I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)
Wow! What a statement! I can do all things, not some things, but all things through Christ! It works kind of like this. Once, when Michael Jordan was with the Chicago Bulls, he had a game where he scored 65 points. They were so far ahead, at the end of the game the coach cleared the bench and put in all the guys who never got to play. The sub who replaced Jordon scored one point on a free throw. Later, he was asked about his most memorable experience in basketball. He said, “It was the night that Michael Jordan and I scored 66 points.”
That’s how it works. “I can do all things through Christ…” Look at what Jesus and I accomplished together! When something good happens, we all know who really gets the credit.
The two most important words in the above verse are “through Christ.” They may also be the hardest two word n s in the verse, especially for us “Type A” personalities whose tendency is to act first and pray later.
In November I was privileged to attend an Exponential church multiplication cohort with my fellow District Superintendents. One of the themes that kept coming up over and over again is that nothing happens without fasting and prayer. Nothing??? Yeah, nothing. If I want the supernatural strength that comes “through Christ”, prayer and fasting is a prerequisite.
In his classic book, Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders writes,
“…strange paradox, most of us are plagued with a subtle aversion to praying. We do not naturally delight in drawing near to God. We pay lip service to the delight and potency and value of prayer. We assert that it is an indispensable adjunct of mature spiritual life. We know that it is constantly enjoined and exemplified in the Scriptures. But, in spite of it all, too often we fail to pray.”
And he’s right. Many of us pay lip service to the value and importance of prayer, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t pray. At least not like we should.
God has called us to change the makeup of eternity in the upper Midwest by multiplying until we have a transforming presence in every zip code. That vision is too big to accomplish through human effort, so, as I go into the year 2020, my resolution is to strengthen my prayer life by fasting weekly. I challenge you to join me and I invite you to hold me accountable.
Happy New Year! I can’t wait to see what Jesus accomplishes through us in 2020!
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
– John 1:1-3, 14a (NIV)
Over the next few weeks you will hear all kinds of comments regarding “what Christmas is all about.” You’ll hear them on the radio, on TV specials and in casual conversations with friends and neighbors. You may hear well-intentioned comments like, “giving is what Christmas is all about” or “being with family is what Christmas is all about.”
Here’s one of my favorites that comes from Jay Leno’s “Headlines” segment that he used to do on The Tonight Show. That was the segment where he read strange or funny headlines and advertisements from newspapers. This particular year there was an ad for the Center for Dental Implants that said, "The gift of chewing is what the holidays are all about.” I’m pretty sure that’s not right…
So, what is Christmas really all about? The real meaning of Christmas can be summarized in the word, “incarnation.” Incarnation is a theological word that simply means, “God in the flesh.” Christmas is all about Jesus becoming human and coming to Earth so that he could save us. I have to admit that the incarnation is something that absolutely blows my mind! God becoming flesh, fully human, fully divine – not one or the other, not either/or, but both/and.
The Apostle, John, says that “through him (Jesus) all things were made.” Picture the nativity scene through that lens if you want to have your mind blown. He created the wood that the manger he laid in was made from. And he created the hay that lined the manger. He even created his own mother, and yet, he depended on her for his very existence. How can we, as finite humans, get our minds around that? Martin Luther must have struggled with those kinds of thoughts as well because he wrote in one of his hymns, “He whom the world could not enwrap, yonder lies in Mary’s lap.”
Soren Kierkegaard told the story of a king who loved a humble maiden. This king was like no other king. Every person and every nation trembled before his power. And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden.
How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his very kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her in royal robes, she would surely not resist. But would she love him? Or would she live with him in fear? How could he know?
The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend. He clothed himself as a peasant and approached her cottage incognito. He renounced the throne to win her hand.
That’s exactly what Jesus did for us; he renounced his throne to win us. That is the wonderful truth of the incarnation. John said it best: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” C.S. Lewis also expressed it really well: “The Son of God became man to enable men to become the sons of God.”
That’s what Christmas is all about, and it’s a gift that’s way better than “the gift of chewing.”
Parker Palmer, in his book, Leading from Within wrote, “A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside him- or herself, inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.” That’s the burden of ministry; if we fail at soul care, not only do we harm ourselves, we harm those whom we lead.
I think we all know that our public ministry will never be any better than our private relationship with Jesus. At least we say we know that, but sometimes the way we fail to care for our own souls would indicate that we believe ourselves to be some kind of special exception to that rule. Seems like we spend more time and energy on our public ministry than we do on our private selves. The stuff that shows gets our attention and, too often, we neglect our inner selves, that part of us that isn’t immediately visible.
In his book, The Life God Blesses, Gordan McDonald told a parable involving two men who each decided to build a sailboat. The first man built a boat with all of the bells and whistles; colorful sails, teakwood deck and brass railings. His boat was a sight to behold but, much to the chagrin of the old sailors who were watching him build, he neglected the keel and paid little attention to things like weight and ballast…the parts of the boat that were below the waterline. He christened his beautiful boat, the Personna, and set out on its maiden voyage. A few miles from shore a sudden storm came out of nowhere, engulfed the Personna, and the boat and its foolish builder were never seen again.
The second builder went about things differently. His boat wasn’t nearly as beautiful to behold, but he paid special attention to the keel, the hull and he made sure that he had the right amount of ballast. In other words, he didn’t neglect the parts of the boat that would be below the waterline. He christened his boat the Christos and set sail on its maiden voyage. He also was set upon by a sudden storm just a few miles from shore, but unlike the Personna, the Christos had adequate weight below the waterline, so she was able to face the best that the storm had to offer. And not only did the Christos and her builder survive the storm, they were able to rescue others who hadn’t built so well.
In John Wesley’s Holy Clubs (we would call them small groups), the first question asked was, “How is it with your soul?” Good question. Are you taking care of the stuff below the waterline? How is it with your soul?
25 Jesus called them (the disciples) together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” --Matthew 20:25-28 (NIV)
Those verses contain Jesus’ response to the indignation of the disciples after James’ and John’s mother asked if He would place one of her sons on his right and the other on his left when He established his kingdom. There were at least a couple of things wrong with that request. First, it was a request for power: James, John and their mother still didn’t understand what kind of kingdom Jesus was establishing. To them, leadership was about power when Jesus was trying to teach and model servant leadership. Secondly, it’s so wrong to have your mother ask your boss to give you a promotion!
Servant leadership. We talk about it all the time, but even in Christian circles we emphasize the leadership part and play down the servanthood part. I think, perhaps, we have the order of importance reversed. Perhaps we should focus on becoming a servant before we worry about developing our leadership skills.
Servanthood is a better test of our character than leadership and everything hinges on character. Warren Buffet said, “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity (another word for character) intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.”
We should all remember the words of Oswald Chambers: “All throughout history God has chosen and used nobodies, because their unusual dependence on Him makes possible the unique display of his power and grace. He chooses to use somebodies only when they renounce dependence on their natural abilities and resources.”
In other words, God uses servant leaders.
In my Bible reading this summer I have been going through some of the Old Testament historical books. Recently, a sentence from II Kings gripped me and hasn’t let me go.
You can read the whole story in II Kings 20:12-19, but here is the gist of it. Hezekiah, one of the few good kings that Judah had, became ill and the king of Babylon sent messengers to wish him well. Hezekiah not only welcomed the messengers, he showed them all of the riches that were in his storehouse, which is kind of like giving bank robbers a tour of the bank vault and letting them see how much money is there.
After the representatives from Babylon left, the prophet Isaiah came to ask about the visit. When he found out that Hezekiah had shown them all the riches of Judah, he predicted that because of Hezekiah’s foolishness Babylon was going to invade Judah and take everything.
Now, here’s the part of the story that haunts me. Here is Hezekiah’s response after he heard Isaiah’s prophecy: “The word of the LORD you have spoken is good,” Hezekiah replied. For he thought, “Will there not be peace and security in my lifetime?”
Did you catch that? As long as things held together during his lifetime, he was okay with it. In short, he cared about his own survival more than he cared about the longevity and legacy of his kingdom.
Don’t be too quick to judge Hezekiah; the temptation to care more about survival than legacy sneaks up on a lot of leaders, especially as we are running that last few laps in our leadership race. I suppose I’m more aware of that temptation now that I’ve been in ministry 40+ years and am approaching retirement age. It would be easy to avoid the hard decisions and coast. I might be leaving problems for those who follow me, but as long as there is “peace and security in my lifetime” then I’m okay with it, right?
Not only do leaders succumb to the survival temptation, entire churches do as well. We may be avoiding the risky decisions that will build a strong legacy for the generations that follow, but as long as the folks who are presently in the church are happy, it’s okay. After all, these are the folks who pay the bills, right?
So I’ve been thinking a bit about the differences between a legacy leader and a survival leader. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but here are some qualities I’ve seen in the legacy leaders I’ve known: