Learning in the School of Crisis

The Salvation Army: November 2018 Article
From Crisis to Order: Part 1
By Jim Van Yperen

Learning in the School of Crisis
In every good story the hero faces a crisis, a decisive turning point where a decision must be made and action must be taken. The outcome hangs in doubt-filled tension. What will she decide? What will he do? Crisis is what makes a story compelling, why we follow the story through to the end. This is true of every great story, including the story revealed in God’s Word.
Can you think of any man or woman in Scripture who did not face crisis? Certainly, no leader in God’s Kingdom was crisis-free. Instead, crisis is woven through the warp and woof of Scripture from beginning to end, from creation to consummation. Adam and Eve are tempted by a serpent whom we learn later was a rebellious angel fallen from heaven. Crisis in the cosmos brought crisis to earth. The rest is history pointing us forward to a final crisis, and to promise of lasting peace. The threat of crisis and our longing for peace is what makes leadership necessary.
Crisis occurs when something you value is threatened, stripping you of control. Threat triggers deep emotion in you, usually fear and sometimes guilt or shame. Unchecked emotion can mock your faith and question your preaching. “Did God really say?” Is Jesus truly Lord? Can I trust God through my powerlessness, doubt and fear?
Has crisis ever led you to the brink of despair? If so, you are in good company. Many courageous leaders like Elijah, Jonah and Jeremiah faced moments of deep depression, so deep they asked God to kill them rather than face their crisis. Perhaps you have been there too. I have. When I was younger, I thought the lesson of crisis and point of these scriptures was negative. “Don’t be like them. Be better. Try harder. Be ‘strong and courageous.’” So, I told myself to be better and try harder. Like much human effort, it “worked,” for a while. But trying harder is not the lesson of biblical crisis stories. Being “strong and courageous” is not a call to try harder, it is a call to surrender—to trust in God, not one’s faith. Jesus calls us to an upside-down leadership that demonstrates courage and faith through brokenness. Jesus conquers death by dying on the cross, trusting the Father’s power to raise him from the dead. Paul overcomes his crisis-thorn not because God removes the thorn, but by receiving, “My grace is sufficient for you and my power is made perfect in weakness.” Leading like Jesus means learning to lead without employing human strength and power.

Crisis has taught me to read the stories of Jesus, Paul and the Prophets through the lens of vulnerability. Leaders who are commended by God are those whose strength is born in weakness and hope is found in what cannot be seen. In crisis, my first task is to embrace vulnerability, not power, as the foundation of my courage, just as men and women before me who:
“through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute,persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

But vulnerability does not mean quitting or giving up. Rather, vulnerability means an honest evaluation of the circumstances, accepting limitations rather than succumbing to the chaos and taking responsibility for one’s own emotional well-being without being overwhelmed by the emotions of others. The word crisis was first used to describe a turning point in disease, a time of intense danger when a difficult decision had to be made regarding the patient. How one chose determined what came next, for better or worse. The vital role of a physician is to differentiate between the crisis of disease and hope for cure. Leaders cannot deny, ignore or postpone crisis any more than doctors can deny disease. Crisis demands clear thinking and right choices which, the Christian leader must acknowledge, can only come from the Lord.
This leads to another lesson of crisis—thanksgiving. God’s promise is that Jesus is present in the crisis. There is more than we can see, and may not fully comprehend until God gives insight. Until then the task of the leader is to embrace vulnerability, persevere and be thankful. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

–Jim Van Yperen

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2 Corinthians 12:9
Hebrews 11:33-40
James 1:2-5

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Time: Take or Make?

Time: Take or Make?

Years ago, I served as interim pastor to a large international church in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Among many joys that came with this assignment was the opportunity to meet and become acquainted with my Dutch heritage and extended family. I met my second cousin, Henriette, who is an artist and we spent hours talking about the creative process. One day, while visiting the birthplace of my grandfather, Henriette suggested that we photograph the two of us standing in front of our ancestral home. She said, “Let’s make a picture.”

The phrase “make a picture” struck me. In the United States, we say “let’s take a picture.” In Europe, I learned, people “make” pictures. The difference may say more about us than we would like to admit.

The word “make” is generative and creative, it implies collaboration. When Henriette said, “Let’s make a picture,” she was inviting me to give as well as receive, to join a shared process, co-creating a mutual memory. Making the picture united us in art and action. The photo, like our relationship, became ours, not mine or hers alone.

When you and I say, “Let’s take a picture” we assume we mean the same thing, but I wonder. Take communicates a different sentiment. Take is possessive, implies solitary action, maybe even some coercion or control, not collaboration. Synonyms for take include grab, seize and steal. Think about those family photos that capture people frowning at the lens because they did not want their picture “taken.” When I was a child, I heard missionaries tell stories about native people believing photographs took some spiritual essence from them. Perhaps they were right.

In my last article, we began contrasting busyness with diligence. Busyness is about taking. Diligence is about making.

Paul’s words, “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” invites us into a generative, not possessive process. He describes Jesus who, “though in the very form of God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” It is a call to surrender and commitment to service following the example of Jesus.

Busyness consumes time. I must control my time even if that means forcing my demands on you. Busyness is about tasks and outcomes, not art or beauty. Leaders are to exercise their gift with diligence. The virtue, diligence, is close to mindfulness and stands in contrast to busyness. Diligence begins with the understanding that my thoughts are not Jesus’ thoughts. My time is not his time. My urgency is not his urgency. My values may be very different from the values of Jesus. Thus, diligence invites Jesus’ presence to rewire my mind toward self-emptying love and self-sacrificing service.

So, how does this happen? How do I move from taking to making?

Paul describes mindfulness as a disposition of character, a comprehensive way of thinking, feeling and acting that, like all organic change, usually starts small.

Beginning new each day
Diligence is a daily discipline that makes each day new, without regret for yesterday or worry about tomorrow. “This is the day the Lord has made.” Each morning I begin proclaiming, “Jesus is Lord,” reminding myself that I am not. The Creator’s work is re-creation. My response is to, “rejoice and be glad.” This is often best expressed in song, like my wake alarm that is always set to “Give me Jesus” sung by Fernando Ortega.
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
Give me Jesus

Turning busyness to mindfulness begins with asking God to, “Tune my heart, Lord, to sing thy grace.”

Engaging the work
Praise moves to reverent submission. “Speak, Lord, and teach me to listen.” The day’s first task is not thinking or list-making or planning. The first task is asking and listening for God’s voice, “Today if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts.” How quickly my day goes wrong when I wake with worry and fail to ask God’s direction.

Like busyness, diligence may require many hours on difficult tasks. But the metrics are different. My need for accomplishment and control can mistake busyness for diligence. “If I am busy,” Busyness tells me, “than I am productive. So, the busier I am, the more productive I will be.” Track this logic very far and you will soon be slave to the clock, chasing people instead of following Jesus. This road leads to pride, “Look what I’ve accomplished, Lord!” or futility and exhaustion, “There are just not enough hours in the day!” Mindfulness orders the day by Kingdom ideals:

“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”

Ending the day
End the day the same way you began, with praise that Jesus is Lord, giving thanks for grace fulfilled and, when needed, humble confession for grace neglected. Ask God’s care and keeping through the night hours that you may wake afresh for a new day.

God invites you to mindfulness, saying, “Let’s make a picture.”

–Jim Van Yperen

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Philippians 2
1 Corinthians 12
Psalm 118:24
Words to Hymn, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Psalm 95:8; Hebrews 3:15
Philippians 2