Tag Archives: Leadership

A little bit different

7 Aug

Christian leadership is a bit different than secular leadership.

What business leadership seminar would ever describe leadership as the path towards crucifixion? But Jesus says if we are not willing to pick up our cross, we are not even able to follow Him.

An accepting ministry part 2

10 Nov

The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is not in the fact that the Pharisees took sin seriously and Jesus didn’t. The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is found rather in the way that they related to people they knew to have sinned – the way they treated sinners.

I don’t want to take the time to get into exactly how the Pharisees treated ‘sinners. I want to make some unbelievably obvious comments about the way Jesus did.

The first one being, he didn’t just avoid them.

He could have you know, stayed up in heaven.

When we read everything Jesus did we need to remind ourselves that we are reading about someone completely unique.

While none of us chose to be born, Jesus actually had a choice in the matter. He chose to become a human being, which I think is pretty amazing considering everything He knew about us. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about what a blessing it is not to know everything about everyone else. It would be hard to want to be friends with anyone if we somehow knew absolutely every one of each other’s thoughts. I think the truth is if we knew each other’s thoughts, there are whole lot of times we’d be upset with each other, disappointed with each other, maybe even grossed out by each other.

And we’re not even all that holy.

If we could see the whole of another person’s life, there’d be some things that would sicken us and we don’t even hate sin that much.

Imagine being Jesus.

He knew everything. We see time and time again that he could read people’s thoughts. Just look at Mark 2:7,8. The Pharisees were thinking bad thoughts about Jesus, and he responds. He knew all the bad stuff that was going on inside people’s heads.

And he was actually holy.

He never dressed sin up. He always saw it for the ugly, horrifying beast it really was.

And yet in spite of all that, He didn’t just stay up in heaven, pointing his finger at us, saying “Ooh, aren’t those people gross.”

He chose to become a human being. He incarnated. What’s more, He identified with us.

That’s really the second thing that stands out to me about the way we see Jesus relating to sinners. It’s not simply that He didn’t avoid them, He went as far as He could go in identifying with them.

That’s really one of the main lessons we can draw from what Mark tells us about Jesus’ baptism and subsequent temptation.

People always ask why was Jesus baptized?

There are a number of different answers to that, but one of the answers has to be, to identify with sinners. That for sure is one of the things that was going on with his temptation. Hebrews tells us, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

I’m not sure it would be possible to describe how much better off Jesus had it up in heaven. No insults, no temptation, no human limitations. It’s hard to find words to describe the sacrifice Jesus made in becoming man. In one place Paul describes it as “making Himself nothing…” in other he talks about it like a rich person choosing to become poor.

I’m trying to get at how committed Jesus was to his ministry to sinners. It definitely wasn’t simply that he didn’t go out of his way to keep away from them, he made the greatest possible sacrifice in order to help them.

He subjected himself to a whole lot of things he didn’t need to subject himself to, for their good. He took on burdens that he didn’t need to take on, he suffered in ways that he didn’t need to suffer, he gave up his legitimate rights…in order to identify with sinners.

Third, he initiated relationships with them.

One of the things that stands out to me about 1:16-20 and then again in 2:13-14 where Mark talks about the way Jesus got disciples is the fact that in both cases, he makes it clear Jesus is the one who went out after them. He went to where they were, He chose them, He called them, He said follow me.

That stands out to me, because most of the time people who are really good at things don’t like to hang out with people who aren’t. If you know how to do something really well, it can be frustrating to work alongside someone who doesn’t.

Try knowing it all.

I mean absolutely everything.

What amazes me about the way Jesus went about doing ministry with sinners, about how he took the initiative, and he entered into relationship with them, is that He was one hundred percent sure to be disappointed.

It could have been any other way.

It wasn’t like he was just a bit better than them. He was in a class by himself.

And it wasn’t even ultimately, like he needed them. I think we can safely assume that someone who could walk on water and feed five thousand people with a couple pieces of toast could have come up with a different plan.

But he didn’t.

Even with everything he knew about these men, about sinners, he didn’t avoid them, he incarnated and identified with them, he entered into relationships with them, and what’s more, the fourth thing we see about Jesus’ ministry to sinners, is that he was willing to risk his reputation to do so.

We often find the important religious people of Jesus’ day looking down on him because he was associating with the wrong kind of people, dare I say it, thinking Jesus unspiritual because of who He was spending time with.

Now obviously, Jesus had a purpose for what he was doing. He says that he came to call sinners to repentance. He wasn’t hanging out with sinners because he secretly enjoyed sin. But the point I’m making is that when we look at the way Jesus ministered, we see it didn’t sit well with the religious elite. And you know, I guarantee you, he knew that. He totally knew before he decided to associate with sinners that doing so was going to upset the Pharisees.

But he wasn’t going to let what a group of people who didn’t really know the gospel thought stop Him from doing that which God Himself had called Him to do.

I say all that because I want you to understand if we are really going to have an open, accepting ministry like Jesus we are going to have to work very hard at maintaining a delicate balance.

WE NEED TO BE A GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO TAKE SIN SERIOUSLY AND YET AT THE SAME TIME TREAT SINNERS MERCIFULLY.

I’m not sure exactly about all the specifics of how we do that.

I know for sure it’s going to involve us working at avoiding the error the Pharisees made, thinking we’re somehow above sinners while at the same time avoiding the error our culture makes, minimizing the seriousness of sin.

I think it starts with a proper appreciation of the gospel, of who Jesus is, who you are, and what Jesus has done. It seems to me that when you are flat on your face before Jesus, in awe of the fact that He would save a sinner, a wretch like you, it’s kind of hard to be looking down your nose at anyone else. You’ll take sin seriously because you love Jesus, but you won’t have a holier than thou kind of attitude.

I think it will involve consciously and deliberately patterning our ministry in the ways that we can, after Jesus’.

1.) Not isolating ourselves from the world all around us.

I’m pretty sure none of us would ever run off and join a monastery. I think most of us would tell anyone who was thinking about doing that, not to. But some of us basically live our lives like we are in a monastery; avoiding people who are different kinds of sinners than us not because we don’t want to fall into sin, but because their kind of sin kind of grosses us out.

I’m not saying that we don’t need to be careful. We obviously need to be very careful that we don’t become like the world. There are plenty of Bible verses which tell us that. But at the same time, we have to make sure that we don’t so isolate ourselves from people in the world that we don’t know anyone who isn’t a Christian.

2.) Finding ways to identify with sinners without engaging in or encouraging their sin.

What I’m talking about is us viewing our lives as about more than just us and our rights and what we want but instead seeing ourselves as people who have been called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and not just avoid people who are sinners but actively pursue them, making the kinds of sacrifices we need to make in order to win them to Jesus Christ.

Paul was a man who caught a vision for that. I think of 1 Corinthians 9:27ff, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” He willingly adjusted his lifestyle in order to identify with the people to whom he was witnessing. “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not myself being under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

This is not about compromising the gospel. Paul never did that. This is about loving people. If a person is offended by the gospel, well that’s going to happen. But you know what, a lot of times people aren’t offended by the gospel, they are offended by us.

I’m convinced we as a church need to take this seriously. We need to ask ourselves if there are any ways that we are making sacrifices so that we can identify with people who don’t know Christ so that they can come to know Christ and so Christ can be glorified in their lives.

3.) Taking the initiative and enter into friendships with people whose lives are messed up.

I for one am glad Jesus didn’t wait until we all had it all together to come to earth. I’m sure the disciples were glad Jesus didn’t wait until they had it all together before He went after them. If we’re going to minister to sinners the way Jesus did, we have to be willing to do what he did, go after them. We can’t just sit around in church waiting for them to come through the front doors saying, ‘oh man would you please share the gospel with me.’ We need to go out there and develop relationships with them.

I think one of the simplest ways to do that honestly, is not all that complex.

Slow down and notice the person in front of you.

If we did that one thing, if we just slowed down and treated the person in front of us, wherever we are, like a person and if we became interested in what was going on in their lives, not in a freaky way, but you know what I mean, if we showed concern about them, I think we’d be amazed at the opportunities for sharing the gospel that came into our lives.

I want us to be people who minister like Jesus. I don’t want to be the kind of Christian who has more in common with the Pharisees than I do with Jesus. That doesn’t mean we’re going to ignore sin, but it does mean we’re going to reach out and love sinners.

I remember a story Paul Miller tells about a missionary translator who was translating the Bible in Southeast Asia.

They told him the word for love was ‘pa.’ But he didn’t think ‘pa’ really captured the biblical definition of love. It was too tame.

One day the missionary was crossing a stream on a raft with two native women, when the raft overturned. Even though it was dangerous, he risked his own life to rescue the women. Later, the tribesmen described what he did as ‘che.’

The difference between pa and che? Pa is helping from a safe position. Che is making sacrifices, risking your neck for the people you are helping.

Christlike love is ‘che.’ When Jesus became a man, he got down ‘in the water’ with the people he was helping. And if we’re going to have a ministry like his, that’s what we need to be doing with others.

An accepting ministry part 1

10 Nov

In Jesus’ day people had a caricature of what it meant to be holy. They thought it meant not ever hanging out with anyone who might be considered a sinner.

In our day, people have a caricature of what it means to be accepting. They think it means never ever directly confronting sin.

There are whole lot of people today who think that if we are going to avoid being like the Pharisees and if we are going to have an open, accepting ministry like Jesus we must by definition minimize the seriousness of sin.

The thing is, whatever it means to have an open, accepting ministry, we know for sure it doesn’t mean that, because the fact of the matter is that Jesus took sin more seriously than the Pharisees.

You couldn’t take sin more seriously than Jesus did.

For starters, just take a look at the terms he used for it.

Jesus wasn’t bashful in the least about calling sin sin, or even call people sinners.

There were times when Jesus looked at a group of people and called them flat out evil. Luke 11:29, “When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation.’” On one occasion he actually told a group of people they were worse than Sodom, which you have to admit was a pretty stunning thing to say considering the fact that God actually sent fire down from heaven to destroy Sodom, it was so wicked.
In Matthew 23, Jesus is very blunt. He starts by calling a specific group of people hypocrites, then blind guides, and ends by calling them children of hell, which no matter you parse it, couldn’t have been a compliment.

I always think it’s funny when people say they don’t want to talk about sin or identify it in people’s lives because they want to have a ministry like Jesus, because the fact is if you really want to have a ministry like Jesus, you absolutely have to be willing to do that.

It might help you get an idea of just how seriously Jesus took sin, by contrasting his attitude towards sin with the Pharisees.

I know at first, it might seem like the Pharisees took sin seriously, that is after all why they were called Pharisees…separatists.

It wasn’t like a person became a Pharisee for the fun of it, no, it was because of their intense concern for holiness. They made sure of that. To become a Pharisee you had to go through all sorts of tests. One particular school of Pharisees watched you for a month, testing you to see if you even knew how to protect your fruits and vegetables from unclean dew. They watched you to see if you ate the right foods, spent time with the right people, knew how to keep yourself clean.

And it wasn’t like when the Pharisees went around wagging their fingers at Jesus for not fasting enough, for doing things he shouldn’t on the Sabbath, for eating with sinners, they would have said it was because they were being mean or because they were being overly picky about miniscule things.

No, in their minds, they would have said it was because they took sin so seriously.

What Jesus shows them in the gospels however is that their real problem was that they didn’t take sin seriously enough.

They thought of sin as primarily something external.

That’s why they got upset when Jesus touched lepers, ate with tax collectors. That’s why they did things like complain to Jesus when they saw his disciples were eating a meal without having first washed their hands.

What they didn’t understand was that the problem of sin was much worse than that.

Just check out Mark 7.

Quoting Jesus, verses 14,15 “Hear me, all of you and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” Verses 20 through 23, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

To Jesus sin wasn’t merely something outside of you. It was something that came from inside of you.

That’s why he can say the kinds of things he does in Matthew 5.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”

Or

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

It was like Jesus was going down a list of the Pharisees favorite sins to talk about and saying, 1, 2, 3 you boys never take what you say about sin far enough.

To Jesus, sin wasn’t just as something you did – an action. It went way beyond that. It goes all the way down to what is going on in your heart.

It’s absolute craziness to act as if Jesus didn’t take sin seriously. I mean think about the attitude he said we should have towards it.

Let me give you two of my favorites.

Matthew 5:29, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

I was reading a book on sin this week, chapter number one, ‘But I like my eyeballs.”

I don’t know about you, but I do too. I like my eyeballs. If I had to pluck one out, well I don’t know exactly how I’d go about doing that, but I’m pretty sure if I did have to do that, and I actually survived, I’d look back on the day I plucked out my own eyeball as one of my worst days, ever.

In fact, I’d kind of be like, can it get worse than that?

Can it really get much worse than actually plucking out your own eyeball? Or even to be more graphic, can it really get much worse than sawing off your own hand?

According to Jesus, it can.

In Jesus’ mind, sawing off your own hand and plucking out your own eyeball weren’t nearly as terrible as choosing to sin. It’s actually better to pluck out your eye and saw off your own hand than it is to sin.

Now, if that little image doesn’t grab you, just check out Matthew 18:6. “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

I’m not sure what you’d say, but on a bad day, given the choice between causing someone to sin, i.e. to lie, to dishonor their parents, and having a gigantic, heavy millstone hung around my neck and being drowned in the depths of the sea I might at least be a tiny bit tempted to choose causing someone to sin.

Not Jesus.

Given the choice between sin and the absolute worst, most horrifying kind of death, he took death – that’s how much he hated sin.

Jesus never minimized the seriousness of sin. Think about the way he described its consequences.

Nobody talked about hell more than Jesus did.

You wonder whether Jesus took sin seriously, this is the reason he died on a cross.

The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is not in the fact that the Pharisees took sin seriously and Jesus didn’t: Jesus called people sinners, his idea of sin was much more intense, he saw how awful it truly was, he talked about hell, he died on a cross.

The difference between Jesus and the Pharisees is found rather in the way that they related to people they knew to have sinned – the way they treated sinners…

Lies…

9 Nov

In Ephesians 4:25 Paul says ‘put away falsehood.’

In other words, don’t lie.

But what exactly does he mean by that? What does it mean to lie?

Here are some examples I came up with:

1. I am speaking falsehood when I contradict the truth.

I am talking about the times when someone is saying the opposite of the truth.

2. I am speaking falsehood when I distort the truth.

I am talking about the times when what someone might say is technically true but they are using the truth in a deceitful way to either promote or protect themselves.

3. I am speaking falsehood when I misrepresent the truth.

I am talking about times when someone might misrepresent someone else’s intentions in what they said or what they did.

I am talking about times when someone might share a “prettified” version of events in order to promote or protect themselves.

I am talking about times when someone might say things as absolute facts that they are not certain of at all and which may in reality not be actually true.

I am talking about times when someone might say say one thing to a certain person and another opposite thing to someone else about the same situation.

I am talking about times when someone says that are going to do something or act like they are going to do something but don’t.

4. I am speaking falsehood when I am speaking sneaky.

I am talking about times when someone might try to lay traps for people through their words. When someone is speaking to someone but they are not really caring about their good or how to glorify God, but they are asking questions in order to manipulate the conversation to ensnare them or attack them or provide evidence later that they can use to hurt them.

Those are specific examples of speaking falsehood and I am sure you have more, but maybe it will help if I take a step back and speak more generically.

If you want to summarize the kind of falsehood that we need to be turning from and putting off, I think there are two main characteristics of the kind of false speech Paul’s talking about.

First, falsehood is the kind of speech that doesn’t flow out of faith in God but instead trust in one self.

Lying is a form of self-salvation. Where does lying come from, what is it really, it is when we don’t believe God is for us and we don’t believe that God can protect us and provide for us and so we use our words to try to do for ourselves what God has promised to do for us through Jesus Christ. We are being false when we use our words to promote ourselves, when we use our words to gain advantage for ourselves, when we use our words to try to protect ourselves from legitimate consequences of sinful choices, when our words aren’t motivated by faith in God but by trust in self.

Second, falsehood is the kind of speech that is not based on the truth of the gospel and God’s Word but instead on the errors and lies of the world.

Whenever you give counsel that twists the Scripture or that is from the world and not true to what God says in His Word, you are speaking falsehood, and really that is falsehood of the most dangerous kind.

Truth!

9 Nov

It is all too rare a thing to find a man who consistently speaks the truth. I want to be one. Here are ten reasons why you should want to be a truth teller as well:

1. Speaking the truth is a characteristic of a godly man.
2. God pleads with us to speak the truth.
3. Truth is a means of protection for you.
4. Truth is one of the primary differences between the unbelieving worldview and the biblical one.
5. Nothing highlights the importance of truth more clearly than the fact that truth is one of God’s essential qualities.
6. Lying is one of the devil’s essential characteristics.
7. Sin is the fruit of a lie and lies are the most prominent characteristic of a lifestyle of sin.
8. God commits himself to judging the liar.
9. Lying destroys relationships. Truth spoken in love produces growth in myself, others and our relationships with one another.
10. Being justified by faith on the basis of Christ’s work takes away every last single “reason” to lie.

Rambling…

7 Nov

It is sometimes difficult for me to identify the difference between being motivated by fear or wisdom. Fear can be a gift from God to stop us from doing things that are stupid, but fear can be so good at its job of stopping us that it sometimes keeps us from doing things we should.

I remember someone arguing with me that I should rappel down a cliff. He said I just needed to overcome my fear. I told him I never want to stop being afraid of falling off a cliff. (Though I did end up rappelling down anyway because it seemed like fun.) There are times when being afraid is wise, but there are times when fear stops us from doing something and it’s not wise, it is foolish.

To put it in question form:

Is my unwillingness to do something produced by a legitimate fear and therefore wise?

Or is my unwillingness to do something produced by sinful fear and therefore foolish?

Sometimes the line between the two is obvious. Many times though it feels like it isn’t. It reminds me of how the proverb answer a fool according to his folly is followed by the proverb don’t answer a fool according to his folly. Which is it? There are times when it is right and times when it is wrong. Am I being arrogant and reckless or am I being cowardly? God help us.

I am not sure I have an answer but questions like these make me go back to THE answer and that is the grace of God and the righteousness of Christ. There are times in life when you sit down and it feels like you can’t get to the bottom of your motives. You could explain it either way and other people could as well. It can make you a little tired actually, if you don’t look up to the cross of Christ and thank God that He died to forgive us of our obvious sins and the ones we don’t even for sure are sin or not.