Just a Li'l Jesus with my Vodou, Please  

Posted by Mike Sharrow

At a recent meeting of area pastors in Haiti, I asked a senior leader (Emmanuel) what his biggest obstacle in the work of evangelism and discipleship was. His response was "Vodou." I asked if he meant opposition and conflict with the spiritually dark grip this cultish religion held on the island. "No, it's not so much the direct conflict - although there is much of that, and possession situations that are vexing - as much as hesitancy to let go of Vodou for Jesus. People realize they need God and His Son, Jesus, but want the new world in addition to their old one - not instead of, in place of. It's very difficult to address. Even when we think people have abandoned all former ways, we'll find hints of Vodou slipping into the church. We have to always be vigilant looking for signs and calling them out. It's not who we are anymore!"

Another pastor aptly elaborated further on it, categorizing it as a worldview issue. "It's such a part of our culture that people don't even realize how much it has shaped the way they view everything. So many will consider themselves free of any Vodou practices, and yet still think about life, each other, and the world in ways that are of Vodou and not Christ. We struggle to systematically substitute the old with the new ways of thinking."

It is in these discussions that the struggles of Haiti or any other culture are suddenly quite identical to our own. Sure, we would scoff at something as culturally foreign as Vodou - all the while seeing no parallel to equally destructive shadows of cold capitalism, trendy materialism, vague spiritualism, psycho-individualism, or nationalistic ethno-centric prejudism.

We, too, are often prone to complacently live in such a way that says, "Just a li'l Jesus with my Vodou, please." It handicaps us and can create a spiritual dissonance or static. Apart from Christ we can do nothing to transform these areas - but we must recognize and surrender them to Him.

What are areas in your life that are old man-esque?

Ilaretok: helping spread the crazy good news without strings  

Posted by Mike Sharrow in , , , , ,

A recommended read on missions, evangelism, church life, community: "Christianity Rediscovered" by Vincent Donovan. A Catholic priest sent on missions to the Masai tribe of Tanzania.

After successfully communicating the Gospel with 7 local tribes, he prepares to leave them to their own journey of faith and asks them what role or label they would have for a "priest" or "pastor" equivalent. He describes their process:

'What will you call the one who takes my place, the one from your community who will do my job among you when I am gone?' They discussed it at length. Certainly not laibon or witch doctor - they were rid of this pagan domination. Also not legwanan or chief - for what role of chief would their be in a people of Christ? No olkarsis (rich one/powerful one), olkitok (head one) ...They chose to equate this role to a man present in every community - a man always interested in all of the flocks of a tribe, not just his one and supporting the phases of life of a community: ilaretok (helper or servant of community).

He goes on to discuss how critical it was that he present the Gospel free of systems, developments or constructs not required by Christ - and let their culture experience the eucharist-like transformation of having the love of Jesus at its center. Here's an excerpt on his imperative for this:

We must be reminded that it is dangerous to preach the gospel as part of any system. The gospel is lost through any such identification. This identification of gospel with system has been made more than once, and in the end we are confronted with astounding conclusions: the gospel is monarchy, the divine right of kinds; the gospel is democracy; the gospel is capitalism - so said the Calvinists; the gospel is apartheid - so say the South Africans of old; the gospel is Marxism, the gospel is African socialism...The Gospel is none of these things. The Gospel is not progress or development. It is not nation building. It is not adult education. It is not a school system. It is not a health campaign. It is not a five-year plan. It is not an economic program. It is not a ranching scheme or water development. It is not an independence movement. it is not the freedom fighters. It is not the liberation movement. It is not the black power movement. It is not...No one would deny the connection between the gospel and development...what has to be denied is the mutual identification of the two things. Our business, as Christians, is the establishment of the Kingdom.

A great testament to consider.

My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place...You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.

- Jesus to Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem (c. AD 30)

First Impressions, Reflections of Glory: who's your neighbor?  

Posted by Mike Sharrow

I was sitting in my living room with some dear friends discussing marriage. There were a group of us husbands chattering about areas we're aware of God's work in our life around growing in the mind and life of Christ. MJ makes a profound confession:

We've talked about how we're supposed to love our wives independent of their performance in a love like that of Christs, based upon Ephesians 5...but this past week God has convicted me of a broader love issue: my neighbor. Take Bob at work - he's annoying, a poor employee, and generally makes my life miserable. For months I've wished nothing else than to see him removed from the team. Then it struck me...Bob is my neighbor. And if Bob is my neighbor, how am I doing at showing the love of Christ to HIM regardless of his business value to me? On a daily basis I now ask myself and God, 'show me how I can love Bob with Your love today.'

I'm certain we can all insert a different name in that confession from our workplace, school, neighborhood or even family.

Today I met with Gerry. A tall, tender-hearted, father of 2 young children whose wife of 23 years suddenly died last week of an acute disease. Clearly devastated, I asked what support he had - family, friends, church? Gerry bowed his head, and shed a little tear. You see, Gerry was black and his "best friend, love of my life, hard working wife" happened to be white.

Pastuh, we don't really have much in the way of support. See, my wife and I met at a Christian college some 24 years ago. She was the daughter of a nice, religious family. When her family found out she was dating a black fella, they threatened her. She loved me so much she risked everything else and married me. Her family said she was dead to them - didn't come to the wedding, didn't see their grandkids, didn't come to the funeral last week. Lotsa folks felt same way. We were regularly attacked, had our stuff destroyed and had to move around to escape people who got upset that we were different. Somehow it was okay to go to church real regular and all, yet show hate to us because my skin was darker...even my children were tainted because of me. My wife and I survived on a deep love for each other and for God these past years...not many other people have wanted to be a part of it. Now she's gone. So to your question, I'm not sure if we really do have any family out there.

My heart broke. I cried with him and lamented that the Bible tells us the same frustration has existed for thousands of years - even Paul had to remind people that there was no castes when it came to God's economy of love:

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ...Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. [Galatians 3:28, 5:5-6 MSG]

What a litmus test of our life in Christ! What a prerequisite to testifying of any Gospel. What a reflection of glory (or flesh).

Here's a bold prayer I challenge each of you to: ask God each day this week to show you "who is my neighbor" and how "to show the love of the Father" to that person. Brace yourself - your neighbor may be funny looking, funny smelling, darn right annoying or worse!

Yoda Recommends Life Groups  

Posted by Mike Sharrow

For all my friends in the Life Group world, I thought you'd enjoy some endorsements to the group concept by none other than the green theologian, Yoda:

Click Here to Watch Yoda's Words on Groups

New Chapter in Group World  

Posted by Mike Sharrow in , ,

With today's 1st semi-annual Life Group Leader Training & Strategy Conference and the launch of a new website (Group Central), the pages are turning for a new chapter on the group world here at Grace Point.

Here's an interesting defining quote about groups from a guy named Dave Earley:

A G.R.O.U.P. is (1) Guided by the leader who must model actual spiritual growth; (2) Regularly congregating, meeting together at least weekly to foster growth and development; (3) Opening God's Word to let the anchor of community be the Truths of God; (4) United in love that embraces, redeems, encourages and eliminates division; and (5) Prays for one another and the Kingdom work of God.
One last quote to chew on from a pastor of a small church in southern California:
Impression without expression results in depression. Spiritual inputs without healthy outputs creates spiritual obesity.

Chess Game of One? It Takes 2 to Play  

Posted by Mike Sharrow in , , ,

I have enjoyed the game of chess since I was a kid. Not that I'm necessarily a chess wizard, but it's just a fun game and I enjoy strategic thinking. Playing chess with my wife, however, is frustrating. You see, she does not strategize in chess - she just "plays." While I'm anticipated 6 moves ahead and how she'll react and then counter-act my moves, she's taking each move as they come with the general intent of winning but not worried about knowing every move between her and victory. The result is my assumptions of "what she'll do next" is usually wrong. She's not trying to decipher my long-term strategy, and her short-term moves prove highly effective at putting a kink in my plans!

I am frequently reminded of how easily we allow ourselves to get bogged down in relational hubris that drags on our inertia without any notable gain. We play games - dropping subtle hints, reading signals, and employing a host of telepathic interpretations, often in vain. It's tiring, creates awkward impasses when theories clash with reality and we discover our gameplan was disconnected, and just doesn't yield good results. Quoting my bride again, who's known for saying, "I just don't have the energy for that kind of thing!"

Whether in business settings, ministry teams, family scenes or my own marriage - I have found tremendous success when cutting through the fog of relational chess and just asking the question, naming the pink elephant in the room and moving on. It's much more effective to invest effort and energy into the actual resolution of any situation than on the self-imposed long runway of cat-and-mouse moves.

Chess only works when 2 people are truly playing. When tied up in knots about how to win the game, consider calling a trump by not playing. Live in the present, seize what is before you and don't let the present opportunities be consumed by phantoms of what "might be."

1. What are areas you are letting games paralyze you?
2. What relationships are stalled because you won't walk out into the field and call the person out?
3. What opportunity are you forever waiting to get because you're hoping that particular person somehow "knows" you really want it?
4. What discipleship relationship is stunted because you keep dropping hints at the truth needed hoping the implications are understood instead of laying it on the line? In the gospel of Matthew it says some folks stopped asking Jesus questions because they were afraid of what His answers would be. He was pretty direct and tended to mess up the communication and faith games people insisted on playing. We could learn a lot!

Values are Expressed, Culture Results...  

Posted by Mike Sharrow in ,

A guy named Ben wrote a blog recently about the fact values are read by the expression of community. That what you do, how you do it, what the people around you presume (the culture) all express the true values at play.

As a leader, in whatever arena you want to consider (your marriage? family? life group? classroom? team? job? friendships?) - what values would someone identify based upon the signals radiating from practices?

Tactical Principles from Mandela  

Posted by Mike Sharrow in

Nelson Mandela recently shared in an article written for Time Magazine 8 life lessons for leadership. Here they are in brief:

1 Courage is not the absence of fear — it’s inspiring others to move beyond it
2 Lead from the front — but don’t leave your base behind
3 Lead from the back — and let others believe they are in front
4 Know your enemy — and learn about his favorite sport
5 Keep your friends close — and your rivals even closer
6 Appearances matter — and remember to smile
7 Nothing is black or white
8 Quitting is leading too

What do you think about these principles?

Some reactions:

1. isn't leadership more effective when transparent enough to acknowledge the opposing factors, but blaze ahead from overpowering confidence, boldness, conviction?

2. can't lead where you haven't gone or going...I've said that a number of times in the context of discipleship

3. see nobility

4. wise as serpent, gentle as doves...

5. propensity for us to allow differences and even adversarial realities to create distance can actually isolate us from insights and increase our vulnerability.

6. stumbling block concept is always valid - image is worth something.

7. one of my favorite-to-pounce conundrums: false dichotomies. Often times we back ourselves into an A or B mindset, when A and B are 2 of 12 legitimate options and a spectrum of hues in between!

8. not letting quitting be equal to utter defeat, not letting it compromise character...in so many ways knowing when to quit can be the trademark of executive prudence, and how to quit of wisdom

What are your reactions to any of these?