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Alan_Alda_Hawkeye_MASHSherrylee and I lived in West Germany from 1971-1979. Our years outside of American culture meant that we missed out on some of the cultural changes that took place during the tumultuous seventies. By the time we returned to the States in 1979, a quite apparent cynicism toward government had set in, likely the result of Viet Nam and Watergate.  The sexual revolution of the sixties was pretty mainstream by the end of the 70s. Women had been liberated; African Americans were much more prominent in television and movies; and the extreme individualism of what some called the “Me Generation” had been legitimized in conservative politics.

Shortly after our return to the States, I accepted a position on the faculty of Oklahoma Christian University—a dream job for me.  Not only did I love the classroom, but the comradery of the faculty and staff, such a wonderful, intelligent, interesting group of people, filled a deep need that we had for friends and fellowship in our new home.

Every day after chapel, many faculty members would gather in the little room set aside as the faculty lounge on the backside of the Learning Center. After a while, I realized that one of the aspects of American culture that had changed was the way colleagues and friends discussed ideas, especially when they disagreed.  I had never been around people who obviously liked each other, but who poked at each other so sarcastically or at the ideas of a third party quite so cynically!  Often it was disguised in humor, but, in fact, to me it was barbed!

As a new and very junior member of the faculty, I usually just listened and tried to keep my mouth shut, especially when the more vocal ones pontificated and sarcastically dismissed those who tried to take them on.

One day a couple of months into my first semester, however, one of the leaders of the conversation started saying something about socialism in Europe, something which I knew to be completely absurd from our experiences in Germany, so I responded to him.  Well, in his own pompous way, he acknowledged my existence, but sarcastically dismissed my uninvited contribution.  He was not mean spirited; he was just humorously . . . dismissive.  I did not respond.

One of the other faculty members picked up on the fact that I might not be up to that kind of verbal combat, so he tried to draw me back into the conversation with a respectful query as to whether I wanted to respond to the One.

I don’t know where it came from, but I remembered something my Dad had said once, so I offered it as my own attempt at humor:

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I do.  My dad taught me once that you can’t outpuke a buzzard!”

I don’t know whether it was the unexpected response or the outlandish idea that this young nobody just off the boat from Germany might actually join the skirmish, but the whole room burst into appreciative laughter—even the One who had dismissed me–and from that day on, I never felt on the outside of the faculty again. I had won a place in the room.

In spite of my minor victory, I really never became comfortable with this mocking kind of conversation that had surfaced in the seventies.  I called it M*A*S*H humor because it seemed to be the predominant mode of Hawkeye and BJ. Their irreverence, their disregard of authority, their cynical and self-serving approach to most relationships had first entertained Americans, then became American.

Thirty-five years later, now much of what was humorously sarcastic and cynical has become vicious and uncivil. We do not make fun of our opponents with respect; we demonize them. Even worse, we mock them.

Let me conclude with some biblical wisdom about mockery and mockers. I will let you draw your own political and cultural conclusions from these God-inspired words:

Proverbs 21:24   The proud and arrogant person—“Mocker” is his name— behaves with insolent fury

Proverbs 21:24    Mockers are proud and haughty; they act with boundless arrogance.

Proverbs 9:7   Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults . . . .

Proverbs 15:12   Mockers resent correction, so they avoid the wise.

Proverbs 29:8   Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.

Proverbs 22:10   Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.

Psalm 1:1   Blessed is the one who does not . . . sit in the company of mockers

 

 

 

 

 

Crown of righteousnessI do not believe in coincidences.  That my daily Bible reading has been in the books of Kings and Chronicles for the last several weeks, books which vividly describe God trying to lead a nation through prophets, judges, and kings, but being constantly thwarted by the people’s desire to lead themselves, judge themselves, and rule themselves, this does not seem like coincidence.

We Americans find ourselves in a time of national indecisiveness, national dissonance, and national disunion, not the first time in our history, but certainly in extraordinary proportions for recent memory. It is no coincidence, I believe, that fewer Americans are committed to following God.

People who do not believe in God nor confess Jesus are not reading this blog, so I am not addressing them; rather, what I have been reading seems to speak to the People of God, to those confessed and committed, but who have forgotten Who calls nations into existence, Who decides whether they prosper or suffer, Who causes them to rise and fall.

“From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall. . . . “ (Acts 17:26, NLT)  The ancient nation of Israel kept forgetting who called them into existence, so the prophets over and over again remind them that it was God who made them a nation, who called them out of Egypt, and who expelled stronger rulers and bigger nations to give Israel its place in history.  Read Psalm 105, but notice especially this passage:

For he remembered his sacred promise to his servant Abraham. 43 So he brought his people out of Egypt with joy, his chosen ones with rejoicing. 44 He gave his people the lands of pagan nations, and they harvested crops that others had planted. 45 All this happened so they would follow his decrees and obey his instructions. (emphasis mine, mw)

America has its William Bradfords, George Washingtons, and myriad others who built America—just like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David are early founders/builders of ancient Israel, but these people did not create nations, nor cause them to rise.  God did—and He alone. If we forget this, we forget so much more!

God blessed the descendants of Abraham with all that He had promised. Once the nation started prospering in the promised land, they quickly began to forget the One who created them, so God allowed conflict with foreign kings to remind them whose they were. In His love for them, he listened to their repentant prayers and raised up judges to lead them in battle and relieve their suffering.  In spite of his Goodness, the story of the judges ends with one of the most accusatory verses of Scripture (Judges 21):  25 In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.  Do we recognize our own times here; how important in our country that everyone has the right to do what they believe to be in their own best interests?

Israel begs for a king—stronger leadership, greater national defense, more international influence, greater wealth for the nation.  God tells the prophet Samuel to anoint their king, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer (I Samuel 8:7). They wanted Him as their God, but not their king—clear separation of church and state, not in a constitutional sense, but in the minds and hearts of the people of the nation.

So ancient Israel has some good years, then they experience Civil War and divide. The North completely abandons God, not becoming irreligious, just putting their own creations first; the South experiences an occasional revival, but over the course of time also forgets the God of their Fathers.  Both lose God’s protection, so they are utterly defeated, their nation as created was destroyed, with only a remnant surviving in an almost unrecognizable form, but enough for God to fulfil his promise to never forget those few who never forgot Him. A once flourishing, wealthy, powerful nation forgets God and dissolves into schism, political intrigue, unholy alliances, and self-indulgence, so God who had raised them to their zenith now lets them fall.

The cause of the downfall of ancient Israel was their turn from complete dependence upon God to a dependence on their own wisdom, their own might, their own rights, their own chosen leaders, their own military, their own alliances, their own wealth, their own . . . .

As we move through our time in history, as we struggle with political choices, as we experience the effects of dependence upon military force, as we witness moral turmoil and attempts to redefine integrity, it is not our vote for a particular candidate that will determine our destiny, it is whether we choose God as our King—and I don’t mean that metaphorically.Crown of righteousness

 

Yesterday was my last day in the office as Executive Director of the ministry my wife and I have led for 36 years. I’ll write more about that later, but my successor Scott Lambert called to check on me, and asked if I would publish here in this blog his open letter to Sherrylee and me.  I’m a bit embarrassed, but I promised him that I would–he is my new boss now, you know!

Scott LambertDear Mark and Sherrylee,

Today is the last day in your roles as Executive Directors for Let’s Start Talking.  Tomorrow I step into those shoes.  I have a few things to say to you both.

Mark and Sherrylee, no one will step fully into those shoes.  Ever. 

 Mark and Sherrylee, God called you to something very special 36 years ago.  Thank you for listening to and following God.

 Mark and Sherrylee, thousands upon thousands of people around the world have been drawn closer to Jesus because of Let’s Starting Talking.  I’m surmising that there will be a reunion corner of heaven for LST people someday.  It will be party with many languages, of course.  English may be just a louder than anything else.  Our gospel writer friend Luke may be there signing autographs.  And Jesus will put all of us in His arms.  Thanks for enlarging heaven. 

 Mark and Sherrylee, thousands upon thousands of people in America have been changed by LST.  We have been transformed by sharing our faith, the spiritual formation you modeled and the community LST provided us.  Thank you for embracing this stream of God’s people and tugging us outward and not inward. 

 Mark and Sherrylee, you might know many of the people touched by LST.  To the glory of God, you empowered others to share faith and not just keep LST to yourselves.  That you will meet so many for the first time in heaven someday is truly a credit to your passions, vision and leadership capacities.  Thank you for seeing and serving people that you’ve never even met. 

 Mark and Sherrylee, thank you for believing in Kim, me and my entire family. By investing in all of us, the Kingdom of God has been changed.

 Mark and Sherrylee, what I just said in that last sentence could be repeated by so many others.  Thank you.  

 Mark and Sherrylee, Kim and I are personally glad that we aren’t using the “R” word to describe this season of change.  I really like “transition”.  You both still have too much to do for God to R.  It’s exciting to continue serving God together.

Mark and Sherrylee, I speak for the multitudes today.  Thank you for serving the Lord and all of us. 

Scott Lambert

Thank you, Scott, and we will pray for wisdom and vision as you lead LST into the future. 

On Saturday, I presided over the wedding of two young people in their mid to late twenties. I’m going to hide their names for the sake of their privacy, but I wanted to share with you some of the thoughts that I shared with them.

wedding ringWe opened with this prayer:

Almighty God, our Father in Heaven, we come before you today, celebrating the wishes of Him and Her to be joined together in holy matrimony. We ask not only for your blessing on them, Father, but we pray for your Spirit to seal their vows both to you and to each other. Purify their hearts, Father, and pour into them the selflessness that will allow the miracle of two becoming one to happen, the same selflessness that Jesus showed by emptying himself and becoming flesh, so that we might have life.  Do this miracle today, Father, in the hearts of Him and Her, so that they will praise you as the Creator of their marriage and all good things—as we all praise your name and the name of Jesus.  Through Him we pray, Amen

Here we are, the day you have been looking towards, planning for, and dreaming about for a long time.  You both have been raised in Christian homes and have a living, personal faith, so it should be no surprise to you when I say that followers of Jesus have a view of marriage that is a bit different from that of the culture that surrounds us.

Many around us see marriage as just “a piece of paper,” “a legal document” that creates a new legal relationship. Christians recognize the right of governments to regulate legal relationships like this–but in the words that the Church once used on occasions like this, Christians don’t just get married, they enter into holy matrimony.

And the differences between that “piece of paper” and holy matrimony are vast—and ones that, if you will pay attention to them, will shape and bless your relationship and your life together as you go forward from this beautiful beginning.

The biggest difference between marriage and holy matrimony is that with a license, a few legal words, and a couple of signatures two people can be married; whereas, for holy matrimony to occur God Himself must act.  Just as God literally created the first marriage, introducing Eve to Adam, Scripture says it is God who joins you two together in holy matrimony.  So when you celebrate your first, your fifth, and your fiftieth anniversary, instead of saying, “Look what we did,” perhaps you will remember what we have said today, and you will say, “Look what God did! Thank you, God!”

Another difference between marriage and holy matrimony is that marriage is legal, but matrimony is holy. In other words, the relationship that you are entering into is one that is set apart for God.  The Apostle Paul said, Don’t you realize that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourselves. (1Cor.6:19)

So when God joins you together, then together—with your bodies—you become a holy temple where God lives.  Fill your temple with love, with good deeds, with compassion. And put up big walls and barriers! Fight against anything that would defile or desecrate the temple of your marriage. Protect your marriage against evil and darkness in every form.

And never forget that this beautiful temple of your marriage is where God lives! He is there, not as an intruder to judge you nor as a guest to complicate your life; He lives in your marriage and brings with Him love and forgiveness and mercy and kindness and goodness and patience and endurance and compassion and everything Good into your marriage all the days of your lives together.

As you make your pledge and say your vows today, remember that you not only are asking God to do a miracle in making the two of you into one, but you are also inviting Him to live with you, to always be a part of your life together. Live every day of your marriage in His presence.  His promise is to work everything that comes to you in life—the good and the bad—for your Good and to be with you always.

Having recognized the holiness of what you are doing and having acknowledged what God will do, let’s proceed with our part in this mysterious miracle of God joining Him and Her together.

We then, of course, took their pledge and heard their vows to each other, after which they exchanged rings as symbols of their vows.  We then prayed that God would seal their love and join them together as one.  Finally, the Pronouncement:

He and She, because you have expressed your desire to enter into holy matrimony and because you have committed yourselves to be married before God, as a minister of the Gospel and in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I pronounce you husband and wife.  “Since they are no longer two but one, let no one separate what God has joined together.”

And we ended with a kiss—a holy one, I’m quite sure!

fatherHappy Father’s Day to all of you fellow dads! One of the moments I enjoy the most is sharing the postings of new fathers to Facebook.  The scores of pictures of that unique little baby, almost always wrapped around gushy, sometimes tearful, praises for the amazing woman who made you a father!  I’m not making fun of you guys because I was exactly the same way on three wonderful days in 1974, 1976, and 1978.  And, honestly, I have re-lived all of those emotions  when our nine grandchildren were born, watching our sons (including Tim) become fathers!

The strangest thing happened to me after my father’s death twenty-five years ago this week.  For a period of time after his death, I found myself talking to him in my prayers.  It was not anything mystical or intentional. I would be talking to my Father in heaven and conversation would just merge into talking to my dad.  I don’t really have a theology that supports praying to saints, so at first I was a little shocked and felt slightly guilty to realize what I was doing, but the phenomenon didn’t last long.

As you can tell, however, I’ve remembered this vividly for twenty-five years and have actually come to believe even more strongly that God has always intended for earthly fatherhood to be a first experience for both fathers and children of His relationship to us. If He has bound His Fatherhood and ours so closely together, then perhaps it is not so unique or unnatural for our hearts and minds to merge the two.

God as Father was a gift from Jesus His Son. Yes, there are a handful of references to “Israel my son” (Ex. 4:22) and David “my son” (2 Sam. 7:14), for instance, but such references are extraordinarily rare in the Old Testament.  On the other hand, God is called Father over 160 times in just the Gospels. In his letters, Paul talks of the fatherhood of God over forty times. Peter and John also use the same word they had been taught to use by the Lord. That Jesus taught his followers to understand God as father is special and uniquely Christian.

I have a sweet story to tell you to illustrate this point.

Sherrylee and I were in north Africa in a predominantly Muslim country. One night we met for prayer with a group of Christians, and there was one young woman present who told us this story.  She had been raised in a Muslim family, having no contact with Christians. One night, however, as a young girl, she had a dream about God. She dreamed that God appeared to her and told her that He was going to do something special for her. He was going to allow her to call him “Father.”  She treasured this dream in her heart and in her own prayers and meditations, she secretly and silently called God “father,” thinking she was the only one with this privilege.

Years later, as a young woman she traveled to a western country where she made friends with another young woman who was a Christian.  At some point they were talking about God and the young Christian woman said something about God, calling him  “my Father ” The Muslim woman was shocked—not because her friend had blasphemed or disrespected Allah, but because she had used the Muslim girl’s most special, secret words as if they were her own.  The Muslim girl asked her friend why she had called God father and thereby discovered the special relationship that all Christians have with God. It was not long until she too was adopted as His child, and her dream became reality.

And for those who have had abusive, troubled, unfaithful, sick fathers, I can only imagine that it is extremely difficult to relate to God as Father. Someday all that is broken in this world, including fatherhood, will be made right again.  The first taste of this perfection is allowing God the Father to renew you, to re-birth you, to adopt you into His family. Your pain is real, but God’s willingness to be a loving Father to you is real too!

Today is Father’s Day!  Our gathered family is going to grill and talk and watch the World Cup today in celebration.  But first we are all going to spend time in praise and prayer to God, thanking Him for being our Father.

Our Father, who is in heaven, holy is your name!”  

Reposted from June 2014

Relay-race_02In the last post, I began to tell you about how the LST Board initially organized itself for transitioning from the Founding Executive Directors (Sherrylee and me) to a new Executive Director. You will remember that the board organized itself into two work groups: a Search Group to identify the new Director and a Transition Group to negotiate the Woodwards continued relationship to the ministry after our transition. (We avoided the word retirement from the beginning because we knew we did not want to walk away completely from LST, nor could we really afford to.)

The Search Committee began almost immediately to work through a list of potential candidates, contacting them, asking them if they would consider the position.  Most of the candidates were happy where they were or the timing was not right. They were honored to be considered, but practically, could not pursue the position any further. About six months into the search process, the committee was very close to making a final recommendation to the board with a potential transition as close as 6-8 weeks later.

The Transition Committee, on the other hand, for a variety of good reasons had not yet met!  Nor did they have yet all the information they needed from Sherrylee and me in order to fulfill their mandate.  One thing had become clear to the Transition committee, however, and that was that the Woodwards needed to continue drawing their salary for at least another year and maybe longer in order to make their long-term financial planning work.

When the Transition committee and the Search committee talked to each other, they discovered that their timetables did not come close to matching up.  The Search committee was ready to move to transition, but that was impossible with the needs that the Transition committee was presenting.  Some members of the Search committee felt like their work was at risk of being voided and discarded; some members of the Transition committee felt unfairly judged for doing what they were supposed to do.

For the first time in the long history of LST, there was potential tension between board members. To make matters worse, one of the four “objective” board members resigned at this critical moment for non-related issues.

In an attempt to clear the air, the whole board convened a special session. With prayer, great transparency, and a generous spirit of cooperation, all the issues were laid out. Ultimately the board decided at this meeting to make all the necessary decisions involving dates and compensation that affected the Woodwards, feeling like with those set in concrete, the search for their replacement could continue on firmer footing.  One board member strongly opposed this solution, abstaining from the final vote, which was otherwise unanimous.  Predictably, this board member resigned immediately following this meeting, feeling out of step with the other board members.

Now the LST Board consisted of five members, only two of which were not directly involved in the transition process—clearly an untenable situation for the Board.  In our next regular meeting—approximately one month after the special meeting—the Board decided to call a “time-out” and to search for new board members.  Six very strong candidates were identified, all people who had been involved with LST and loved the ministry.

Surprisingly, all six of these candidates accepted nomination to the Board of Directors and were installed at the next meeting.  Now we were eleven—with lots of fresh eyes to look at the transition process that one could describe best as frustratingly stalled.

Bringing in great new board members may be the best decision the LST board has ever made!  One item dominated the agenda at their first meeting and that was the transition.  The history of the current stalemate was rolled out, their questions answered, and nothing held back.

At the end of the day, the new board decided to stop the process—completely—so that the old board members could take a breather from the load they had been carrying, but also allowing the new board time to initiate a newer and better process.  Six months later, the search began again–new committees, new eyes, new timetable–and here we are, less than a year later, with an Executive Director-elect, stepping into his new role as the unanimous choice of the board of directors, on July 1.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.  Ecclesiastes 4:9 (NLT)

Relay-race_02If you had asked me five years ago, who I thought would succeed us as the LST Executive Director, I would have had a name and all the reasons why my choice was the only choice!  Privately, I would tell board members, lobbying in a preemptive way to ensure that my choice was their choice.

But I had made a big mistake.  My big mistake was that my One-and-Only-Possible-Choice absolutely did not want to do the job!

I’ve thought a lot about my flawed choice and have decided that asking the current Executive Director to find his/her own successor is not a very good idea. If the ED is a founding director, it may be even worse, and certainly more problematic.

First, why should not the Founding director name his/her own successor?  After all, who would know better about what skill sets or gifts are needed than the Founder?  Allow me to answer this rhetorical question with several more:

  • Can Founders choose someone different in skill sets from themselves?
  • Can they be objective enough to bring in someone who has the gifts that they themselves did not have?
  • Can they see beyond their own circle of relatives/acquaintances/associates to evaluate fairly someone who has not been intimately associated with the organization?
  • And what does it do to their legacy, if their chosen successor does not prove to be a good choice—so does that risk push Founders to safe choices rather than best choices?
  • What if the Founder consciously or unconsciously still wants to control the organization?  Isn’t this almost a predictable tension at a time of transition?  Would that tend to lead toward a choice of someone who can be controlled or overly influenced by the Founder?

These questions are hard for Founders to answer—which is why I would encourage you to opt for strong board involvement in choosing a successor!

What if the board does not want to be involved, but prefers that the Founder/Executive Director do the selection?   Then you have the wrong board!  Regardless of who started has led it for years, the board of directors has the responsibility for the sustainability of the organization.

Your board should lead in choosing the successor for a Founder/Executive Director for the following reasons:

  • The members of the board are legally responsible for the actions of Executive Director.
  • A multi-member board has the advantage of diverse input, out-of-the-box thinking, regional perspectives, and often even generational insights, all of which should engender better candidates.
  • Board members, by the fact of sheer number, have wider circles than a single Founder. If the board searches among their acquaintances, a larger number of good prospects is more likely.
  • A public announcement of an open position by the Board of Directors gives the organization more legitimacy than an appeal by a Founder/Executive Director.  It also makes the process seem more objective.
  • The Board of Directors is almost always the employer of the Executive Director, so giving the Board the responsibility for selection of the new ED builds an appropriate relationship between the employer and employee from the very beginning.  This is much different than if the new ED has been selected and “hired” by the outgoing Executive/Founder.

The LST board went through a bit of transition turmoil after Sherrylee and I gave notice of our retirement.  Let me start by saying that the main problem was not the board members themselves, but probably the constitution of the board at the time.  We were seven members; Sherrylee and I were two of those seven.  That left only five to work through the transition.  As it turned out, one of the board members was to becoming one of the declared candidates interested in the Executive Director’s position.  What we were left with after Sherrylee and I and this other board member recused ourselves was only four “objective” members.

We made the decision to divide into two working groups and to invite some of our non-board member supporters to join us in these work groups in order to expand the number of people in the process as well as to provide a wider perspective.  One work group was to search for the successor; the other work group was to manage the transition of the Founders (Sherrylee and me).  That seemed like a very productive arrangement, but actually things got off track pretty quickly.

I’ll explain what happened in the next post.

 

 

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