WELCOME TO THE MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY

Andrée Seu Peterson, commenting in the April 30 edition of World Magazine on the Strange Sympathies of voters who supported Donald Trump over Ted Cruz because Cruz was “pompous,” wrote, “If Cruz is rejected and Trump accepted on the grounds of pompousness, then we are truly living at the Mad Hatter’s tea party.”

Well, welcome to the Mad Hatter’s. Cruz is out, Trump is in, and there is no one left to keep him from winning the Republican presidential nomination.

No one predicted this, and no one can predict the outcome of the November elections, but some veteran reporters are beginning to believe that Trump can, in spite of polls to the contrary, beat Clinton in a national referendum. Ben Carson believes that 2016 is, “the year of the outsider,” and if the anger in the electorate over healthcare, immigration, the economy, homeland security, and the political status quo is what I think it is he, and they, are right.

I’ve been carefully watching, and actively participating in our nation’s politics for thirty-six years, and I’ve never been so disappointed with our options. But they tell us more about ourselves than anything else. We have repeatedly chosen style over substance, corruption over character, provocation over peacemaking, and the tyranny of the few over the freedom of the many. We have become a nation so obsessed with sexual license that we rip up religious freedom with spiritual fervor, and snooze through sales of aborted baby parts. We are such committed materialists that we care not about national bankruptcy as long as cheap dollars keep coming.

We used to be a Christian culture. We are a Casino culture now.

How are Christ’s followers to respond? I’m not about to suggest who you should vote for, but I will remind you of one thing: all politics is downstream of culture. If we want to improve our political leadership we have to improve ourselves. No earthly king can achieve through policy or force what Christ can accomplish in the hearts of men and women if his people will obey him. He is our King and his agenda has always been the same: “Love your neighbor as yourself and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

American culture has been in an historic slide ever since I was born. We were never perfect. There will never be a perfect culture outside of Eden. But if we measure ourselves by the stability of two-parent families, by educational achievement, by economic opportunity, by crime rates and imprisonment, by drug abuse and sexually transmitted disease, by the number of children born to unwed mothers, and by many other metrics, we are a culture in decline.

Some of us have been politically opposing that slide for 30-40 years. It hasn’t helped. But we’ve learned something. Oppose the dominant culture, criticize and critique it, and you may be crushed. You certainly won’t fix anything. Build a better culture and, “the world will beat a path to your door.”

It is time for the followers of Christ to stop complaining and start building. We need to concentrate on being the Church, the pillar and support of the truth, in the world, and on creating good culture.

ALPHA: The Anti-Sales-Pitch Gospel

It is called the Rule of Seven and it was developed by marketing expert Dr. Jeffery Lant. It is one of the reasons that Christianity has become so distasteful to so many people in western civilization.

The Rule of Seven states that, “to penetrate the buyer’s consciousness and make significant penetration in a given market, you have to contact the prospect a minimum of seven times within an 18-month period.” My dad, who sold life insurance among other things, summarized it thus: “It takes six NO’s to get a YES.”

I can remember my seminary professors making similar statements regarding evangelism. I don’t fault those men. They were simply trying to obey Christ’s command to make disciples with all the energy and expertise they could muster. But their methods, so closely modeled on the most effective sales strategies of the twentieth century, only alienate people today. All of us are so tired of being “sold,” so fed up with being approached as prospects with Pay Pal accounts, instead of people with problems and needs, that anything that smacks of marketing, anything that treats us like just another “YES,” is insulting. We mute commercials, hang up on phone solicitors, mass delete our inboxes and even slam the door when the Girl Scouts come cookie calling. (OK, that’s hyperbole. I don’t know anyone who isn’t a sucker for a seven-year-old selling Slim Mints).

Add to that the political stench that follows evangelicals like the dust cloud around Charlie Brown’s friend Pig-Pen, and one wonders why anyone would ever be interested in the message of Jesus.

The Alpha Course is the antithesis of those things. That’s one of the reasons the church I lead is offering it for the fifth time since 2011. First, The Alpha Course is completely apolitical. More importantly, it isn’t built around a sales pitch of the gospel. It is a course, Christianity 101 if you will, founded instead on two fundamentals: Process and Community. Learning is a process that happens best when we learn in the presence of friends. This is what makes Alpha so enjoyable and encouraging. No one is pressured to “buy” anything and all questions are welcomed in a community of friends who’ve gotten to know one another through shared meals and laughter.

Alpha is for everyone. If you’ve been a church member all your life, you will enjoy it. If you’ve never entered a church or considered Christianity, you will enjoy it and come away enriched with new understanding and new friends.

Find an Alpha Course near you by visiting http://www.alphausa.org.

SUCCESS UNDER STRESS 3: Courage

Moral courage is often harder than physical courage. We will invest ourselves deeply in worry about the 92% of things over which we have no control in order to avoid the pain of dealing with the 8% that we can control.

Alan Loy McGinnis was a psychologist and author who wrote a few good books. In one he tells about a business man who was stressed to the max, worried about all kinds of things, until the day he analyzed his anxieties and realized that:
 40% were things that would likely never happen.
 30% were past decisions that were unchangeable.
 12% were unimportant criticism from others.
 10% were health related, but his health was generally OK.
 8% were legitimate worries that he could actually do something about.

I imagine most of us can identify with that. The problem is that lingering 8% usually requires some kind of moral courage.

For many of us, moral courage is harder than physical courage. We will invest ourselves deeply in worry about the 92% of things over which we have no control in order to avoid the pain of dealing with the 8% that we can control. Like the business woman who will waste hours and hours trying to fix a computer problem she knows nothing about when she really needs to pay somebody to fix the computer and fire the secretary that is alienating her clients. She’d rather cuss the computer than confront the secretary. It takes less courage.

The Apostle Paul’s protégé, Timothy, was in a situation like that. The church he led had serious problems. Heresy was brewing in the pews, some of the elders were caught in sin, there was disharmony and competition in the membership, and disruption in the worship service.

The Apostle’s instruction for dealing with these problems was no doubt difficult for Timothy to hear: “Tim, you are the pastor. You have the authority to deal with these difficulties. Use it.”

The Apostle wrote: “Command certain men not to teach strange doctrines … Command and teach these things … Command the rich not to be arrogant.” (1 Tim. 1:3; 4:11; 6:17-18 emphasis added).

Tim the timid needed to become Tim the courageous. Pastor Timid needed to be Pastor Fearless.

But it isn’t just Pastor Tim, is it? Moral courage is a prerequisite for anyone in leadership, especially anyone who decides to be a Christ-follower in this world.

Courage is the strength to take a risk, to persevere, to face danger, fear or difficulty. Moral courage is one of the keys to success in high stress. It’s what Timothy needed to ‘take command’ of a difficult situation. And it’s what we need to take command of ours.

SUCCESS UNDER STRESS 2

I hope you’ve had the experience of working in a high challenge, high nurture environment. That’s what Tim had with Paul. He spent the first decade or so of his ministry with the indomitable apostle. He hiked mountains, sailed the seas, argued on the Areopagus, preached in parts unknown, and learned the heights and depths of God’s love at the feet of the author of Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians. Tim did all of that – but always in a supporting role – never on the point. His mentor and friend, Paul, was always there to encourage, and comfort, and most of all lead. The benefits of that kind of coaching can’t be counted, but it’s hard to leave it behind.

All of a sudden you’re out there solo. All the decisions are yours to make, yours to fly or die with. That’s where Timothy was and he was finding it hard, so hard it seems he wanted to bail out.

Thus Paul’s exhortation: Stay there. Be content where you are Tim. Fight the good fight (1 Timothy 1:18). Hold on to faith and a good conscience.

What does it mean to stay there? I suggest it means two things: being content with what we have–our possessions, and trusting God with where we are–our position.

Timothy’s position had changed. He was no longer in the high-nurture environment he once shared with Paul. He was enduring scrutiny he’d never known, making supervisory decisions without back-up (he couldn’t email Paul for help), while simultaneously trying to train the next generation of leaders. That’s a tough position for a young man.

Timothy’s “possessions,” his gifting, and temperament, and stamina were also different from Paul’s. The Apostle to the Gentiles was old – old enough to call Timothy “my son” – tough, and ambitious. Timothy wasn’t wired that way. He comes across in the text as a bit timid, eager to please, and physically handicapped by “frequent ailments.” (1 Timothy 5:23).

It would be easy for Tim, and for us, to think that with all those limits, God couldn’t use him; to bail out because of inadequacies, wimp out because of weakness, lay low because of limits. But Paul wouldn’t let him off the hook. Instead, he exhorted Tim to:

“Get the word out. Teach all these things. And don’t let anyone put you down because you’re young. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Stay at your post reading Scripture, giving counsel, teaching. And that special gift of ministry you were given when the leaders of the church laid hands on you and prayed—keep that dusted off and in use.” (1 Timothy 4:11-14 The Message).

Paul is telling his young friend: Tim you have powerful gifts! You don’t have to have mine to be effective! Use what you have! Use them and watch God work!

Staying there means giving yourself permission to be happy with where you are: your position, and working with what you have: your possessions.

Staying there means doing what you can, with what you have, right where you are for the glory of God.

It’s Joseph, content to interpret the dreams of fellow prisoners until it was God’s time to interpret Pharaoh’s.

It’s Moses, content to tend sheep for forty years in the desert until God called him to lead a nation out of bondage.

It’s David, content to use a sling to slay a Giant until God made him a King and gave him an army.

And it’s you and it’s me doing what we can, with what we have, right where we are for the glory of God.

SUCCESS UNDER STRESS

Are you feeling stressed? Pressured? Overloaded?

Many of you are returning to school soon, some to totally new environments, some to increasing responsibility as you near the end of your educational career and the beginning of your working career. That’s stressful.

Some of you are under tremendous pressure at work. One guy described his day as “walking into a buzz saw.” Here’s a little research on the subject:

The average office worker gets 220 messages a day—in e-mails, memos, phone calls, interruptions, and ads.

A survey of 1,313 managers on four continents found that “one-third of managers suffer from ill health as a direct consequence of stress associated with information overload. This figure increases to 43 percent among senior managers.”

The sheer volume of information you have to screen, absorb and respond to can make you sick.

Then there are those other “little” stressors that anybody with a lot of responsibility and little authority can relate to:

 Dealing with spin – information comes to us like a Clayton Kershaw curve ball. It looks like the straight stuff until it gets to the plate. The truth gets lost in the rumor mill or shady ethics.
 Office Politics – strained relationships between others in your organization make your job more difficult.
 Political Correctness – rears its head conscience requires you to say things no one wants to hear.
 Administrative Hassles – you want to hire the best qualified person, you know who it is, but you have to jump through a bunch of hoops first to keep the watchdogs happy.
 Communication Breakdown – they say the package would arrive Monday, but you heard them promise it would be there Friday.

If you can connect with any of that you can connect with Pastor Tim of the first Church of Ephesus. He was dealing with the same issues dressed in church clothes.

 Spin – Legalism, Gnosticism and superstitious mysticism were confusing the church.
 Politics – Strained relationships between church members put him in the middle.
 Political Correctness – The role of women be in the church had to be addressed.
 Administrative Issues – Who could serve as elder? Deacon? How would they be qualified?
 Communication – Tim had to set the example of clear communication and following through on commitments.

Let me go back to my original question. Are you feeling overloaded? Pressured? Stressed to the max? If so you might be feeling like Pastor Tim: RUN BABY RUN!

It’s apparent from Paul’s very first instruction to Tim that he was ready to bug out. “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus …” (1 Timothy 1:3a emphasis added).

That was not what Tim was hoping to hear. But it’s one of the keys to success in high stress. “Stay there,” he said. “Fight the good fight, hold on to your faith, keep your conscience clear, and stay there.”

If God has placed you in a tough situation, stay in it. Don’t bail out just because your palms are getting sweaty. If you’re sure God is in it, you stay in it. Problems are just opportunities dressed in scary costumes. God has something to teach you and something to accomplish through you in that difficult spot. If you bail out now you may never learn what you can be and you may never see what God can do.