Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Third Priority – Find the Root

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“And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.” – ‭‭Mark‬ ‭1:21-28‬ ‭ESV‬‬

It is only after preparing yourself (Priority #1) and recruiting a team to help you (Priority #2) will you be ready to start making waves in the world. So, once you get yourself ready, how do you go about bringing about the change the world needs?Jesus faced many oppositions in the course of His ministry, but Mark proposed a particular order of priority in which Jesus engaged those foes. The first foe He faced was spiritual oppression.

Moses, in the days of the Exodus from Egypt, faced many challenges in trying to lead the Hebrew people from a place of slavery in Egypt to being faithful servants of God – a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They had lots of changes to make to get to that point, but the first and foremost was freedom from the oppression of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Not much else could be done before that was accomplished. Jesus faced a similar foe in his attempts to bring Israel (and through His disciples, the rest of the world) back into that role of kingdom of priests and holy nation. He was not facing a foreign king and army though. Jesus faced Satan and all of his fallen angels that had the people in another kind of bondage – sin.

A person who is truly enslaved has no ability to choose for themselves. Not only is it impossible for them to change themselves, it may actually be rather cruel to ask them to do so. The standards to which Jesus was asking His people to live by were, and are, impossible for those who are slaves to demonic spiritual oppression. So, whenever his teaching was challenged by those under spiritual oppression, Jesus did not chastise the challenger – He delivered them from bondage. More than simply asking people to change – Jesus made change possible for them.

Jesus looked at all the mess in this world and located the root of all of it and cut out the root first before trying to clean up the fruits of evil. As we work to make a difference in this world, if we have not discovered the root of the problem, we need to do more digging before we start cutting things down. If the experience of Jesus is any kind of guideline for us, we may have some spiritual battles to win before we can make any lasting change in this world.

This may drive us right back to Priority #1 if we find ourselves unprepared and unequipped to handle the root cause of the problems we face, and that could be quite frustrating. Think though of the cost of moving ahead while leaving the root of the problem to fester. The same problem will only crop up again somewhere else, perhaps somewhere nearby. How many political rebellions against tyrant dictators have resulted only in a new tyrant dictator on the throne? What is truly saddening is the number of times those who raise up the revolt end up being as bad or worse leaders once they win. If you truly want to bring change into the lives of others, sin must be factored in, and until you can give people freedom from it, any change they experience will be short-lived at best.

Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The First Priority

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Jesus changed the world. There is not much debate around that. He is perhaps the most commonly recognized name from the last 2000 years and probably most of written history altogether. While He did not compete for political office of any kind during his life in the first century, He attracted an enormous following that continues today in a way that has political implications all over the world. He changed the world, and He is still changing the world today.

Those of us who claim to follow Jesus have a mission to change the world by making new disciples of Jesus. Sometimes our zeal for leading change and our lack of wisdom and discernment in doing so have caused as much harm as good. This problem has been most prevalent in political issues and most of the criticism surrounding Christianity has been related to politics. In the last century, we have tried to counter this criticism by distancing ourselves from politics. With the recent cultural engagement with Christian Faith, in comparison and contrast with other world religions, distancing ourselves from politics is no longer a viable alternative, if it ever truly was. I propose instead that we try something else. I propose we look at Jesus and His values and priorities as He lead the way in changing the world around Him.

Mark’s gospel has often been referred to as the first gospel, because it contains more shared material than the other gospels and because it is shorter. The focus of Mark’s gospel is on the actions of Jesus and details the ministry of Jesus from His baptism at age 30 until his crucifixion and resurrection three years later. So, for a short, concise, focused look at the actions of Jesus, we will look at the Gospel of Mark.

Mark’s gospel skips the birth narrative and the first 30 years of Jesus’s life, choosing instead to focus on the 3 years of His ministry and journey to the cross in Jerusalem. Unlike Moses, in the Old Testament, who has a special birth narrative (as Matthew compares to Jesus in his gospel account), Mark writes the story of Jesus more like the stories of the Judges of Israel who were “raised up” by God during Israel’s time of need, delivered them, and then disappeared into the depths of history.

Mark begins with a scripture reference from the prophet Isaiah and identifies John the Baptist as the fulfillment of this prophecy. John has his own role to play in this narrative, but he never overshadows Jesus and never steps into the role as conqueror himself. He is a witness, “a voice crying in the wilderness”, just as Isaiah described. He provides the introduction to this action-packed drama, points out Jesus as the main character by baptizing Him, and then quickly steps aside. Even though Jesus has a powerful introduction onto the scene, His transition from anonymity to celebrity status is anything but easy.

Mark says, immediately after being baptized, the Spirit of God led Jesus into the wilderness where He was “being tempted by Satan”. No time to pack a bag or get prepared – no the first enemy that Jesus is to face in this work is the greatest evil of all, Satan himself. From the very first chapter, Mark makes it clear to us that this is a spiritual war that Jesus is waging on our behalf and that everything else flows out of this. Nor is this a quick battle. It says Jesus is out in the wilderness for 40 days, fasting and praying, while being tempted and being ministered to by the angels. Luke provides a longer account of this, but Mark focuses on the point that Jesus went into battle the first day on the job.

The first priority of Jesus was getting himself spiritually prepared. This was not a fundraising campaign or time of gathering followers. He was tested to see if He could live according to the very standards by which He would soon be leading others. This should really not be any kind of surprise to us. Indeed it seems like a pretty American-friendly notion that all people are created equal and that the laws of one apply to the laws of all. So Jesus, about to set out on a huge campaign of teaching people how to live in the Kingdom of God, started out by proving that He could live that life Himself. He was tempted to use His own power to benefit Himself, but instead of using privilege for His own personal ends, He fasted and sought God’s provision instead.

One of the best lessons I learned in seminary, learning to be a leader of the church, was that new leaders are often given a kind of “honeymoon” period during their first several months or perhaps even a year. Typically a congregation during this time will give you about one, two, or perhaps three free requests, or things they will follow you and do, before deep trust has been established, simply because you have a claim of authority over them. The challenge is: will you use these free requests for your own benefit, for theirs, or for God? It is tempting to try to wiggle a way to at least partially do all three…but that is not the leadership to which Christians are called. We are called to serve God and others and to do so trusting in God’s provision for us all.

Jesus prepared and practiced this first priority before He ever preached His first message. If Jesus is our model, how do we prepare ourselves for leadership? How are we tested to be sure we are truly relying on God’s provision and not being led astray to use our own authority – in whatever form it may come – for our own benefit instead of to serve God and others? Do we hold ourselves to at least the same ethical standards as those to whom we intend to lead… or will we find ourselves as hypocrites – just acting as leaders – before we even begin?

See this article on Leadership and Ethics

Also Aristotle’s emphasis on Ethos (Ethics) on persuasion (and leadership)

Scarr’d

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sometimes I itch

inside

below the surface

skin hides

the hound’s claw and

his bite

marks that make me

grip tight

beholding bleakly

this night

which numbs my sense of

riptide

set to drown my

insight

to the wrong and what

is right

buried in simple

bliss like

autumn acorns

 

but they are mine and

who knows

what kind of when its

bloom grows

where once it flowered

blue rose

and why it cowered

dew shows

how light still glistens

truth glows

upon these etchings

few chose

but many gained from

doom throes

that did not pay their

due though

it left its marks cut

through bone

reminding me

 

I know you not who

left me

caught and caged and

bled three

years of living

deadly

and like to fall with

red feet

and bloody hands that

fret we

let them in our

heads clean

and sober until

set free

by hands that loved and

blessed He

cleansed my hands and

kept me

from forgetting