Keeping Your Priorities Straight While Changing the World – The Fifth Priority – Speaking Truth to Power

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“And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.””

-‭‭Mark‬ ‭2:1-28‬ ‭ESV‬‬

There has been a lot of wind blowing this year. I can remember hearing just a few short months ago about the rally’s put on by Bernie Sanders supporters as well as those by Trump supporters. It seemed like everyone was talking all at once. As we reached and passed through the primaries though, I have noticed a little bit more vacuum out there in social media that formerly was filled with another dozen candidates who felt a legitimate claim to throw their hats into the three-ring circus that had become our presidential election. There is certainly plenty of commentary on both the Republican and Democrat nominees for president, as well as several third and fourth party candidates. But I can’t shake the feeling that the bulk of our nation is holding it’s breath.

We have had the intellectualism. We have had other things as well. Around almost every turn there has been someone attempting to “speak truth to power”. That charade has gotten pretty ridiculous. Mother Theresa, who just recently was canonized , may have been one of best examples of that kind of leadership in my lifetime, and I suspect that she was able to lead the way she did because she followed the example of Jesus.

What is that example? He kept his priorities straight doing these five things and keeping them in order.

  1. He prepared Himself.
  2. He recruited help.
  3. He started at the root of the problem.
  4. He cleaned up the consequences, leaving the place better than He found it.
  5. Then, He spoke truth to power.

This is more than having actions that back up your words. It is about your actions leading your words. This description of the beginning of Jesus’s ministry here in Mark really shows a leader who was going out to change the world with His own two hands and who would routinely stop to talk, primarilly to articulate what He was doing, in case people were confused or unaware. He did not seek out the leaders in order to correct them, because many of those leaders were not the ones facing the actual problems themselves. Jesus gained His authority and the title of “Good Shepherd” not by preaching and teaching to a group of failing shepherds, but by actually getting out and working with the sheep Himself.

In a culture where people found it easier to criticize one another rather than actually get up and do some good, Jesus ignored all the hot air and got to work. That was what gaave Him authority with the people. Yes, He was God in the flesh and probably had a look that pierced right into your very soul, but the truth still stands that when God came to earth in the flesh, He went to work making a difference and kept His priorities straight instead of playing around and serving Himself. He knew He only had a limited time here, and He intended to make the most of it.

There is very little about the example of Jesus that we cannot follow. All of these things that He did in the beginning of His ministry with us, the apostles and the people of the early church did as well. Perfectly? No, but they worked and served and gave their lives as an offering to God because they too understood that they were only here for a limited amount of time and they wanted to use whatever they could to please God and to make this world better.

We are no different today. We spend our time, energy, and resources desperately trying to get people to like us, be it in our buildings, our programs, or by just being a friendly group of people. The sad reality is, if we disappeared, most of our neighborhoods wouldn’t even notice. The missionaries in Africa, Asia, and South America – they would be missed immediately, because many of them are doing ministry and leading change just like Jesus did… but we in America are another story altogether. It is not about relevency. It is not even about effectiveness. We’ve just been trying to put the cart before the horse and grasp at authority before we prepare ourselves for what we are going to do once we have it, and long before we actually get out into the community and start doing something to make a difference. It leaves us barking up the wrong trees and spending our lives fighting symptoms and never getting to the sources of those problems. God didn’t design ministry that way and it doesn’t work. In the end, we simply become another set of reactionaries fighting to maintain their own hold on their way of life – like every other empire that came before us. We too, will become museum-like institutions, while the real ministry of Jesus, bringing hope and help to our world, showing them Jesus, and inviting them into the Body of Christ will carry on.

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 Second Priority

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“And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1:17, ESV)

It is worth consideration that the Son of God chose to work with imperfect people rather than to work alone.

“It all started by Jesus calling a few men to follow him. This revealed immediately the direction his evangelistic strategy would take. His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow. Remarkable as it may seem, Jesus started to gather these men before he ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public. Men were to be his method of winning the world to God.” – Robert Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism

We have heard pep talks about teamwork from little league all the way through the current presidential campaigns. You’ve probably heard every bumper sticker slogan about teamwork that is out there. Chances are, you’ve heard at least some of the statistics that show that teams that communicate well and share responsibility typically outperform even the most gifted individuals. You may even have first hand knowledge of that yourself.

Instead, let’s take a different perspective. Let’s ask ourselves the question: Why do we choose to work alone? In the light of all the knowledge we have leading us toward teamwork – why do we so often ignore it all and just do things on our own? I’ve got a few ideas (excuses).

  1. Personality type
    Some of us with high ‘I’ scores on the Myers Briggs test claim our tendency towards introversion keeps us working alone. We may use the phrase, “I work better this way”, when in fact we mean “I’m more comfortable this way”. There is nothing wrong with being an introvert – I’m one myself, but there is something dishonest about claiming comfort as the deciding factor of work quality. Work is not meant to be comfortable in and of itself, the way rest or play might be. Work is essentially about getting a particular task done efficiently and with good quality. If our work quality would improve by having a second or third set of eyes going over the project with us as a team, then we probably ought to do that and if the work would go more efficiently if the project were divided up between team members into smaller, interrelated tasks, then we should put our introverted preference aside and work as a team.
  2. Distrust of others
    Getting a little more honest, we sometimes use a distrust of others as our excuse to avoid teamwork. Distrust is often not a natural, but a learned response we pick up from having one or more significant experiences of betrayal. It is a defense mechanism whose purpose is to protect ourselves from relationships and the possibility of hurt that comes with them. Again, like the personality type, there is a time and place for distrust… mostly short-term situations we can either find some kind of reconciliation or leave. Distrust does not help us in the long term and it won’t help us lead.
  3. Need to be in control
    Insecurity over most any issue often creates a need to be in control. Unfortunately, the reality of our situation is that the greater our position of authority in any organization, oftentimes the less actual control we have over the organization, and sometimes our own lives. It becomes a downward spiral where the need to be in control actually pushes us into places where we have less control over our own lives, causing more insecurity, causing a greater need to be in control, in a cycle that never ends.

Jesus could have used any of those excuses. I don’t know whether Jesus was more of an introvert or extrovert, but He demonstrated enough of a desire to spend time alone or with small groups of people that I probably could have used that reason to do things on His own. He had plenty of reason to distrust others because He was more aware of our sin than we were ourselves. While He did not seem to be insecure, He, being God, really was in control and so He could have used that as a legitimate reason to just do things Himself.

The bottom line is, if anyone had good reason to just take care of things themselves, it was Jesus, and He chose to recruit help. Our second priority, after getting prepared ourselves, is to find others to join us in our work, for the harvest is plenty but the laborers are few.

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)