Hoping to grow wise.

Rob Maupin


Posts Categorized as: humility




Walking Wisely

He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered - Proverbs 28:26

Most of my readers know that my family and I are in a time of transition. As I write this, my office at Lincoln Christian University is now available for the next tenant and I’m writing from my home that has a big “For Sale” sign in the front lawn. Transitions can be tough (I know… call me “Captain Obvious”) but they are also excellent seasons to experience God’s presence in a different way. An interesting facet of this upcoming move is how I am learning to frame the narrative behind it. This has not been a deliberate editorial process. Rather, it is out of necessity—people keep asking, “Why are you moving?” I need to have an answer for this because, if I don’t, people will try to guess anyway and it’s better to just tell the truth in a concise way. But, since the truth took weeks and weeks of time and many, many conversations to unfold, I am forced to try to edit it down into a semi-coherent story that explains the reasons we would pull up stakes and head southwest. It’s been a challenging venture.

Recently, I saw a video skit from a friend that discussed things Christians say that don’t mean anything. There were several humorous bits as well as this one: “I feel led to do this.” This is a problematic sentence indeed. Over the years when I have tried to explain our family’s moves to Joplin, Carterville, Amarillo, Wheaton, Mexico City and then Lincoln, we have consistently been asked questions about the “why” behind our decision. What I have discovered is that a great deal of confusion can come in to a question like this. “Feeling led” and “hearing God’s voice” can sound pretty subjective and mushy. But “better salary” or “growth opportunity” can perhaps mask selfish ambition or greed. What’s better; a spiritually-vindicated lie or honest greed? Both sound like bad options. What I want to do in this post is explain my understanding and experience with hearing God’s call on our family to move. Disclaimer: I am NOT suggesting this is a) the only way or b) the best way or c) a water-tight theological argument. But please don’t think that I’ve come to this process lightly—due diligence is behind this. I’m sharing this process because many people I work with and love face questions about relocating according to their sense of God’s call, and many have asked how I go about the process. So then, this is how I go about hearing from God. Last caveat: a great intro to the concept of being directed by God is “Hearing God” by Dallas Willard. That book has helped me understand some of the underlying ontology behind this experience…I highly recommend it. Now then, on to my own process.

The first thing on the docket is the concept of invitation. On a day-to-day basis, I want to serve as an “under-rower” (Acts 13) in whatever context God has placed me. It is always a temptation to think about new things, opportunities and look for a good angle. Yet, for me, it is a spiritual experience to just put my head down and focus on working diligently and wisely each day. This idea came from my farming background and reading Eugene Peterson as a young pastor. Yet, because there are so many stories of God moving his pilgrim people (Ex 19:4-5 et al) I believe that there are times to move. When I was at Wheaton, I did an in-depth study on the first missionary journey of Paul. After some robust text work, my study group noticed that Paul was invited to speak, travel or move during that first journey. This the point: I try to stay put and be faithful unless there is a clear invitation to go. Again, I’m not saying this is for everyone—but this is my format.

The second element to my process is evaluation. I think it’s normal for people to weigh pros and cons and evaluate future possibilities. When I was younger I spent time judging whether or not I was suitable for the work and the context. As I’ve grown older, I can judge that more rapidly but now I spend more time dissecting my motives for leaving. Like all people, I want to flee hardship and find a “nicer” life. At the same time, like all people I sometimes reject change because it is so consuming and difficult. I am a mix of daydreamer and coward; pilgrim and planted. The evaluation process helps me cut through both of those tendencies and listen carefully to who is really doing the talking. Proverbs 28:26 says that “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool.” I don’t want to allow a foolish desire to trump what God is doing in my life. The issue is that if my heart is centered on Jesus and his voice, then I will trust him leading my heart (see Willard again for more help with this).

After evaluation I seek counsel. I have a list of trusted friends who know me, who have worked with me and who are aware of my deepest brokenness and best intentions. I don’t ask each one of them every time a decision comes up (time and availability play into this, of course) but I do ask a majority. I tell them the situation, answer their questions and then, I listen and write down their advice. Sometimes I dislike what they have to say, most of the time, they are very encouraging but they are always extremely helpful. They bring insight and wisdom to me that always seems obvious after they say it—but I never would have gotten there on my own.

Next, I wait. Yep. I wait. I watch and listen. I pay very close attention during my prayers and Bible reading. I pay close attention to speakers, preachers, friends, neighbors and the ambient things in my life. One of my friends told me (a loooong time ago) that “If you are ready, and if you are listening, then God will show up for you in a time and place that you will know, without a doubt, was for you.” In all of our moves, it has been in the waiting phase that we have received the general direction for where to go or if we should stay. For some of our choices there were dramatic Holy-Spirit-showed-up-and-freaked-us-out moments. In others, a growing realization that God was quietly calling became clear. And, like many times, we began to realize that God was asking us to choose: both options were good ones. The reason I am saying this is that for some people, it’s tempting to try to use any of these as the norm for most Christians. But, the waiting season has allowed us to draw near to God while he speaks. While his methods are not always the same, His character and love are.

The next-to-last thing I do is review. For many years I have journaled. Sometimes I use my journal entries to go back over the all the earlier stages. This time (as well as when we moved to LCU) I bought a specific, pocket-sized journal that I carried throughout the duration of our decision time. I kept copious notes and, as the deadline for the decision drew near, I began to go over those notes and look for themes. For this particular move, Shannon and Kate’s health were on every page. Other themes were repeated in each of those who counseled me. After some time reviewing all of that, I get to the hard part—pulling the trigger.

My personality and history lend me to be introspective. If I am able, I try to find a quiet place, lay out my review before God and then ask for wisdom. Usually by this point I have had a strong idea what should be done. But in this moment, I try to square up to my fears and just ask God for help and direction. If I sense God’s pleasure or peace. I go forward. If I do not. I either wait some more (if that is an option) or decline the invitation. I know it sounds very subjective. I’m sure an INTJ would resonate with this but in any case, that is my process. It’s not always right or for everyone, but God has graciously led me. I have lots of friends that I love and respect who have a much simpler process. Sometimes, life changes are forced upon us by context or illness. In those moments we trust God and do the best we can. But this process is certainly not something I’ve come up with…this is an old way.

The downsides of this process are obvious: it takes so much time and energy! It can also be unclear and hard to describe to others! But for me, the major benefit is a deep conviction that I am willingly participating with a Sovereign God in the square foot where he wants me (for now). This understanding gives me confidence to face difficult seasons and conflict. It keeps me rooted when the cowardly part of me wants to run and it gives me a clear reason to explain to my kids why I do what I do. For me, it is joy.

I don’t use this process while I am in the middle of a ministry context or venture—I use it when I have a major change in life. Walking wisely for me is inclusive of the idea that we need to plan well and use our minds. Sometimes a well-trained instinct can be a good tool. But when the BIG decisions are there, this process has helped.

If you are in a season of transition, I pray that God would speak clearly to you regardless of any process you use (or don’t). His love and mercy are always with us and our full submission to God’s leading is always a privilege. I would covet your prayers as we live out the results of our willing obedience. Blessing and peace of Christ to you.


An Open Letter To My Students

For those of you who might not have heard, my family and I are leaving the wonderful town of Lincoln, IL

and moving to the wonderful town of Dallas/FortWorth.

I accepted the offer of Compass Christian Church to be their “Missions Pastor” and will no longer be teaching full-time here at LCU as of July. This has been a very fast decision that, in all honesty, snuck up on me. I had no plans of leaving LCU or of doing anything but the tasks laid before me by my own conscience and the administration of LCU. Some of my friends have wondered (aloud) if my post about the Mills moving was a pre-emptive move to announce my own intentions. With some of these questions coming to me personally, I suspect that, among my students at least, there might be some other questions floating around. So before I get to my letter, allow me to say a few things:

  • I am not leaving LCU because of any reason. I’m not frustrated, worried or bothered by anything at LCU in a way that would make me pack up my toys and go elsewhere.
  • I am not looking for greener pastures. This move is not a “get-to-civilization” attempt or a chance to be somewhere that’s really “moving.” Truth be told, I was not inclined to even listen to the offer from Compass at first…and that was because I have been happy to be here at LCU and my family was doing great.
  • However, I AM trying my best to listen carefully to God’s call on my life. I will write more about that later.
  • And I AM convinced this is God’s invitation to our family (through CCC’s gracious invitation).
  • LCU and CCC have all acted with grace, kindness and respect through the entire process.
  • I will still be connected to LCU in a big way. I have officially accepted the position of “Professor-at-Large” (which is a legit title…) and will teach online as well as in-person at LCU in an intensive format (2x/year).

With all of that being said, I wanted to write something specifically to those of you who have been my students over the last 7 ½ years. I would also say that this would apply to many of you who have studied with me on a personal level.

Dear Students,

I have thought about this letter for some time. As I prepare for a new phase of life and ministry, I thought hard about what I would like to say to you as I shift my primary focus from teaching to leading. After some time to sort things out in my own heart, I think I can pull this together. I hope and pray that this will be helpful to you.

First, thank you for your friendship and your time. You paid a great deal of money to sit in those seats and I have never taken that lightly. Each class period to me represented a significant investment on your part and it still amazes me that you would so humbly be part of my classes. I am acutely aware of my many limitations, my speech patterns that get annoying (“follow?”) and my lack of depth as a true scholar. Yet the joy that came from spending my life with you in classes, retreats, the Warehouse and in my office was a constant source of joy to me. At times I was weary but there always were some of you who brought hope and renewal to me. I also want to thank you for your patience. Between the doctoral studies, my extra work at LCU, the journey with Shannon’s Lupus and my own parents’ aging, you have been patient with my slow emails, texts, time limits and office hours. Your patience with me was very Christlike and I will not forget it. While you may not know it (or even even have felt it), you were a delight to me and I owe you a debt of love. Even when I was aggressive or grumpy in class, I never took your attendance and attention for granted.

Second, you still represent (at least to me) the best hope of the church. The power of college students who willingly give their lives to God during the 18-22 age-range is simply stunning. The historical data really backs that up! It is a supra-cultural phenomenon that transcends time (think of Patrick’s training of the young) location (the Syrian Christians and their schools of leadership) and culture (a school in an unnamed country comes to my mind here). Young leaders who, like Timothy, have an entire life ahead of them to serve God, represent a formidable opportunity to both grow wise as well as deep. When I see you on campus or around town, my thoughts are ever hopeful, ever positive regarding the potential you have. On the other side of that coin, it also grieves me deeply to see students still enslaved to sinful habits or thought-patterns. Most of you have more latent talent than you might realize and I am ever hopeful that you will be unleashed, through the power of the Holy Spirit to serve those who are either far from God, or deeply hurting while serving God. As you have led Restoration Week trips, weekend ministries, Quest and a host of other service ops, I have seen you grow in astounding ways. I am so impressed with you!

Thirdly, I want you keep learning! This is hard to overemphasize. I don’t mean that all of you should apply for seminary (while several of you should indeed), I mean that as you grow older and wiser, your need to keep learning does not decrease! The problems and issues I deal with at this stage of my life are far more complex and difficult than any stage of my life thus far. My hope is that you’ll continue to keep learning about character development so you can finish well (CCL anyone?)! I pray you’ll learn more about the ontology and application of spiritual formation practices so you are abiding in the Vine. It is significant in this era to be wise about how to help and not hurt the poor. Economics, metaphysics, prayer and project management are all within the scope of the Christian leader. Knowledge and wisdom bring blessing, resources and application to a host of situations in the “real world” and I want you to have these. Wisdom is supreme.

Next, I want to encourage you to stay humble. When I was starting my doctoral work I had a chance to speak with Dr. Dallas Willard. I asked him for advice about entering into a scholar’s life and he told me to be very careful. After our conversation was over, I wrote down what he said to me and he warned me that the temptation to study for your own sake is very tempting. He was right. The academic world is (at least in my opinion) incredibly important. But there is an inherent danger there to be infected with a significant “Competency Extrapolation.”[1] For those who work hard to understand things, this temptation is very, very hard to avoid. Being smart in one (or more) areas leads many of us to believe we’re just plain smart in all areas. This leads to some very difficult issues. The reason I mention this is that I have personally struggled with this and have watched many of my friends do so. Happily, I have also found some mentors and scholars who have maintained a powerful humility that leans toward Jesus and willingly suspends judgment as they pursue truth as best as they are able. These folks not only do great scholarship, they also come at the process as stewards and servants. They have inspired me and I am growing while I watch them. It appears that a significant key to maintaining this humility is that you work with broken people on a regular basis. It means stay in the church and stay in the trenches while you study.

Lastly, I would like to encourage you to learn to live in and practice being in the Presence of God. I am aware of the difficulties of that statement. I know that to say that when God is omnipresent, the issue of “Presence” is confusing to many people. I also know that there are theological positions that decline to highlight immanence for several reasons. Yet I would still maintain that being aware (at the very least) of the friendship and power of Jesus during your earthly sojourn is the highest level of power and joy available to humans. I also think it to be the source of the kind of work that will last and endure for eternity. This will take surrender and seeking. Your will and efforts must be focused on this quest but as you experience it, you will have that amazing sensation of working hand-in-hand with your Father on something He cares about. This is what I suspect Paul was referring to in Philippians 3. The seasons of my life that have been the most joyful have been seasons where this was paramount to me. Even during desert seasons, the constant seeking of God brought me nearer to the Word of God and was rewarded by God. There is far, far more to say about this, but suffice it to say, it is the highest good I have had on earth so far—and I wish it for you as well.

Fifteen semesters does not seem very long when I compare myself with people who have taught 40+ years. But for me, this has been a massive journey. You, my students, have been at the heart of it. I deeply love you and I am so very thankful for your willingness to learn from someone like me. I pray God’s richest blessing on you and I ask (as I often do) that God would remove the foolishness or folly of my teaching and leave what is of Him. Please pray for me—I am acutely aware of my need. And may God bless you for blessing me.


[1] From Humilitas by John Dickson, Zondervan, 2011


Tangibility

Because my day job is being a professor, I am constantly inside a stream of competing ideas, philosophies and opinions (many of them highly educated ones…). It’s a lovely thing to be exposed to a great deal of ideas even though it often leaves me with more questions than answers. Truth be told, after getting a terminal degree and working regularly with local churches, I now have a real inner struggle I have to deal with! Inside of me are two realities.

The first is the one based on where I grew up. The ranch-hand, hard-knocks, figure-it-out-yerself, farm-boy, chores-hating, redneck has one cultural and familial voice that urges practicality, simplicity and an honest, “if-it-don’t-work-it’s-fake” mentality. During those seasons of my history, I was exposed to a black and white morality, a clear-cut theology and a practical way of living out faith that didn’t really demand a lot of questions as long as you stayed in the pattern of that life. Folks could tell how serious you were about God by just looking.

But over the years, I have been forced to see things from differing viewpoints. Much of that was due to the changing of context. I went from a small country-town church to a large middle-class church. I went from the farm, to Joplin, to Amarillo, to Chicago and then to Mexico City. And since then, as I have studied at both graduate and doctoral levels, I have realized that there is much more in heaven and earth than is dreampt of in my philosophy{1}.

Thus, the inner struggle comes out as I now engage with this dual nature: one side of me is eager and wanting to help in a practical way, through a simple teaching in a local church. The other realizes that even the desire to help others carries a hidden matrix of emotion and worldview. The fact is that even when it comes to understanding good and evil, the existence of God and a host of other thorny problems, it takes some real work to think clearly.

As I write this, Easter is tomorrow and I love Easter (for a host of reasons)! Family visits are a cherished part of this time for us. I have great memories of Easter celebrations at the various churches I’ve worked with or attended. I am delighted when I think of Christ’s victory over the power of death! I am renewed and hopeful when I think of how my loved ones will welcome me again one day to heaven! While all of those (and more) are reasons for me to celebrate, a part of what Easter brings to me is a solid answer to my most foundational questions.

Is God real? Can I trust the Words of God? Do miracles really happen? Is there anything beyond what we can see? — All of these questions are answered in the resurrection for me. I Corinthians 15 mentally brings this together for me and reminds me that this was God’s plan, according to the scriptures, and that this world is NOT all that there is, there IS a God and he made himself manifest so that we could see God with meat on. The incarnation is the starting point but we would never have had the solid proof of another world and another place if Jesus had not come back from the one thing that mows us all down eventually. Jesus raised from the dead is tangible evidence (think of Thomas here) that leaves an empty tomb and full hearts. No matter what the questions are, Jesus came back from the dead and ate with his disciples, gave them opportunity to touch his hands and side and used a human mouth to speak a human language that revealed a greater depth of reality than anyone has ever understood or dreamed. We could finally touch God.

What is fascinating is that Easter not only answers the basics for me, it also brings up more questions than I ever thought possible. Where is heaven and what does a resurrected body look like (or smell like)? What about some of the time-space questions etc…. The fact that He did rise from the dead shows that no law of physics can be over the one who designed them. Jesus is not limited by our same boundaries. What a great set of ideas to explore!

In the end, I find that God has been using both the simple faith of my farm-life and the exploring quest of good academics all along. The local church, and the academics that work with many churches, need each other to bring a practical expression to the basics of Jesus’ teaching. We also need each other to develop a humility large enough to ask tough questions without being defensive. When we work together, we wisely carry out both the Great Commission and loving out neighbor. We avoid foolish arguments and learn more about living a life of love. The hands and feet of Jesus work in conjunction with the mind of Christ. Thank God for the church! Thank God for Easter. Hope is availed to us on a day-to-day basis, and hope has more layers than we ever thought possible.

And, Easter was the event that led to Pentecost… but more on that later. Happy Easter. May Jesus’ love be something tangible for you today!


{1} I am here paraphrasing Hamlet’s bit with Horatio, scene 5. Props to the bard…