Where does leadership power come from?

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Time and time again, leadership emerges from those who are able to keep cool heads under fire. Soldiers have seen this in the fields since the beginning of war. Keeping a cool head does not guarantee survival, but it gets the attention of those around who are struggling to be in control themselves. Control is central, or perhaps more accurately, the perception of control is what leads us.

Dictators rule by fear. They keep cool but spread anxiety to everyone around them, reminding them of the dangers, and make their voice the single point of authority. Firemen and Police use this tactic during emergency situations. No one takes a vote in a crisis – they just follow the loudest voice in uniform.

Monarchs rule by comparison. There is always a cousin or neice with aspirations to the throne, so they have to consistently point out how much worse the grass is on the other side of the bridge. They invite those around them to treat them with the care and respect as a symbol of how they feel about their own community. How do monarchs come into power? They submit to the public they they best represent the best face of the community and spend their time defending that symbolism. Homecoming kings and queens may not have the same kind of direct authority as dictators, but they get more airplay than those around them.

Bureaucrat rule by fear also, but in a more empowering way. They, like monarchs, present a series of options, but rather than presenting themselves as the ideal leader, they present the ideal choice as something they have a corner on the market and are the only ones who can deliver the goods. This is paid for security when it happens above the law and extortion when it goes on underneath. You may not know them, but you like what they offer and they send you the bill.

The last kind of ruler is the democratic leader. The democratic leader serves on behalf of the majority opinion. They are responsible for the sifting through the many voices and spotlighting the most prevalent ones. In a pure democracy the minority voice will always be drowned out, even if the groups considered “minority” change from time to time and in between different subjects. These leaders have the disadvantage of needing to justify themselves against any other potential leader.

There is a curious resemblance between the kind of authority projected by the leadership in democratic, socialist, and dictatorial leadership. Generally the shift from the former to the latter occurs with increased military or hired protection and the amount of political polls taken in the public decreases with the one exception of polls regarding loyalty to the leadership.

In all of the chatter about differing political groups, we sometimes forget that every level of authority is overseen by individuals. Even when those individuals lead as a team, they all have names, faces, histories, and aspirations. Battles are fought against nameless, faceless enemies, but peace is made between those who know each other by name. This does not only apply among leaders, the same applies for all people. In our age where information is the commerce of power even the most greedy and malcious minded of leaders will admit that knowing people is important for leadership. How much more so then for those who seek to lead out of benevolent motives.

The bottom line is this: leadership is about who you know.

““Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a strangerʼs voice.” – John‬ ‭10:1-5‬ ‭NIV‬

When should I fight? Part 3

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If you have made it past your anger and have taken an honest look at your own values and there is still conflict that is unresolved, it may be time to fight.

My experience of the world has been that it pulls us in one of two directions: fight or flight. In higher functioning circles these terms might be renamed aggressive persuasion and compromise, but they come from the same semantic and psychological place. Either we fight for what we want, or we give it up and live to fight another day. I am not, and have never really been a fan of compromise… it has always felt like everyone losing in practice rather than the kind of middle ground for which it is usually advertised. Nor am I quick to go to war (although I have been quick to anger at times). You can probably tell just from the fact that it has taken me 3 posts of asking when to fight before finally getting to the fighting part.

So here we are at the fight. Our conscience is clear, we know what we want and we are not just having an emotional reaction. We have communicated what we want clearly and there is still no change coming on our behalf. What now? Now we just have one final question to answer for ourselves.

What are we willing to pay to get our way?

That is a very important question, because for every cause, right, wrong, or indifferent, their is a cost. When fights occur, everybody loses something. This may be why I somehow hold some tendencies toward negotiation over violence, but dislike compromise. Fighting is costly, and if we are to enter that endeavor, we will pay the price whether we want to or not. Violence does not take IOU’s.

Whether the matter is handled in court, taking up court costs and our time, or through violence, taking the blood of ourselves and perhaps our friends and family as well, the bill will come to us and we will pay. It is as Ghandi says:

And, depending upon the relationship we have, or did have, with those we are fighting, their demise may end up hurting us and our family as well.

The most celebrated political leaders of the last century have largely held non-violent views. The reason for that is that violence and war is costly, and there are often more efficient ways to get things done. It is only when these other options ends that there may be need for fighting. To enter the fight is to admit defeat in the creative endeavor to solve a problem. Our best and brightest did not have to do that often.

I think this is why Jesus did not teach his disciples how to fight. He taught them how to live, love, and to sacrifice their lives for something worthy. He taught:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – Matthew 5:43–48

So, if your loss of time, energy, money, health, and perhaps your life will do more good for the world and the things you hold dear, then by all means, fight on. But if you are expecting to enjoy the fruits of your labor (have your cake and eat it too), then you may want to keep thinking, keep dreaming, keep praying for another kind of resolution.

When should I fight? Part 2

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If you are already past the point of anger and still dealing with conflict, then it is time to put away the fists and dial back the dialogue into the language of values. To be fair, this is, in part, an attempt to distance ourselves from the tension and objectify the problem – which is more possible in some cases than others. As an example of the absurdity that proves the rule, let us look at one of the most volatile places on the planet: the Little League Baseball Bleachers.

Can you imagine a parent standing up and shouting,

Coach, you need to put my son Derek in because building his confidence in playing sports is more important to me than whether the team wins or loses.”?

Or how about,

Come on Ref! Can’t you just give him that run? My kid is the only one on the team who hasn’t made it to home plate yet!”?

I doubt referees ever hear

That was a really tough call to make. Keep up the good work!”.

Why? Because although we don’t usually say the things above, we usually are thinking or feeling them at some level. We talk about the importance of fair play, but most of us have values that sometimes contradict and even overshadow fairness, justice, and our sense of right and wrong. We are not machines. Having other values does not have to be wrong. Where we get into trouble is when we have them by deny it to others and even to ourselves. This denial creates a tension and dissonance in ourselves similar to the feeling we might have in debate class if the teacher asked us to switch sides with our opponent and argue their case instead of our own. It’s hard and sometimes there is something inside us that wants us to lose, because the deeper truth is that, while we may believe the words we are saying, there are other words we are not saying that we believe even more. So, by not saying what is truly important to us, we are only sabotaging ourselves.

Of course, we may be keeping those values quiet because, although they represent our true desires, they are either socially unacceptable or something we are ashamed to say out loud. The letter from James in the New Testament has some powerful words to move from anger into speaking the truth to ourselves and to one another. He writes:

”What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” James 4:1–12

”Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16

It is those hidden desires that get us into trouble every time. God knows they are there, and if we take the time to look, we will see them there as well. James tells us that we can find healing and forgiveness between one another if we are willing to confess the truth of what is really going on inside us. But, if we have not yet come to the true values and desires within us, we will not find that resolution… and if we are not yet at peace within ourselves, it is not yet time to fight.

When should I fight? Part 1

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When should I fight? Part 1

This question is inspired by a blog post from Kevin Parido, a friend of mine and fellow writer.

I deeply desire to fight for the right things. I want to fight for the good, the right and whole things. I want fight the battle that needs to be fought not skirmishes that help no one.

But I need to be led to where the real battle lies.

We all know what it is to be angry. Some of us feel that emotion more often and at a deeper level than others. Your vision takes on a reddish tinge, your muscles contract, your heart races and your blood pressure rises. You are spoiling for a fight. Even if you never raise your fists, your verbal filters fall and your very communication takes on weaponized qualities. Men and women alike fall under the curse of our fight or flight instinct.

Anger is one of the easiest ways to manipulate people though. Stress is induced to push them into fight or flight mode in which flight (fear) causes them to run away from you while fight (anger) makes them run toward you. Scaring people can be used to try to herd people into a certain place or attitude, but it is unfocused and messy. Anger, on the other hand, is attractional and focused, so you can pinpoint the exact spot you want them to be and make them come there. Don’t believe me? Take a moment to watch this: (Warning! Violent content below!)

Ok, so that is a bit extreme and fictionall, but it makes the point. Kevin was able to lead Larry and Marv on through a series of painful experiences (literally lead them) through their anger. At any time, they could have turned away and gone home or picked another place to rob, or gone out for a pizza. Instead anger clouded their vision, leading them right to the next painful experience Kevin had prepared for them. Two grown men were outsmarted by a grade school kid because Kevin conquered the fight or flight instinct and they did not.

It is not just in fictional movies though. Leading through anger is one of the primary foundations of bullfighting.

The bull is lead to his death because the matador conquers his fight or flight response and the bull does not.

James 1:19–20 says this:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

It is a warning to avoid anger. So when should we fight? Not when the only reason is that we are angry.

How long do dreams last?

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How long do dreams last?

In this season of political polarization, it is tempting to hope that we can unite in celebration of Dr. King. But celebrators ought to know whom they are honoring. Dr. King died for striking garbage workers and beseeched his government to protect the vulnerable. He had a message for those who would target immigrants or wall off America from the world. In a 1967 speech, he declared: “Our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than national.” Instead of policing their borders, nations should “develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole.”
The alternative was unacceptable. “History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.” To honor Dr. King is to follow a different path.
New York Times

“Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had >a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the >God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to >the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not >leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the >gate of heaven.” Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz. >Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the >Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”” – Genesis 28:10-22 NIV

Dream

Some dreams are from God and some are from ourselves, and I think it is important to be able to tell the difference. A dream from God is something bigger than ourselves. It is something that we cannot accomplish on our own, indeed we cannot accomplish without God. It is easy to settle for smaller dreams, more achievable dreams than to reach out and take hold of a dream that may well outlive ourselves.

Jacob was given such a dream. He saw God and God promised to bless Jacob with a land of his own, and Jacob could have stopped there… but God went on. God promised that the whole world would be blessed through Jacob and his descendents. He, like his father Isaac, and grandfather Abraham were blessed to be a blessing.

Celebration

Jacob celebrated that dream by renaming the city in which he had this vision. He no longer looked upon this ordinary place the same way. It had become the place where heaven touched earth and he saw his place in the great story of creation. He acknowledge that change of vision with a new calling, a new name. God would soon change more than this city’s name… He would soon change Jacob’s name as well, and both would find redemption in this new calling.

How did he make that name change in Luz? Did he go to the local government with a petition? No, he probably just started referring to that place by the new name, to everyone he met. Luz, which meant almond tree, was a nice enough name – but Jacob claimed something greater for it… Bethel, the house of God.

Provision/Investment

Changing the name of something is just the start though, not the end. Keeping a dream alive requires investment. Jacob told God that if God invested in this dream, Jacob would invest 10% of everything he had into it. Often we get hung up on the 10% thing, particularly regarding money, while neglecting other important things, such as time and energy. The statistics show that the vast majority of people give more like 1% rather than 10% of their wealth – and if you have 168 hours every week, are you giving God 16.8 of those hours? Again, most of us tend to give God just 1 or 2 of those. Then we wonder why the dream dies.

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

It doesn’t take a big group or lots of money. It takes someone with a passion and commitment.

If you recall the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus stood before His disciples one last time and shared with them the same dream and promise that Jacob received:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Jacob’s family lost the dream, but in a handful of disciples, the dream exploded and continued on to us and through us today!

  • What dream has God given you?
  • What do you need to change to see it come true?
  • What do you need to give for the dream to outlive you?

Why read the Bible in a year?

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Why read the Bible in a year?

Are you keeping up your New Year’s resolutions still? Many of us have given up by now… after all, it has been a whole 2 weeks. I’m reading through the Bible in a year as a plan put together with some daily devotions by Nicky and Pipa Gumbel. I made it about 5 days in a row before getting behind in the reading and having to catch up. I’m listening to Nicky read the reading for today right now. I also found out that this particular plan does not go through every single verse of the Bible, but only gives an overview. I haven’t checked and I’m not going to… That would take as much work as just reading through the entire Bible, so I’m going to plunge ahead and read through another day’s scriptures.

Mine is a fairly common story. We start off with the familiar wonder of Genesis 1,2, and 3. Day 4 and 5 the blood starts pouring and by the end of the week, the rain is falling and flooding the earth with Noah on a boat trying to save some samples of the gene pool. By the beginning of next week though, moving on to the stories of Abraham, things begin to get weird, and repetitive, and weird. Abraham travels a lot and when he finds himself in a large city, he tells the rulers that his wife Sarai is not his wife at all, but only his sister. It is not long before the king attempts to seduce Sarai, at which God sends a curse upon that kingdom until Abraham’s scheme is found out. The king, glad things did not go any further with Sarai, sends them both out and tells them they were wrong for lying to him. Lesson learned… well almost. A few days later, I could swear I’m reading the same story, only the name of the king has changed. Apparently not lesson learn. This week comes to an end, and Isaac, Abraham’s son is caught doing the exact same thing that his father Abraham did twice. Now I know where the HBO nighttime drama writers got all their material.

At this point we are barely halfway through the first book of the Bible. At this point it does not look like it is going to get better. These Old Testament readings are paired with passages of Hebrew poetry which sometimes sound like goth-emo wailings against some unnamed enemy interspersed with some brief glittering gems of God’s majesty revealed in creation. (Please note, I don’t have anything against Hebrew poetry, I’m just trying to emphasize the spectrum that exists in these biblical examples.) There is also New Testament readings from the Gospels, which starts off with the familiar stories of the birth of Jesus and the beginnings of His ministry. By the time, the violence and family drama starts in Genesis though, the Pharisees come onto the scene in the Gospels, and the war with words begins between Jesus and the Jewish leaders of His day.

Point being: the Bible is one messy book.

Why would you want to read it in a year? I’ve never heard anyone say they had a plan to read all of Shakespeare in a year, or all of the Harry Potter books (although I’m sure the latter has been attempted by many). What is it about the Bible and the span of one year that encourages these kinds of reading plans?

The Lectionary

First of all, there have been collections of Bible readings used by churches for weekly and daily use. Weekly Lectionaries that take you through the whole Bible in the course of about 3 or 4 years and Daily Lectionaries that take you through them in a year. Most Lectionaries include readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the Gospels + Acts, and The New Testament Letters. This all came from the Roman Catholic Church originally, so it is nothing new. It was based on their work at having the whole Bible preached and taught regularly and in ways that continued to relate to the seasons of the Christian year (Christmas, Easter, etc.).
Does reading through the Bible in a year make you a better Christian or help you grow more? I don’t know – I’ve never done it. I do know that reading the Bible on a regular basis helps you stay rooted in your faith and closer to God. I also know that it helps if you don’t just read John 3:16 on the way out the door to work every day, but branch out to other passages in the Bible as well. The more of it you read and the more times you read it, the more you will begin to see how one God worked through 66 books, thousands of lives and ten thousand stories that bring us to where we are today. If nothing supernatural happens in your Bible reading, it will at least be like hearing stories about your favorite grandparent and the adventures they had before you were even born. You begin to recognize the God you know and love in the lives of others, and then it begins to open your eyes to see more of God in and around you. Yes, the reading gets weird and messy sometimes, but so do we. So read your Bible and stretch yourself a little more this year than you did last year.

  • What is your favorite part of the Bible to read?
  • How often do you choose to read your Bible?
  • What pulls you away from spending time reading or listening to the Bible?

Does God make disciples or do we?

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I am an Enneagram type 5 which means that almost every time I’m faced with two choices, I will look for a third option. Many times, that third option is not a compromise between the two, but something else that re-frames the question itself. If that doesn’t make sense to you, just think about the recent presidential election and that is my first reaction whenever I get asked an either/or question. I feel like it probably doesn’t matter which choice I choose and have suspicions that there is a bait and switch going on. If you have a few months to spend on this rabbit trail I’d recommend reading Either/Or by Soren Kierkegaard. I started reading it about ten years ago and finally discovered the message of the book, about 3/4ths through not in the text, nor the subtext, but in between the chapters, essays, and stories there. But enough chasing rabbits…

This question about God’s role and our own in making disciples was raised yesterday in a leadership retreat we had at our church. When asked how to make disciples, one of the people there said that we could not… only God can do that. I think a few people there may have felt like that was something of a cop out answer, but I, for one, was glad for this response. While many of us may not think it is an appropriate answer to the question of How to make disciples, I know it is something that many of us think. Perhaps in not so blunt and bold a way, but it hides under the surface of much of our ministry and service.

Let me put it another way.

We may not question whether or not we have a role in making disciples, but I would guess that many of us do not have a very clear understanding of what that role is. So we “make disciples” like agnostics – trying to do whatever random thing comes across our path in good intentions, but not really knowing or believing that it is bringing anyone closer to a relationship with Jesus. Agnostic might sound like a harsh word to use for people who may consider themselves, and may indeed be mature Christians, but Jesus died for us and asked us to do only one thing before He returned to heaven, and when I meet Him face to face and He asks me if I made any disciples for Him, I’m not going to be comfortable giving a theological treatise about how I didn’t feel up to the job and that really He was the only one who could do that right anyway. So yeah, agnostic disciplemakers is putting it lightly. Some of us go through the motions of making disciples, but inside we can be more like functional atheists, not believing that anything we do really makes a difference. That is not what Jesus asked us to be, nor is it what He die for.

What it means to partner with God

Something happens to us as a civilization when we separate ourselves from the land and the work involved to provide food and shelter on a daily basis. Farmers understand partnering with God better than most of us. They know how much work it is to plow the land, plant the seeds, and fertilize the ground. They understand the work of weeding and protecting the fields from scavenging animals. They know how it is a work that you either live on a daily basis or not at all. But they also know that the final say in the outcome is not their own. No matter how much they do to prepare the field, it is God who either provides or withholds the rain. They work together with God to provide the fruit of the harvest. Paul writes:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.
He rightly understood that God has the power over the the specific outcome, but he also realized that all of us have a responsibility for raising up new disciples. Does it matter whether we take up that responsibility or not? More than you can know. God can and will send the rain on the good disciplemakers and the bad disciplemakers alike… but one faith farmer will reap a harvest in the field she has prepared and the other will just have a big, muddy, field of weeds.

  • Who has God used to show His love to you?
  • How did they do that?
  • How are you helping people discover a loving relationship with Christ?