Leaders Go First

“Leaders go first.” It’s a fairly common phrase. I thought of it the other day as I was reading 1 Chronicles 29.

King David, nearing the end of his life, is preparing the nation for its new king, his son, Solomon. Specifically, David is making preparations for the building of God’s temple. The temple was David’s dream, but God wouldn’t let him complete the project. It would have to wait until Solomon’s reign.

David said to the people …

My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is just an inexperienced young man, and the task is great, for this palace is not for man, but for the Lord God. So I have made every effort to provide what is needed for the temple of my God, including the gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, as well as a large amount of onyx, settings of antimony and other stones, all kinds of precious stones, and alabaster. (1 Chronicles 29.1-2, NET).

Then, David modeled the kind of investment he would invite others to make. He said …

Now, to show my commitment to the temple of my God, I donate my personal treasure of gold and silver to the temple of my God, in addition to all that I have already supplied for this holy temple. This includes 3,000 talents of gold from Ophir and 7,000 talents of refined silver for overlaying the walls of the buildings, for gold and silver items, and for all the work of the craftsmen. (1 Chronicles 29.3-5)

And, finally, after all that, David challenged the people, “Who else wants to contribute to the Lord today?”

I love that. This is what I’m doing. What are you going to do?

David went first. He set the bar. He modeled for others the kind of commitment and ownership he was looking for. Then, he made the invitation and gave the challenge.

Leaders go first.

God is Always With Us, Fighting for Us!

Why is there a Christmas?

I believe there’s a Christmas because “God’s faithful love endures forever!”

That’s a phrase that appears over and over in the Old Testament (mainly in the Psalms). It includes the Hebrew word, hesed (appears 248 times in the Old Testament), which describes God’s faithful love, loyalty, and devotion.

God’s faithful love eventually led God to sending his Son into the world.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. (John 3.16, CEB)

One of the greatest promises of Christmas is that God is with us. In fact, God is always with us, fighting for us!

In Matthew’s gospel, after the report of Joseph’s dream about Mary’s pregnancy, we’re told …

Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means ‘God with us.’) (Matthew 1.22-23, CEB)

God is with us!

We don’t know much about the early years of Jesus’ life, but I imagine they were not the easiest years. Little did Mary and Joseph know what they were signing up for when they agreed to follow God’s plan for their lives.

On the night that Jesus was born, the angels proclaimed a revolutionary message …

Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2.10-11, CEB)

“Good news” was used in connection with Herod as well as the titles, “Savior” and “Lord,” particularly in celebration of his birthday. Then, the birth of a new, true king was announced!

Life wouldn’t get any easier. After giving birth to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus find themselves running for their lives. They lived in Egypt while waiting for the threat on Jesus’ life to die down.

God had to literally fight for us by fighting to keep Jesus’ safe. God will do all he can to rescue us. Peter writes, God doesn’t want, “anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives” (2 Peter 3.9, CEB).

God is always with us, fighting for us!

I love Psalm 23, especially the last verse …

Yes, goodness and faithful love [hesed] will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live. (CEB)

God’s faithful love doesn’t just “follow us” (as older translations put it), but “pursues us”! God is always with us, fighting for us!

I’ve always loved the way Max Lucado describes God’s love …

If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart. And the Christmas gift he sent you in Bethlehem? Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you.

God’s faithful love endures forever. It’s what is behind God’s desire to be with us and to fight for us. This Christmas, I’m reminded God is always with us, fighting for us!

The Lord is Great!

Recently, Adam Weber, pastor of Embrace Church (a United Methodist Church) posted a prayer on Twitter that has stuck with me …

This prayer, and this attitude, is essential for staying humble and hungry. Focusing on God’s greatness keeps us humble. God’s greatness keeps us wanting to know God better. You can see this attitude in John the Baptist, who said, “He must increase and I must decrease” (John 3.30, CEB).

The desire to make God’s name great also keeps us from building our own little kingdoms. If we stay focused on glorifying God, we will be less likely to seek glory for ourselves!

Interestingly, the phrase “The Lord is great!” appears eight times in the Psalms (in the Common English Bible). Of those occurrences, the phrase, “the Lord is great and so worthy of praise!” appears three times (Psalm 48.1, Psalm 96,4, and Psalm 145.3). The Lord is great and so worthy of praise!

If we know that the Lord is great, we are much more likely to trust him in every situation and to know that nothing is impossible with God. We are more likely to takes risks, to obey God, and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. We are more likely to live a life worthy of God’s call. No wonder the psalmist said, “Magnify the Lord with me! Together let us lift his name up high!” (Psalm 34.3, CEB).

How does God’s greatness inspire you to live for God?

Keeping Our Distance

Recently, I was reading in Exodus 20 and the words describing what followed the giving of the Ten Commandments grabbed my attention …

18 All the people were seeing the thundering and the lightning, and heard the sound of the horn, and saw the mountain smoking—and when the people saw it they trembled with fear and kept their distance. 19 They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you so that you do not sin.” 21 The people kept their distance, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20.18-21, NET)

The presence of God among his people was evident, but God’s people were afraid. While Moses drew near, the people kept their distance!

How often do we keep our distance from God?

We may avoid God altogether. But as Christians, we may be more likely to stay close enough to feel okay, but also to maintain a safe, comfortable distance between us and God. We may attend worship, read the Bible, and pray, but we keep it pretty formal and perfunctory so as to keep our distance. We go through the motions without letting God get too close!

Hebrews 4.16 invites us to “draw near to the throne of favor with confidence” (CEB). And, James 4.8 encourages, “Come near to God, and he will come near to you” (CEB).

We always have the choice to keep our distance or to draw near to God!

You Can’t Do it Alone!

Recently, I re-read Exodus 18 where Moses receives a visit by his father-in-law, Jethro. It’s a well-known story, especially among Christian leaders. It’s often used to make a case for team-building and delegation.

After observing Moses do all of the work by himself, Jethro advises Moses to find and equip capable people to share the load. Jethro suggests …

This will be much easier for you, and they will share your load. If you do this and God directs you, then you will be able to endure. And all these people will be able to go back to their homes much happier. (Exoducs 18.22-23, CEB)

Moses followed the advice of his father-in-law and it was a big help to Moses’ leadership.

But what really struck me as I read the passage this time was the beginning of the conversation. After watching Moses, Jethro said …

What’s this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people are standing around you from morning until evening? (Exodus 18.14, CEB)

Moses was doing it all. Jethro seems to imply that there’s a lot of selfishness in doing it all yourself. “Why do you sit ALONE, while ALL the people are standing around YOU from morning until evening?”

While leaders must be out front leading, they must also guard against allowing it to be all about them–for their own sake and for the sake of the people they lead!

The New Testament certainly continues this idea. In Acts 6, the ministry of the early church was growing but the leadership structure wasn’t sustainable for the growing church. Quite simply, they needed more leaders. The apostles found capable people to help carry the load while they focused on “prayer and the service of proclaiming the word” (Acts 6.4, CEB). As a result, “God’s word continued to grow. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased significantly” (Acts 6.7, CEB).

Later, Paul wrote that God gave leaders to the church “to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4.12, CEB).

Ministry is too big for any one person. You can’t do it alone! Invite and equip others to help carry the load!

Gathering or Scattering?

As I look back over the past twenty-five years of following Jesus, clearly my greatest passion has been God’s mission — engaging in it and leading others to engage in it, too!

I’ve always been challenged by Jesus’ first words after the resurrection: “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you!” (John 20.21, CEB).

The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. In the United Methodist Church, we say the mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world! When this isn’t at the core of our passion and focus, we find ourselves working against Christ rather than with him, scattering instead of gathering!

This morning, I was reading in Luke and came across the story where people wondered if Jesus was actually casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons. Jesus argued, “Every kingdom divided against itself is destroyed” (Luke 11.17, NET). He concluded the conversation by saying, “Whoever isn’t with me is against me, and whoever doesn’t gather with me, scatters” (Luke 11.23, CEB).

We’re either gathering or scattering. If we’re not gathering with Christ, we’re scattering. If we’re not working with him, we’re working against him. What a scary thought!

The mission is not about us. It’s not ultimately our mission. We don’t get to choose it. It’s God’s mission. We simply enter into it. When God rescues us, we are called into the mission of rescuing others!

Jesus said …

You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last (John 15.16, CEB).

Sitting on the sidelines and watching from afar isn’t an option. Participation is expected. God calls us to be in mission with him. If we’re not gathering with him, Jesus says we’re scattering!

What do you think? Add a comment below!

Seasons of Adversity

When we encounter adversity, we naturally want to get through it as quickly as possible. When we get knocked down, we want to get back up and get on with it as quickly as possible!

But, often, it simply takes time, sometimes a long time, to get through seasons of adversity!

It’s easy to lose the sense of time in the stories of the Bible. In stories, adversity lasted days, years, or even generations!

Noah is a good example. It took Noah as many as 120 years to build the ark. Once the torrential rains came, I’m sure those 40 days and nights on a huge boat with thousands of frightened and restless animals couldn’t come to an end soon enough (not to mention the time it took waiting for the floods to recede)!

Later, the Israelites lived as slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Moses got involved but ended up spending 40 years as a fugitive. After his encounter with God at a burning bush, it took quite some time for Pharoah to be convinced to let God’s people go. The ten plagues didn’t all happen overnight. It was a lengthy ordeal!

Once the Israelites were set free from captivity in Egypt, they certainly didn’t enter the Promised Land overnight. Instead, they spent about 40 years wandering, and complaining, in the wilderness before finally entering the Promised Land!

Nearly the entire book of Job is a story of waiting for a resolution.

Recently, while reading through the prophets, I noticed that on multiple occasions, God gave the prophets a message for the people but withheld the explanation until some time later. Once, God asked Isaiah to go naked and barefoot for three years (Isaiah 20.3). Another time, Ezekiel spent a number of days lay on his left side to make a point. These were not quick, bite-sized messages!

This also struck me again recently in the book of Acts. Paul’s imprisonments must have been long, drawn out affairs. In Acts 24, Paul stands trial before Felix. The passage begins with the phrase, “Five days later” (Acts 24.1). It continues, “After several days, Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and summoned Paul. He listened to him talk about faith in Christ Jesus” (Acts 24.24). Felix sent Paul away, saying, “Go away for now! When I have time, I’ll send for you” (Acts 24.25).

The story continues, “When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. Since Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison” (Acts 24.27). Paul was forced to wait. “After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived in Caesarea to welcome Festus.” (Acts 25.13). This was not a speedy trial!

Finally, Paul was on his way to stand trial in Rome. But even the trip was a drawn out affair. Acts 27.7 says, “After many days of slow and difficult sailing, we arrived off the coast of Cnidus.”

The ship eventually wrecked and the story includes many references to time …

  • “Much time had been lost”
  • “On the third day”
  • “When neither the sun nor the moon appeared for many days”
  • “For a long time no one had eaten”
  • “On the fourteenth night, we were being carried across the Adriatic Sea”
  • “This is the fourteenth day you’ve lived in suspense”

After the shipwreck, the passengers were forced to wait before continuing their journey. Finally, Acts 28.11 says, “After three months we put out to sea.”

It often takes time to get through the valleys!

We must remember that our sense of time is far different from God’s. Peter reminds us “that with the Lord a single day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a single day” (2 Peter 3.8).

People of faith are often left to ask, “How long?” Psalm 13 asks that very question four times in the first two verses …

How long will you forget me, Lord? Forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I be left to my own wits, agony filling my heart? Daily? How long will my enemy keep defeating me? (Psalm 13.1-2, CEB)

It takes time and patience to get through the seasons of adversity!

The Lost Blanket

Well, you’ve heard the stories of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep, and the Lost Son (see Luke 15). On Saturday, we experienced the story of the Lost Blanket!

Last week, our family went to annual conference, a gathering of pastors and lay members from each church or charge in the conference. We arrived Wednesday evening and the conference began Thursday morning. While Joleen and I were in conference sessions, the kids spent morning, afternoon, and evening sessions in child care. We picked up the kids for meals and at the conclusion of each day.

The kids already have lots of experience at annual conference. This was Ethan’s sixth annual conference (he turned 6 a week ago), and Sarah’s fourth! This was the easiest year we’ve ever experienced with the kids in child care!

But, the story of the Lost Blanket begins at the conclusion of the final session Saturday afternoon. As we were leaving, I asked Ethan if he had his blanket (the one he’s had as long as we’ve had Ethan). We looked through our stuff. The childcare workers looked through their stuff and there was no sign of the blanket!

Joleen went to look in the main building to check to see if anything was “lost and found.” Amazingly enough, someone who was loading a box truck, transporting equipment back to their respective locations, remembered seeing a blue blanket in one of the boxes of childcare items that goes to storage.

But there was a problem. The box with the blanket was at the front of the truck. So, we went to the Conference Center and waited for stuff to be unloaded. After awhile, the lost blanket was found. There was much rejoicing (even though it delayed our trip home a couple of hours)!

Jesus says …

In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives. (Luke 15.7, CEB).

Sing Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs!

One of the things I’ve discovered over the years that stirs my passion for God is listening to praise and worship music!

In Ephesians 5.18-19, the Apostle Paul wrote …

Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead, be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts … (CEB)

On a similar note, Paul wrote in Colossians 3.16 …

The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (CEB)

The Psalms often urge followers to sing praises to God and to sing new songs, including …

  • “He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise for our God.” (Psalm 40.3)
  • “Sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth!” (Psalm 96.1)
  • “Sing to the Lord a new song because he has done wonderful things!” (Psalm 98.1)

In the past, I’ve written about music, including: Songs for Leaders, “Songs for My Sons”, You Write the Words, Ordination Playlist, and Songs for the Valley.

Ever since Ethan was 2 years old (he just turned 6), I’ve had a playlist on my iPod with our favorite worship music. I’ve always tried to include songs the kids will like. Some of the kids’ latest favorites are “God’s Not Dead” (Newsboys) and “10,000 Reasons” (Matt Redman). The oldest songs on the list are “Trading My Sorrows” (Darrell Evans), “You Never Let Go” (Matt Redman), and “My Savior Lives” (New Life Worship) (one of my favorite memories occurred three years ago at a hotel playroom with another family in the room; Ethan was belting out the words of “My Savior Lives”: “Jesus you are the only way, my Savior, my Savior lives!”).

The newest songs on the list come from the latest (live) recording by Darlene Zschech, “Revealing Jesus.” So far, our favorite is “Victor’s Crown.” (I’ve always loved the worship music by Darlene Zschech and Hillsong.)

Looking back on my own journey with God, there seems to be a connection between the level of my passion for God and the practice of listening to praise and worship music. Knowing this, you’d think I’d be more consistent, but I go through stages where I neglect the practice. Sometimes I need reminded about the importance of listening to praise and worship music!

What songs stir your passion for God? Post a comment below with your favorite songs!

A Makeover for Your Mind

Have you ever gotten a makeover? Makeovers aren’t just for your face and hair or even for your house. They are also for your mind!

The dictionary definition of transform is …

to make someone or something completely different, usually in a way that makes them more attractive, easier to use, etc.

When I think of transformations, I think of something that looks different in appearance. But appearances can deceive. For transformation, one has to go much deeper!

One of the most powerful transformations comes through the renewing of the mind. Change the way you think and that can change everything. The greatest transformation comes with God’s salvation. God’s ongoing work in us (i.e., sanctification) continues to transform our hearts, minds, emotions–our whole being. We are instructed in God’s Word to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.16). And Romans 12.2 says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Each of us has an audio player running in our heads that constantly plays messages about ourselves and the world around us. If it keeps playing, “I am a loser,” you won’t feel good about yourself and what you have to offer. If it keeps telling you, “I am fat,” you can’t begin to lose those unwanted pounds. Rick Warren said in a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, don’t fight against temptation, but rather, change the recording, renew your thinking. Don’t obsess over the fact you should quit smoking, replace the thought with something positive (eat an apple!).

The recording in our minds has been shaped by parents, teachers, and other influential adults as we grew up. Messages continue to be recorded as they are received through the media and by those we hang out with. If you don’t like what your recorder is playing, change the recording. Renew your mind through Jesus Christ!

One day I came home and I was not in a good mood. I could feel it wanting to bubble up and spill over my family. I asked Randy to play some worship music on the iPod while I was preparing a meal. A little while later, Sarah asked if I was feeling better, and after some brief refection, I said yes. I was glad for her checking in with me and calling my attention to the transformation.

Philippians 4.8 says …

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Choose to put positive, renewing, Christ-centered messages on your recorder!