Don’t Call Yourself a Leader

There is only One leader, and it’s not you.

The Bible is filled with examples of great leaders and with lessons on great leadership. And, yet, we still often view and practice leadership in ways that are diametrically opposed to what Scripture teaches.
Blame it on our sin nature. We’re selfish, prideful, and easily attracted to the limelight. So leadership naturally becomes about things like being in charge, getting our way, controlling situations, accomplishing goals, and getting credit.
Jesus had something to say about these types of leaders. In Matthew 23, they are the scribes and the Pharisees who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Jesus looks them squarely in the heart, and here’s what He sees: They want to be noticed and crave seats of honor and respect. They are hypocrites.
After describing these leaders, Jesus makes an interesting statement: “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:10-12)
When the Bible talks in positive terms about leadership, it describes fathers who take care of their children, women who take care of their families, shepherds who tend to their flock, rulers with gentle hands, strength, courage, faithfulness, humility, love …
It doesn’t describe visionaries who are masters of creating strategy and inspiring the masses to action. It doesn’t describe men or women standing on a stage embracing accolades. It doesn’t describe ruthless kings. Instead, it paints a picture of dependence. It paints a picture, first and foremost, of a follower – someone who has submitted his or her will to God and leads by humbly serving others.
We’re challenged almost daily to become better “leaders” – in our homes, in our jobs, in our churches, in our communities. It’s easy to think the heart of that challenge is to move others to action with our influence. But the real challenge is to take ourselves out of the equation and shepherd others by following the one true leader – Christ. It is His influence, not ours, that really matters.
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When Love Becomes a Weapon

Ladies and Gentlemen, we gather here today to mourn the loss of our longtime friend and ally, a supporter who has seen us through the darkest days of our lives and given comfort and aid to billions upon billions of suffering souls throughout history. Goodbye, LOVE, you will be missed far more than we can know, because, as it turns out, we never really knew you that well in the first place. …

OK, so maybe I’m overstating things a bit. Maybe love isn’t dead. But let’s face it: The word has been severely wounded in recent years, adding to centuries worth of battle scars, the most obvious of which came in the form of two nail-pierced hands.

It’s always been troubling that we use the word so loosely – you know … I love pizza, I love golf, I love sunsets, I love a good story, I love popcorn, I love photography … The word too often gets stripped of its depth and sense of sacrifice. John 15:13 tells us, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” I have that type of love for my wife, but I won’t lay down my life for pizza.

What’s more troubling lately, however, is that love has been co-opted into a weapon in the raging political and cultural wars. For example, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently spoke at a chapel service for John Brown University, a faith-based college in my area. So a few students and alumni organized what was a very peaceful protest in opposition to some of Huckabee’s opinions and policy positions.

That’s all well and good. It’s the American way, right? Sure, it seemed a bit contrived. To paraphrase one pundit, is Huckabee really worth protesting? But no one burned cars or littered the streets or wore pink hats with profanity inscribed across the top, so it was all good, clean civics.

On the other hand, the protesters butchered the word love in the name of their politics. A few wore T-shirts that collectively spelled out, “We Stand for Love.” And the organizer was quoted as saying, “I’m so proud of the students who chose to stand for love” and “I think we all realize, more than ever, that we must stand for love.”

What’s wrong with standing for love, you ask? Nothing. Who doesn’t want to stand for love? And that’s the point. These and many other modern protesters often imply or outright say that the only way to “stand for love” is by embracing their politics and values. Otherwise, you stand for hate or you are somehow an opponent of love. I’m not naïve enough to think some people aren’t motivated more by hate than love. But they weren’t protesting Hitler or the KKK. I mean, does anyone really think Mike Huckabee stands for hate or that he doesn’t stand for love?

Here’s the reality: Love isn’t about getting our way or giving others what they want. In fact, we often demonstrate our love for others by not giving them what they want, but what they need. Or by sacrificing what we want or need for the greater good of others. But in a room (or world) full of grownups, there’s often honorable disagreements over what people need and how to go about providing it.

I can love refugees and believe we should have no limits on which ones we allow in this country or how many we allow in. But I can love them just as much if I support stronger screening policies and stricter limitations. I can love someone who is gay and believe he or she is living a completely moral lifestyle. But I can love that person just as much if I believe that lifestyle is sinful and unhealthy. I can stand for love if I voted for Clinton or if I voted for Trump or if I voted for neither of them.

1 Corinthians 13, often referred to as the “love” chapter, reminds us that “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). The chapter doesn’t talk about love as a feeling, as a political policy, or as a moral high ground to claim and use against those with whom we disagree. It’s an attitude that drives an action. So before we allow love to be laid into the grave by co-opting it in protest statements, let’s do our part to restore its dignity, its life, and its purpose – in the way we think and the way we act.

Jesus was and is the ultimate example and embodiment of love. He didn’t agree with everyone he encountered. He didn’t always give them what they wanted. He didn’t ever condone their sin, even as He died to forgive those sins. And he didn’t use love as some sort of linguistic dagger. Instead, He lived it.

Here’s the challenging portrait of how that looks: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

That sort of love has motivated some amazing protests throughout history. But if we want to stand for love, there’s a great alternative to using it as a weapon: Adopt it as a way of life.

 

 

My Lake Wobegon Facebook Life

One of my best friends from high school died in 2016, and I found out about it on Facebook. In fact, if not for Facebook, I doubt I would have learned this sad news.

That’s what I appreciate about Facebook – it provides a window into the lives of people I seldom get to see and, in many cases, I may never see again. Occasionally, it actually matters.

Of course, Facebook, like most social media, is a window into only a few rooms of the home we call life.

Some folks open all the windows, including the ones very few of us want to see into. But I’ve found that most only open two windows. One, the window into their political frustrations and opinions. Or, two, the window that only shows a nicely decorated, freshly dusted world where chestnuts roast on an open fire and everyone’s kids are scholars and future pro athletes.

It’s Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.

I’m guilty of the latter, although I really don’t feel guilty about it. I try to avoid political rants. I don’t re-post things to prove my friendship or because a post tries to guilt me into it.

So what’s that leave me? I looked back at my timeline to see. Mostly, I post to tell folks I’ve written a blog or to share something that’s happened in my life with Audrey and/or our kids or grandkids. Sometimes I attempt to be clever. If I share someone else’s post, it’s usually because they wrote something really insightful or funny or because I believe in them and want to do what I can to help share something that’s important to them. I “like” things I like and occasionally (probably too often) comment on someone’s post. That’s my Facebook life.

I’m guessing I see about 2 percent of what comes across my Facebook timeline, and these days about 90 percent of what I see reflects political frustrations. So chances are I’m missing lots of great glimpses into the lives of people I know or once knew. I want to see them, even if, like me, they only share the Lake Wobegon version. I don’t care. I like to see how friends are living their lives, not hear what they think about how others are living their lives.

Social media has become a powerful platform for social and political expression, and there’s no going back. The best we can hope for is that more and more people will use it responsibly and respectfully. In the meantime, it’s mostly noise that I tune out. When I was a sportswriter, people sometimes asked how I could write an article in a basketball arena with 20,000 screaming people. The answer: I was only listening to what I needed to hear.

Maybe Facebook can come up with an algorithm that suits my wishes — that helps me listen only to what I need to hear. I’m sure they’re working on it. Isn’t everyone trying to make me happy? Well, probably not. But it would be nice. I’d like a setting that lets me keep all my friends, even the ones I don’t like, and see posts based on this criteria: Any news from my family members, good news from friends, prayer requests, and clean-non-political-humor.

I’m sure it will happen. They’re beta testing it now. In Lake Wobegon.

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Adopting the Mindset of Jesus

The daily struggle to grow like Jesus typically begins between our ears. It’s strange how that finite space at times can seem totally empty while at other times feeling overwhelmingly cluttered. But if we want to grow “in favor with man,” as Luke 2:52 advises, then we have to free ourselves of both the clutter and the emptiness. We have to adopt the mindset of Jesus.

What does it mean to have the same mindset as Christ?

Philippians 2:5-8 lays it out for us: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

First of all, Paul is applying this to human relationships. So while it’s also important to have the mindset of Christ in our relationship with the Father, Paul’s advice in this passage is about getting along with people.

Here’s what I unpack from these verses about my mindset when building relationships:

Be humble, not self-righteous.

If anyone had a right to be self-righteous, it was Jesus. He was and is fully righteous. But He lived with a humble spirit that invited others into His life and His heart.

Serve others.

The humble spirit of Jesus gave Him the “nature of a servant.” He took care of the needs of people. He didn’t ask, “What’s in it for me?” He didn’t say, “I’ll help you after you stop sinning.” He didn’t demand the gratitude He deserved. He served out of love, sacrificing Himself for the needs of the world.

Be obedient to God.

Love calls us to service and service requires sacrifice. It’s easy to serve others when we don’t have to go out of our way or give up anything of value. But God often calls us to step out of our comfort zones, especially when dealing with other broken people. Jesus loved the Father and loved us so completely that He was “obedient to death.” Will we be obedient in life?

If our mindset is steeped in humility and reflects service to others and obedience to God that are rooted in love, then we’re on the right track to toward building relationships with “the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”

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Our Aftermath of Christmas

It was Christmas Day … the aftermath.

Family had come and gone, filling our tummies with food, our hearts with joy and our trash bins with wrapping paper. Now reality was setting in.

We learned the “Give as a Gift” option on Amazon.com required the recipient to pay for his present. We discovered the new coffee pot didn’t work. And by the time evening had set in, my precious wife was running a low-grade fever.

As the late, great Lewis Grizzard put it, “Elvis is dead and I don’t feel so good myself.”trash

Life continues. All the Facebook posts, Twitter lines and Instagram photos show the “happy” in our holidays and the “merry” in our Christmas, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as Jesus foretold us, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)

Note the verb: Will.

At one point on Christmas Day, a daughter-in-law asked if I had a favorite Bible verse. I’ve always struggled with that question, and I did so again when she asked. There are so many amazing options, and God meets me with them right at the crux of my needs. But it’s hard to beat John 16:33 … not because of the promise that we will have trouble, but because of the full promise that He provides in the midst of life’s chaos.

Here’s the complete text for that verse: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

That’s why Jesus was born: To offer us peace. To overcome the world.

That’s why we celebrate Christmas. And that’s why, regardless of our  “light and momentary troubles,”  we can look forward to the New Year.

Zacchaeus Conversations

Guest Post By Andrew Brill

Who’s your Zacchaeus?

You remember Zacchaeus? The wee little man who climbed up in a sycamore tree to see what he could see?

The scene appears in Luke 19 when Jesus is passing through Jericho and the local tax collector, Zacchaeus—short in stature but long on curiosity—climbs a tree to see this celebrity prophet. Jesus eyes Zacchaeus in the tree, calls him by name, invites himself over for lunch, and before you know it, Zacchaeus has repented. “See!” Jesus says, “Salvation has come to this man!” (my paraphrase)

But there’s apparently no invitation for Zacchaeus to travel with Jesus. No suggestion that the 12 apostles should become 13. Why not?

There are some big reasons—like the 12 is probably meant to represent the 12 tribes of Israel—but the point I want to make is that, for Jesus, discipleship looked different in different relationships.plane-709992_640

When we talk about discipleship, we often picture an old guy meeting with a young guy and imparting wisdom, modeling how to follow Christ, etc. “Look at Jesus,” we say. “Look at how He chose 12 and poured into them. Look at how He invested in Peter, James and John in particular.” We also point to other relationships in Scripture—Moses and Joshua, Paul and Timothy, and so on.

This is good advice. Mature believers should be passionate and intentional about making disciples who make disciples.

But if I commit to discipling one, two, three, or 12 people in this manner, what about the other 99.9999999999999 percent of humanity with whom I’m not in that kind of relationship? What’s my relationship with them supposed to look like?

As I write this blog, it’s 11:25 a.m. I’ve seen 30-35 people so far today and had phone calls with a couple more. Of those, only one is a man I’m “discipling.” So what about the others?

I think Jesus models an answer to this question with Zacchaeus. Luke 19:1 says He was “passing through” Jericho. He wasn’t looking for someone to disciple. He already had guys he was discipling. He was on His way somewhere else. But He saw the chance for a conversation and He paused.

At Lightbearers, where I work, we call these Zacchaeus conversations. It’s not a new idea, but giving it a name has helped us be more intentional in this area. We want to build impactful relationships, but we also want to have impactful conversations.

In other words, don’t compartmentalize your relationships into “people I’m discipling” and “people I don’t have spiritual oversight of.”

If I have the chance for an impactful conversation, I want to take it.  Whether it’s with my son, my friend, my co-worker, or anyone else, I don’t want to endlessly hide behind small talk. Sometimes these conversations will lead to more traditional discipleship relationships; but even if they don’t, the conversation may still be worth it.

Keep in mind, Jesus passed by scores in the crowd that day with whom He didn’t have lunch. But He did pause with one.

So who’s your Zacchaeus today?

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Andrew Brill lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with his wife, Ashley, and their five children. He serves as the director of discipleship at Lightbearers Ministries, International, which uses residential discipleship communities to fund mission projects in Asia and northern Africa. Feel free to email him at abrill@lightbearers.com or to check out lightbearers.com.

Creative Gratitude: A Quest for Impact

The gift in the mail sparked a brief discussion about how missionaries communicate with their supporters.

“I think a random gift like this makes a bigger impact than a newsletter,” my wife said.

As a guy who makes a living by writing, I’m a fan of newsletters. On the other hand, it was hard to argue against my wife’s point.

First, I make it a practice to avoid, whenever possible, arguing with my wife. Second, the gift under discussion was chocolate from Peru. Needless to say, it was fantastic. Who argues against Peruvian chocolate? Not me.chocolate

We’re friends with and supporters of a couple who work in Peru, and this is the second time they’ve sent us a cool gift. The other was a set of coasters. We keep them on an end table in our living room. When people ask us about them, it gives us a chance to talk about our friends and their ministry.

With both gifts, our friends included a brief (two sentences) handwritten note saying they were thinking of us, a.k.a. a nice, warm-fuzzy moment.

So I conceded: Random gifts equal big impact.

My wife’s observation reminded me that we all have different love languages. It’s important to keep that in mind as we share relevant information and our gratitude with the important people in our lives – no matter what we do for a living. Missionaries often raise the funds that support their work, but we all have people who support us – people we need to keep informed and people we need to thank for the part they play in our success. It might be employees, customers, clients, vendors … or all of the above.

Here’s my No. 1 rule about communication with supporters: Do it.

That might sound simple and obvious, but it’s amazing how many of us don’t practice Rule No. 1. We are too busy. We think we aren’t good at it. We forget. Until we start feeling the impact of reduced financial support or, far worse when it comes to missionaries, reduced prayer support. Then we scrambled to get back in touch with people.

In our high-tech world, it’s easy to write an occasional blog or update our social media and call it good. But there’s something to be said for consistently and proactively staying engaged with the people who support us. Staying engaged not only promotes stronger relationships, but also a spirit of gratitude. Our supporters will be thankful for the work God is doing through us (whatever our line of work). And we will be thankful for the work God is doing through those who support us (whatever their line of work).

Thankful is good.

There are many ways to drive this type of engagement. For missionaries, I’m still an advocate of a short, well-written newsletter that’s sent out on a regular and consistent basis. I like some detailed information and specific prayer requests. Social media is an obvious way to stay in touch. Hand-written notes are great. And, of course, nothing’s better than in-person visits. Then there are random gifts. They don’t have to be expensive, just personal. They can be practical, like coasters, or here today, gone tomorrow like a Peruvian chocolate bar with a sweet note.

Most of that can translate to any type of business. No one works in a vacuum. We all have people we need to keep informed and people we need to thank because they help contribute to our success.

We don’t have to do everything, but we should do something. Some combination of the above will help maximize our communication impact. And it just might satisfy someone’s sweet tooth.

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When Others Don’t Do What I Want …

Whenever we desire something from another person in life, one of two things eventually happens: We get what we desire or we don’t.
Profound, I know.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I respond to that second reality – not getting exactly what I desire from another person. I’m not talking about correct change from the cashier, although that could be involved. What I’m really talking about is not getting something almost all of us desire every time we interact with others: Understanding.
This, I believe, is one of our most primal needs and one of my biggest sources of frustration. As I’ve grown older, I’ve hidden that frustration better. I don’t throw as many temper tantrums. But I also know I still don’t always handle it well.
Here’s how it usually goes down: I tell someone something and expect a certain reaction or response. They don’t understand (for whatever reason), so they don’t give the reaction or response I desire. Physically, I tense up. My forehead resembles a prune. My effort to thoughtfully engage through better eye contact is piercing rather than soothing. And in an attempt to be clearer, I speak slowly and come across as condescending. This usually prompts frustration on the part of the other person, who rightly sees me as defensive and difficult.
The practical result is this: I may or may not eventually get what I desire from the other person, but I almost always cause damage to the relationship.
To “grow in favor” with people (Luke 2:52), I need to model Jesus more accurately and represent Him more honorably. Here are a few things I’m trying to remember that help me and might help you, as well:

Smile

A Jewish friend reminded me recently of the power of a smile, not just on others but on me. We’re taught this idea early in life, but we tend to forget. It seems too simple and elementary, so we dismiss it to our peril.
pixabay.com
pixabay.com
When we smile, its impacts us physically and emotionally. It causes us to pause in a moment of gratitude, counteracting our selfishness. It changes our perception of ourselves and impacts the perceptions others have us. As the old song says, “Smile and the world smiles with you.”
Proverbs reminds us that a cheerful look brings joy to the heart (Proverbs 15:30), that a joyful heart is good medicine, but depression “dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22) and that a glad heart makes a happy face while a broken heart “crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:13). James tells us to count our trials as joy (James 1:2-4) and Paul tells us to rejoice when we face problems (Romans 5:3-4, 12:12).

Empathize

It’s hard to remember, especially in those moments when we’re not getting what we want, that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Shocking, but true. Other people have lives that actually have nothing to do with us. They have sick children, lousy jobs, poor educations, bills they can’t pay, emotional baggage we can’t see … They have all sorts of reasons for not being perfect in the way they relate to us. When I remember this, it’s easier for me to offer grace and understanding. I can patiently work toward getting what I desire and more easily live with it if I don’t.
Paul tells us to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving “as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32), and to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” when he saw Mary and her friends weeping over the death of her brother (John 11:33-35). And He commands us to “love one another” (John 15:12 and 13:33-35).

Release

Whatever we desire in life rests in the strong but gentle hands of the Lord of the universe. If we need something, He will provide it. When my faith is weak, I try to force my will, my opinion, and my desires on those around me. When my faith is strong, I let go of the results and trust God to do what’s best for me.
The writer of Proverbs promises that if we trust in the Lord with all our heart and not on our own understanding and if we submit to God, He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). And Jesus tells us plainly and clearly not to worry about life – what we will eat or drink; about our bodies or what we will wear; or about what will happen tomorrow (Matthew 6:25, 34). Instead, we’re to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Jesus put those words into action when He died for us, saying “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42) and “into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

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Change the World: A true story  (find your own moral)

He was an older gentleman with nicely trimmed white hair and a beard, and he sat comfortably on a milk crate backed against the outer wall of a building along 8th Avenue near Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

He had a cigarette in his mouth, a paperback book in his left hand, and a plastic cup partially filled with change in his left hand. As he read his book, he shook the cup in hopes that someone passing by might take notice and contribute to his cause.

I stood about 30 feet away as I waited for a friend to emerge from the subway station. People passed by in typical New York fashion, each en route somewhere and ignoring the world along the way.

Then a young man emerged from the subway station, tapped my shoulder and asked if I had a quarter. “I only need one quarter,” he added. I told him the truth: “I don’t have a quarter.” And he was moving on before the final word left my lips.

He walked to the next person he saw, a young woman who was lighting a cigarette, and he asked her for a smoke. She handed him the carton in her hand, which had one cigarette remaining. He took it, she lit it for him, and he moved quickly on his way without a word. As he left, he tossed the empty carton against the wall just a few feet from the man on the crate.

The man looked up from his book, glanced at the carton, and then walked over and picked it up.

“There’s a trash can right there,” he said as he walked by me, “and that guy just throws it on the sidewalk.”

I can’t explain exactly why his actions moved me the way they did, but I handed him a dollar bill as he walked back.

“God bless you,” I said, and I meant it.

“Thank you,” he said, and he seemed to mean it, too.

Then he walked to the crate, sat back down, and began reading his book.

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Grow older but don’t stop growing

Confession: There are times when I feel like taking a break from making myself a better person.

It can be hard work, after all, this whole sanctification thing. Sometimes I see some fruit from all the work and sometimes I don’t. Either way, it can be draining. So there are times when I’d like to coast … to put life on cruise control.

Then I re-read Daniel 6.

You might remember Daniel 6 as the chapter that tells us about his trip to the lions’ den, and that’s a great story. But what’s easy to forget is that Daniel was probably in his 80s when this story took place.

And what was the octogenarian doing? Growing.

Check it out: As Daniel reached what most of us would see as the twilight of life, King Darius took over. Great time to slip out of the leadership limelight, right? But not Daniel. He was one of the top three commissioners and he supervised dozens of satraps who were in charge of running the day-to-day aspects of the kingdom. In fact, Daniel was such a great leader that the king planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom. (Daniel 6:3)

Why was he such a good leader?

First, he had an “extraordinary spirit.” (Daniel 6:3)

Second, he was trustworthy (not corrupt). (Daniel 6:4)

Third, he was diligent (not negligent). (Daniel 6:4)

And while this impressed the king, it ticked off Daniel’s peers. So they conspired against him, tricked the king, and used the elderly Daniel’s faith against him. The result? Daniel became lion food, or so it appeared. You know the story. God saved Daniel, those evil peers (and their families) ended up as dinner for the lions, and King Darius sang the praises of Daniel’s God.

What we see in Daniel is a man who never put his life on cruise control. He continued to grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52) He worked with excellence. He maintained a vibrant prayer life. He strengthened his fellowship with God. And he held firm to his faith. So when he was put to the test, guess what happened? He was ready … because he never stopped growing.

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