· Leadership Development, Church Renewal

What's going on?

By Bishop James Swanson

Lately, I've been listening to Marvin Gaye's seminal album “What’s going on?” This album debuted in 1971. Ironically, it was the same year I was deployed to Vietnam. If ever an album reflected the tenor and temperament of its time, this album did. Marvin was asking questions about our responsibility to each other and to this world. He didn't offer many answers but he did cause many of my generation to become more aware of the actions that were affecting our world in 1971.

He sang of the Vietnam War, without naming it. He sang about the growing drug epidemic, the beginning of damage to our ecology, and he questioned God's role in all this. He did a masterful job of weaving all of that with a person just trying to live and make sense out of everyday life. He juxtaposed the question, “Will our ball club win the pennant?” with “Who is willing to try to save a world that is destined to die?” He even dares to ask, “Who is to blame when we can't stop living?” The answer he offers is “Live life for the children.” Marvin offers one other answer: God only asks us to give each other LOVE.

He dared to look deep and maybe he cared too deep. Looking deep and caring too deep can either cause you to live in despair or to live your life seeking to make a difference that counts eternally.

My question to men in our church today is, “Are you willing to look deep enough beyond superficial labels and slogans to truly love and let the Holy Spirit help you to make your lives count?”

I recommend you listen to Marvin's "Right On" on that album before you begin to tell others what to do. Spend time with yourself to discover what talents, graces and inclinations you have been given by God, Use them in order to say "Right On!"

Here’s what I want you to do: Take your everyday life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and offer it to God. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you that drags you down to its level of immaturity, God can bring the best out of you and develop a well-formed maturity in you.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourself as a person who brings this goodness to God. No. God brings it all to you.

We are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of His body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So, since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves to each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.

If you preach, just preach God’s message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them.

Keep a smile on your face.

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.

Laugh with your friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

Don’t hit back. Discover beauty in everyone, and get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy is hungry, go buy him lunch. If he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. “Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.” (Romans 12:1-21 MSG).

Let's just be what we are made to be!

Discover beauty in everyone!

Bishop James E. Swanson Sr., president



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