority, it is just bad government for the Obama administration to push refugees onto the states with what appears to be minimal or non-existent consultation. 

And I also think we should take a higher road than simply accepting U.N. certified refugees as we are now apparently doing. Middle Eastern Christians and other refugees of minority religious and ethnic groups are under represented in U.N. rolls because many won't register for fear of persecution by Muslims. The higher road would be to seek out and open our arms to these who are most in danger. 

Yes. There are risks. Among these broken people are almost certainly at least a few ISIS jihadis. But we decided to live with that risk decades ago as we allowed Muslims from many lands to come into our county. Jihad is an article of faith for Muslims (although most Muslims would never take part in violent jihad). But what the majority believes is irrelevant....because all it takes is a few Muslims who believe in violent jihad to cause new grief among us. 

Finally, and most importantly, we should take them in because this is who we are: a nation that is made of many nations. Our national motto, e pluribus unum, is on our coins.  It means "out of many, one." We should take them in because once we quit obsessing over the horrific scenes in Paris, I believe we will realize our hearts are telling us that this is the right thing to do. Our love and compassion will finally compel us.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Train Up a Child in the Way She Should Go.....

Solomon was trained from childhood to choose wisdom above everything else. Is it possible that he was the only one God gave this choice of a lifetime to because he was the only one we know of who was trained to make the right decision? I think it is highly possible. If that is true, then what are the parallels for us as we teach the next generation? What are we drawing into the lives of our young people through our faith-filled training? In what manner are we raising the generation to come? Our prophetic decrees over them might actually attract opportunities from God. God is the ultimate steward, opening doors where they will be walked through the most.

When my children were growing up, I put them to bed by repeating these two charges night after night: `Remember, you are part of a team that is here to change the world,' and, `When you go to sleep tonight, ask God if there is anything that is impossible that He wants you to do.' It was my effort to raise children who know no limits.

This excerpt is from The Power that Changes the World: Creating Eternal Impact in the Here & Now a recent book by Bill Johnson.

Normally I quickly fall asleep. But, after reading those words last night, sleep came slowly. My heart was on fire with the implications of those words.

What if we trained our children from their earliest days that they are beloved sons and daughters of the King of Glory.....and that the King is in a good mood?

What if we trained them to believe they can have the righteous power of princesses and princes in the Kingdom of God?

What if we trained them to turn their ears to wisdom and apply their hearts to understanding as for hidden silver?

What if we trained them that it can be on Earth as it is in Heaven more than we have ever seen in the history of the Church?

And what if we trained them to believe they can be so very important in making that happen?

My heart is pumping hard with hope and expectation.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

133 Years of Marriage: One Family's Story

Today is the 133rd anniversary of the marriage of my great grandparents, Johan August Jonasson and Maria Bengtsdottir in Chicago, IL.   Theirs began a love story filled with hope that extends even to today.

Johan and Maria were both born in Sweden and emigrated to America, like so many Swedes of their day, hoping to find a better life.  The situation was tough in those days in Sweden, and many, many Swedes came to America -- more than a million from 1821 to 1930 -- a huge number from such a small country.

Francis Marie Dahlstrom Johnson, the daughter-in-
law of Johan and Maria, and my grandmother
My father remembers that his grandfather, Johan, had been married once before, but lost both his wife and their child in childbirth.  Sometime later, he met Maria, and they married and moved to the Door County peninsula of Wisconsin.  Among their children was my grandfather, Joseph Nathaniel Johnson, who married another Swedish girl, Francis Marie Dahlstrom.  Joseph, Francis and my father and his siblings were born in Wisconsin.  

Johan (who became known as John Johnson as it rolls more easily off American tongues) and his son Joseph were farmers who earned a hard living from the land, and from manual labor around the mid-west.  Joseph moved his family to Florida during the depression, partly because he was unable to make enough money to continue the payments on the farm, and partly for his health.  My father, Glen, was raised in Orlando and went to college in Ohio.

In Ohio, my father met Mary Ilene Davidson, and they married in 1949.  I arrived in 1950.  As an aside, my father and mother have visited Sweden several times, and my wife Linda and I also went to Sweden....for what became an almost three-year stay.  In that time, I visited the areas where my great grandparents lived and even Johan's small country church, the 800+ year old Church Kungslena.  The great apostle Paul speaks of the "great cloud of witnesses" who look upon us now from glory.....and I like to think our return to Sweden gives them pleasure.

Today, our daughter Katie has been married to Steve for almost six years.  They have a three year-old daughter.  And just two days ago, the most recent descendant of Johan and Maria arrived, the son of my brother's son and his wife.

This is the hope-filled part: in the 133 years since Johan and Maria exchanged vows, all but two of the marriages of their descendants continues today, or a parting has come with death.  

Was it luck that nearly all of these marriages survived?  Was it something transmitted down the family line of how Johan and Maria lived their lives together?  Was it their faith in God, a faith that has also been largely adopted by their descendants?  Was it a combination of these and other factors?

I suspect the answer to that is unknowable.  But with these eyes I have seen how the love and faithfulness of long-married couples impacts the generations that follow.....and even others around them.  And I have seen how shared faith in the Maker of marriage invisibly cements the bonds of life together.

And so I believe that the example of the marriage of Johan and Maria lives today in my marriage and the marriages of my kin because of what was passed down to us.  And I pray and believe that hope will live on in my children and their children.

This I also believe: all of us who marry can transmit a powerful legacy of family faithfulness.  If our forebears had good marriages, we can transmit that through our own marriages.  Even if they didn't, or even if our first or even second marriages ended in pain and divorce,  we can still begin a legacy -- or support a legacy in others still running the race -- a legacy that will last a century or more.  

Like Johan and Maria....married on this day 133 years ago.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Selling Body Parts from Aborted Children: A "Humanitarian Undertaking"?

I am so pleased that Planned Parenthood's public relations people have clarified that selling body parts from aborted children is actually a "humanitarian undertaking". And me thinking that selling children’s body parts is just one more evidence that Planned Parenthood is a heartless organization that kills 300,000+ unborn American children a year.

Silly me thinking that the dismemberment of unborn children represents depths of barbarity unplumbed since Hitler’s concentration camp doctors. In actual fact, slicing children apart and selling their heads, internal organs and other less-useful parts has, their PR people say, the "potential to cure disease, save lives, and ameliorate suffering."

Thanks for getting me straightened out, Planned Parenthood. You're awesome.

As an aside, I do not condemn any woman who has had an abortion. I do not know the individual stories and issues that led to that decision. If that is you….I have only love in my heart for you…..and honor for a fellow traveler through life….and compassion for the difficult places along the way. My contempt is focused entirely on Planned Parenthood and other organizations that profit from abortion.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don't PunishYour Kids...

"Don't punish your kids."

As a dad, my reaction to this one-liner I heard recently was a thoughtful, "Umm .....what???" But days later, I find I am still fascinated by this concept....and the significant counterpoint that followed "don't".

As I have meditated on this, I have come to believe that punishment of anyone is a poor idea, and it is especially bad for children.

The point of this concept is that we should never punish, but instead we should always discipline.  Merriam-Webster's online dictionary makes the distinction more clear:
Punishment: "suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution"
Discipline: "training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character".
When put that way, the differences are obvious:
Punishment looks to the past.
Discipline looks to the future. 
Punishment is about settling a wrong.
Discipline is about keeping wrongs from settling in.  
The heart of punishment is to scare people out of bad behavior.
The heart of discipline is to love people into good behavior. 
It's easy to think of children when we think of punishment and discipline, but we do well to consider how we relate to others.  Do I punish my friends, my employees, people I interact with at the wife?   If I do, how can I use the heart motive of discipline to change how I interact?

Punishment of self is the worst. Maybe you have you have spoken words of punishment to yourself, "I always act stupid like that."  Or,  "I'm a no good dirty, rotten worm."

The reality is we cannot improve our lives by punishing ourselves.

Jesus told us to "love your neighbor as yourself".  If my self love is really more self loathing, or self can I rise above that level in the loving of my neighbor?

But if I love myself as God loves me.....and if I lovingly discipline me instead of punishing me.....THAT love propels me on the pathways of Heaven to do the deeds of the Kingdom of God.

And it can work the same way for our children.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Revolutionary Treatment of Women in Early Christian Communities

"Husbands have the obligation of loving and caring for their wives the same way they love and care for their own bodies, for to love your wife is to love your own self." 

In the West of the 21st century, those words have lost much of the punch the original audience must have felt. This sentence does not feel very revolutionary to me and probably not to you either. But not so for the AD 60 readers of this letter from Paul (Ephesians 5:28) to the growing church in Ephesus in present day Turkey. Paul's words would have offended many of the men.....and felt like the dawning of a new day for many of the women. 

In those days, in that part of the world, the value of women was low, as just two examples illustrate: One rabbinical prayer went this way, “Blessed are you, O God…that I’m not a brute creature, nor a Gentile, nor a woman.” And in Jewish society of the day, men could divorce their wives....but not the other way around. 

Paul's words were revolutionary, and helped bring about the more equitable treatment women enjoy today in the West. And the Gospel will do the same for women as it permeates cultures that still today hold women behind the veil and in low esteem. 

Today, his words are good medicine for me and all who are husbands. He is giving us a yardstick to measure how we treat and love our wives: as well as we treat our own selves.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What Did Paul Mean When He Wrote "The Head of a Wife is Her Husband"?

We all use metaphors to abbreviate communication, or to make it more interesting or meaningful.  For example, if my friend asks me if I am going to the meeting this afternoon, and I respond, "no, I'm going to save my bullets for the game tonight", he'll know right away that I'm going to miss the afternoon meeting so I can save my energy for more exertion later.  My answer has nothing to do with storing up ammunition for the game.  That's a metaphor: we say or write something, but use it to refer to something else.

Metaphors are common in languages other than our own, and they have a long history around the world.  Biblical writing is sometimes metaphoric.  How Biblical metaphors are interpreted makes a LOT of difference in the meaning of the passage.

Here, for example, is 1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.  How are we to interpret the word "head" in this passage?

Clearly, Paul (author of this letter to the Corinthian church) is not talking about a literal head with hair, a mouth, ears, eyes, nose and teeth.  That makes no sense.  Therefore, he must be using the word head as a metaphor.  So, what is the metaphoric meaning of "head" in this case?

Meanings of words and metaphors change over time. Before we assume that today's use of "head" as a metaphor is correct, we need to understand what Paul meant with his metaphor, and what his original audience would have understood him to be communicating to them. More on this in a minute.

In 21st century English usage, the obvious interpretation of Paul's metaphor is "leader."  We use it all the time.  For example, if I write,  "Sue is the head of the purchasing department" it is clear to us that Sue is the leader of that department.

That is our understanding today, and it is easy to project our understanding of that metaphor onto Paul's words.  I know I have.  It is easy to assume that he meant something like this: ".....the leader of every man is Christ, the leader of a wife is her husband, and the leader of Christ is God."  And from that interpretation of "head" as "leader," we might chart our interpretation in a hierarchy something like this:

God is leader over
Christ, who is leader over
Man, who is leader over

But there is an interesting problem with at least the first half of this interpretation:  it is heresy!

Arius, an Egyptian Christian leader and theologian of the 4th century, had been teaching that Christ was subservient to God; a teaching that the Council of Nicea deemed heretical in AD 325.  Since then, the Church has taught that the three persons of the Trinity are co-equal, and that any other teaching is dangerously wrong.

If the hierarchical interpretation of "the leader of Christ is God" is probably not what Paul intended, then what about the rest of the passage?  Note that the same Greek word, "kephale", is used throughout this verse.

Here's where understanding what the metaphor meant to Paul and the original readers in the church at Corinth will help.  We can't ask them, so anything we come up with will be informed speculation at best.  Nevertheless, there are clues.

Some commentators (examples appended below) write that a common understanding of the metaphoric usage of the word "head" to 1st century Greeks was "source".  Actually, we still use that meaning today; for example, the headwaters of the Sacramento River are the source of that river.

Perhaps what Paul was telling the Corinthians -- and us today -- is this: ....the source of every man is Christ, and the source of woman is man, and the source of Christ is the Godhead.  (Suggested by Phillip B Payne, Man and Woman, One in Christ).  That perspective might make our chart look like this now:

The Godhead is the source of 
Christ, who is the source of
Man, who is the source of 
(God took Eve from Adam's side)

If that is a more accurate interpretation of Paul's metaphor, it opens the door to a different view of the order of men and women in the Kingdom than perhaps most of us have understood.  

Maybe Paul wasn't commenting at all on who should lead in a marriage.

Thanks to Rich Schmidt for showing us this for the first time.

See, for examples: