Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Said the Vulture to the Lark

Said the Vulture to the Lark:
"I sense within your lonesome heart
    a longful sigh
        troubled Lark.
"A sor'ful insight to your life
    desires left hanging,
    causing strife.
"A world that dangles out of reach,
    Ethereal,
        yet still you stretch.
"So what I recommend is this:
    relinquish heaven,
        find our bliss."

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Daily Devotion

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those [in America], and for all who have not met me personally... See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ... Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day... Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind... Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence... Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things... When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming... But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no [discrimination], but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

~ Colossians 2:1,8,16, 18, 23, 3:2, 4-6, 8-15

When I read Scripture, I often jot down verses that jump out at me. When I put these verses together, they add up to a personal message for me – for the life situation I’m either in or about to enter. Sometimes, though, it summarizes a portion of Scripture, making it easier for me to understand. And sometimes, like for the verses above, it becomes something I want to share with others as an encouragement in their walk. I hope the above is just that for you!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Have a “Nice” Thanksgiving

I discovered some years ago that being “nice” was not the same as being “loving”. We can be nice: avoiding arguments, telling people what they want to hear and being generally pleasant. Or, we can be loving: willing to confront, telling people what they need to hear without fear of any lash back. Sometimes, I believe, it’s impossible to avoid conflict and still show love.

I personally believe that “nice” is overrated, but still, it has its place. Just because “nice” isn’t always loving, doesn’t mean that “loving” can’t try to be nice. In the past, I have at times been far too willing to confront. Now, I have never entered into confrontation easily, but I rationalized that any confrontation was okay so long as it brought out the truth. After all, when we know the truth, we are set free, right? (See John 8:32) So I don’t doubt the motivation of people who, like my younger self, are willing to walk into the fire for the sake of someone else. However, I’ve discovered that an action motivated by love may not be received as such. And even more, it may have the appearance of love, yet be ultimately cold and self-serving.

I find it interesting that Scripture has two answers to the same situation:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
      or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
      or he will be wise in his own eyes.
~ Proverbs 26:4-5 NIV

The first time I read those back-to-back verses, I had to do a double-take… then a triple-take… then I finally gave up and said: “Okay, Lord, what does this mean? Do we rebuke the fool or not?” I was more interested in doing what was right than being right. So He showed me: It’s more about our motivation than anything else. Do we care about the person we’re rebuking, or are we more interested in showing what we know? Do we truly want to help, or are we looking to be a hero? I’m so grateful that God uses us in our brokenness!

This Thanksgiving and Christmas season, many American Christians will have an opportunity to speak the truth to family and friends. I pray we have the right motivation. We are called to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

But what is love? Is it giving with the expectation of receiving something in return? Do we expect to have others extol our insight? Do we hope to be crowned a spiritual hero? Or do we seek to just love that person, speaking the truth in love. So before speaking the truth as each opportunity presents itself, we should ask the question: How does my expression of truth reflect the love of Scripture? 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
~ 1 Corinthians 13:3-5

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him Who is the head, that is, Christ.
~ Ephesians 4:15
copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Undifferentiated Church

Somewhere between my birth and the present day (a LOOONNNNGGGGGG time if you ask my kids), churches started to adopt marketing disciplines. Now, I have nothing against applying wisdom and truth to church administration, and I believe that all truth is God’s truth, whether it’s written in scripture or discerned through scientific method. Finally, to be completely honest, I tend to like marketing. It’s a powerful instrument, but like any tool: it can be misused; it can be applied to promote good; and it can be used for bad purposes. So having a little bit of knowledge, I’ve observed a few things over the years and have developed some opinions about what happens when churches apply marketing principals.

Now any organization that has not matured in its marketing practices tends to be internally focused, and when it’s a congregation, it can be rather cliquish. However, as an organization starts to understand marketing, it becomes “market driven”. The organization promotes activities and programs that will be attractive to the market, specifically reaching out to those demographics that are most desirable to develop the organization. As part of this process, successful businesses create plans to set themselves apart from the competition and then communicate the value of that difference to prospective clients. This is called “differentiation” and “positioning”.
Differentiation is the act of designing a set of meaningful differences to distinguish the company's offering from competitor's offerings.

Positioning is the result of differentiation decisions… The end result of positioning is the creation of a market-focused value proposition, a simple clear statement of why the target market should buy the product.
~ http://knol.google.com/k/marketing-strategy-differentiating-and-positioning-the-market-offering
So a powerful tool called Marketing becomes increasingly applied in business, and unsurprisingly it becomes more prevalent in the business of church. Progressive church leaders differentiated themselves with culturally relevant messages and offerings. Traditional churches started to observe a mass exodus of patrons, especially among the younger generation, and they began to apply techniques to retain or even increase the numbers of their congregations. Contemporary services became more common place to reflect the preferences of the church-shopping market place.

Ironically, rather than being differentiated, churches started to look alike, promoting contemporary Christian music and a variety of good coffee. Now, the most mature marketing organizations grow out of the “market driven” stage and ultimately find an ability to “drive the market”. This is no different in church. This church marketing machine, in an attempt to differentiate itself from its competitors in the religious services market, started becoming more and more program-centric. The organization with the better programs became more attractive to the church shoppers, but programs are expensive, requiring more of the time, talents and financial contributions of church members.

And then, in my opinion, a funny thing happened: the church forgot what it was marketing. It became so busy “doing” that it left its First Love (Jesus)… and its Second Love (People). People became a means to supplying a program rather than an end in themselves. The most tragic thing about this trend is that no one in the church thought it would lead to this. The church marketers wanted to reach people with life-saving messages. The church shoppers wanted to find a place that brought them life. But instead of streams of living water, they found themselves in a barren desert. Now I don’t think that every church is lifeless or barren, but Barna studies as well as personal experience have convinced me that the church in America is trending downward. It’s a trend that impacts pastors, lay leaders and even people outside the church.

So I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I still don’t think that marketing practices are a bad thing, but I believe it’s important to understand where the church is different from a business to then grasp how marketing can be useful to advance Christ’s kingdom and reverse the current trend.

First, we need to understand that God’s economy is all about giving. Somehow, we receive more when we give. I don’t understand this principal, and even though I’ve walked through it many times, I confess it’s often a scary path. Still, I often wonder what would happen if businesses started operating from this principal instead of the profit-focus we have. Would God enter into that business with greater blessings than could ever be gained through conventional wisdom? So the fundamental question of conventional business (i.e. – “what’s in it for me?”) is in opposition to the fundamental question of authentic ministry: “How can I help?”

Second, churches need to stop competing with each other; we should be looking for opportunities to collaborate in kingdom work. We are supposed to be known for our love for each other. (John 13 and John 15) That love should reflect the sacrificial love of Jesus and not the self-seeking love of the world. I have been saddened to hear pastors express a concern about intermingling with other congregations for fear that their members would leave. I’ve also heard pastors echo the “what’s in it for me?” question far too often, and while I understand the motivation and concerns, it does not reflect a Christ-like perspective.

Again, there is a core difference between the way the business world thinks and the way we’re called to think. The world only understands a transactional love: giving with the expectation of something in return. Unfortunately, the program-centric church expects that ministry recipients will participate in or support the program, and therefore more effort is expended on reaching the people who will enable the ministry. The less attractive members are left by the wayside: the poor, the hurting, the ugly, the sinners, etc. But wasn’t this the demographic that Jesus spent His time ministering to?

Third, the church is called to influence the culture rather than allowing itself to become part of a corrupt world. My great concern for the Church in America is that we’ve gone native… we’ve adopted a belief system that is counter-kingdom, and then we are surprised when we don’t see God moving in our lives. So bottom line (no pun intended!) is that we need to skip the “Market Driven” stage and advance to “Driving the Market”.

It’s easy for us to understand how the world thinks: we are sinners by nature and the old man in us still fights the new creation we’ve become. But the wisdom of God doesn’t make sense to the world; Scripture says that a Christian world view seems like foolishness in the eyes of the world. (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) Understanding this difference is a key strength that every believer must draw upon. We aren’t called to deliberately make fools of ourselves, but we need to stand firm in our dedication to Christ, especially when it stands in opposition to conventional wisdom. (See 1 Corinthians 4:10) When the world repeatedly sees our “foolish dedication” followed by inexplicable consequences, it bears greater witness than any evangelization technique man can conceive.

So while so many churches have spent considerable energy trying to differentiate themselves, the authentic Body is differentiated by its very nature. The uniqueness of any congregation’s members combined with an authentic dedication to ministry sets it apart from all others. And when that body of believers is open to and intentionally intermingling with other Christ-centric congregations to love and serve each other as well as the world around them, the Kingdom of God is advanced. Those who are perishing will ridicule this approach, but it will be more attractive to the ones God has predestined for glory… more attractive than any program, not matter how excellent or praiseworthy it may be.

Make no mistake, we are reaching a point of division in the body of believers, and each individual is called to lead from where they are: speaking truth in love while worshipping in truth and spirit.

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Right is Wrong and Wrong is right

Right is wrong and Wrong is right
   and all throughout the land is night.
The sweet-sick words of lying mouths-
   have taken hold of wandering moths
So off into the fire they fly;
   determined creatures, they flit to die.

My children, beloved, how far you have strayed,
   thus now as a Harlot, I cast you away!
Away with your stupid, your foolish delights!
   Away with you, creatures, and out to the night!

But yet to My Remnant do I still proclaim:
   Right is still right, and day is still day.
In you, My last Remnant, do I still delight.
   Continue to search Me and bathe in My Light.

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Prayer for Strength

In Sympathy for the children who cry,
with tantrums and screams and yelling out, "Why?"
I simply shrug an indifferent shoulder
and allow my fires of warmth to smolder.

With empathy for the people who dream
while mothers with bloodied children scream,
I rationalize: "This has always been."
But realize my own great sin.

In anger against indulgence and waste,
which seems to penetrate the human race,
I urge the sluggish to quickly make haste
and sometimes wonder at my own disgrace.

My passion for the dignity of man
and my belief in God's majestic plan
Sometimes falls prey to that which's despised
and perceptions of Truth mingle with Lies.

I pray for my soul in this storm -- stand strong,
and my faith in the Light everlasting long,
and that compassion and passion, like tides in a day,
evolve into currents which never change.

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

My Lord's Work

My life seems a whirlpool;
a tempest of terrible torrents
which assails my senses
and assaults my soul.

In wondering amazement
I turn with jarring twists
and stumble onto pastures green
I would otherwise not see.

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Protecting the Weak and Exploited

“You can’t legislate morality.” My friend stated it as if it was a well accepted fact. “I believe that abortion is wrong, but it should not be made illegal… Women will have abortions and we should make it safe… creating laws is an attempt to control people… creating a law against abortion is controlling and judgmental.”

Where to begin? First, this is NO condemnation against the woman who found herself in the situation where abortion seemed the best option and chose that option. I do not condemn you or your decision. Life is hard and God, your Father, loves you and wants to stay in relationship with you.  He wants to wash away your sorrows, and He has a plan to bring good from every situation. When we draw close to Him, we start to join Him in that plan for our lives.

So while my friend and I both desire God’s goodness in the lives of ourselves and others, we have not been able to agree on how we should join Him in His work with respect to abortion. Now, my friend would say that the Bible doesn’t explicitly speak about abortion and therefore the discussion belongs outside of spiritual conversations. And I would respond that God speaks about the unborn as a person for whom He has a plan… a human life. (Psalm 139:13-16) If God sees an unborn baby as a person, a Bible believing Christian should understand that the fetus is a human life that’s worth protecting.

But my friend might ask if it’s really a life when it can’t live on its own? And I would ask as the father of five: when is child able to live on its own? At birth? What would happen to my 5 year old if I set him out on the street to make a life for himself? What about my older kids? My grandfather was turned out on the street at a young age when his father re-married, and it really messed with my grandfather. No, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1) So maybe the Bible doesn’t use the word “abortion”, but the principals are clear.

So to my friend’s statement, I have to say: all laws reflect morality. We make illegal that which we believe is wrong. We create and enforce laws that we believe are in the best interest of society, and we seek to protect society’s weak from the immoral strong. We make laws that reflect our values.

I value both life for babies as well as the quality of life for mothers. I value both the woman and child whose lives were either ended or degraded by abortion. I heard a statistic that 95% of women who’ve had an abortion suffer with depression.   I decided to do a search, but couldn’t find anything that truly supported that statistic. What I did find was an abstract from the British Journal of Psychiatry citing a study of 877,181 women. The research discovered an 81% increased risk of mental health issues for women who experienced an abortion. (http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/199/3/180.abstract) Abortion is a health hazard to the mother that impacts her quality of life more than any socio-economic pressure ever could.

Yet my friend insists that women will continue to have abortions and for that reason we should make abortion a safe procedure. And I would ask him how he defines safe… safe for whom? Is it safe for the woman who is likely to struggle with mental health issues? Is that safe?

“But Jesus never got involved in political affairs… and I don’t think Christians should either!” was how my friend responded. And this is where I confess I felt both dismayed and disappointed because this is the response of too many Christians right now. We are so afraid of being labeled as “controlling” that we fail to live in the authority of our calling. As voters, we have been granted the authority to participate in the legal process. We have both the responsibility and the privilege to direct the hand of our government, which has been established by God as His agent for justice. (Romans 13:1-7) As voters, we participate in the governing process. So if it’s “controlling” to exercise the authority of our position, let me ask: is it appropriate to physically restrain my 5 year old from running into a busy intersection? Wouldn’t it be irresponsible and cowardly for me to withhold my control for fear of being accused as “controlling”? With God’s help, I will save my 5 year-old’s life even if I am labeled negatively. We have a role to play, and we will either play that role well or we’ll play it poorly.

It’s time for the Body of Christ to bring kingdom values into the workplace, the political spectrum, and the neighborhood… but not just because some “pastor” tells them what to do. It’s time for the Body to be mature enough to seek God’s will, trust Him for the outcome, and obey His calling. If we are in the position to rule, whether it’s through a vote or a vocational position, we are called to rule our area in a way that reflects God’s values. When we pray “Thy will be done, Thy Kingdom come” we are asking for His rule in our lives, and through our obedience, we bring His rule into the world around us. As believers, we should value what God values, and those values should be reflected in both how we live our lives as well as how we influence the world around us. As Christ’s representatives in this world, we need to follow the example of William Wilberforce, courageously acknowledging our responsibility to drive legislation that protects the weak or misguided.

We are called to speak the truth in love. We are called to love our neighbor. It’s so much easier to be “nice”, avoiding the confrontation. But love is hard. It requires sacrifice. It requires a willingness to walk through a conflict… to do what’s in another’s best interest even when they don’t want our help and when we don’t feel like doing it. It’s foolishness in the eyes of the world, but real love isn’t always “nice”. In fact, it isn’t always appreciated and it’s often mocked. But this is the highest form of love, Agape love, the perfect love of Jesus that we are called to reflect.

So my friend and I parted. We’re still friends, and I don’t doubt his love for Jesus or his desire to do what’s right, but I know I’m called to be loving, rather than nice. If I can be both, that’s preferable, but speaking the truth in love means I can’t be quiet. So whether I’m joined by a multitude or remain a small and solitary voice: abortion is wrong… it wounds the mother… it kills the child… it should be made illegal. And I will continue to vote with that perspective.

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore

In 2004 / 2005, the Lord started speaking to me about some changes. He gave me this picture of fallen leaves, where the leaves were people and where trees represented churches. The leaves fell from all sorts of trees. They were different sizes and shapes, having come from different church trees. But they all had at least one thing in common: they no longer belonged on the tree. In some cases, the leaves were no longer attached to the tree, even though they remained on the tree for a period. The visions stretched out for months and were echoed in the circumstances of my own life in the church; I had become a “fallen leaf”. The visions stretched out, beyond the present to times in the future, some of which I see happening now, and some of which are yet to occur.

Now the fallen leaves in my visions did not fall to the ground, dry up and crumble to dust like the leaves we typically see. These leaves drew their nourishment directly from the ground, remaining supple yet turning coppery in color. They were blown by the Spirit through a forest of trees. A few trees were open to receiving the leaves, and the leaves entered the holes in trunks. As leaves filled the gaps, the trees grew to gigantic proportions, and these gargantuan trees stood unshakeable until the last days… which I can describe some other time.

I held onto the visions as I struggled with my own feelings of “not belonging”. Within church, my voice was silenced and my efforts were credited to others. I don’t blame anyone for that, and I believe it’s something the Lord wanted me to walk through. And I know that we shouldn’t take “credit” for what God does through us, and we should rejoice in what He does. But it’s frustrating nonetheless. It’s like a story I heard about missionaries that returned on a ship to their homeland after years of giving to the Lord’s work. An ambassador on the same ship was welcomed with a great reception, while they arrived without notice. The wife, knowing what her husband was thinking, reminded him: “We are not home yet.”

Now, I’m not home yet… and I need to be reminded of that fact. I need to be reminded of the eternal; I need to be reminded of the FULL truth so I don’t fall prey to the oh-so-effective lies of half-truths. I held onto the visions to remind me of the fact that God “works all things for good for those that love Him and are called to His purposes.” (Romans 8:28) As I’ve been on this journey, a friend and pastor introduced me to George Barna’s book “Revolution”. This book provided statistics and offered trends that supported the visions of fallen leaves that I had received. People are leaving traditional “church” in droves.

I also came across an Internet book-in-the-making called “So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore?” This online parable has since been published and is growing in popularity. It paints a pretty ugly picture of church in America that is uncomfortably accurate. And while I encourage the reading of this book, I see some gaps and some potential spiritual flaws in it. First, it assumes that all structure is to be avoided. To my regret, I grasped onto this concept for awhile, discovering in the process that content requires a container. If water represents the spiritual content that is necessary in life, then we can imagine the need for a cup to hold this water. The size and shape of the cup are only important in its need to hold water. And, I’ve come to understand that if we don’t have a cup, we will eventually create one. These are the traditions and liturgies by which we live out the rhythms of our walk with God. As a “Roman-Presbo-Espico-Matic”, I’ve discovered that even the most “free-form” spiritual movements develop a set of structures to facilitate a walk with God. The problem is that our eyes are often drawn to the structure over the content that it was meant to hold. Our religious tendency is to hold onto the structure long after the content has dried up. But if we are truly free in the Spirit, then we stay focused on the content, which can be poured from cup to cup as fits our present need.
The second error I found in the book is of greater concern. The book equivocates freedom in the spirit with a lack of intentionality. My personal experience and observations line up with the wisdom of Scripture on this area. Both the old and new testaments are filled with encouragement to plan and take action, trusting in the Lord for the outcome and seeking His will in the planning. My own experience has shown that a lack of intentionality damages relationships. If we fail to cultivate relationships, they wither. “Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys.” (Proverbs 18:9) I have found this to be especially true in my higher priority relationships with God, my wife, and my children. Without intentionality, the enemy will fill our lives with distractions and all sorts of “urgent” issues that pull us slowly away from each other. I need to fight for time with the Lord; I need to work out times to be with my wife; I need to make time with each of my children.
Sales professionals know the importance of intentionality when cultivating a relationship. They plan “touch points” with current and prospective customers to build trust and partnerships. When dating, we are joyfully purposeful in making this time for each other. But many marriages fail when the couple unintentionally discontinues this discipline. Children become estranged when we stop making time for them. We remember the early years of wrestling and bedtime stories as if they were yesterday, but they vaguely recall those moments as ancient history. And without a repeated and intentional walk with Jesus, we start to forget the beauty of God and become more attracted to the ways of this world.
So as a “fallen leaf” who has become disillusioned with the church in America, I understand why the leaves are falling off the church trees. But I also need to hold onto the truths that God has given me, remembering the importance of intentional interaction with other believers as I enter into these last days so I don’t grow complacent. It’s true, I don’t want to go to church anymore, but I desire and need to stay in community with other believers, whatever form that cup may take.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25
So I wonder… Would anyone like to “not go to church” with us?

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Where Is Love?

Years ago, as a freshman in high school, I landed the title role in the musical “Oliver”. I was excited about the part, but as opening night approached, my voice started to change. The shortest kid in school, I had anxiously awaited for puberty to arrive, but it came at such an inopportune time! One of my solos was a song entitled “Where is Love”, which I sung to an audience that heard one cracking note after another. On stage, I was smiling, but inside I was totally embarrassed. My response at the time was an inner vow to not sing a solo in public again, and for nearly ten years, I was silent.

I didn’t think of it at the time, but “Where is Love” was really an appropriate title for the moment. In reality, love is something that we strive for, and yet despite our best efforts, we can’t always hit the right notes. Life’s twists and turns sometimes cause us to sing off pitch or to crack on the high notes so that the intended melody results in relational discord. With the painful memory of unsuccessful results, it’s easy to make that inner vow: “Why put myself through that pain again? I’m through!”

But we were made for love: to be loved and to love in return. We weren’t made to understand perfect love as infants, but with trial and error, we learn to love better with each attempt. One of mankind’s greatest continual mistakes is forgetting why we were made. We were made for love, but it’s so much easier and pain-free to seek the comfort of accomplishment, finding identity in our talents, thinking that our abilities define who we are.
The Church is just as guilty of this mistake as the world around us, if not more so. We have been given resources for advancing the Kingdom, but we squander it on our temporary pleasures. We have been empowered by gifts of the Spirit, but these are often used to build pastoral kingdoms rather than building up the Body of Christ. The 12th and 14th chapters of 1 Corinthians discuss spiritual gifts as they are distributed throughout the Body for the building up of the Body. But right in the middle of this discussion, Paul goes down an important rabbit-trail:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
[Amazingly, even the use of spiritual gifts and the understanding of spiritual truths can be applied without love, and is therefore meaningless. All of our accomplishments, all of our talents, any miracles that come through God’s use of us are meaningless without love. We were made for love and not for accomplishment. The accomplishment isn’t a bad thing, but without love, it’s empty. So Paul reminds his readers what real love is… ]
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
One of the above descriptions of love that jumps out at me is when Paul says love “keeps no record of wrongs.” Forgiveness is such a key component of love! I also find it interesting that evil is not contrasted with good: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Love is rooted in truth. Forgiveness doesn’t deny the truth of an injustice, but it chooses to release the guilty party from their just due. It acknowledges the wrong act, but pardons the offender. Love reflects God’s grace.
So where is love in the church? It’s not necessarily rooted in programs. It’s not necessarily evidenced in extraordinary manifestations of the Spirit. It’s not necessarily a component of profound Biblical teachings. It CAN be in all these things, but it’s not the program, the manifestation or the teaching that is important… it’s the people.
We were made to know others, and to be known ourselves. We were made to love and to be loved. It takes patience and kindness. It stays away from envy, boasting, and pride. It refuses to dishonor others, refuses to seek self-edifying activities and refuses to be angered easily. It always forgives… and ultimately, always perseveres.
So where is love? It is in the people who allow God’s love to change our selfish tendencies, one day… one moment… at a time. The mature believer is the one who has learned -- truly learned -- to love, because the power of love is greater than any other spiritual gift.
“We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, August 7, 2011

This is the Day

I did a search at biblegateway.com for the phrase: “This is the day which the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” I hear it so often in Christian circles that I expected it to be scattered throughout scripture. But unless I did something wrong in my word search, I only found it listed once: Psalm 118:24.
I started searching for this phrase because I hear it frequently enough in Christian circles as an admonishment to rejoice in each and every day. But I see a lot of suffering going on around me, and I can’t honestly say I rejoice in each day. Let me give you a few sound bytes from my past week:
  • A friend’s nephew, a young adult, is in a coma
  • other friends of mine are close to being evicted from their home
  • I hear a phrase repeated in the workplace “Pick your ‘O’… overtime or out-of-work!”
So I did this search to get some context for what it means to rejoice and be glad in “this day”, thinking that it’s probably found in multiple places. I wanted context to understand where and how often it’s used, but like I said, all I found was one verse in Psalm 118.
I remember reading an email once that asserted Psalm 118 is the very center chapter of the Bible, wedged between the shortest chapter (117) and the longest chapter (119). To be honest, I never bothered to see if that was true until now. Bible trivia is not important to me. I value the wisdom of Scripture because I value truth and I want to apply truth to how I live my life. But there’s also this part of me that just doesn’t want to be “wrong”, so I had to see if Psalm 118 is in fact the center chapter of the Bible. So… (drum roll please)
Nope. Close, though… Psalm 117 has 594 chapters both before and after it, putting the shortest chapter right in the middle. So why does it matter?

I don’t know if it does… but it emphasizes the reason why I started the word search in the first place. There are so many things that we accept as true without ever questioning it. We call it “faith” when we blindly accept what men have said what we should believe, but the faith that really matters comes from a belief in what God says is true. If we hold in faith to concepts that come from men and not from God, we represent religion. But if we are willing to let go of religion and hold true to what God says is true, we represent the Kingdom of God.

Religion, I would argue, is counter-kingdom. When we forward silly emails that demand compliance with man’s rules, asserting “truths” that aren’t true and mores that enslave, all the while keeping a real relationship with God at arm’s length, we misrepresent the Kingdom of God. Whether it’s an email, or a doctrine or some set of behavior that’s considered appropriate for Christian circles, ambassadors of the Kingdom need to be disciplined in asking “how does this line up with God’s truth?”

I believe that all truth is God’s truth, but not everything people convey as “true” is based in fact. Opinions, agendas, and misperceptions limit our ability to understand truth, but regardless of our limitations, I believe that the truth is still out there to discern. I believe that God has created an order to this universe with an expectation that we will seek to understand. Proverbs 25:2 reads: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” The scientific method is founded on the beliefs that 1) reality is based on truth and that 2) truths about reality can be proven.

As followers of Christ, we are called to be ambassadors of the Kingdom. Christ’s only harsh words were reserved for the religious hypocrites of the day. He blatantly refused to follow the man-made, religious constraints, but He unswervingly adhered to the ways of God as provided in Scripture. For this, the religious authorities sought to have Him killed. But the reality of God is greater than the perceptions of man, and so by His death and resurrection, a greater understanding of truth can be understood by those who are open to the truth. And so, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” (Psalm 118 ).

So we can rejoice in the Lord (Phil 4:4), knowing He is greater than our limited perception of reality in this day -- greater than the momentary trials of this day -- and that He will be faithful to bring forth that day of our reward (Luke 6:23).
So in context, Psalm 118 reads (in part):
17 I shall not die, but live,
         And declare the works of the LORD.
 18 The LORD has chastened me severely,
         But He has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness;
         I will go through them,
         And I will praise the LORD.
 20 This is the gate of the LORD,
         Through which the righteous shall enter.
21 I will praise You,
         For You have answered me,
         And have become my salvation.
22 The stone which the builders rejected
         Has become the chief cornerstone.
 23 This was the LORD’s doing;
         It is marvelous in our eyes.
 24 This is the day the LORD has made;
         We will rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save now, I pray, O LORD;
         O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.
 26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
         We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
 27 God is the LORD,
         And He has given us light;
         Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
 28 You are my God, and I will praise You;
         You are my God, I will exalt You.
29 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good!
         For His mercy endures forever.
 
We can expect suffering in this life, but for those who persevere in the truth, there is great reward. We are pressed with suffering but not crushed into oblivion; we have not been abandoned by our God. (2 Cor 4:8-9) And we can expect that our God will bring us through the suffering into a deeper knowledge of how great and how loving He is, not allowing us to stay in our place of comfort as He leads us into a greater reward.

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Father’s Day Remembered

I often feel as if Father’s Day is forgotten in our society. We are careful to remember Mother’s Day, and we should – it’s a big deal! Parenting is hard, and mothers play an indispensible role in the lives of their kids, but so do fathers. Annually, I’ve observed church services recognize mothers, recognizing their role and giving them the credit they are due. But a month goes by, Father’s Day comes, and… nothing. Now, that’s not the case everywhere and every year, but I think Dads need a little more recognition. I’ve talked to other Dads and they’ve had the same impression. I’m not trying to promote another victimized special interest group, but I wonder why Father’s Day doesn’t get equal recognition?

Perhaps it’s because so many households are lacking fathers. For various reasons, kids are growing up without a man in the house. Or perhaps we don’t have a vision of what a good father looks like. Men are different from women. We think differently, we act differently and we have different interests. Different does not mean better and different does not mean inferior. We are different.

Personally, I agree whole-heartedly with the French: viva la difference! In the beginning, God created a woman for Adam because he needed a partner, but the joke I often hear is that Eve was perfectly fine without Adam. No, God created us for each other. Scripture speaks a lot to our need for each other as well as our differences. I believe that Mother’s Day speaks to one of the great needs a woman has: to feel cherished. Husbands are instructed to love their wives as Christ loved the church, but when Deb and I have provided pre-marriage / marriage counseling, we suggest the groom translates “love” as “cherish”. When a man sets his wife aside to pursue his selfish interests (e.g. – other women, work, video games, etc.), this basic need is left unfulfilled. Wives, on the other hand, are instructed to respect their husbands. It’s a basic need of every man. Yes, we need love, but there’s nothing missing in our lives if we aren’t “cherished”. However, take away respect, and men feel it. In recent years, I’ve started using a different word to describe a man’s need for respect: we desire “admiration”. It drives us to explore, to seek out new challenges.

So if we cherish our mothers on Mother’s Day, lets admire our fathers on Father’s Day. My father had Multiple Sclerosis, and there were many things that he just couldn’t do with me as I was growing up. I could focus on what he couldn’t do and feel ripped off, or I could be grateful for him and admire him for what “was” rather than what “wasn’t”. Our fathers may have had constraints that were emotional, financial, or physical. We can focus on what “wasn’t” or we can focus on what “was”… and if our fathers are still alive, we can still hope for what “is still possible”.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we admire a father who has done nothing to earn that respect. Those cases exist, but I believe we should look for what can be admired about the man. If your father is absent, I think it’s important to talk with people who can help you find an admirable quality. He may have squandered an ability, but it was still passed on to you. You can admire that... if nothing else.

And the strange thing is, the one who benefits most from this admiration is you. When we focus on what “is” rather than what “isn’t”, we can accept the gifts available to each of us instead of denying them. And we can appreciate everything our Heavenly Father gives us, able to fully admire the One who is truly worthy of that admiration.

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Perturbations

This past week I’ve had several perturbations, which as I write the word, it sounds like some physical activity that would inspire a teenage boy to snicker. So making sure I have the right word, I looked it up in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary:

perturbation noun

1. the action of perturbing : the state of being perturbed

2. a disturbance of motion, course, arrangement, or state of equilibrium; especially : a disturbance of the regular and usually elliptical course of motion of a celestial body that is produced by some force additional to that which causes its regular motion

Yep. That’s the word alright. Per-tur-BA-shun. I started a new job… and the kids - being kids - are on their way to adulthood… and the frenetic activity that accompanies parenthood has had me a bit perturbed. The job is going fine, and I work with some great people, but it’s different from consulting and I’m still getting re-acclimated to corporate life. When I was consulting, we’d sometimes refer to “going native” once the consultant becomes part of the corporate culture. And while every company is different, there are still similarities in corporate life regardless of the organization. I find it both interesting and accurate that when C.S. Lewis wrote “The Screwtape Letters”, he decided to model the culture of hell after corporate America. In corporate culture, there are often a lot of niceties extended without anything that resembles kindness. Unfortunately, that culture has extended internationally; in other words, the disease is spreading. I was discussing this over breakfast with a friend of mine recently when he said something that opened my eyes even further. I found a greater revelation of that truth… but I’ll get to that eventually.

First, let me say that I’ve got some great kids, and they often make my heart swell with pride when they act with respect and compassion toward others. But the truth is that they’ve been rubbing me wrong lately. Not all of them and not all the time – but I can honestly say they’ve perturbed me. I love my kids, each of them… intensely. So when someone is mean to one of them, the loving-would-be-protector inside me wants to rise up and do some protecting. Internally, that “protecting” feels a lot like “Hulk Smash!”, but I try not to ever let that green monster out. What’s particularly perturbing, though, is when the person being mean to my child is another one of my kids. Now this is nothing new, and like I said: the kids are being kids. But my tolerance for it is pretty short. And just because I can sometimes be patient with the behavior, trying to steer my kids back in the right direction, the actions are neither acceptable nor tolerable. Especially as my kids get older, I need to take prompt action. And I’ve noticed a ripple effect where an older child takes it out on a younger one until the only one left to receive the abuse is our family dog. (poor Dasher!)

Like I said, we try to stop it preemptively, and missing that goal, we take charge decisively. But it still happens. And that perturbs me. (Yeah, “perturb” is a good word for it.) My kids recognize its ripple effect too. One of them tried to use the excuse: “Well, maybe the reason I do it is that it happens to me!” He’s a pretty insightful young man, and there’s a lot of truth in his statement. However, I was quick to point out a greater truth: “Jesus received much more abuse and yet He never took it out on others. Who do you want to be like?” Yes, God understands that we misbehave out of our woundedness as evidenced by Jesus’ prayer on the cross: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they do!”. But at what point will God’s compassion and understanding turn toward perturbation? I know my love for my kids is just a shadow of His love for us, and if I get agitated when my children are mean to each other, how does God feel when we fail to love each other as He taught us? Let’s face it, people are finding “nicer” ways to be mean to each other, and we’re becoming smarter at rationalizing our selfishness. We can be “nice” without ever showing an ounce of kindness or compassion. We can be “nice” without ever lending a hand to a brother in need. We can be nice without ever being loving. I could go into detail, but that’s a rabbit trail for another time.

So this leads into one of my other perturbations. Some time ago, I was having a lunch with a man whom I respect. He’s a very senior manager at a corporation, and he has held senior management positions for many years with different organizations. We were discussing what the “right thing to do” was in a particular situation, and he asked “right by whom?”. This particular case had to do with the responsibility toward employees versus bottom-line profits, and my colleague pointed out senior management’s obligation to watch out for the interests of the share-holders. He explained that it’s their fiducial responsibility. “Fiducial” sounds a lot like “financial”, and since we were talking about the bottom line, I assumed that’s what he meant. Silly me.

So fast-forward to the recent breakfast discussion with my friend, who also works for a corporation. He was asking about my new job, and I was asking about his work. Ultimately, our conversation turned to the topic of fiducial responsibility, and he explained it so that I finally understood why I’m out of place in the typical corporate world: I believe that real value is not found in the bottom line, but it’s measured by how it helps people. Making a profit is a means to this end; it’s not an end in itself. But once a business is owned by shareholders, the people running the organization have a legal responsibility as a “fiduciary” of the shareholders to maximize profits, even at the expense of themselves or any of the employees. In other words, they are committed to the profit-growing needs of the organization over the needs of the people that either make up that organization or purchase from that organization.

Now this really perturbs me. God values people above all else, and that means I should have the same values. When people become a means to an end, they have been devalued. When they are compelled to serve a lifeless entity, even if they’ve offered themselves up to that service… well, something is wrong. So a system that values the organization over people… is demonic. I can’t find another word for it. And that leaves me with something else to ponder: how is a follower of Jesus to respond? Should a Christian own publicly traded stock? Should a Christian seek a career in a publicly traded organization?

A publicly traded organization is a system established in opposition to God’s values. Now that’s a strong statement, but let me explain. There is no chance to effect lasting change since the ultimate authority in the organization is the shareholder, and the nameless voice of the shareholder demands an increase in profit that will translate into greater value of their shares. Since there is no limit to the value potential of the share, the demand is simply: “more!”. It is the voice of greed. There is no greater mission but to maximize profits, and the fiduciary is obligated to comply.

The result is devasting: Innovation becomes a competitor to the corporate mission of “more!” since the profit potential of any new business model needs to be proven; therefore, creativity and risk are discouraged. But the need for “more!” has to be satisfied, and thus company “innovation” is discovered through acquisition. There is nothing but the mission and the mission is “more!”. It furthermore becomes a logical option for an healthcare organization to explore possible synergies with a tobacco corporation: one gets them sick and the other keeps them well enough to keep purchasing. Create a market need and exploit it. And the carnage spreads: competitors are either acquired or forced out of business when the corporate giant enters a market, selling temporarily at a loss until the smaller competition can no longer afford to stay in business. Then the prices start to go up. Over a period of time, society is changed, and everyone starts to believe that the bottom line (a.k.a. – “profit”, “more!”, etc.) is what drives everything and that there is hopelessly no way out of this “reality”.

But what if we started a new perturbation and initiated change in the economic “motion, course, arrangement, or state of equilibrium” by refusing to play the game? What if we deliberately and intentionally refused to purchase stocks and invested in real assets? What if we intentionally determined to seek employment and provision through other means? And what if we encouraged others to do the same? What if we imposed laws that obligated the shareholder to uphold and support an organizational mission at the expense of profit, freeing the fiduciary from serving the god of “more!”. What if we truly believed that God was in this situation and had a plan to use His people to restore life to a world being choked out by greed?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know this: something is broken and it needs fixing. And I know that our job as Christians is to let Him reign in our lives, and that through our obedience, He transforms hopeless situations into testimonies of restoration. And I wouldn’t mind being a part of this perturbation. Anyone care to join in the fun?

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter: An Absurd Celebration

“You mean to tell me God became a baby… and that he was born in a sheep stable… And then after becoming a baby, he was raised in a blue collar home? He never wrote any books or held any offices, yet called himself the Son of God… He never traveled outside of his own country, never studied at a university, never lived in a palace, and yet asked to be regarded as the creator of the universe… And this crucifixion story… he was betrayed by his own people? No followers came to his defense? And then he was executed like a common junkyard thief… And after the killing, he was buried in a borrowed grave… And according to what’s written, after three days in the grave he was resurrected and made appearances to over five hundred people… and all this was to prove that God still loves his people and provides a way for us to return to him… Doesn’t that all sound rather… Doesn’t that all sound rather absurd?”

“Yes. Yes, I suppose it does sound absurd... “

How absurd to think that such nobility would go to such poverty to share a treasure with such thankless souls.

But he did.

In fact, the only thing more absurd than the gift is our stubborn unwillingness to receive it.
“God Came Near”, Max Lucado (emphasis added)

The above quote summarizes a chapter in Lucado’s book; I love the way he causes us to think outside the box!

The reality is that God’s love for us is painfully absurd. Why would He waste the time on us, yet alone go to such great steps of humiliation and suffering… it’s a love that demonstrates strength through what the world would consider weakness: degraded, impoverished, falsely accused, lonely, beaten, and hung naked until breathing His last! The depths of pain that He willingly walked through while praying for those that tormented Him showed His great character.

But the life and death of Jesus would be meaningless without His resurrection. Without the resurrection, it could easily be argued that Jesus was a fool for following His beliefs to the grave, and that in the end, he was destroyed by others stronger than himself. However, His resurrection demonstrates that the perceived weakness of the Messiah was really a reflection of great strength… a strength that flowed from His obedience to the Father’s love: “No one takes my life from me. I give my life of my own free will. I have the authority to give my life, and I have the authority to take my life back again. This is what my Father ordered me to do." (John 10:18)

Man thinks pretty highly of himself. We create skyscrapers, worldwide computer networks, and classify the genetic code. But in the end, we’re still just God want-to-be’s (see Genesis 3:5). But with all that, there’s a longing in our hearts. As pointed out by the philosopher, Pascal, each man has a God shaped hole that longs to be filled. We are incomplete and longing for completion. We are lonely and needing companionship. We were made to be loved, and we were made to love.

Another philosopher, Albert Camus, acknowledged this reluctantly. Although he considered himself to be an atheist, Camus admitted his longing for "salvation and meaning" after having been influenced by the writings of Augustine. It’s ironic that Camus is known as the originator of Absurdism. Isn’t it more absurd, to refuse the gift of love that He passionately and repeatedly offers us?

So, yes, God’s love for us is absurdly undeserved, and I believe His way of showing us is meant to contrast our differences. His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are far beyond ours. So I reaffirm what I recognized decades ago: that God is a better God than I could ever be. His power is more than I can imagine and His love is so much more than I can ever fully grasp!

“Hallelujah! The Lord is Risen! … Christ is risen indeed, hallelujah!”

copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Illegitimi Non Carborundum

"Illegitimi non carborundum is a mock-Latin aphorism meaning 'Don't let the bastards grind you down'". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegitimi_non_carborundum)

When Jesus started His ministry, He knew his target audience: the lost sheep of Israel. The church of His day was sick in many ways, reflected by the fact that His only words of criticism were for the religious authorities: “Listen to them but don’t be like them!” He warned. (Matthew 23:3) How much is this like the church in America? We usher in new converts to build a work-force that can be used to further increase church numbers, justifying the “fruit” of the ministry by statistics that validate and promote the value of our organization. The growing crowd shouts: “We’re building the Kingdom!”

But is that really building the Kingdom or is it building a program? Some years back, I was initially excited to take a group of kids to a youth conference. I was struck by the professionalism of the first few sessions as well as the quality of each presentation. From the beginning, the Lord kept prompting me to observe and learn. During a breakout session for youth pastors, I was able to hear the conference organizer speak about how to build an effective youth group. His key point centered on including the parents. As he asked the question “why should you include the parents?” My heart leapt! I sat on the edge of my chair waiting to hear the answer: “Because it’s God’s desire to turn the hearts of parents to children and children to parents!” (see Malachi 4:5-6) Instead, his only answer to the question caused my soaring heart to sputter and crash: “Because they will fund your ministry!” I kept listening, hoping for an answer that would reflect God’s heart for His people, but instead all I heard were words educating youth pastors on how to build a program through the efforts and money of others. And the religious task-master justified it all as “building the Kingdom”.

I observed the rest of the conference from a different perspective. I saw the synergies of this man’s program as the messages led from “you need to be sold-out for Christ” to “you can be sold-out for Christ if you raise funds to be a ministry intern”… and ministry interns were the man-power and fund-raisers for youth conferences. So my heart sank deeper. I observed and learned that “effective ministries” from the world’s perspective did not necessarily reflect God’s heart, and while God can still use these ministries to build His Kingdom, this is often done in spite of the religious authorities… “Listen to them but don’t be like them!” They confuse the Kingdom with their program and they distort being sold-out for Christ as being fully committed to building their ministry.

So what is the Kingdom? It’s seen when we value the hurting as much as the healthy… when the members of a failing marriage are loved as much as the ones in a “strong marriage”. It’s demonstrated when the “unproductive” members of the Body are valued as much as the ministry leaders… when people are loved for who they are rather than what they do. It’s seen when the heart of God is reflected in sacrificial love for the unlovable… when Christ’s representatives continue to invest their time and resources in people that don’t appreciate it; it’s like being the parent of spiritual teenagers! (No disrespect intended toward the teens out there who demonstrate more maturity than most “adults” in our society!) It’s letting the heart of God change our hearts, so that God reigns in our lives, and it’s allowing His Kingdom Presence to reflect His love to the world around us. The Kingdom of God is close for those that are willing to adjust their ways to God’s ways!

And is being sold-out for Christ is any different from submitting ourselves to God’s authority? Our obedience is an outward demonstration of our response to His love and recognition of Who He is. It acknowledges that He is God and we are not. Being fully dedicated to Christ means being faithful to Him in our daily circumstances, in the secular job as much as the ministry activities… in the home as well as the church. It’s seen in how we raise our children or treat our spouse even in their most unlovable moments. It’s being thrown into the fire, proclaiming our God’s power to save us and our commitment to Him regardless of the results! (Daniel 3:17-18)

This past year, the Lord said to me: “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” To be honest, I didn’t know how to take that. Ever since leaving the Navy, I’ve tried to get the “salt” out of my language, and the word “bastards” didn’t exactly match my theological understanding of how God should speak. So He clarified it for me: “Would you rather I said ‘illegitimate sons’?” Well, that made more sense. Gandhi had once said that he would be a Christian if it weren’t for all the Christians.

As people, we often make the mistake of confusing the message with the messenger, and we tend to judge an action by its results. However, our commitment to serve God regardless of the results includes trusting Him despite the way people respond to our faith. My wife’s parents have faithfully trusted Him through the years, and I’m thankful that my children can draw upon their legacy. My in-laws have followed Christ when it seemed the world was completely against them, and the Lord has shown them that He is faithful even when others are not. A pastor, my father-in-law felt led to give a sermon on pornography. His message was so convicting that some members of his congregation believed he had discovered their secret sin and tried to have him removed. It caused a church split, but my in-laws remained at the church. God is faithful even when people are not. And God is still in control.

Jesus once taught about the wheat and weeds:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the plants sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared. So the slaves of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Then where did the weeds come from?’ He said, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the slaves replied, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, since in gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At harvest time I will tell the reapers, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, but then gather the wheat into my barn.”’”

-Matthew 13:24-30 (NET Bible)
The problem with weeds is that they look like wheat. In the same way, the “illegitimate sons” resemble the children of God. Like the servants in the above story, we want to remove the illegitimate children (aka - weeds) from the church, but in so doing, we’re just as likely to destroy our brothers (aka – the wheat). I find it interesting that Jesus Himself didn’t seek to uproot the religious misrepresentation of His day. In fact, He longed to see them healed and the ministry restored. Knowing full well that He would suffer because of them, Jesus still refused to put out the smoldering wick or to break the bruised reed. (Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20) He could die to Himself, and in the midst of pain, look upon those that wounded Him and ask the Father to forgive the unlovable and unworthy.

I don’t know about you, but this dying to self thing is hard. It’s hard to trust in God when the results seem to end in our suffering, but like Christ, we need to look beyond the cross to the glory that He has prepared for us. We need to walk through the flames and feelings of isolation into the promises God has made. And we need to reject the prosperity gospel as well as the seduction of immediate gratification that our world offers as a distraction from our own great calling. The Lord has a plan for His church in last days. The question is: will we join Him?

The church is sick in many ways…

But we who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak, and not just please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself, but just as it is written, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope. Now may the God of endurance and comfort give you unity with one another in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

-Romans 15:1-6 (NET Bible)



copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Year in Review

February to February is not your typical time to do a “Year in Review”, but I’ve never been labeled as typical. In fact, I’ve often joked that the only thing truly consistent about me is my own inconsistency. So since I’ve been in this atypical mode all my life, I’ve decided to write a longer-than-usual blog that explains why I am not planning on planting a church.

I journal, usually daily, in the cheapest, small notebook I can purchase. You’ve probably seen them in the store: manila cover, thin-lined and about half the size of a 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper. I’ve done this for decades, and while the nature of my journal has changed through the years, it serves as a reminder of what God has taught me in that time period. My current notebook started in February 2010 and was completed on 2/27, so following my habit of the past several years, I’ve reviewed the contents… reliving some of the trials and victories of the past 12 months. It’s been a hard year, but a good year.

So long story short, I started down the “church plant path” because I have been hearing God say to me: “Feed My Sheep”. My pastor suggested planting a church and I thought that made sense. So going down that path a little ways, I decide to stop and ask the Lord to confirm it. He basically says something similar to what He’s always said to me: “It doesn’t matter what you do, just take Me with you.” So I ask Him about planting a church in the Fort Ben area of Indy, and He says, “I will bless it!”, which at the time sounds like “That’s perfect, Mitch… just what I was hoping you’d say! This is going to be the BEST CHURCH EVER!!!” But something I’ve discovered is that His idea of blessing and mine are often two different concepts.

As I’m writing this, I have to admit that I’m feeling a bit of shame… more than a little embarrassed. One of the things that hurt was that I truly felt like I was following His lead, but along the way, every door that appeared to be opening was suddenly shut. Now I don’t want to sound ungrateful as I write this, but I had a lot of cheerleaders and no team mates. Maybe they were there and I just didn’t see them. But it seemed like the people who sounded like they would join the team either backed away or were somehow committed elsewhere. So while I appreciate the encouragement of the cheerleaders… games can’t be won with just cheerleaders. And while I could have tried the guilt or manipulation tactics that I’ve seen so often, I never wanted to be that kind of leader.

So in the end, I had to ask if I was really leading. After all, it’s hard to say you’re leading when no one is following. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I was “lone-ing it”, since I truly was alone in it. In fact, I was so alone, that even my family wasn’t even a part of it. Don’t get me wrong, my wife is my biggest cheerleader, but she wasn’t willing to be a running back. And just to extend the analogy a little further, my kids were playing under the bleachers. So stepping out on the field, I looked at the empty bench and said: “Where are You, God? Have you abandoned me too?”

So in the midst of this spiritual crisis, Deb and I are suddenly confronted with tragic news, and given our very different responses to the situation, the crisis threatens to shatter our relationship. Without going into details, from the end of August into October, we’re daily having crucial conversations that could cause either one of us to walk away from the marriage. It was that serious. Meanwhile, I am thrust into a serious situation at work that threatens to end my contract abruptly. Just a little stress to make life interesting…

A few months before all of this, as part of the whole church planting process, I was encouraged by the pastor of our church to spend some time forming my values. His reasoning was very sound: you know what to say “yes” to if you know what you value. Just to drive it home further, the Vineyard Church Planting Boot Camps re-emphasized it. This was great advice, and it really made something clear to me: I no longer belonged at that church. I realized in the process that what I valued was taking me in a different direction than the church. But as a result of this exercise, I’m also able to stand a little firm in what I value, even when I don’t feel like valuing what I know to be true.

So God seems absent, Deb and I are having a tough time, the job is more than a little stressful, and my feelings of not belonging are at an all-time high.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)
Now at the time, I understood that the absence of “team mates” could mean that my timing was just a little off. It could also mean that I needed to seek healing. But all I really knew for sure at the time was that I felt a tremendous feeling of abandonment and rejection. So it was at this point that I decided to attend a “Restoring the Foundations” (RTF) workshop. RTF is an inner healing ministry that I give two thumbs up, not simply because I theoretically agree with the approach, but because it made a real, practical difference in my life. I can’t say that RTF saved my marriage any more than I the disciplines of healthy communication, but I know it dealt with many of the abandonment issues I was experiencing and helped to strengthen my relationship with God. And like all relational crises, getting through the moment strengthens the relationship in the end. The suffering -> perseverance -> character -> hope process of Romans 5 really hit home as a result.

I don’t want to walk through another year like this last one, but I am confident that with God’s help I could find victory again… I have a more firmly grounded hope than I did in February 2010. So I can definitely say that I was “blessed” by the year.

I admit that I’m still not sure what “Feed My sheep” means in a practical sense for me. I believe the church in America is sick and needs to get back to the basics. Since October, we’ve entertained the idea of a home church as well as visiting local churches. We’ve seen several good, Christian communities, but none that seem like a fit yet. I don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but I don’t want to just settle either. We’re looking for a place that invites an intimacy with God, first and foremost; a church doctrine that emphasizes being set apart for God in obedience as a response to the great measure of grace that has been extended to us; and a community that promotes healthy relationships and lifestyles. Finally, I need a church that helps me raise my kids with a firm knowledge of God’s love, His Word and His Grace. I want it to be place that knits families together rather than splinters them off into different age groups. And I believe it’s not going to be found in a large church community. Let me know if you know about this place.

“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

“The mind decides the path, the Lord directs the footsteps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)




Sunday, January 23, 2011

Another Church Casualty

How sad when the Church fails to reflect Christ… and by “Church”, I mean the collection of people that make up the universal church, not a specific person or denomination. Without going into a lot of details, shortly after I started getting more involved in my local church, I discovered that the church could be every bit as exploitative as the world. I found out that oftentimes:
  • a person’s value in the church was proportional to the time, talents or money that they contributed
  • it was okay to gossip so long as you put it in the form of a “prayer request”
  • in practice (or should I say “malpractice”), accountability and submission to authority were often control techniques
  • freedom and grace could be used to excuse a rebellious attitude
In reading Scripture, I’ve noticed that the only words of criticism Jesus had were for religious authorities. But I also see that one of His ending prayers was for these very same people: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” So as I think about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest problem with God’s people is that we get some healing and then we think we’re all done. It’s so much easier to see the speck in someone else’s eye than our own, and it’s very self-affirming to notice how someone is less healthy than us in certain areas.

I’ve also observed it’s so much easier to get angry at the people “who should know better”, than to figure out our role when God’s people act less than godly. Sometimes, we’re called to simply observe and learn so that we can apply this new understanding in our own lives. Other times we’re called to demonstrate love to the person in the wrong. Yet other times, we’re led to lovingly confront. Or perhaps we are placed in a position to take authority over a hurtful situation, boldly end the hurtful behavior, and hopefully use the incident as a teachable moment that changes lives and hearts, bringing reconciliation. Still, at all times and all situations, we are called to pray and forgive. Regardless, of our role or the circumstances, our prayers should reflect Jesus’ on the cross (Phillipians 2:5), and we should be promoting His Kingdom of grace.

Is it less important to forgive our brother than a stranger? Of course not, but I can honestly say it’s much harder! A stranger can’t hurt us as deeply, and our trust can’t be betrayed where it hasn’t been given. Jesus understands this: He was ridiculed by His brothers (John 7:2-5) and betrayed by one of His closest friends through a fake expression of love and respect. He understands our pain.

But Jesus didn’t come to save the healthy (Matthew 9:12)… He came to bring reconciliation, so that we can have a deep relationship with Him (John 15:7)… a relationship that changes us! In that relationship, we live as children who continue to grow… being changed from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). A Christian walks through this world with the realization that we are ALL still sinners in need of a Savior, and the realization of that need is an important part of our calling… especially when we enter into conflict with other believers. If we are mindful of our need for forgiveness, it’s much easier to forgive others.

We forgive them by relinquishing our right to hold them accountable for the wrong they have done. We don’t dismiss it as “okay”, because the reality is: it’s NOT okay. It WAS wrong. But we relinquish the right for justice to God, remembering that He has replaced His justice against us in favor of grace and mercy. And we remember with humility that He has retained justice by taking the punishment for us. 

Now, I don’t have this forgiveness thing down completely, and even if I understand it a little, that doesn’t make it any easier to live it out, but I try… which causes me to consider this reality about myself: that my words and actions don’t always reflect the desire of (or conflict within) my own heart. This self-realization makes it easier to understand that others could be going through the same internal conflict and that their external behavior doesn’t necessarily reflect the turmoil or well-intentioned desires that are inside.

So I begin to understand that my forgiveness needs to come before their repentance. In fact, repentance may never come. But if I can learn to relinquish my right for justice, I escape the bitterness of the offense. By forgiving, I’m freed from the event. It only takes one person to forgive. No one needs to come to my door saying: “can you forgive me?” With God’s help, I have the power and responsibility to forgive anyone, regardless of their response after the initial offense.

But it takes two people to be reconciled, and reconciliation requires trust. Foundational to any relationship is trust, so if there is going to be a continued relationship, trust needs to be built into the reconciliation process. Like forgiveness, trust is a decision. We can choose (with God’s help) to forgive and we can choose to trust. But they differ in this: wisdom dictates that we do not trust everyone in everything. The fact is: not everyone is trustworthy, and when trust has been broken, it needs to be earned back. 

It’s been my experience that many people believe that forgiveness requires trust, and because of a godly desire for reconciliation, trust can be given prematurely which can lead to even deeper wounding. And in some cases, this leads to the false belief that forgiveness is foolishness. But forgiveness is healthy, and when coupled with a trust that’s earned back, so is reconciliation.

So that’s where “the church” is today. Because the pain is always greater when it’s been inflicted by the one who was supposed to be “safe”, the Church has huge undertaking. Who should have been more “safe” than the Church? So many people have been hurt by church that we find ourselves apologizing for what others have done, hoping that we haven’t been one of the perpetrators… and wondering how we to earn back a trust that’s been broken. 

But the part of the Body that has been hurt and chosen isolation also needs to do its part, forgiving people who may never admit their wrong-doing nor desire reconciliation. As a people, we need to mature into a Body that can love without expectation, having grace for others… in response to the great grace that has been shown to us.
copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)