October Mailbag

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October 2017 is an amazing month.  

Not only are the Dodgers in the World Series, but its the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. 

It’s also the month when churches rebrand Halloween into something like “Holy-Ween” before they celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, simply as they are, but I digress.

Let’s get to the mailbag before things get out of hand. 

What is your daily routine? How do you abide each day?”

Chris Li / Fullerton, CA

Generally, I start my day sometime between 4am and 5am with my Bible reading plan (Life Journal) and conclude that time by surrendering the things I don’t have control over while asking for strength to seize the very things He has placed in my hand to steward in responsibility. I’ll try to take brief time to center and re-orient myself around lunch time as well.

I also have a more extended reflection time once a week, usually on Mondays.

In terms of work routine, I try to sync my highest priorities (communication and vision/strategization) and highest energies (4am-11amish) while leaving other responsibilities to the later parts of the afternoon.

I do my best to get everything done so that I have the opportunity to be fully present when I am with the family.

With all this being said, I want to be truthful by saying that this is a template. I fail often. And other times, God creates better days by disrupting my plans with divine interruptions. This template is just what works best for me in this current season of life. It could change!

“How do you process your thoughts and write? I too want to start a blog like yours.”

Anonymous / San Francisco, CA

To be honest with you, I’m not entirely sure. I consider myself to be a novice blogger and writer, but here’s what I’ve realized so far in my young journey as a writer. 

1. Most of my writing actually happens throughout the day, on the go, in my mind. There are times when I’ll get a spark of a phrase or an idea. Those are the time when I allow myself to be interrupted to write a sentence, phrase, or paragraph. In this way, whenever I sit down to actually work on a blog, it always has momentum. I never want to sit with writer’s block. If I’m stuck, I go do something else, but when I do, I keep my eyes and mind open until something clicks. 

2. I let my perfectionistic tendencies die. I recently heard a leadership podcast where writer and speaker, Jon Acuff said (paraphrasing) that there’s no perfect book on Amazon, just completed ones. I found that to be insightful and freeing. I’ve concluded that while I can always make something better, I’ll never make it perfect. Even the way I’m answering this very question could drive me crazy if I try to make it perfect. Instead, I give myself an artificial deadline, calendar in when I’m gonna post, and I just let it go. And yes, it’s okay for you to be hearing that song in your mind right now. But in all seriousness, pray for wisdom and go for it. Why not?

“Is humility really thinking of yourself less (like CS Lewis said)? Don't you think to be humble you do need a sense of humility?” 

Anonymous / Austin, Texas

Great question. I believe the quote you’re referencing is “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” 

To be sure, I don’t think the quote is requiring an individual to lose all sense of self-awareness in order to be humble. The quote reads, “thinking of yourself less“ (emphasis mine) and not “never thinking of yourself at all.”  

I’ve always found this quote to be insightful because it provides a helpful distinction between self-awareness and self-absorption. While the prior (self-awareness) notices the self in reality (humble), the latter (self-absorption) is enanmored with the self through distorted reality (prideful). This is why self-absorption is the barrier to humility.   

So to your point, yes, it is entirely possible for a humble person to be self-aware of one’s own humility. In fact, those moments can sometimes be the most powerful displays of humility. For example, the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) record the last final days of a Jesus who was remarkably in tune with his own identity. He knew he was God. And that was precisely what made the journey to crucifixion such a remarkable act of humility. He was knowingly laying aside his crowns for a cross.  

However, humility does not always necessitate or require awareness of one’s own humility. Not only does it depend on circumstance, but humility as the freedom from self-absorption means that an individual can very well be unaware of one’s own selflessness at various moments and times. 

(Fun fact, I believe the quote is often misattributed to C.S Lewis. Various online C.S. Lewis foundations actually refute this quote as being originally from Lewis. Crazy right?)

“John Piper said “While it is a sin to desire fame, it may not be a sin to desire to be influential.” Would you agree or disagree? Is it a sin to want to be influential/blessing in this world?”

Anonymous / Buena Park, CA

Though I’d be curious as to the specific context in which John Piper said this, I’ll take this quote at face value without second guessing his categorical definitions. 

I would agree and disagree based on what we attribute to be the motivating goal for these desires. 

If the motivating goal of “fame” is simply to be famous as a glory-hoarder, than yes, I would think that is sinful because humans were fashioned to reflect glory to God. But if someone desires fame as a tool and a platform for the advancing glory of another, namely Jesus, than no, desiring fame wouldn’t necessarily be a sin. 

This logic would be consistent with the issue of influence. Want to be influential for the benefits it brings you? Sin. Want to be influential for the good of others and the glory of God? Not a sin. 

Though John Piper clearly distinguishes fame from influence, I can’t but see them as being part and parcel. Yes, there’s nuance, but they’re much more closely related than we could imagine. Show me someone famous and I’ll show you someone influential and vice versa. 

“How do I know who to trust as pastors/leaders? I hear so many people speak bad about so many pastors/leaders in my group of churches and peers.” 

Anonymous / Mystery, USA

This question is worth a blog post on its own, but a few immediate things come to mind.

First, don’t believe everything you hear. There’s a ton of hearsay you could hear about nearly anyone if you dig hard enough. There’s probably stuff on the rumor mill about you too. 

But secondly, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and the things you hear about all those pastors and leaders is a reflection of a reality God already knows: They’re sinful and in need of Jesus daily, just like you.

And I realize this may be a very unsatisfying tension, especially if you’re hearing bad things about your own pastor. After all, life in the local church becomes pretty difficult if you feel like you can’t even trust your pastor. So how can you know who to trust? 

I would encourage a melting pot inventory of the following: 

1. Observe to see if the pastor or leader is actually known and trusted by his or her own church community. 

Does the pastor or leader have people in the chuch he can be honest with? Is the church leader confrontable by someone in his or her church community? Do you find him to be transparent and vulnerable or does he hardly share anything about his life? Do you sense that wise and godly people who have known the individual for some time genuinely respect and trust the individual?

If a church leader does not allow himself to be made known to anyone in the congregation, that may be a red flag. After all, what does he or she have to hide? (But this also does not mean they need to make themselves known specifically to you.)

If a pastor or leader offends people, it really depends on who the leader is offending. If a pastor never offends anyone, ever, he’s probably not doing his job very well. But if there are wise and trustworthy individuals who are continually offended and/or hurt, that may be a red flag. Also, if the ones who are coming into most contact with the individual such as other leaders or his/her volunteers question the individual’s character and have a hard time trusting him, that could be red flag as well. 

2. Observe the family and/or association of friends/partners. 

It’s true that someone could pull a fast one over his or her church community. Let’s be honest, if a pastor leads a chuch larger than 2 people, he can fake it. However, the way one’s spouse and children react to an individual is most telling of one’s character. Home is where everyone drops their guard. Home is where we are who we truly are.

Does the family appear to be marked by genuine delight? Or do you sense they’re following a script? 

If the pastor or leader does not have a family, I would suggest you observe their friendships and partnerships. Who do they associate with? Who do they receive counsel and influence from? One’s friendships can say a lot about an individual.   

3. Give it time. 

Families can lie to protect their own reputation. Pastors and leaders can lie. But eventually, time has a way of bringing a lot of hidden things to the light. Not always, but in most cases. 

For now, my encouragement would be, be slow to jump to conclusions but be quick to pray for pastors and leaders. Also, be careful who you listen to. Some people love to gossip and undermine other churches and leaders because they’re jealous and/or wounded. Question the trustworthiness of your sources too. 

Also, while you can weigh what you see and hear, be courageous, wise, and if you deem it necessary, go directly to the horse’s mouth and ask your church leader for clarification. You may be surprised at how inviting the church leader may actually be regarding the issue. If not, at least your suspicions have become more confirmed.   

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Submit your question for the December edition of mailbag!