Lead and Be Led

But I pray to you, YHWH, in the time of your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with your sure salvation. – Psalms 69:13

In my experience as a Christian leader, I have had some very trying moments, tests of my skills and authority to exercise them. By God’s grace, I sometimes passed the test but frankly it didn’t often feel like it. Successful spiritual leadership doesn’t always equate with being popular. It is often necessary for shepherds to lead the sheep where they don’t want to go (but need to) and well, we all “like sheep” are prone to wander.

For example, sheep, by nature, will graze over a field until it is completely barren, but a good shepherd will lead the flock to newer, fresher pasture. Some, unfortunately, just will not go. Others may stubbornly make the journey only because they fear being left behind. A small group may actually trust the shepherd and willingly follow.

Being both shepherds and sheep, we must (depending on the circumstances) lead and also be led. We cannot see everything that “is” or that “is coming,” but we all must still follow the One who can.

Only a disciple can make a disciple. – A. W. Tozer

Why Adversaries Exist

You know how I am scorned, disgraced, and shamed; all my enemies are before You. – Psalms 69:19

If you live long enough you will know an enemy, or two. Here are three things to remember when facing an adversary:

  • The Lord will take care of you if you remain submitted to His will and purposes.
  • God knows who your adversaries are, and He can handle them.
  • As long as you are in the Lord’s camp, anyone opposed to you is opposed to Him and, therefore, ultimately a “loser.”

There have been a few times in ministry when I have wanted to “run,” to escape conflict; however, if we run from a “learning” situation, I believe that God will simply recreate it in our lives at a later date. Adversaries exist to drive us to our Protector, to teach us to align and depend on Him, and to correct our direction when it is erroneous.

This is a lesson we all must learn, and God is a persistent Teacher.

Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it. – William Penn

Letting Go

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” – John 12:23-28

There have been times when I “hated my life in this world,” because it wasn’t the positive experience that I had hoped it would be. I am not exactly sure what is at work in me that leads me to these valleys of discouragement, but I can begin to lose hope and develop an unhealthy cynicism concerning ministry, and I consider myself a pretty upbeat guy!

Thinking back, I may have convinced myself that I wanted more from this life, that life could somehow be better. Of course this meant that rather than “hating” this life, I “loved” it and wanted from it what it could never give me, which is true contentment. There are, however, common everyday joys for the one who finds contentment in Christ.

Most of us have had the pleasure of knowing “saints” who endured with grace the many trials God had allowed into their personal lives. Such people regularly testified to their hope in Christ alone and their joy in the promise of finally attaining their reward. These brothers and sisters in Christ learned that there comes a time for each of us when we must let go of “this” in order to gain “that.” Lord, no matter the circumstances, help us to always be “letting go.”

Between us and heaven or hell there is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world. – Blaise Pascal

A Man of His Word

These are the last words of David: “The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse, the utterance of them an exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs: ‘The Spirit of YHWH spoke through me, his word was on my tongue.’” – 2 Samuel 23:1-2

I once knew a man of many words but in the end, he really didn’t have much to say. It was Abraham Lincoln who supposedly said, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” I wish I had remembered that wise counsel from time to time.

King David was a singer and prolific songwriter. We possess much of his work in the form of biblical psalms. David’s writings are some of the most inspirational ever composed, yet I wonder if David ever asked himself, “Did I ever really say anything of consequence?”

David spoke the words of God and his words are preserved in holy Scripture, yet I sometimes ponder a similar question. After every sermon, lesson, conversation, counsel, speech, presentation, or post, I wonder, was God’s Word on my tongue? One thing is for certain, if His Word were not first in my head and heart, it could not possibly make it out my “piehole” or to the page. While I will always wish to be a man of my word, may I first be a man of His.

When you examine the Word of God, the Word of God examines you. – Jack Wellman

More Than Nickels and Noses

Again the anger of YHWH burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” – 2 Samuel 24:1

I guess I am a little obsessed with numbers. I always have been. I like to keep statistics and even majored in accounting in college. Perhaps it is one reason I prefer golf as a sport, there are so many stats to track! It’s a sickness.

I used to keep similar stats on the churches I pastored. I liked to see attendance charted at every level of participation, especially when it trended upward. Honestly, when things went the other way, I wasn’t as excited.

Was it wrong for me to keep count? The shepherd counts his sheep to see if one is missing, but he also knows each one by name. And though David sinned by ordering a census of Israel, there were other instances where God ordered that a census be taken. Perhaps, the danger is when a leader begins to believe that “heads” equal “health.” “Bottoms” in seats do not tell the whole story, though they do tell a part. Let’s just be sure that we aren’t relying on the size of a congregation or a bank account as a measurement of true health.

There will always be a difference between a “crowd” and a “church,” and obedience is more than “nickels” and “noses.”

It is scarcely possible in most places to get anyone to attend a meeting where the only attraction is God. – A. W. Tozer

The Necessary Pain of Pruning

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. – John 15:1-2

I, like most Christ-followers, want to bear spiritual fruit for the Lord and be known as one who bears fruit for Him. But like any vine or tree, it is possible for some “dead” stuff to hang on. We may even have some branches (parts of our life) that “appear” healthy, but in reality, have nothing to do with who Jesus wants us to be.

These “branches” (activities, actions, and attitudes) will be “pruned” (removed or shaped) by the Master Gardener. Like an artisan, He knows what must go and what must remain that His image might be perfected in each. This process can sometimes feel like a haircut, painless and necessary. At other times it may seem like an amputation, frightening and cruel, but also required.

The older I get, the more focused I hope to become, that with a laser-like intensity I might pursue the purposes of Christ; however, this desire implies I also submit to His pruning. It will not always be pleasant, but it will always be needed.

He remembers our frame and knows that we are dust. He may sometimes chasten us, it is true, but even this He does with a smile, the proud, tender smile of a Father who is bursting with pleasure over an imperfect but promising son who is coming every day to look more and more like the One whose child he is. – A.W. Tozer

You May Ask

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. – John 14:12-14

Jesus spoke the words (and others) above to His closest followers as they made their way to the Garden of Gethsemane prior to His arrest. Considering that context, is it wrong for us to claim them? Some might say that Jesus’ promise should be limited to these men, but the broader context speaks of the coming Holy Spirit being available to all Christ-followers. With this in mind, I believe that we are right to apply them to our own lives. Whatever a Christ-follower asks, they will receive.

Of course, there are at limits on the “whatever.” First, any request we make of the Lord must be in concert with the content of His character. We cannot expect Christ to provide if we ask for something that is outside His moral teachings and example. Second, the intended outcome of our request must be in line with the purpose given above, “so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” Will God be glorified if Christ honors your request? Finally, our requests should be made in the context of doing the “works of Christ our Head.” As His body, we continue to live out His life until His return. Our prayers should reflect this reality.

With this understanding, we could expect Christ to positively answer this prayer: “Jesus, in Your name cast out laborers, raise up Your harvest, and provide for their spiritual growth in order that Your kingdom might increase, and Your Father be glorified in every place and among every people (ethne) on earth.”

Nothing lies beyond the reach of prayer except that which lies outside the will of God. – Phillips Brooks

No Compromise

Solomon showed his love for YHWH by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places. – 1 Kings 3:3

Solomon, son of David, was one of the greatest leaders Israel ever knew, but he had a weakness for beautiful women, and it ruined him. As king and God’s chosen leader, he knew what was right, but still compromised his faith in God and his practice of it.

Those who wish to lead God’s people, who wish to be respected as leaders, who wish to be known as those who love the Lord, cannot be such if they tolerate personal compromise concerning God’s truth. Each of us must walk our talk and practice that which we so often teach or preach. Every time one of us fails, and it isn’t just in areas of blatant immorality but more often honesty and integrity, we harm many others who have looked to us for guidance or as a model of how to live out the Christian life. It isn’t about “perfection,” but rather the willingness to live transparently before God and this world.

Compromise in character or God’s truth will ultimately lead to ministerial failure. God forbid that it should ever be me, or you.

Few things are more infectious than a godly lifestyle. The people you rub shoulders with everyday need that kind of challenge. Not prudish. Not preachy. Just cracker jack clean living. Just honest to goodness, bone-deep, non-hypocritical integrity. – Chuck Swindoll

Never Alone

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. – John 16:7

It must have been very difficult for the disciples to imagine any positive outcome to Jesus’ departure. They had placed all their hopes in Him, and their still unregenerate minds could not comprehend the magnitude of the future events that He described. How could Jesus possibly leave and yet also remain?

Loneliness and feelings of abandonment are struggles we all face; however, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ guarantees the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that He promised. Encouraging reminders of His presence are often received by those who believe. They often come in the hug of a friend, a thoughtful note, and a reassuring passage of Scripture.

To put it simply, we may be lonely, but we are never alone.

When Christ returned to heaven, He withdrew His physical presence from our sight. He didn’t stop being with the disciples but by the ascension fulfilled His promise to be with us to the end of the world. As His body was raised to heaven, so His power and reign have spread to the uttermost parts. – John Calvin

Weighing Your Answers

The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil. – Proverbs 15:28

As a pastor, I was (at times) led by the Holy Spirit to lead in ways that were not well-received by individual members of the church. The result was that some the opportunity to “gush some evil.” For example, over the decades I have been called an “arrogant dictator” and a “bulldozer.” One very refined, elderly lady told me that “every dog has his day and that my day was coming.” Another fellow who had decided to leave our fellowship told me, when I inquired as to the reason, that his wife said I couldn’t preach, but he disagreed. He felt that I could preach when I wanted to! I was once even told that I was not worth the dynamite to blow me all to ____ (fill in the blank).

I have always tried my best to “respond” and not “react” to insensitive comments, to “weigh my answers,” but the flesh often cries out against such attacks. Still I am reminded of the Christian leader who, when asked by a young protégée` why he did not answer vicious (and published) criticism by another, said, “O, dear sir, if he only knew the true darkness of my sinful heart, then what could he say?”

We are all flawed, and only able to serve by His grace. I probably deserved many of the rebukes that I received and each one made me “a little more like Jesus and a little less like me.” So, if you take nothing else away from moments like these mentioned, be reminded of your own frailty and faults and seek evermore to be like Jesus who when reviled, revileth not in return.

We must carefully forget ourselves, so that we regard ourselves as an object which has been sold and over which we no longer have any rights. – Jean-Pierre de Caussade