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Thoughts for Interpretive Leaders

Change Your Mind is published exclusively for Christians who want to grow in their understanding and practice of leading like Jesus Christ. New Change Your Mind articles are published monthly. Each article is dedicated to addressing ideas, questions and concepts for spiritual character formation, redemptive community and biblical leadership.

Change Your Mind offers "thoughts for interpretive leaders" designed to examine how biblical principles speak to real-life issues of character and leadership -- exploring how the church is called to be a place where God's people come together under His Word and Spirit for insight and discernment. Articles are ideal for generating conversation in leadership teams and dialog in small groups.

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A Brief Reflection About Wild Fires

by Jim Van Yperen

No doubt you are watching with alarm, as I am, the daily images of wild fires in the American West. I heard one commentator wonder at how much devastation resulted from "just one small spark!"  She was not the first to say-so.

“The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”  (James 3:5)

A wild fire is nearly impossible to control, but the affects the fire leaves behind are easy to see--in burned out homes, and scorched earth stripped of all life. James tells us that words, too, are hard to control. While their marks may be less visible, their result is no less damaging—to others and ourselves. For James, the source of evil speaking is sin, and a heart darkened by disordered desire and pride. We want something so we lie and cheat. We boast to lift ourselves up, while putting others down. We want to be right and prove the other wrong. We blame others to excuse ourselves. Jesus said that a person speaks, "out of the overflow of his heart."

As I pray for rain and relief to quench wild fires out West, I think about the fires my words have set, and ask God to change my heart.

The Ripple Effect

Ripples

I am lying flat on my back, my left leg propped on pillows in pain, unable to reach full extension. Next Tuesday, I will have surgery to repair a torn meniscus, the third surgery on my left knee in four decades. Lying here is cause to remember the first injury in 1977 . . .

It was a rainy Saturday in the fall of my senior year at college. The football team of the small college that I attended was in Wisconsin to play a rival. Our warm-ups were over and just before we headed out of the locker room for the kick-off, our coach said, “I want all my defensive backs to put on one-inch cleats.” For those who may not know, forty years ago football shoes came with different size cleats that you could screw on and off for better traction, depending upon the turf of the field. Most fields back then were grass that, after a rain, became slick and slippery. Longer cleats gave the player a firmer grip on the surface. Standard cleats were onehalf inch long. You could replace these with three-quarter-inch cleats. One-inch cleats were illegal, banned from use by the NCAA because they were known to cause knee injuries. I knew the cleats were illegal. The coach knew the cleats were illegal. I was not going to change my cleats. But the coach was looking straight at me. Knowing my propensity to ignore his commands, the coach waited to see what I would do. I changed to one-inch cleats.

Midway into the first half, while covering a receiver downfield, I planted my left foot and turned quickly to the right. The full force of my body twisted and moved right. But the one-inch cleats on my left foot stuck firmly in the ground. I heard a pop, fell down, and buckled over in pain. I had torn my medial-collateral ligament and meniscus. My playing days were done. Four decades of knee problems had just begun. This happened because a football coach at a small Christian college wanted his players to wear illegal cleats.

I forgave the coach long ago, but my pain today reminds me of its genesis, and prompts reflection on a painful truth: forgiveness can heal the heart, but transformation comes through repentance. If you throw a stone into a pond, waves emanate out in concentric circles from where the stone enters the water. Larger stones produce greater size and distance of the waves. Sin has the same ripple effect. Even a small sin, like illegal cleats, can cause ripples that last for decades. Some sin is so big it causes a tsunami of devastation that lasts for centuries. Consider the sin of racism, for example.

Last Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, a young white man walked into the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He was welcomed into a Bible study group where he sat quietly for about an hour. Suddenly and without warning the young man stood up, pulled out a gun, and opened fire. He said he was there “to shoot black people.” Six women and three men were killed, including the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. The gunman reloaded his pistol five times, ignoring pleas of the Bible study group members to stop.

Two days later, after the gunman was captured, families of the nine who were killed faced the young man in court and told him about the lives he had taken and pain he had caused. The daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance spoke for her family. “I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you and have mercy on your soul,” she said. “It hurts me, it hurts a lot of people, but God forgive you and I forgive you.” The sister of Rev. DePayne MiddletonDoctor, 49, spoke for her family, saying,“We have no room for hate. We have to forgive. I pray God on your soul.”

Nine defenseless people are shot in a Bible study because of racial hatred and their families offer immediate forgiveness because they are followers of Jesus. We may marvel at the spirit of mercy in these brothers and sisters, but we should not be surprised. We should not be surprised because forgiveness is what followers of Jesus do. We should not be surprised because African American Christians have been forgiving racism for more than two centuries. Racism’s complex and devastating effects continue in America for many reasons, far too many to suggest one cure. The ripples have too many ripples. Forgiveness is a powerful start— for all Christians, white and black. But examination and repentance is needed also, especially among those who worship in churches that are largely White.Let me suggest two issues that I believe require our examination and repentance:*

  1. White Christians extend the ripple effects of racism by listening to and repeating the condescending and racist characterizations of our President on cable news and in social media. There has always been political disagreement in America, but the subtle and not so subtle animus directed at President Obama during the past eight years has often been racist. You may vigorously disagree with his politics or policy. You may think he is taking the country in the wrong direction. You may even think that the President is undermining Christian values, but he is the democratically elected President of the United States. President Barack Obama serves at the pleasure of God and deserves the honor and respect of all who follow Jesus, as do all who serve. The ripple effect of racism multiplies when Christians use language of division and hate. Jesus says that what comes out of your mouth reveals what is in your heart. The same is true about what you post on Facebook.
  2. White Christians extend the ripple effect of racism by their love affair with guns. I know the mere mention of gun control raises hackles, but that is my point. Why do Christians, especially White Christians, affirm or remain silent about the overproduction and unfettered distribution of instruments that are designed for the sole purpose of killing people? I am not speaking about hunting or the recreational use of firearms. I am speaking about Christians believing and repeating the racist logic that “if guns are taken away from good people (read White people) than only bad people (read Black people) will have guns.”

Jesus inaugurates a new kingdom that places love as the central virtue. What if what Jesus started rippled through you and your church?

Jim Van Yperen

Footnote:   *Repentance may be needed in the Black Church as well, but that is for African-American leaders to discern and address.

On Listening & Learning

Whenever I speak to a group, whether in a seminar or sermon, I am aware, sometimes painfully, that there are various kinds of people listening, or not listening to me. If you are a teacher or leader in any sense of the word, the same dynamic is at play. Whenever you speak to a group of people, there are four kinds of listeners in your audience . . .

Leading Without Power

Most churches fall into one of two leadership structures: top-down or bottom-up. Each structure points back to a historical concern and a specific way of interpreting Scripture that informs how people think about leadership and authority. In this article we will summarize a few strengths and weaknesses of each structure, and then suggest a third alternative--the kind of structure Jesus led by, at least how we would diagram it today . . . 

The Third Chair

The Third Chair

Imagine two chairs in the center of a room. Each chair represents a core “seat” of your life. The chair on the left represents your identity—who you are, what you believe and how you claim otherness in an overcrowded world. The chair on the right represents your activity, what you do. A brief look at both chairs will help us understand the need and purpose for a third. 

Do you Agree?

Two church leaders, Success and Lucky,  are in conflict. 

We don’t know what their disagreement is about.  In fact, we know very little about either person except this: Lucky and Success are followers of Jesus, they are ministering together in the same church, but something has ruptured their relationship and  hindered the ministry of the gospel. We don’t know what or how.  All we have is their names, and that is unusual. Paul rarely names names...

Hurt & Hostility

Think about a time in your life when you were hurt; when someone said something insulting or accused you falsely; when someone sued you, threatened your livelihood, or stole your honor and reputation; when someone in authority over you forced you to do something against your will; or when someone used you and took advantage of your generosity.

What did you do with your hurt?

If you are like most people you responded in one of two ways; both hostile, each trying to make the hurt go away.  . .

Reflections on being a Christian

I am a Christian.  That is, I follow the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, whom Scripture names Lord. 

I do not say now, as I once did, that, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”  I have come to hear that statement through different ears, for the unintended but ever-present individualism and hubris the words imply.  (Any statement of faith that begins with “I” ought to be suspect, as if what is stated after needed my approval in order to be true.)  I did not decide to follow Jesus.  Rather, Jesus found and claimed me.  The difference is everything.

How to lead communal discernment and decision-making in your church

What can the early church teach us about discernment and decision-making?

The year is A.D. 50.   The Gospel has spread into Asia Minor, principally through the missionary efforts of the Apostle Paul and Barnabas.  As the church blossoms, a dispute erupts about membership in the church and fellowship between Hebrew and Gentile believers.  Should new Gentile believers be required to keep Torah law, especially regarding circumcision? the early church 

Quarreling Crows

Quarreling Crows

I am a marked man, or so I’ve read. 

Newly published research shows that crows remember the faces of humans who have threatened or harmed them, and these memories can last for five years or longer.  The research found that screaming crows are actually scolding people they feel are dangerous, warning naive crows who learn to associate danger with the individual's face.  My face is on the Most Wanted list at every Crow Post Office in New Hampshire.

Lion or Lamb?

Sometimes, to get conversation going at a party or seminar, I will ask a question.  “If you were to choose an animal that best represents who you are, what animal would you choose?”  The answers are often humorous and revealing.  What animal would you choose?  A follow-up question might be, “What animal would you like to be?”  If people were completely honest, and rarely are people completely honest in exercises like this, I think most people would choose an animal of some prestige or power, like a lion.  I’ve never heard anyone say, ”I’d like to be a lamb.”