Overcoming the Dark Side – A Review

Dark Side

(Disclaimer: If you’re a Star Wars fan and have come here looking for more fuel for that fire, turn away, my young padawan: it’s not that “dark side.”)

A BOOK REPORT ON

Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership

(Gary L. McIntosh and Samuel D. Rima)

by Brett Best

June 2017

THE USEFUL MAIN THOUGHT

Whatever it is that makes a leader effective is a two-edged sword; those who are not careful in wielding it may cause self-inflicted wounds on the backswing.

THESIS STATEMENTS

“It was during this research that it became clear that a paradox of sorts existed in the lives of most of the leaders who had experienced significant failures: the personal insecurities, feelings of inferiority, and need for parental approval (among other dysfunctions) that compelled these people to become successful leaders were very often the same issues that precipitated their failure.” (p. 13)

“Because it is a part of us that we are unaware of to some degree, lurking in the shadows of our personality, we have labeled it the dark side of our personality.  However, in spite of the foreboding mental image the term dark side creates, it is not, as we shall see, exclusively a negative force in our lives.  In almost every case the factors that eventually undermine us are shadows of the ones that contribute to our success.” (Italics by the authors, p. 28.)

“The aspects of life that push us in a positive way toward success can also exert a negative pull, destroying our effectiveness.” (p. 33)

“In short any behavior that seems to overpower us, as well as any urge or motivation that seems to uncontrollably drive us, is a possible sign indicating the presence of our dark side.” (p. 71)

“Though expectations are necessary to a degree, they can also be a two-edged sword in our lives.  These healthy expectations can motivate the people toward whom they are directed to behave and achieve beyond their current level.” (p. 185)

QUOTABLES

“We live in a culture obsessed with both having and success.  True success is a state of being not having.” (Italics by the authors, p. 19)

“For, all too often, when the lessons of the dark side are never learned, it drives even successful leaders to make unwise, impulsive, unethical, or immoral choices that may ultimately lead to the forfeiture of the very success it created.” (p. 91)

The authors quoted Abraham Lincoln: “All human beings have their weaknesses, but not all of us realize them, come to grips with them, or offset their negative impact.  As a group whose primary endeavor is interacting with other people, leaders must accomplish the paradoxical task of managing their darker sides.”  (Italics in text, pp. 150-151.)

“The purpose of examining the past is not for the assignment of blame, but for self-understanding.” (p. 174)  I chose this quote because it is the sole balance against repeated exhortations to engage in the dredging of one’s past for the purpose of finding where the corpse-like seeds of self-destruction may lie.  It read to me like a call to psychotherapy.  As we live in a culture predominated by lawyers and therapists (evidence of our national self-destruction), I found myself wishing for more balance.  Blaming dad and mom can serve as a mechanism for not taking ownership of the person we’ve become.

“Our legalism is well-intended; nevertheless it is also quite repressive and destructive for those who must live and lead under its weight.” (p. 184)

“We must come to the point where we recognize that our value is not dependent on our performance, position, titles, achievements, or the power we wield.  Rather, our worth exists independently of anything we have ever done or will do in the future.” (p. 213)  This is the best quote in the book and should have been in the introduction.

MY OPINION: PRAISEWORTHY PARTS

The authors precisely identified their aims and assumptions in the opening sections of the book.  They numbered them and set them aside to make them obvious instead of making use delve into the text to mine them or discover them by accident.  I appreciate assisting the reader by making the important bits obvious.

I read the revised version of the book; the original was published in 1997, the revised version in 2007.  I mention that because that time frame overlaps the rise of popular study of “emotional intelligence” in our culture.  Although the authors reference little or none of the fruits of this research, they ran on a parallel track.  Students of “EQ” will recognize the strands of thought shared with psycho-social observers of the time, purveyors of emotional sophistication in our intellectual processes.  In fact, with repeated references to Maslow and Jung, the greater portion of their teaching is based on social sciences than Scripture.

It is helpful to identify leadership styles and explore the light and dark sides of each.  A “Cosmo”-style self-evaluation is offered as a means of identifying one’s predominant leadership style.  Of course, the names assigned to the styles are negatively-oriented to their dark side: the Compulsive Leader, the Narcissistic Leader, the Paranoid Leader, the Codependent Leader, and the Passive-Aggressive Leader.

A five-step program is offered to aid leaders in overcoming their dark side, whichever form it may take.  If employed, I can see where this basic level of organization may help someone whose score in any of the dark sides was eight or more points.

MY OPINION: SHORTCOMINGS

The authors too frequently resort to generalizations like “many in the Christian community.”  How many?  What statistical data or anecdotes or other evidence can you offer to support such a contention?  To me, this is not scholarly; it is a lazy kind of writing that asserts as truths non-facts that are unproven and probably unprovable.  While I trust McIntosh and Rima as observers, it is simply not helpful to toss these sweeping generalities around as if they were self-evident.

This is a book on leadership among thousands.  It makes a point that may be examined in a more scholarly fashion elsewhere, but it is an important point to be made.  My concern is that the authors have given us an inoculation but not the cure.  The book successfully alerts the reader to the important point about the double-edged nature of leadership qualities, but, in spite of its length, does so superficially.  I would advise the reader who is concerned about their own dark side to turn to more competent sources of information on emotional intelligence.

The self-evaluation is an example of a double-edged nature.  While it is the backbone of the book, there is no more science here than one of the hundreds of quizzes on Facebook.  Science would establish a database on responses to these questions and create a sense of how commonly each aspect of the dark side occurs.  Science would trace connections to discoveries about emotional intelligence and explore linkages between these components of the dark side and established mental illnesses.

Having said all this, it would appear that I’m arguing that the book needed to be longer, to include more information.  Actually, my biggest concern about the book is that it is too long because it is filled with the wrong kinds of information; the author’s summations, generalizations, and exercises of imagination that stand in the place of genuine research.

To me, DARK SIDE is an example of a “padded book.”  There is enough new and useful information here for a journal article.  The rest is padding added to increase it to book length.  The authors make profuse use of historical/biblical examples of leadership meltdowns.”  While anecdotes are useful rhetorically, in this case their profusion indicates a shallowness of substance.  Another example of padding is extensive use of quotations.  It amused me to see multiple quotations from Sue Grafton.  I was under impression she is known as a popular author of fiction.  Is leadership theory part of her publishing resume?  The book is simply a mile wide and an inch deep.

MY OPINION: FINAL GRADE

If I wanted to be cute, I’d give DARK SIDE a “D” for “dark.”  Instead, I’m giving it a “D” for the shallowness of scholarship and the addition of too much padding to stretch a viable journal article into a salable book.

“Don’t Miss the Blessing”

(Please read Hebrews 12:14-17, NIV.)

 Amidst all the material preparations for Christmas, the most important thing is to prepare relationally by dealing with the bitterness that too often separates us from one another and with God.  The Spirit gave me this message at this time to assist in this ministry of reconciliation.

Don’t let bitterness take root – it will cause you to miss the blessing (14+15).

          God’s people are to be characterized by PEACE. This command also appears in Romans 12:18. IF IT IS POSSIBLE, AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, LIVE AT PEACE WITH EVERYONE.  Regarding peace, there are three attitudes people have:

  • Peace-breakers undermine the unity of the church by being hard-hearted, abrasive, selfish, insensitive, or are characterized by other ways cause offense.  They suffer bitterness and don’t care about inflicting it on others.
  • Peace-fakers focus on avoiding conflict and taking responsibility.  They may not make a situation worse, but their procrastination and/or falsehood don’t make it better. Their goal is to avoid responsibility for the bitterness they feel or inflict.
  • Peacemakers choose to obey God and follow Jesus’ example by loving one another.  They are willing to sacrifice and do the hard work of forgiveness that is necessary to make peace a reality.

In order to head off excuse-makers, Paul allows no exceptions to this command.  He wrote, MAKE EVERY EFFORT; this requires real attempts at peacemaking; nothing fake or superficial will do.  It must be genuine and sacrificial. And he added, WITH ALL MEN, which means that we are not allowed to pick and choose who is “worthy” of our efforts or just work with family and friends.  Those folks who are hard to love or otherwise “more trouble than they’re worth” deserve an honest effort.

God’s people are to be characterized by HOLINESS. Like true peace, genuine holiness is made known both inwardly (attitudes and priorities) and outwardly (our words and deeds).  Holiness is to be like God, to be set apart from worldly things to pursue Him as our path to joy.

This requires Christians to be counter-cultural in a positive, redemptive sense.  There are at least two reasons for this. One, if there’s no moral difference between churched and non-churched, we are not living a holy life. We’re not behaving like set-apart people.  Two, if we are so alike the world around us, we become invisible in the midst of our culture, and we forfeit our opportunity to witness.

Paul points out two things that disrupt peace and holiness in our life.

The first is missing the GRACE OF GOD (v. 15). God offers grace to all people. But most will exercise their free will to reject it: that’s how one can MISS the grace of God.

2 Corinthians 6:1 = AS GOD’S FELLOW WORKERS WE URGE YOU NOT TO RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN.

Galatians 5:4 = YOU WHO ARE TRYING TO BE JUSTIFIED BY LAW HAVE BEEN ALIENATED FROM CHRIST; YOU HAVE FALLEN AWAY FROM GRACE.

The second is allowing a BITTER ROOT to grow (v. 15). This image refers to attitudes that we allow to remain in ourselves & in our congregation that cause bitterness and division: grudges.  Paul did not invent this term; it was originally revealed to Moses who wrote in Dueteronomy 29:18 = MAKE SURE THERE IS NO MAN OR WOMAN, CLAN OR TRIBE AMONG YOU TODAY WHOSE HEART TURNS AWAY FROM THE LORD OUR GOD TO GO AND WORSHIP T GODS OF THOSE NATIONS; MAKE SURE THERE IS NO ROOT AMONG YOU THAT PRODUCES SUCH BITTER POISON.  In MTW 7:17, Jesus used a similar word picture; He said a bad tree produces bad fruit; an ungodly spirit will lead to ungodly acts.

Count the relational cost of bitterness and refuse to pay it! The cost of bitterness is too high and yet it happens too often. Individuals stricken with it must be encouraged to forgive and reconcile.

It messes up our relationship with God. This is what God meant when Paul wrote, WITHOUT HOLINESS NO ONE WILL SEE GOD. In this life, it means that God can be perceived only by faith & the power of the Holy Spirit. After this life, a person will only SEE GOD if they have God’s gracious gift of holiness in them; not by personal achievement, but by grace.  Bitterness is one of many kinds of sin. It causes estrangement between us and God that can only be cured by confession, repentance, and forgiveness.

The Bible warns us that we will be forgiven as we forgive others AND that we will be judged by the same standards we judge others.  What this tells us is that our human relationships do NOT exist apart from our relationship with God.  They are two sides of the same coin.

Bitterness also messes up our relationships with each other.  This is what God meant when Paul wrote, CAUSE TROUBLE AND DEFILE MANY.

It’s no stretch to understand what CAUSE TROUBLE means.  Each of us can recount at least one circumstance where relationships were lost for a lifetime because bitterness set people against one another, where grudges were held for years.

To DEFILE means to cause another to sin.  Bitterness is a sin that spreads like a contagious disease.  What complicates it is that the parties involved are often too self-righteous or proud to admit their own guilt & seek restoration.

Don’t be like Esau, a basket case of bitterness (16-17).

          Immorality & godlessness are linked to bitterness in the sense that every sin creates an attitude that makes a human life a more fertile field for sin. Esau is a negative example; one to be avoided.

Esau is an example of this effect immorality. Jewish traditions and legends make Esau into even more of a villain than the Bible does, but it’s enough for our part to observe that bitterness and regret over his lost birthright dogged his steps and created a place for other sins to spring up.

Esau is a biblical example of godlessness because he placed so little value on his place as Isaac’s firstborn and rightful heir that he sold his birthright to his brother for a bowl of hot stew.  (See Genesis 25:29-34).  Later, when he understood he’d lost it, no amount of regret could restore it. (See Genesis 27:1-40, especially v. 35).

The opposite of godliness is worldliness, and Esau’s actions are a fine example of worldliness.  He was chosen to be the firstborn, heir of all the promises God made to Abraham and Isaac, and he traded that away for a lunch!  Ruled by his stomach!

Paul wrote about Esau-like people in Philippians 3:19 = THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION, THEIR GOD IS THEIR STOMACH, AND THEIR GLORY IS THEIR SHAME.  THEIR MIND IS ON EARTHLY THINGS.

God did not have a neutral attitude about Esau, as you can guess from the following verse: “I HAVE LOVED YOU,” SAYS THE LORD. “BUT YOU ASK, ‘HOW HAVE YOU LOVED US?’ WAS NOT ESAU JACOB’S BROTHER?” THE LORD SAYS. “YET I HAVE LOVED JACOB, BUT ESAU HAVE I HATED, AND I HAVE TURNED HIS MOUNTAINS INTO A WASTELAND AND LEFT HIS INHERITANCE TO THE DESERT JACKALS.” (Malachi 1:2-3)

NEW and IMPROVED!

(Please read 2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2.  Quotations below are from the New International Version.)

        Tribal wisdom of the Lakota people, passed from generations immemorial, says that when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount. Our modern bureaucrats, however, have a set of more advanced strategies such as:

  • Buy a stronger whip.
  • Find lighter riders.
  • Harness several dead horses together to improve performance.
  • Arrange an overseas visit to study dead horses.
  • Reclassify the horse as “living impaired.”
  • Rewrite the performance requirements for dead horses.
  • Provide additional funding to improve the performance of dead horses.
  • Promote the dead horse to a supervisory position.

        Any similarity between the above and what happens in government is intentional. It is intended to serve as a great example of why there’s no use trying to fix up the Old Creation. Let it stay dead. Trying to keep the old creation is the source of a lot of frustration and disappointment in our Christian life.

THESIS = A new life in Christ includes a new attitude toward God, others, and self.

CONTEXT = 2 Corinthians is the Apostle Paul’s defense of his ministry.  One set of his critics blasted him for not being Jewish enough.  Part of his response to them was to show that the Good News he preached offered a new and improved means of relationship with God.

You are new and improved (16+17).

        Verse 17is key to what we are discussing and central to our identity:  we are new creations! Our new standing with God is possible because of Jesus Christ; that’s why Paul wrote, IN CHRIST. 

        It is a way of describing our new relationship with God.  According to Romans 5, our old relationship with God needed improving.  Verse eight reads;

BUT GOD DEMONSTRATES HIS OWN LOVE FOR US IN THIS: WHILE WE WERE STILL SINNERS, CHRIST DIED FOR US.  Verse ten makes it worse;

FOR IF, WHEN WE WERE GOD’S ENEMIES, WE WERE RECONCILED TO HIM THROUGH THE DEATH OF HIS SON, HOW MUCH MORE, HAVING BEEN RECONCILED, SHALL WE BE SAVED THROUGH HIS LIFE. Paul elaborates; THE OLD IS GONE, THE NEW HAS COME!

        Thank God!  Being a NEW CREATION means we cease being sinners and enemies of God.  Another thing to note about this term is that the scope of our new life includes all aspects of our personhood. Jesus similarly taught Nicodemus: “NO ONE CAN SEE THE KINGDOM OF GOD UNLESS HE IS BORN AGAIN” (JHN 3:3). This is a “total makeover!” Accordingly, we must think and act in NEW CREATION modes.

        Now we backtrack to verse sixteen to find the application of verse seventeen (and verses eleven through fifteen): our new attitude toward one another (i.e., toward Christ).

        One aspect of being new creations is that we reject a WORLDLY POINT OF VIEW. FROM NOW ON we look at people from God’s point of view.  When we do we see…

  • Victims of the Enemy, not the enemy.
  • People in need.
  • Brothers & sisters; in fact or in potential.

Where worldly eyes see barriers, godly eyes see bridges God has built.

        Paul offers Jesus as an example.  He and others once viewed Jesus from a worldly point of view and saw only a Galilean troublemaker.  Later, with acute vision bestowed by faith, Paul saw Him truthfully, as the Great Reconciler.

 

God did this for you (18-21).

        The old creation did not come about by human will, nor has the NEW CREATION.  Instead, as verse eighteen asserts, ALL THIS IS FROM GOD.

That fact rules out our intellect, willpower, & imagination: we don’t make it up.

        God did it by reconciling US TO HIMSELF THROUGH CHRIST (18).  “Reconciling” means restoring our relationship with God which had been

broken by our sin.

        THROUGH CHRIST means that Jesus is the universal solution to the universal problem of sin.  But God doesn’t force His solution on anyone; only those who receive it willingly will be restored.

         Verses 19-21 reveal that God reconciled us in three steps.

    • 19 = GOD WAS RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF IN CHRIST. God joined us & identified with us in the human life of Jesus Christ.  His blood paid our penalty.
    • 21 = GOD MADE HIM WHO HAD NO SIN TO BE SIN FOR US… Jesus suffered our guilt and shame. Because He was innocent He was the perfect sacrifice for sin.
  • Imputation is found in v. 19 NOT COUNTING MEN’S SINS AGAINST THEM. The solution is to impute (assign) righteous status to all who accept Him
  • Delegation .
    • 19 = AND HE HAS COMMITTED TO US THE MESSAGE OF RECONCILIATION. God has delegated to us the responsibility of making Him known to people we encounter.
    • 20 = WE ARE THEREFORE CHRIST’S AMBASSADORS… We represent our homeland & act w/t authority of our Leader.

 

Get busy and receive His grace today (1-2).

        Paul was concerned that the church live according to this message of reconciliation. He demonstrated his concern by using emphatic language: AS GOD’S FELLOW WORKERS WE URGE YOU.  His expression, FELLOW WORKERS, shows Paul’s identification with the church in Corinth and reminds us today that we are responsible with and for one another. Use of the first person pronoun (WE) connects God & Paul.  (See 1 Corinthians 3:9 where Paul describes himself as “God’s fellow-worker.”) So in a sense, Paul is also pulling rank, telling them to get in line!

        Chapter six, verse one presents some difficulty to the interpreter.  The call to RECEIVE GOD’S GRACE is not the hard part.  In fact, RECONCILIATION is the subject of the passage.

        The challenging bit is when he urges them not to receive GOD’S GRACE IN VAIN.  How is that possible? Apart from the egotistical use of the word, VAIN means fruitless, ineffective, unsuccessful, or frustrated. How could that happen?

Paul urged them to avoid a superficial commitment to Christ.  A sign of inauthentic discipleship: a lack of godly fruit. He quoted Scripture (Isaiah 49:8) to reinforce his point, emphasizing it is God’s will to act, decide, choose Him.

Borrowing TIME and DAY OF SALVATION from the Isaiah quote, Paul urged a timely, even immediate response = NOW IS THE TIME OF GOD’S FAVOR, NOW IS THE DAY OF SALVATION.

        If that alone doesn’t motivate you, consider a couple other things. One, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is imminent.  Until He comes again, we’re in a season of grace, where reconciliation can happen.  After He appears, there’ll be no more opportunity.

        Second, our own death is also immanent.  As today could be our last, we must bear fruit. Thus, in addition to the command of God, we have two additional excellent reasons to act NOW, not wait.  Whether we’re talking about accepting Christ as Savior or obeying Him as Lord, now is the moment; the door of opportunity has been swung open.

 

        God made us new creations so that we will choose to be agents of change.  We are entrusted with a ministry of reconciliation, helping the world to turn back to God. 

        I came across a negative example of reconciliation in Today in the Word, July 5, 1993.

        “One New Year’s Eve at London’s Garrick Club, British dramatist Frederick Lonsdale was asked by Seymour Hicks to reconcile with a fellow member. The two had quarreled in the past and never restored their friendship. ‘You must,’ Hicks said to Lonsdale. ‘It is very unkind to be unfriendly at such a time. Go over now and wish him a happy New Year.’

        “So Lonsdale crossed the room and spoke to his enemy. ‘I wish you a happy New Year,’ he said, ‘but only one’.”

        That’s not going to get it done, will it?

        God gives us an entirely new life to live in Christ.  We are made new creations to serve as ambassadors from the Kingdom of God to this poor, sin-sick world.  We have a lot of work to be done in an uncertain but ever-shrinking amount of time.  Let’s get started!

Hugh Otter B. Fruitful

(Read Acts 2:42-47.)

        A woman in Alabama was to bake a cake for her Baptist Church ladies’ bake sale, but entirely forgot about it until she awoke on the morning of the sale.  Rifling through her cupboards, she found an old angel food cake mix and threw it together.  While it baked, she dressed for work.

        When she took the cake from the oven, the center had dropped flat and the cake was horribly disfigured.  There was no time nor resource to bake another.  Not wanting to lose face among the church ladies, she hurriedly looked around for something she could use to build up the center of the cake.

        She settled on a roll of toilet paper which she put in the droopy center of the cake and then covered the whole thing over with icing.  Standing back to admire her handiwork, she pronounced it “Beautiful!”

        Before leaving the house to drop the cake off at the church on the way to work, she woke her teenage daughter and told her to be at the bake sale precisely when it opened at 9 am, buy t cake & bring it home.

        You may be surprised to find that the drowsy daughter didn’t make it to the church exactly at 9 am.  When she did arrive, she found that her mother’s cake had already been sold!  She called her mother to deliver the horrifying news.  The woman spent the entire day and a sleepless night worrying about who had purchased the faux cake.

        The next day an elegant bridal shower was being held at the home of a fellow church member.  While she wasn’t particularly friendly toward the hostess – she considered her a snob – the woman felt obligated to go.

        She was horrified when her cake was presented as dessert!

        She was about to take the hostess aside and confess when one of the other guest exclaimed, “What a beautiful cake!”

        The snobbish hostess grinned with pride and said, “Thank you, I baked it myself!”

        The woman thought to herself, “God is good.”  She sat back and watched as her hostess grabbed the cake knife…

        We naturally think god is good when the other person gets their “just desserts,” but are less likely to think that way when it’s us.  Getting what we deserve is what Jesus called the “fruit” of our character.  Decisions made repeatedly become character and the outcome of all that reveals the character within each of us.

        What’s true on an individual level is also true on a church level.  What we look like on the outside does not determine what fruits we bear, it’s what really exists under the icing. We must choose Christ to bear Christian fruit.

(George Goldtrap, as quoted in The Joyful Noiseletter, Vol. 27, No. 4, July-August 2012.)

THESIS = The First Church enjoyed fruitful ministry because they were faithful followers.

Vs. 46-47 (NIV) = Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

WHERE they met reveals a lot about the First Church.

        They met publicly in the TEMPLE.  Because the temple courtyards provided a large open space where their mega-church could gather.  The courtyards were accessible to Gentiles and frequented by Jews.

        Originally they saw themselves as practicing the Jewish faith completed by Jesus.  Therefore the temple was still God’s house; it was still sacred in their lives, their faith and practice.  They shared the pride godly Jews felt about the Temple and all it represented.

        It was a familiar place and a physical focus of their faith. When in Jerusalem, a godly Jew went to the Temple three times a day to pray.  Living elsewhere, a godly Jew faced the direction of the Temple to pray.

        The courtyards of the Temple were the customary place to meet for teaching.  Later, as the Church was dispersed from Jerusalem, they took this practice with them and met in the local synagogues.

        They also met privately in their HOMES.  They held services in courtyards  of private homes (see Philemon 2; Colossians 4:15; 1 Corinthians 16:19).  This was a practical solution and good stewardship.  Buildings require resources.  the practice kept the local churches smaller & more personal, like our “cell groups” today.  It was customary for Jewish feasts (i.e., the Passover) to be observed in homes.

        This “multi-site plan” is a comprehensive approach to ministry we can find useful and worth copying.  The temple gatherings were primarily evangelistic in nature, but also met worship and service goals.  The “living room” gatherings in private homes had a primary purpose of discipleship, but also met worship and fellowship goals.  Of course, the extraordinary stewardship exhibited in the First Church empowered both.

WHAT they did AS they met reveals more.

        The text informs us they BROKE BREAD and ATE TOGETHER.  BROKE BREAD refers to both a meal and the Lord’s Supper: the eucharisto.  This Love Feast was THE means of worship and service, & feeding the underclass.

        They were PRAISING GOD daily.  Every activity of the church should be a service of worship, celebrating God before all people.  If not for God we wouldn’t be here!

        They enjoyed THE FAVOR OF ALL PEOPLE.  I wonder what that feels like.  It might mean that people know where we’re located, at least!  This was a church full of joy: because they spread it about, they enjoyed wide favor.

HOW they did it sets an example for us to follow.

        They met EVERY DAY.  Any mention I make of daily worship falls on blank stares and deaf ears.  “Not realistic,” people inform me gravely.  Both clergy and lay people alike think the notion of daily worship is as quaint as togas.

        Let me provoke your thinking on this subject with two questions.  Is it possible that we are over-invested in our personal, private lives?  If we restore balance by investing more in God will it result in a better blessing?  If the answer to either of those questions is “Yes,” we’ve got to re-prioritize.

        They had GLAD and SINCERE HEARTS.  Every Christian ought to have a GLAD heart.  When done right, the Christian faith is fun.  Joy is an inevitable result of true discipleship.  If church is boring, uneventful, or unfulfilling, the fault is not with God.  In the original language, the word  SINCERE means “without stones to trip on.”  With nothing false in their character, they gave no excuse to trip others up.

WHY did God do this?  Simple: to build His Church.

        The phrase THE LORD ADDED TO THEIR NUMBER is a needed reminder that it is God who saves.  Our part is to create a space where God is made known.  If we are faithful, God will make us fruitful.

        This is also a way God shows His approval of a church.  If a church is worthy of His trust, He will place new believers in their care.

        It also reinforces the necessity of true faith being the qualification for membership. This phrase summarizes New Testament teaching that makes a distinction between those who are converts in appearance only & those who are a new creation.  Human eyes can’t always telling the difference, but God knows.

        I hope I’ve clearly placed an emphasis on the sovereignty of God.  That doctrine is no excuse of inactivity or even passivity, however.  God calls us to be more than consumers.  We are to be producers as well.  One part of discipleship is producing fruit.  The outcomes of a faithful life are two-fold:

  • See Matthew 28:19, where Jesus identifies disciple-making as our mission. That includes producing new converts and maturing existing ones.
  • See John 15, where Jesus teaches that LOVE is both a means and an end to discipleship. Real disciples love more often and more deeply. 

        OK, I admit to being guilty of making this word my soap box.  Don’t miss the word DAILY in the text. Does anyone really think it is a coincidence that they met daily and the Lord added to their number daily?  I’d suggest we are seeing a spiritual principle at work: “Whatever you sow, you shall reap.  If you sow sparingly, you shall reap sparingly.”  The greater sacrifice opens the door to greater blessing.  That’s biblical.

        Who was the Lord adding to the First Church?  THOSE WHO WERE BEING SAVED.  “Being saved” is a curious phrase.  What’s that imply?  A Greek word for “church” means “the called-out ones.”  Who is doing the calling?  God.  We don’t  call ourselves.  So again we are reminded that salvation is 99.9% an act of God.  It is not by any work that we are saved, but only by a faithful acceptance of the work of God.

        I believe that phrase is also meant to throw us back upon our dependence on the Holy Spirit.  It is God’s Spirit who empowers everything we do that is godly.  For a wonderful and unique description of this, see Judges 6:34, where it is written, THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CLOTHED HIMSELF WITH GIDEON.  The Bible also says that the Spirit is within us, but I prefer this reading because it places the emphasis squarely on the Holy Spirit.

        While we may be assuming too much from a single portion of a sentence, I believe this oddly passive-voiced verb without a clear temporal reference is also meant to remind us that salvation is a life-long process.  BEING SAVED is like saying, “Under Construction.”  Kind of like the streets and highways of our land during the summer months…

        “A wealthy lawyer walked along a crowded sidewalk in London when he felt a hand slip into his pocket.  He whirled around and seized the thief by the wrist.  ‘Why did you try to rob me?’ James Henderson demanded sternly.

        “‘Because, sir,’ the would-be pickpocket said, ‘I am out of work and hungry.’

        “‘Come along with me,’ Henderson said.  He took the penniless man to a restaurant and ordered two meals.

        “When they had finished eating, the man told how he had been in prison and found it difficult to obtain a job because of his bad name.  ‘I have no name,’ he said.  There is nothing left to return but to return to the old life of crime.  What can a man do without a name?’

        “The man’s story and question greatly impressed the lawyer.  After some thought, he said, ‘For forty years I have borne the name of James Henderson unsullied.  You say you have no name?  I’ll give you my name.  Take your new name out into the world and keep it clean and honorable.’

        “‘Do you really mean it?’ cried the thief brokenly.

        “‘Of course I mean it,’ said the lawyer.  ‘And to prove it, I’ll recommend you, in the name of James Henderson, to a manufacturing firm with whom I have some influence.’

        “The lawyer found a job for the former thief and kept in touch with him for many months.  However, through travel and a change of residence, he lost contact with his namesake.

        “Fifteen years later he was told a visitor awaited him in the reception room of his office.  He was startled to read the name ‘James Henderson’ on the man’s business card.  Entering the reception room, he met a tall, strikingly handsome man dressed like a gentleman. 

        “As they shook hands, the visitor said, ‘Sir, I have called to tell you today I have been made partner in the firm to which you recommended me fifteen years ago.  All that you see me to be, I owe to your noble generosity; and above all, to the gift of your name.  The name of James Henderson is still unsullied.  God bless you, sir, and reward you!’

        “The thief was offered a new name and made a new start in life.  We, too, have been offered a new name – Christian.  And it is the plan of the One who has given us this new name that we make a new start in life.”

(Desmond Hills, Signs of the Times, June, 2004.)

Proud Papa

I tell you, fathers don’t get any respect…even on Father’s Day!

Mothers get the red carpet treatment on their day, with fabulous brunches and beautiful bouquets. For the fathers, however, retailers have cleverly priced almost everything under $9.99!
Case in point: the Talking Fly Swatter. It’s a lime-green fly swatter with a little speaker that says stuff like “Hasta la vista, baby!” “Flight canceled!” and “Die sucker!” every time you try to use it.

I tell you, fathers don’t get any respect…

The children begged for a hamster, and after the usual fervent vows that they alone would care for it, they got one. They named it Danny. Two months later, when Mom found herself responsible for cleaning and feeding the creature, she’d had enough and promptly located a prospective new home for it.

The children took the news of Danny’s imminent departure quite well, though one of them remarked, “He’s been around here a long time–we’ll miss him.”

“Yes,” Mom replied, “But he’s too much work for one person, and since I’m that one person, I say he goes.”

Another child offered, “Well, maybe if he wouldn’t eat so much and wouldn’t be so messy, we could keep him.”

But Mom was firm. “It’s time to take Danny to his new home now,” she insisted. “Go and get his cage.”

With one voice and in tearful outrage the children shouted, “Danny? We thought you said Daddy!”

I tell you, fathers don’t get any respect…

A Father’s Day Poem

Dad, Dad, Dad. The dear old worthless geezer. 
Oh the fusses I have had, with that old patient teaser. 
He lacks the spirit of a mouse, most anyone can ‘down’ him. 
We let him hang around the house. Its cheaper than to drown him.

I tell you, fathers don’t get any respect…

According to the “Almanac for Farmers & City Folk,” The largest number of collect calls are made on Father’s Day.

Fortunately, dads have a good sense of humor. Most of them. Today we want to highlight six biblical virtues that dads are supposed to have. You know they were intended for dads because these six virtues spell out the word “FATHER.”

F” is for FAITHFUL (Hebrews 11:6).

AND WITHOUT FAITH IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE HIM, FOR WHOEVER WOULD

DRAW NEAR TO GOD MUST BELIEVE THAT HE EXISTS AND THAT HE REWARDS

THOSE WHO SEEK HIM. (ESV)

Faith that pleases God consists of belief in two things: that God exists and that His existence gives this life consequence.

Believing that God is real is the easy part, as proven by the fact that 90% of Americans believe it. However, when it comes to acting in ways consistent w/t reality of God, I suspect the number of participants drops off dramatically. Popularity not withstanding, real faith results in an increasingly God-centered life; real faith makes changes.

Belief that God rewards seekers follows naturally if you accept the first point. In other words, your life has consequence. Daily decisions are important. The writer of Hebrews expresses it positively to encourage believers, but the negative side is just as true; God’s wrath will be poured out on the unbelieving and wicked.

Without faith it is IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE God. If we want the rewards and not the wrath, then we must start with faith. Men, we must be full of faith.

Faithful fathers relate to their family in a way that pleases God. Men, treat your family in a way that recognizes God is present and that one day you will account for every word and deed. Since you’re going to eat your words, make ’em sweet. Don’t make family relationships the least holy; make them as holy as every other relationship you have. Holy relationships are marked by love, respect, positivity, and grace.

A” is for ACTIVE or AMBITIOUS (James 2:18-20).

BUT SOMEONE WILL SAY, “YOU HAVE FAITH AND I HAVE WORKS.” SHOW ME

YOUR FAITH APART FROM YOUR WORKS, AND I WILL SHOW YOU MY FAITH BY

MY WORKS. YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD IS ONE; YOU DO WELL. EVEN THE

DEMONS BELIEVE – AND SHUDDER! DO YOU WANT TO BE SHOW, YOU

FOOLISH PERSON, THAT FAITH APART FROM WORKS IS USELESS? (ESV)

Faith and works are not opposing approaches to God, they are two sides of the one approach that is real. Belief in the one true God is a starting point, not the finish line. With a little bit of irony, James notes how such belief is something that even DEMONS believe – only they shudder in fear at the thought of it.

The finish line is death. The balance of the race that is this life is finding ways to WORK OUT the consequences of our decision to accept the truth about God. A half-faith is no faith at all, just as a coin with only one side is not legal tender. If you’re going to have a saving faith, you’re going to have to be ACTIVE with it. No half-measures.

Men can be very ambitious in their vocations and avocations; they need to bring a similar ambition to their work within the home. “Active” fathers take an active faith into their home. The easy part of fathering is two-fold.

One easy part is to provide for their family’s material needs. Godly fathers take on more than just physical provision for their family, they actively make emotional and spiritual provision too.

The other easy part is to be proud of their family. Ask the average person what they value most and most of them will reflexively say “family.” The more difficult thing is to give your family reasons to be proud of YOU. ACTIVE fathers promote respect for the family name and forge a godly identity.

The more difficult thing and the thing most needed, is for fathers need to have a full-featured faith that is useful for godliness. Fathers are not the only leaders in the home, but they need to actively and ambitiously work to lead the family in God’s direction.

T” is for TENDER-HEARTED (Galatians 6:2).

BEAR ONE ANOTHER’S BURDENS AND SO FULFILL THE LAW OF CHRIST. (ESV)

This portion of the New Testament book of Galatians deals with how Christians are to relate to one another. It’s one of many places where human nature and spiritual nature interact to form our way of life.

It’s a common experience of life that you find out who your true friends are when you are in moments of greatest need. True friends will come alongside to provide help and support and encouragement, false friends will make themselves scarce. That’s human nature.

But Paul identifies something more important than human nature being operative here. Bearing one another’s burdens is one way we fulfill the LAW OF CHRIST. Remember Jesus’ law? “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you,” JHN 15:12. This means following Jesus’ example in love. Including our sins, Jesus bore every burden on the cross. The ultimate solution to all our problems is found atop Golgotha. Following His example and being joined in His Body, the Church, means that burden-bearing is standard behavior for followers of Jesus. Love is true when it seeks what is best for the beloved.

The ruin of the tender-heartedness expressed in this verse is selfishness and impatience. Selfishness can blind us to the burdens others carry. We’re too wrapped up in our own situations to take notice and thereby miss opportunities to help. Impatience takes many forms and is, in my opinion, the root of many problems. For example, impatience will cause a man to try to “fix” things when he needs to listen. It will show up when he says, “Not again!” or “Aren’t you over that yet?”

Tender-heartedness can be a difficult virtue to achieve because you have to really want it. You have to seek it, cultivate it, actively work to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It requires listening, watching, waiting, and apologizing – things for which men aren’t known for being naturally good. BUT, as we said, this is based on Jesus’ nature, not human nature!

H” is for HOLY (Romans 12:1-2).

I APPEAL TO YOU THEREFORE, BROTHERS, BY THE MERCIES OF GOD, TO PRESENT YOUR BODIES AS A LIVING SACRIFICE, HOLY AND ACCEPTABLE TO GOD, WHICH IS YOUR SPIRITUAL WORSHIP. DO NOT BE CONFORMED TO THIS WORLD, BUT BE TRANSFORMED BY THE RENEWAL OF YOUR MIND, THAT BY TESTING YOU MAY DISCERN WHAT IS THE WILL OF GOD, WHAT IS GOOD AND ACCEPTABLE AND PERFECT. (ESV)

To be “holy” is to be different from the rest of the world – set apart to God’s glory and purpose. These two important verses describe the reason and the method of holiness.

The reason for holiness is to give God the kind of worship He accepts. Self-sacrifice is the kind of worship God accepts. Worship that costs us nothing is worth nothing. To be meaningful and effective, worship is a little more death to self. This is done in view of God’s MERCIES. In other words, Jesus made Himself a “living sacrifice” on the cross, as His follower, you’re to do the same on a spiritual scale.

The method of holiness is resisting the world’s pressure to conform, choose transformation instead. Transformation is achieved by changing your mind! Unlearn the world’s definition of manliness and substitute Jesus’ example in it’s place. Unlearn all worldly values – resist the pressure to conform to them. Choose the life-long process of transformation into a reproduction of Jesus Christ.

Holy men make the best fathers. By this I mean “men that are holy,” regardless of their vocation.

Our culture does not make good fathers. In fact, we’ve seen fatherhood become something of a quaint institution, with record numbers of women left to care for children alone. The masculine values of our culture are promiscuity, independence, wealth, power, and pride. The sacrifice of these foolish things is a form of spiritual worship.

The masculine values of our faith are strength, commitment, love, and godliness. Becoming like Jesus enables a man to stand with his family, leading by serving.

E” is for ENCOURAGING (Hebrews 3:13).

BUT ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER DAILY, AS LONG AS IT IS CALLED TODAY, SO THAT NONE OF YOU MAY BE HARDENED BY SIN’S DECEITFULNESS. (NIV)

Encouragement is not optional; it’s a requirement. ENCOURAGE is the same Gk word used for the Holy Spirit; it’s also translated as “Comforter.” This isn’t mere positivity; it’s also translated as “exhort.” To exhort someone is to urge them to do the right thing. DAILY shows that encouragement is something we require. Encouragement serves an important purpose; to keep our soul from being HARDENED BY SIN’S DECEITFULNESS. Sin hardens our conscience and makes us insensitive to the will of God and incapable of loving others.

One of the important reasons God puts us together in families and in churches is so that we can encourage one another. The need for encouragement is not a sign of weakness; its simply human nature. While everyone needs different amounts of encouragement and favors different types, it’s as necessary for the health of our souls as food is for the health of our bodies. Encouragement is the “daily bread” of the spirit.

An amazing thing about family relationships is the strength of a child’s desire for dad’s approval. I don’t claim to understand it, but I have observed it often enough to know that there a powerful desire at work that is part of our very nature.

It stinks, then, that men are so often so poor at encouraging. For whatever set of reasons, we don’t seem to know how to do it and too often choose not to. Unfortunately, teasing and anger come more easily, so we can be guilty of unbalancing our input to the negative side. Fathers who are not active encouragers neglect an essential aspect of family life at the peril of their families.

R” is for REASONABLE (Isaiah 1:18).

COME NOW, LET US REASON TOGETHER,” SAYS THE LORD; (ESV)

The OT prophets spoke for God and made many appeals to the people for Him. The prophets appealed to the people on the basis of their emotions, striking fear of wrath and the promise of reward. They appealed to them spiritually, describing the majesty and power of God. And they appealed to their REASON, trying to get them to stop and think about what they were doing, the consequences of their actions.

This passage is obviously an appeal to REASON. Had we read the rest of vs. 18-20, we would have learned that God was trying to reason with them to repent and obey His Law. In the book of Proverbs especially, there are many biblical appeals to reason. God gave us each a brain so we would use it to think about ways we can do the right thing, not to plot evil or devise excuses for our sin.

Remember what we read in Romans. Transformation happens through the renewal of our mind. It is by thinking and reason that we see God’s way is best for us and follow it. It is by thinking and reason that we read, understand, and apply the word of God.

“Reasonable” is one of the virtues at which men like to think they excel. Male and female brains typically have physical differences that make logic and practicality more appealing to men, emotion and sentimentality more appealing to women. That’s science, not a value judgment. It simply explains typical preferences.

However, reason is only a tool. It can be correctly used to do good and be godly or it can be misused to make excuses for sin and selfishness. Part of being “reasonable” is using your head in the right way, not the wrong.

Another part of being “reasonable” is to be open to reason. Being confident is a virtue, but taken too far it becomes close-mindedness and that’s a vice. Reasonable men listen.

A third part of being “reasonable” is being patient. As James wrote, QUICK TO LISTEN, SLOW TO SPEAK, AND SLOW TO BECOME ANGRY (1:19). Patience is a virtue, men.

An article from a British newspaper, the Telegraph, was published last December, but applies to Father’s Day. Here’s an excerpt: “When it comes to Christmas, it might be safe to assume children will ask Santa for an extensive list of toys, games and treats …. A study of 2,000 British parents found most children will put a new baby brother or sister at the top of their Christmas list, closely followed by a request for a real-life reindeer. A ‘pet horse’ was the third most popular choice …. Despite their material requests, the tenth most popular Christmas wish on the list was a ‘Dad.'”

Wow. That must mean that dads are becoming as scarce in British culture as they are here in America. We need to call men to accept their responsibility to be a father at all, then to be the kind of father God wants them to be.

The title of this message is “Proud Papa.” Generally that refers to a father who is proud of his family. In this case, however, I want to turn that around. I’ve been advocating for a papa of whom the family is proud. I’m calling the fathers, grandfathers, uncles, mentors, teachers – all the men in this virtual room who have families to be the kind of leaders who earn the pride of their family by being the kind of man your family needs you to be.

The Bible calls us to a high standard in all our behavior and relationships, and fatherhood is no exception. In fact, given the extraordinary influence of fathers and their general scarcity in our culture, you might say that fatherhood is a priority. Something to think about. And, after a day of celebrating, to act upon.