Boy Scouts

Standard

Boy Scouts

Ezekiel 34:17-23

As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.”

One of the basic tenets of the Boy Scouts of America that I remember from my very short time as a Cub Scout was that we are to leave a place better than we find it. It is not the first rule of Boy Scouting, but it may well be the underlying purpose behind it all. In fact, this tenet alone could probably be taken up as a life purpose for us all, not just a purpose for Boy Scouts.

It is a little sad to me that I can recall several major pop artists (Michael Jackson and John Lennon for example) who put this purpose to music, while they may or may not have actually lived it out themselves. But all too often it comes across as a very soft and passive approach to life, sounding like advice to a person who is told, if you cannot do anything else, at least try to be a nice person. This tenet was not meant to be something to do if you cannot think of anything else. It was meant to be a first purpose for existence.

Contrast the idea of leaving the world better than you found it with the idea of “carving out a name for yourself”, perhaps reminiscent of those who carve their names on tree trunks as children and on concrete buildings as they grow older. Carving is a basic predatorial attempt to mark your territory – to take something forcefully as your own. You do not have to have any leadership skills to do that. You just have to be strong and fear-inspiring. While the two ideas are not mutually exclusive (you can do both), taking something over does not guarantee it will be better for your ownership and responsibility for it. Often, as in the example of the bigger sheep mentioned above, all the show of force does is ruin the watering holes for everyone as they are used and abused faster than if there were no leadership at all.

The temptation in leadership is to try to remain objective and take yourself out of the equation. If you are responsible, surely you should not be judged by the same standards as the sheep around you. Yet in order to actually leave the place better, you have to do just the opposite. If you would put yourself in the place of judging others, you must find honest and accurate ways to judge yourself first, because your own footprints matter, and sometimes they are even larger than those around you. You and I, as leaders are very much either part of the solution or part of the problem, and no one gets to sit back apart, above and exempt from influence and responsibility. It is the wise leader, the true leader, who recognizes their place in every system they touch and owns up to the brokenness they find around them by making the active, intentional choice to leave it better than they found it.

Hebrews 13:20-21

Benediction

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Who is your shepherd?

Standard

Who is your shepherd?

Ezekiel 34:23-31

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.

I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild animals from the land, so that they may live in the wild and sleep in the woods securely. I will make them and the region around my hill a blessing; and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. The trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase. They shall be secure on their soil; and they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and save them from the hands of those who enslaved them. They shall no more be plunder for the nations, nor shall the animals of the land devour them; they shall live in safety, and no one shall make them afraid. I will provide for them a splendid vegetation so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the insults of the nations. They shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord God. You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture and I am your God, says the Lord God.

Leadership is not a personality trait. It is a commission. This means that without a mission, there is not leadership. It also means that if the mission is not one with (“co-mission”) others: superiors, peers, and subordinates… it probably is not real leadership. There is a created hierarchy to life, and when we are unable to find our place within that hierarchy, we struggle leading.

Let me use Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as an example of how this worked in the 1960’s. If we flash back to another time when racial and cultural tensions were high here in the United States, we may read about or recall that there were several different factions within both the black and white American people, each looking for different resolutions to that tension. What would have happened if Dr. King had refused to engage the white leaders of the time? What if, instead of non-violent protesting, he had told the people to simply break free of an unjust system and refuse to take part in it. He started down this road, in part, with the bus boycotts. What if he took it further though and told the African Americans not to speak to or even acknowledge the white people around them… to carry on as if they were not even there? If they asked a question or gave a command, to simply ignore it. If they were ahead in line, to push through. If they were crossing the road while you were driving, to keep on driving.

I’m sure you can see how the extremes of disengagement would have adverse affects and would not lead to any good form of reconciliation. We cannot isolate ourselves away and expect to make positive social change in the world. There is a lot of wisdom in that adage about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. I’m also sure that Dr. King had people he respected and looked for wisdom and guidance from who were not only African Americans. Jesus Christ was certainly one of those. He had superiors, peers, and subordinates in his work, and he had a mission that was bigger than himself. That made him a leader, and helped ensure that he was a good one.

One of the laws of nature has always been divide and conquer. ”A house divided against itself cannot stand.” So it is with leaders. Once you have been singled out, set apart, and cut off from those superiors, peers, and subordinates, you lose track of your mission, and before long you are lunch for the hungry lion prowling about looking for his dinner. It is not just the weak, the sick, and the old that get eaten first. It is the ones who get cut off from the flock.

So, in approaching your own leadership, the first question you need to ask yourself, for the sake of holistic(spiritual, emotional, mental, social, etc.) maturity and health is: Who is my shepherd? Be careful not to fall into the trap of believing only God can truly lead you, for that is pride speaking. You need others who God works through, to help keep you grounded in reality, instead of hung up on a flight of fancy. Such unanchored leaders, like Icarus all to often fly too close to the sun and end up going down in flames – taking everyone with them. On the contrary, Jesus teaches that we can be no greater leaders ourselves than the shepherds we follow.

1 Peter 5:1-5

Tending the Flock of God

Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for

“God opposes the proud,

but gives grace to the humble.”

The Example

Standard

The Example

John 13:1-17

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-261

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Real life examples is one of the best ways we learn. That is the reason that churches, marketing groups, and educators use personal testimony to get our attention and convince us that we should follow that example. Personal testimony is powerful and persuasive, and actions speak even louder than words.

Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. It was probably the last thing they or we ever expected Him to do here in His final hours. His last supper, His last requests, were spent serving others, like a prisoner doing community service before the execution – not because He was forced to, but because this is what He desired. It is not the action itself that so inspires us. It was what the action revealed about the heart behind it

When Jesus took this precious time to invest in others (and yes, some times are more precious than others) He showed them what all those teaching times looked like when they were lived out. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, I say to you, love your enemies, take the plank out of your own eye first before you try to take the speck out of your brother’s eye… Jesus leads with a strong love that says, “I love you whether you love me back or not.” He was committed to dying to show us that love, even if no one else would go with Him. There was no stopping Him.

Paul was not there to get his feet washed, but his feet were washed by those Jesus had touched and the example lived on in him. The love, the service, the sacrifice… it was all there present every time the people of God gathered to celebrate the One who brought them together and made them who they were, and it still brings us together and transforms us today.

Who sets an example for you to follow?

Who is following your example?


  1. (Mt 26:26–29; Mk 14:22–25; Lk 22:14–23)

What the Lord sees

Standard

What the Lord sees

1 Samuel 16:11-13

“Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.”

Samuel learned about the vision of God when Saul failed as King and Samuel was sent to find his successor David. To outward appearances, David was too young in age, and last in his family – so much so that when the prophet came to his home, looking for a young man to make king, David’s own father did not even consider him. Neither, by all accounts, did David argue that point. Instead of taking advantage of this opportunity to advance himself, David contented himself by tending the family sheep.

I think part of what made David a man after God’s own heart was that he chose dedication to his work over aspiration for position. If you follow David’s career, apart from a handful of mistakes and several major misdeeds, he dedicated himself to serving God and the people of Israel. He saw himself as their shepherd and sought to be a good one.

But it is also important to note that, like Jesus, David went through his trials and temptations as well. Although he was anointed as a young man to be king over Israel, he had to wait 20 years before taking the throne, and unlike many would-be kings in history, David waited with patience. I think he was able to because he saw each day as an opportunity to serve God, wherever he was, rather than as an opportunity to advance himself.

How important is position to you?

What can you do today to be a servant of the Lord?

Don’t shoot the Angels

Standard

Editorial Preview

Don’t shoot the Angels

Hebrews 2:5–10 (NRSV)

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor, subjecting all things under their feet.”

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Angels have always been a unique topic. Most Christians believe in angels and view them as distant but helpful spirits. However, many of those same people avoid even talking about spirit entities outside of God. It takes us too close to idolatry, which is not just a modern problem, but as John shows us, was a problem for himself1: and the early church as well.

Here is a biblical definition of the word translated “angels”:

“In many languages a term for ‘angels’ is borrowed from another dominant language, but in other instances a somewhat descriptive phrase may be employed. The most common expressions for the ‘angels of God’ are ‘messengers’ and ‘messengers from heaven.’ Sometimes these angels are called ‘spirit messengers’ and even ‘flying messengers.’ In some instances they have been called ‘the holy servants of God,’ but an expression such as ‘servants of God’ or even ‘messengers of God’ tends to overlap in meaning with expressions used to characterize the role and function of the prophets who were sent as messengers from God. In some languages a term for ‘angels’ is contrasted with that for ‘prophets’ by calling angels ‘messengers from heaven’ and prophets ‘messengers from God.’ The ‘angels of the Devil’ are often called ‘the Devil’s servants.’”2

Spirit messengers, in shorthand.

Look at the passage from Hebrews again. This is a passage that points out the connection between vulnerability and authority. Angels, who do not suffer, serve in God’s presence. Yet it is human beings, who were “made a little lower” than the angels, to whom authority over the world was given. It is not strength, but vulnerability… or perhaps the ability to suffer, that is rewarded with authority in God’s Kingdom.

This passage is not primarily about you and I. It is about Jesus. Jesus supersedes our own authority not because of His power, but because of His ability to suffer. This may be why He resisted the devil’s temptation in the wilderness. Without suffering, there is no authority rewarded.

Why is that? I don’t know for sure. But Jesus speaks about His own authority like this:

John 10:1-18

““Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” ”

Jesus ties together willingness to suffer for… responsibility, with authority. He has “bought” us and gained authority over us through His suffering for us. He took the bullet the angels never would.

Who do you suffer for?

Are you willing and able to suffer for those God has put you in charge of?

 

 

Where does leadership power come from?

Standard

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

Chosen

Standard

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;

he will bring forth justice to the nations.

He will not cry or lift up his voice,

or make it heard in the street;

a bruised reed he will not break,

and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;

he will faithfully bring forth justice.

He will not grow faint or be crushed

until he has established justice in the earth;

and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the Lord,

who created the heavens and stretched them out,

who spread out the earth and what comes from it,

who gives breath to the people upon it

and spirit to those who walk in it:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,

I have taken you by the hand and kept you;

I have given you as a covenant to the people,

a light to the nations,

to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

from the prison those who sit in darkness.

I am the Lord, that is my name;

my glory I give to no other,

nor my praise to idols.

See, the former things have come to pass,

and new things I now declare;

before they spring forth,

I tell you of them.

A Hymn of Praise

Sing to the Lord a new song,

his praise from the end of the earth!

Let the sea roar and all that fills it,

the coastlands and their inhabitants.

Let the desert and its towns lift up their voice,

the villages that Kedar inhabits;

let the inhabitants of Sela sing for joy,

let them shout from the tops of the mountains.

Let them give glory to the Lord,

and declare his praise in the coastlands.” Isaiah 42.1-12 (NRSV)

Jesus redefined gentleness. Yes, he got angry, sometimes even violent and yet even in his moments of harshness, words were not wasted, misfired, or sent out to claim unintended casualties. His reprimands were surgical in precision – meant to cleanse and cure, not to maim or kill.

I will never forget trying to teach this gentle leadership of Jesus to a group of children about a dozen years ago. I had a mixed group of children from about age 5-15 in a small church and I decided to try to help them reenact the story of the woman caught in adultery. (Please note: this was before I met my wife who is a professional children’s minister and who would have known better than to attempt this!) We glossed over the definition of adultery rather quickly… I think I just explained it as cheating on you husband or wife. I decided to let the youngest, the 5-year old boy, play Jesus, and the oldest (another teenage boy) play the woman caught in adultery. To my surprise the young Jesus jumped up into the air, pumping his fist and exclaiming “YES! I’m going to blast you all with lightning bolts!!!” Clearly I had my work cut out for me in teaching this lesson on grace and forgiveness.

This is not to say that I’ve never thought about blasting anyone with lightnin bolts myself, or that perhaps there were times when Jesus looked up at the crowds and the clouds and maybe wondered if it would just be easier dealing with some of them that way. I don’t know everything He thought or felt. What I know is what His disciples said He did. He kept His peace, gave grace and forgiveness, and helped everyone do better the second time.

Isaiah says that as great as He was, He would not break a bruised reed or quench a dimly lit wick. The God of the universe notices those who are already weak, falling, and failing, and will not be the one to “put them out of their misery” as we sometimes say. He doesn’t “accidently” step on anyone. He doesn’t “accidently” do anything.

This makes me wonder how and why I choose my leaders. Even in places in my life where I do not get a vote (who my boss is for instance), I still have the ability to really seek out and follow anyone I choose. I could quit my job and follow someone else, or to a lesser extent, read their books, watch them on television or listen to them on podcasts or the radio. How do I choose the people I choose though? Gentleness is not a top priority. Success generally is. I have never followed the leadership of a homeless person, save one: Jesus Christ. I have never followed anyone who did not at least have a bank account, save one: Jesus Christ. I have never followed someone who did not speak English at all, save one: Jesus Christ. In retrospect, the majority of leaders in my life really have very little in common with Jesus… some of them just happen to know Him and try to follow Him. Maybe I need to rethink who I am allowing to lead in my life.

I cannot be too critical about other leaders without turning the question on myself though. Do I lead with the gentleness of Jesus? Do the bruised reeds and dimly lit wicks around me rejoice in my presence because they know they are protected under my watch? Do I offer them any strength in their struggles? Not enough… not enough.

This holiday season we remember that the gentle leadership of God brought the world to him in a dark manger outside the small town of Bethlehem. Shepherds from the fields, Magi from the Eastern Kingdoms, and Angels from Heaven all came at His beckon, which He did from the weakness of a newborn infant body. If the infant Jesus could gather such a crowd to lead, I cannot even imagine what the Spirit of God, spread across His people in this world might accomplish, if we would accept Him as our Lord and Savior and follow Him as His chosen people.

  • How do you choose your leaders?
  • What is most important to you in your own leadership?
  • Where do you most experience the gentleness of God?

Gentle Savior lead me on

Let Your Spirit light the way

Sunday December 18, 2016