Yearly Archives: 2019

A Letter to Leaders

Dear leaders,
Everyday there are opportunities for principled compromise and proximate justice in your service. Some questions to guide your actions:
Do you care about the poor or your power?

Do you want hospitable, legal and secure immigration or talking points?
Can you critique ideas and policies without exaggeration and insult?
Will your secure our financial future with a balanced budget, or just pretend that it does not matter?
Will you look for partnerships or do you prefer polemics and “gotchas’?
Will you fashion reparations as access, equity, and opportunity or another way to stoke resentment?
Will you affirm freedom of conscience and religion and allow people to bring their best selves to the public square, or will you despise the very traditions that offer your current liberties?
Are you willing to normalize your pensions and retirements, saving buckets of money, and serve the public without thought to your gain?
In short, will you be adults, reflecting before reacting, negotiating instead of just negating, and offering vision for the future?


Self-Denial is not Self-Destruction

Many times, in our work journey, my wife and I have faced difficult environments and sought the Lord’s wisdom on whether to persevere or to find a better place for our gifts and skills. Years ago, a close friend and prayer partner remarked: “You cannot leave something just because it’s hard.”

How do we know when the current toxicity at work is a sign for fidelity under trial — or when it’s a providential indication to move on? Here’s an insight that has helped us make several transitions under trying circumstances: Biblical self-denial is not a call to personal self-destruction.

When our Lord Jesus Christ summons us to “leave all and follow” and “deny yourself and take up your cross,” it is an urgent summons for kingdom obedience — and no excuses will do in light of the master’s call. No institutions, relationships, or internal fears should hinder our obedience to the gospel call (Luke 9:57–63).

But it’s important that we understand the boundaries and focus of this summons to suffering. Our leaving, self-denying, and refusing to excuse delays means relinquishing our sovereignty in favor of God’s, choosing his will over ours. Self-denial focuses on taking off the old nature, putting on the new nature empowered by the Spirit, and submitting to the ways and will of God (Eph 4:22–24). As theologian Dale Moody once observed, “Human sovereignty leads to frustration. Divine sovereignty brings all responsive persons to fulfillment.”

Biblical self-denial, then, does not eradicate God’s callings and gifts, nor does it repudiate the good works preordained for the believer (Eph 2:10). We are accountable to our heavenly master for how we use all the resources he’s entrusted to us (Matt 25). We are also accountable to keep all his commands; therefore, any call to cross-bearing will not violate other divine commands. For example, God may take your family through deep waters, but he will not call you to stop caring for your marriage and family in the interests of work.

Consider the distinctions between biblical self-denial and unbiblical self-destruction:

  • Self-denial calls us to unselfish service; self-destruction demands we cease being the person whom God designed.
  • Self-denial calls us to bless those around us and not resent others’ success; self-destruction happens when we’re subjected to unnecessary harm.
  • Self-denial commands us to seek the good of others; self-destruction occurs when we let fear displace faith and fail to step forward.
  • Self-denial helps us discipline our responses; self-destruction leads to toxic and unjust environments that harm others.
  • Self-denial cooperates with God in our battle against sin; self-destruction is when we try to be someone else.
  • Self-denial enables us to learn new skills and adjust to rapid change; self-destruction looms when we either refuse to change or presumptively assume roles we’re unqualified to fill.
  • Self-denial means we learn emotional intelligence; self-destruction comes when we’re constantly crushed in spirit.

In challenging work environments, we need the help of the Holy Spirit to apply the above insights. Prayer with trusted family, spiritual leaders, and peers will help us “understand the hour.”

In one difficult church we served, we persevered, helped shape a new staff, and prepared a fiscal pathway for flourishing. All of this was in the midst of unfair attacks and dysfunctional relationships among some leaders. We stayed the course and things improved. Then all the pathologies reappeared in a moment, and we realized we could no longer function as faithful stewards of God’s calling.

In another settings, we persevered through multiple transitions — including times of unfair accusation — and saw the community weather the storms and come out healthy. We left that church due to a new call, not a need for healing.

There is no formula for guidance in difficulty at work, but there are biblical promises of wisdom as we seek God with all our hearts and cry out for grace (Prov 2; James 1:5). God delights in giving wisdom, and its fruits are peace and justice for ourselves and others. Before we leave a trying situation, have we done all we can to bring change that benefits the whole and not just our position?

Self-denial is not self-destruction. God allows tribulation so the character of Christ is formed in us (Rom 5:1–11). Our personalities, natural and spiritual gifts, sense of purpose, and opportunities all exist for the glory of God and the good of others. Seeking happiness is not wrong, but we must remember that it derives from pleasing God and serving others.

Observations: Thinking More Deeply

Life is often a prism, with color and light refracted so many ways. When we hear each other’s stories, we see more of the beauty and brokenness, wit and wisdom in our world. Ask a friend to share their experience – and you will be better for listening.

Beauty, goodness, justice, and love are four “echoes of a Voice” (N.T. Wright) that point toward a Creator and the best attributes of being human. 

While I enjoy watching Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors rise to the occasion in a game…I want to thank every faithful husband and wife, mom and dad, woman and man who show they are champions every day. Your love, diligence, loyalty, and hard work make our world better.

When I was 12, my dad wrote in the Harvard Alumni Journal that “Charles is a fiery humanist and a repressed basketball star (too short).” I had heart, but not the gifts needed to go beyond early high school. But we can all discover and fulfill our place in God’s world, growing in character, charisma and capacity.

Deeply sad. A young, privileged politician harasses, tried to dox and calls on others to make life miserable for a 77-yr-old woman praying for mercy and protesting abortion. Passionate disagreement is fine, but this kind of inversion where a kind woman is accused of all manner of hatred is inexcusable. Friends on all sides of all issues – can we please debate without intimidation?

Awakened today with all the personal and social tensions of our world on my mind. Feeling hopeful and wounded, envisioned and saddened at the same time. What can I do? 
Pray. Steward today well. Refuse entrapments. Bless the very ones angry with my worldview. Live in the opposite spirit of our polarized world. 
Friends of all political and religious persuasions: You are loved and respected and together we can improve our world one act at a time.