Meanderings of a Minister

What Makes A Great Leader?
May 5, 2017, 2:48 pm
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Over the years, there have been some fantastic works on this subject.  Oswald Chambers’ Spiritual Leadership, Henry Blackaby and Henry Brandt’s Power of the Call, Henry Blackaby’s Spiritual Leaderhsip, Aubrey Malphurs’ Leading Leaders, James Garlow’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership Tested by Time, Os Guiness’ When No One Sees and Tony Morgan’s Killing Cockroaches are just some Christian examples.  But when you get down to the basics of leadership, you really only have to deal with one definition.  What is that definition?  Simply…are people following?  If they are, you are a leader.  If they are not, you are not a leader.  It is that simple.  It actually has nothing to do with degrees (and, yes, I do have some of these).  It has nothing to do with how many leadership books you have read (I have those, too!).  It also has nothing to do with how many positions of leadership you have found yourself in (yep, this is also me!).  The simple question is…are people following?

Jesus was a great leader.  He had followers.  Paul was a great leader.  He had followers.  Peter was a great leader.  He had followers.  James was a great leader.  He had followers.  John was a great leader.  He had followers.  These men were all great leaders.  In our day, Billy Graham was a great leader.  He had followers.  Beth Moore is a great leader.  She has followers.  Anne Graham Lotz is a great leader.  She has followers.  John Piper, John MacArthur, Luis Palau, Crawford Loritts, Chip Ingram, Stormie Omartian.  All great leaders.  All have followers.  But what does it take to be a great leader?

Gordon MacDonald, in his book, Building Below the Waterline, lists four key strengths of great leaders.  I find these helpful and would encourage all of us that lead to look for these in our own lives.

Are you able to communicate vision?  Jesus told His disciples about the Kingdom of Heaven in terms they could understand.  He described it as a field to farmers, as a net of fish to fishermen, as sheep and goats to shepherds and so on and so forth.  What Jesus was doing in this was casting vision to His followers, so that they would get of glimpse of what He could clearly see.  Perhaps the reason that we don’t have more people following as leaders is because we can’t communicate vision because we have none.  We just want to get through the week without killing anyone or losing our jobs.  The height of the Christian experience for most Christian leaders is simply measured by how many times I gave in to whatever temptation I am struggling with at the moment.  A great leader sees a great vision with great clarity and communicates it the same way.

Are you sensitive to people?  This is another trait of a great leader.  Too many times, we see people as an interruption to the ministry we could have.  We tend to think they need to lead, follow or get out of the way.  While this might be right for them to wrestle with, a great leader is also sensitive to their needs, fears, limitations, etc.  Perhaps that person that seems like a wet blanket to all of your plans just can’t see your vision and maybe it is because they have been in this situation before and were hurt through it.  Maybe they need time to process what you have communicated.  Maybe they are just afraid of the unknown.  A great leader with be sensitive to these possibilities and will consider them when communicating his vision.

Can you assess situation accurately?  A great leader must be able to walk into a situation and realize who is in charge by title and who is in charge by personality.  A great leader must be able to recognize people whose expertise puts them in charge and who is simply in charge because they draw their self-esteem from being in charge.  He or she must also be able to recognize when the ship is driving itself because no one is in charge.  Additionally, a great leader must be able to look through the smoke and mirrors and see what is really going on.  (Notice how these competencies complement each other?)

Lastly, a great leader must also know him or herself.  Too often, we don’t know ourselves very well and that lack of knowledge makes communicating our visions tough.  It keeps us from being sensitive to people and it prevents us from properly assessing our situations.  We need to know if we are leading from some of the motives listed earlier.  We need to know our physical, emotional and spiritual strengths and weaknesses.

Leadership is simply defined as…is anyone following; however, people will want to follow leaders that can effectively see and communicate vision.  They will gravitate to those that are sensitive to people.  They will get on board with those that can assess situations with clarity of purpose.  They will be drawn to work with and serve a leader that knows his or herself with honesty to keep from using others to simply achieve their purposes.  Know of any leaders like that?  Are you one?  Would you like to be?  I would like to be some day.  How about you?


Lord, Teach Us to Pray!

Lord Teach Us to Pray

That was the request of the disciples one night after they had watched Jesus praying and speaking with His Father.  One of the disciples spoke up and asked Jesus to teach them how to pray just like they had seen John the Baptist teach his disciples.  Basically, they saw in Jesus a means and method of communicating with the Father that looked so much more intimate and vital than the rote prayers they were used to praying and they wanted to learn how to lean in to that kind of a relationship with the Father.

Jesus began by teaching them to call God their Father.  This was a new way of referring to God as through a personal relationship of love.  This would assume that they believe God loved them.  It would also assume that God wanted to hear from them.  Not because He did not already know what they were going to say or what was going on in their lives, but because God desired relationship with them even more than they desired the relationship with God.

Next, he told them to ask that God’s Name be hallowed.  Since we don’t use the word, hallowed, much, it would be helpful to think about what Jesus was saying.  He was saying that His disciples should make the entire basis of their prayer and their life to be the lifting up of God’s Name as holy, awesome, powerful, mighty, and wonderful.  They were to pray that people would think much of God’s Name and would want others to do the same.  This prayer is hard to pray honestly, if we are not living this day to day, so asking God is also a way of asking Him to help us to live that way.

“Your Kingdom come” was the next phrase Luke recorded in Luke 11.  This was to pray that God would come and rule the world like He rules in Heaven.  Not meaning that He is sovereign, because that is already the case everywhere you look.  God is sovereign, but what the disciples were to pray was that God’s reign would come to earth or that God’s plan for His world would be consummated.  Again, this is hard to pray if we are not living this out daily.

Jesus then taught them to pray that God would give them each day their daily bread.  While you and I know that all we have comes from God, Jesus wanted to make sure that they recognized God as the source of their sustenance.  For those of us who do not live with a lack of resources, this is even more important because we have a tendency to take for granted that what we have comes from our hard work instead of appreciating that even our ability to live, move, breathe, and work comes daily from God.

The next part of the prayer seems to come more natural for most Christians I know.  “Forgive us our sins”.  But Jesus did not stop there when teaching His disciples to pray.  He went on to teach them, “for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us”.  Jesus taught us to daily, or even periodically, to tell God that we have forgiven those who have done us wrong.  This is a tall order.  Even this week, I have experienced a hurt that I am struggling with and want to be able to put it behind me, but find myself struggling.  Jesus said in Matthew that if we did not forgive, we would not be forgiven.  This part of the prayer sends me back to my knees to beg for God’s help.

He ended with teaching them to pray that God would not lead them into temptation.  What did He mean by that?  Surely God would not lead someone to sin.  Would He?  Of course He would not.  This part of the prayer is a request that makes us aware of the times God gives us the way of escape.  It reminds us that we must lean on and follow God in order to avoid the temptations or to resist the sin to which the temptation might lead us.

Jesus taught His disciples to pray that their lives would be a constant advertisement for the awesomeness of God’s Name, as an example of His rule, as a testimony to His faithfulness, and as a surrender to his leadership.  When people look at your life, do they see any of that?  Maybe we had better start praying like we have been taught.

Who Are You Following?
May 12, 2016, 8:57 am
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In the book of Judges, we find an interesting story.  The Israelites had been sinning against God, so God allowed Jabin, the king of Canaan, to harass them for twenty years.  During this time, Barak was the commander of the Israelite armed forces.  During this twenty years, Barak did nothing to fight against the foreign king so God raised up Deborah as a judge to deliver Israel.  Deborah told Barak to gather his forces together and to go to Mount Tabor and attack Jabin’s forces.  In Judges 4:8, we get Barak’s response, “If you [Deborah] will go with me, then I will go; but if you [Deborah] will not go with me, then I will not go.”

In other words, Barak was saying that he would not do his job unless Deborah went with him.  Now, there are a variety of reasons for this, but notice how different and how similar Barak’s statement was to that of Moses earlier in the Israelites’ history.  In Exodus 33:15, Moses said to God, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.”  Did you catch that?  Moses was saying that he would not lead if God did not go with him.  Barak was saying he would not lead if Deborah did not go with him.  Before you jump to wrong conclusions, allow me to make this observation.  The main difference was that Moses appealed to following God while Barak appealed to following a person.

That brings us to the title of this article.  Who are you following?  Many times people in churches follow a pastor.  When the pastor leaves, the people leave.  In Bible Study groups, people follow the Small Group leader.  When the leader leaves, the people leave.  For people who are following God, the leader, while important, is not the ultimate reason for attending, serving, and working in the church.  So, when the leader leaves, the people following God continue following God and doing what they have been called to do.

Now, you might object, “What about Paul?  He told the people to imitate him as he imitated Christ.  (1 Corinthians 11:1)  Doesn’t that mean that Paul wanted them to follow him?”  Actually, the key to what Paul is saying is when he said AS HE IMITATED CHRIST.  What Paul wanted of the Corinthians more than anything was that they would follow Christ.  He told them earlier in the book not to divide up in church over what person you follow, but to follow Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:4-5)  He even went so far as to tell the Galatians that if he were to begin preaching another gospel, other than salvation by grace and through faith, they should remove him from leadership and treated him as an unbeliever. (Galatians 1:8-9)

So, who are you following?  Why do you go to church?  By the way, can I say that the people in the pews (or chairs) are not the only ones who easily succumb to this pressure of following people instead of following God.  Pastors and leaders can fall into this trap as well.  First, everyone likes to be liked, so there is a pressure to only do what will make the people of your church like you.  But what do you do when that Cult of Personality hijacks following God?  As leaders, we had better follow God, but this is not always easy.  Sometimes there are situations in which there is no clear, one-biblical-way, to do something.  We know what we need to do, but how to do it becomes a different situation.  Who do we follow then?  And how do we know we are following God and not just pridefully resisting someone we want to not have to follow?  How do we know if we are bowing to financial pressure, popularity pressure, or even job security when the way is not right before us?  It comes down to our relationship with God and whether or not He has given us enough direction to know we must die for our decision.  If we are following Him, we will persevere.  If we are going our own way, we will walk away.  If we are following someone else, we will follow them.

So, church leaders, church members, regular attenders, and even guests of churches would do well to ask the question, “Who are you following?”  Having asked that question, we need to be able to respond, “Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

Hurdles that Keep Us From Following Christ with All of Our Hearts
May 15, 2015, 4:43 pm
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One afternoon, I was at the cafeteria of our fine hospital, Southwest Medical Center.  While there, I was trying to decide what I would have for lunch prior to our Liberal Ministerial Alliance meeting.  I made the comment that I couldn’t decide whether I was going to be good or bad.  Ann Holman, the pastor of Risen Glory, laughed and said I should write about that choice as part of my article.  She is getting her wish.

So much of life is filled with choices to do what is right or do what is wrong, but sometimes things keep us from choosing right.  Even Christians face these “hurdles”.  In Matthew 13, there are a number of hurdles to living for Jesus with all of our hearts.  The first three come in the first few verses of this rich chapter.  Read Matthew 13:1-3a and verses 10-17.

Jesus began to teach the crowds in parables.  The word, parable, comes from a combination of two Greek words:  ballo – meaning to throw and para – meaning alongside.  Putting the two together, a parable is meant to throw an earthly story alongside a heavenly truth for the purpose of both revealing and concealing its meaning.  According to Mark’s version of this event, the disciples came to Jesus after the crowds dispersed and inquired why He taught people in parables.  Jesus response just might shake some of us up a bit.  He said that the truths of the parables were meant for the disciples, but not for the crowds.  He quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 in saying that God’s truth goes out to all, but is not understood or received by all.  The first hurdle that some people face, that keeps them from following Christ with all of their hearts, is they are not part of the Kingdom of Heaven.  By Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus did not mean that they are not in Heaven yet.  That would be all of us reading this article.  Neither did He mean that they were outside of God’s sovereign rule over the universe.  This applies to all of us reading this as well.  What He meant was that Kingdom that was initiated with Jesus’ first coming and will continue until there is a new Heaven and new Earth.  Some people are not in that Kingdom and never will be.  Paul said they could not receive truth because it is foolishness to them (1 Cor. 2:14)  Since Jesus said that no one can come to the Father except through the Son (John 14:6), they cannot follow Jesus with all of their heart because they do not know Him (Matthew 7:21-23).

The second hurdle in this passage comes from the observation that some people cannot follow Jesus with all of their hearts because they simply don’t care.  This applies to believers as well as non-believers.  For believers, this comes in the form of comfort.  Like Paul in Romans 5, they think, because Jesus has forgiven all of their sins, past, present and future, then it really does not matter how they live or whether or not they grow as a believer.  Paul responded best to this in Romans 6:1-2, “What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be!  How shall we who died in sin still live in it?”  In other words, people that become complacent or apathetic in their Christian devotion to the Savior that saved them, are living in sin and must either show their faith by their actions (James 2:18) or admit “they were never of us” (1 John 2:19).  Apathy can be a major hurdle in the lives of believers that have become enamored with the things of this world because Jesus told us, “Where are treasure is, there will our hearts be also” (Matthew 6:21).

The last hurdle in this passage that keeps us from following Christ with all of our hearts is related to the last hurdle.  The crowds went on about their ways because they were distracted by other pursuits other than following Christ.  They had care for what they would eat, wear, drink and do.  These distractions kept them apathetic towards Christ.  In our town, we run this same risk.  So many people in our community do so many things to provide the excellent environment in which we live that many of them often find themselves so busy in service organizations and promoting special events, that they have no time for Christ.  They would like to do better and often set goals to do so at the beginning of the year, but fail because everything else comes first.  Let us not be those that see, but don’t see.  Let us not be those that hear, but don’t hear.  Perhaps we need to focus on Christ.  That’s right…FOCUS ON JESUS!

Which of these hurdles affect you the most?  Do you have a relationship with Christ?  Are you focused on and interested in growing in your faith?  Do you see signs that your faith is growing?  Perhaps we had better apply the words of 2 Corinthians 13:5, but only if we are sure we have that relationship.  Perhaps then we will make better decisions about whether to be good or bad.  Thanks Ann.

If You’re Happy, And You Know It, Clap Your Hands
October 10, 2013, 9:49 pm
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I don’t know if you have ever had the opportunity or experience of singing this little song, but in it can be found some very solid theology.  What did he just write?  Yes, there is some very solid theology in that song.  What theology?  I am glad you asked.

First, the song asks us to be honest with ourselves about how and who we are.  Jesus, after He fed the 5000, turned and told the crowds they could not be His disciples if they would not eat His body and drink His blood.  Why would He do this?  Because He wanted them to see if they could handle being His disciples.  It is the same for you and I.  We need to test ourselves and see if we are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5).  We need to be honest with ourselves about who we are and whose we are.  We are not Christians because we go to church, got baptized, have put aside some bad things we do, have taken on some new good things, or even that we prayed a prayer with a preacher at the end of a service.  We are Christians because Jesus is the Lord of our lives, and we are kept by Him and hang on to Him with all of our hearts.

Second, the song says that being happy should produce a result.  If you are happy, then you should clap your hands.  For many people that call themselves Christians, there is not enough evidence in their life to convict them of being a follower of Christ.  So, what would be some evidence that a person really does belong to Christ and know Him as Savior and Lord?  Here are just a few taken from Donald S. Whitney’s Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health:

  1. Do you thirst for God?
  2. Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word?
  3. Are you more loving?
  4. Are you more sensitive to God’s presence?
  5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
  6. Do you delight in the bride of Christ?
  7. Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you?
  8. Do you still grieve over sin?
  9. Are you a quicker forgiver?
  10. Do you yearn for Heaven and to be with Jesus?[1]

“So what do I do if I don’t see these things in my life at all?”  Well, you should probably get saved.  You should turn away from your sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. 

“So what do I do if I see some and not others, or I am not happy with the amount of each I see in my life?”  I am glad you asked!  Jesus addressed this in his letter to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:5 “Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.”[2]  The best place for you get help in these and other matters is your local church.  I am not saying you must go to my church in order to grow.  That would be prideful and ridiculous!  But you must attend a Bible-believing church that preaches and teaches and disciples people in the Word of God.

[1] Donald S. Whitney, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, Navpress, Colorado Springs, CO, 2001.

[2] New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA, 1995.

What Are You Doing?
August 8, 2013, 9:24 pm
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For many people, this is a simple phrase used to greet each other.  Unlike “How are you doing?” they actually do want an answer.  They may say this to a friend on the phone to make sure they are not interrupting anything.  They may ask as they arrive on a visit to make sure they are okay invading their home turf. 

I was asked this question recently, but not by someone with a desire to avoid interrupting my day.  I was asked this question as a way of stopping me in my tracks and getting me to think about what I am actually doing and how that lines up with my walk with Christ.  “What are you doing?”  Actually, the question was asked a bit differently by a long dead author, Oswald Chambers, when he wrote in My Utmost for His Highest, “If the Son of God is born into my mortal flesh, is His holy innocence and simplicity and oneness with the Father getting a chance to manifest itself in me?”[1]

I had to think long and hard about Jesus manifesting His innocence in me because I know that I am anything but innocent.  I struggle with the same sins as everyone else, but probably more because I have more opportunities to express a Christlike attitude (or not).  I believe what Oswald Chambers was asking in the first part of the question was, “Does your life reflect the holiness of God?  The willingness to be different than others?”  As I thought about this question, I thought about the fact that having a daily quiet time with the Lord is different than much of the rest of the world.  The lost cannot understand the things of God and those things are considered foolish to them (see 1 Corinthians 2:14), so that makes me holy in this area of life.  I tithe, or give 10% of my income to my local church.  This makes me different than about 92% of those who identify themselves as Christians.  I give above and beyond the tithe with offerings.  That makes me different than about another 2 to 3% of “Christians”.  I attend church faithfully.  That makes me different than 75 to 80% of the population of our area.  So, the answer to the question is that I do allow Christ’s holiness to be manifested in me.

Just about the time you may be thinking I am bragging, or I might begin to feel pretty proud of myself, I realize pride is not part of the holiness of Christ, Who humbled Himself to give up the glory of Heaven to be born of a virgin, to teach twelve clueless men, to obey God unto death and even a death where He would be exposed shamefully, treated cruelly, and executed mercilessly.  On top of that, He did it because of the Father’s love for the world He had created (see Phil 2, and John 3:16).  In addition to that, I read James and realize I don’t control my tongue (chapter 3) , have disagreements with people because I want my way (chapter 4), and don’t always live out what I know the Bible to be telling me (1:22). I realize that I don’t control my food input, media input, time management, … the list goes on and on.

Is His simplicity getting a chance to manifest itself in me?  Hardly!  My wife and I are in the process of adopting a young child.  Simple does not explain any part of our lives right now.  In addition, I am attempting to work on another degree, be involved in the church, family, community, Pancake Day, Chamber of Commerce, school system, etc.  Simple does not seem to have a place with me.  I have been so busy this Summer, that the people of my church have languished to the point that many of them have put church attendance and meaningful Bible study on hold.

Lastly, is His oneness with the Father being manifested in me?  No.  Sadly, no.  For a lot of the previous reasons.  As I think about this reality in my life, I am challenged to look for ways to submit myself again and anew to my Savior.  While I cannot speak for anyone else, I wonder how many other people feel these same pressures and long to be and do differently.  Will we?  Or will we simply do what we have always done and hope things turn out differently?

What are you doing?

[1] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: Selections for the Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Oswald Chambers Publications, 1986).