The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#5 – Leaders Love

Ryan, I read recently in my devotional time a wonderful section from 1 Samuel. In chapter 12 God powerfully got the attention of his people and they properly responded with reverential fear. Then they ask Samuel the prophet and priest of Israel to pray to the Lord for them. After Samuel took the opportunity to comfort and challenge them, he says something that powerfully got my attention, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and right way.” (1 Samuel 12:23)

Samuel was a great leader in that he loved the people he was leading by not ceasing to pray for them. In fact, he raises the bar by saying that he would be sinning against the Lord by ceasing to pray for them. Praying for people may seem like a “no-brainer” in spiritual leadership, and yet this discipline can easily get lost with the myriad of other things a leader must do.

Leaders can easily focus on the things that are visible in the eyes of men and neglect the things that are visible only to the eyes of God.

Jesus set a wonderful example for us in that he repeatedly prayed for the people that he was called to lead and to love (1 John 17). The Apostle Paul followed suit.

I heard years ago that some pastors use people to build the ministry while others use the ministry to build people. Ryan, I encourage you to love people enough to regularly pray for them. This seems to be the practice of spiritual leaders in the Bible and the expectation of the God who called us to lead.

On a practical level, be very careful how you use the words, “I will be praying for you.” Those words can be as easily forgotten as they are stated. When you say those words, either pray there on the spot or write the name and request down to remind you to pray later.
Ryan, love people enough to pray regularly for them.

The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#4 – Be Silent … The Lord Will Fight for You

Leadership is not always supported by positive public opinion polls. Ryan, as a leader you will be criticized, people will complain about you and you will be misunderstood – you can count on it! Unfortunately, this will often come, not from the enemy, but from the people you love and lead.

Years ago one author referred to these people as well-intentioned dragons. Friendly fire is the most painful for a leader. The natural tendency will be self-defense or even to attack your critics. There is a better way.

Exodus 14 tells the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and bondage. When the Israelites saw the pursuing Egyptians they complained to Moses about Moses. “Why didn’t you leave us in Egypt? You brought us out of here to die…” Moses wisely redirected their attention to their God who would bring them salvation. And then he said to them, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14)

The advice Moses gave to the Israelites is excellent advice for any leader who is criticized and misunderstood. Keep in mind these words are not a command nor are they to be applied to every situation. When the apostle Paul was attacked and his critics questioned his apostolic authority, Paul vehemently defended himself and his calling. Sometimes you will have to go to battle as a leader, but choose your battles prayerfully and carefully.

There have been times in my leadership journey where I have had to defend myself and my actions. There have been other times I have had to apologize. But there have been many times I’ve kept silent and let the Lord fight for me.

Ryan, you cannot go to battle every time you’re misunderstood. In fact, many times you will not even know that you are misunderstood. Too many leaders will get into food fights believing they are defending God’s honor when in reality they are trying to protect their fragile image.

Lean often on the wise advice of Moses. By the way, God did fight for the Israelites by opening up the Red Sea to deliver them and then closed it to swallow the Egyptian army.

The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#3 – When God calls you to do something, don’t focus on what you can or cannot do, but focus on what he can do through you.

A good driver’s training instructor will stress the importance of focus as he/she prepares the young driver. If you keep your focus straight ahead, the car will typically move straight ahead. But if your focus begins to wander, the car will likely wander as well. We see this all the time with drivers on their cell phones, talking or texting – and the car begins to drift. Focus is really important in life and in leadership.

God was about to do an amazing work by delivering the Israelites from 400 years of bondage in Egypt. In Exodus 3 the call comes to Moses to be a part of God’s incredible plan. Before Moses could lead in this great task, God wanted to make sure his focus was in the right place.

It appears that Moses lacked confidence and he gave excuses for why he could not do what God was calling him to do.

Moses: “But I am a nobody. Who am I that I should go against Pharaoh?”
God: “I am a somebody and I will always be with you.”
Moses: “But I don’t know what to say.”
God: “Tell them the Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you.”
Moses: “But what if they don’t believe me?”
God: “I will give you all the power you need.” (God gave Moses three powerful signs.)
Moses: “But I don’t speak well.”
God: “I will give you words to say. Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord?”
Moses: “Please, send somebody else!”
God: “I will send Aaron to help you.”

Ryan, when we focus on ourselves, our own gifts, strengths, limitations or liabilities we will never be able to fulfill the leadership responsibilities that the Lord gives us. Ryan, what excuse or objection could ever stand up to the promise of God’s dynamic presence and power? If God is calling and sending you out to be a part of His redemptive work in the world – and reassures you of His presence and power – what’s to stop you?

This encounter that Moses had with God seemed for the most part to set Moses’ focus on God and not on his own ability or lack of it.

Moses became a good leader because he learned: “When God calls you to do something, don’t focus on what you can or can’t do, but focus on what he can do through you.”

Ryan, you will find that God’s call on your life will take you places where you are over your head. God doesn’t make mistakes. He loves to stretch us so that our focus, confidence and dependence is on Him not us. As you begin your leadership journey, I am in the last stretch of mine. I can tell you honestly, I have spent the last 40 years “over my head,” but God has been faithful in His presence and power. I would not have wanted it any other way.

The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#2 – Whom Will I Please?

Early in your leadership journey you will need to answer a very important, foundation question: Whom will I please? Called by God to be a spiritual leader, the answer should be easy. Of course you would want to please the one who called you and placed you in leadership. However, the question will have to be answered many times on your leadership journey with the pressures becoming stronger – even from familiar voices.

During a very corrupt time in human history God called Noah to lead. The Scriptures remind us that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8)

God told Noah to build an ark that could survive a flood, saving him and his family. He believed God and built it in reverent fear. I can only imagine the pressure and ridicule he faced at the hands of an unbelieving world. And yet Noah, determined to please God, did all that God commanded him.

Every spiritual leader in biblical history, through to today, faced pressure to please the crowds, the culture, a person or a congregation. You may ask, “Is it possible to please both God and man?” Yes – at times. But when a choice has to be made – you must choose God!

Ryan, there will be pressure to change the message of the gospel. You will hear, “Soften it to become more palatable to our culture.” “Change your views, you are out of touch.” “The Bible may have been good for a people a long time ago – not today.” The apostle Paul addressed the false teachers who had changed the gospel with extremely strong words in Galatians 1 and he closed that section with personal words of clear commitment: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

Your commitment to please God does not mean that you will not have to be accountable to the authorities God has placed over you. Too many young men have declared they are accountable only to God and not their boss, a church board or a congregation.

Ryan, ultimately you will stand before Jesus to give an account as a spiritual leader (James 3). I pray that early on in your leadership journey you will make the unwavering commitment to please Christ. I pray that commitment will be reaffirmed countless times on the journey. In the face of potential job loss, departure of friends, persecution, ridicule, standing alone or even death, your steadfast words will echo the apostles’ (Acts 5:29): “We must obey God rather than men.”

If you do this, I promise the leadership journey may not always be easy, but it will be right and you will be used of God to make a difference. And one day you may hear those words from the one who called, “Well done Ryan!”

The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#1 – So, You Want to Be a Leader

Ryan, today you leave the classroom of Moody Bible Institute to begin an internship in leadership development. Your journey will be focused on spiritual leadership. You will lead people to find Jesus, become more like Jesus and serve Jesus.

This journey never really ends. You will keep growing and learning while God keeps stretching and refining you. God’s track for you will undoubtedly take you to mountaintops of achievements and accomplishments. But, you will find yourself as well in the valleys of discouragement, rejection and failure. While there will be refreshing times along mountain streams, don’t be surprised to find yourself in desert places, parched and empty.

At times people will sing your praises while at other times people’s comments and criticism could drive you to question your calling.

Your preparation in the private spaces will prepare you for effective, spiritual influence in the public spaces. Without the former, you are an accident waiting to happen in the latter.

One of the greatest spiritual leaders of all time once wrote to his followers, “… my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19)

I have it on good report that “anguish of childbirth” is not enjoyable. So Ryan, why would you want to be a spiritual leader if you are almost guaranteed to have your heart broken, be frequently misunderstood and have pains equivalent to childbirth? On your leadership journey you will discover a thousand reasons to be on that journey and to stay on it.

The reason that supersedes them all is that this is the journey God has called you to. He will be with you every step of the way!

Train Leaders or Feed the Poor

I am so glad that the Lord seems to be opening the door to a retreat center for Woodside. We have prayed and looked for this for over 20 years. You can read about the three major purposes for the retreat center on the website (woodsidebible.org/retreatcenter). Simply stated, the retreat center is for marriage enrichment, leadership training (team building, neighborhood group retreats, departmental leadership development, campus pastor alignment, etc.), and pastors’ enrichment (for area pastors and staffs).

I rejoice in that not only are we getting a great deal on the property, the entire amount of $800,000 has been donated by a few Woodside families who see the importance of this to strengthening our mission.

Recently someone asked the question, why would we not just give all the money to feed the poor instead of purchasing a retreat center. Let me answer the question in several ways.

First, it is not a question of either/or. At Woodside, we have the capacity to feed the poor and minister to the physical as well as the spiritual needs of people. We have spent a lot of money on the dream centers (locally) where we serve hundreds of hot meals every week. Additionally, we do food boxes for families, providing several meals in each box.

Second, we must understand how priorities fit together. Which is more important – training leaders or feeding the poor? Yes – they are both important. Priorities don’t have to work against each other, but with each other.

Third, it is necessary to build our base. The stronger our base, the greater our reach. Before we built the present Troy campus, there were critics who thought we could better spend the money evangelizing a particular group of people. I explained then the importance of strengthening our base so that we could do multiple times more evangelism. We have seen that come true. Eleven years later we are reaching many more people worldwide. We have international partnerships, orphanages, Bible translation projects, dream centers, multiple campuses, home builds, job training, etc. Remember – the stronger our base, the greater our reach.

We believe that the answer for the world today is Jesus and the task of communicating the gospel of Christ has been given to the church. And yet the church, its leaders and its marriages are under major attack. Christian marriages are struggling and over 1,000 pastors every month leave ministry (see our website for statistics). The purposes of the retreat center take a long-term approach of strengthening these areas so the church can be all that God intended it to be.

How Will I Vote?

People are beginning to align themselves with a political candidate to serve as the President of the United States. Many are passionate in their loyalty. But how should a Christian vote and for whom shall he/she vote? I cannot answer those questions for anyone other than myself.

The first question: “Should a Christian vote?”

Some followers of Christ have argued that if one cannot agree with either of the final two major candidates, then it would be better not to vote. While I understand the logic, I disagree. I believe voting is a right in our nation that people have fought to protect. I also believe it is a responsibility indicated indirectly by Jesus in Matthew 22:21. I plan on voting and I trust that you are as well. If you are eligible to vote in terms of age and citizenship, it is vital to make sure you’re registered before the deadline.

With every election, especially involving the selection of a president, there is a lot at stake from the national to the local issues. We must pay attention to it all and be informed.

The second question: “For whom shall I vote?”

I am convinced that I cannot vote without sufficient information nor can I vote with blind party loyalty. My vote is very important and with my vote I share the decisions of the candidates if they are elected – whether good or bad.

The Bible does not directly tell me how to vote, I have put together a list of biblical values that are important to me and will guide me as I prayerfully make a decision. I am indebted to Dr. Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, for some points on this list that he posted prior to the 2012 election.

1. Does the candidate have character and integrity (Proverbs 10:9, 12:22)?
2. Does the candidate have a strong belief in a fair judicial system that honors all people (James 2:1-5, Proverbs 16:11, Romans 2:11)?
3. Will the candidate protect religious liberties and freedoms that were guaranteed in the Constitution (Acts 4:18-20)?
4. Does the candidate have compassion and a plan to address the needs of the poor and disadvantaged (Proverbs 14:31, 19:17)?
5. Does the candidate have a strong commitment to the value and sanctity of human life from the womb to the tomb (Psalm 139:13)?
6. Is the candidate committed to racial equality (Acts 17:26)?
7. If the candidate committed to protect our country from attacks, from terrorism and crippling debt (Nehemiah 4:8-9, Proverbs 22:7, Nehemiah 5:4-5)?
8. To what degree does the candidate embrace or respect the biblical values of marriage and the significance of the church and its mission (Genesis 2)?
9. Does the candidate understand that he/she is placed by God as a minister for good and therefore acknowledge the need to seek God for wisdom and strength (Romans 13)?

This is my list; yours may be longer or shorter. But as Christ followers we must have a starting point that will guide us in these important decisions. And of course – we must pray for our selection and then we must pray for ever is elected (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Two final thoughts. First, good Christians may disagree on political candidates, but that should not be the basis for disunity or bad behavior. We are one in Christ. Second, the real hope for our nation is not found in any political leader or party, is found in Christ, making the church and the message of the Gospel so much more transformative than any political party, person, or legislative or judicial body. Let’s be the church!

“Lord, help us to vote biblically and wisely!”

Our Actions Have Consequences

Too often the whisper of the Wicked One will convince us that there are no consequences to our actions. At times our culture will minimize the consequences. But the Bible assures us that there are always consequences or results for our decisions. “Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” This past weekend I referenced an article written in the late ’80s by Randy Alcorn (Consequences of a Moral Tumble, Leadership Journal; Winter 1988, p.46) which has been a big help to me. The article talks about the consequences of a moral tumble. I have personalized the article to my situation and I periodically review it to remind myself that there is a lot at stake if I were to fail morally.

Here are some of the consequences if I were to fail morally (some are taken directly from Randy Alcorn’s article while others have been added or adjusted):

  1. I would grieve the Lord who redeemed me.
  2. I would drag his sacred name in the mud.
  3. I would one day look Jesus, the righteous Judge, in the face and give an account for my actions.
  4. I would follow in the footsteps of a number of friends whose immorality forfeited their ministries and caused me to weep at the time.
  5. I would inflict incredible hurt on Carolyn, my best friend, loyal wife, and partner in ministry for all of these decades.
  6. I would lose Carolyn’s respect and trust.
  7. I would inflict immeasurable and lasting pain on my children Andy (his wife Katie), Christy, and Teresa (her husband Drew) along with our grandchildren Drew, Nate, Seth, Anna, Wes and Lydie.
  8. I would destroy my example and credibility with my children and grandchildren – nullifying both present and future efforts to teach them to obey God.
  9. I would potentially lose my relationship with my wife and children forever if my blindness continued or they could not forgive.
  10. I would have to step away from the ministry that God called me to and for which I have invested many years preparing.
  11. I would bring major disappointment to the men and women who faithfully invested in my life and shaped me to be a servant of God.
  12. I would bring shame to my family.
  13. I would create a form of guilt awfully hard to shake. Even though God would forgive me, would I be able to forgive myself?
  14. I would form memories and flashbacks that could plague future intimacy with my wife.
  15. I would cause pain, disappointment and perhaps setbacks for the people I have led to Christ and disciple.
  16. I would undermine the faithful example and hard work of other Christians in our community.
  17. I would bring great pleasure to Satan and provide ammunition for all those opposed to the work of God.
  18. I would bring judgment and endless difficulty on the person with whom I sinned.
  19. I would potentially bring to our home diseases and financial implications as a result.
  20. I would bring shame and hurt to our campus pastors, staff, leadership team, elders and hundreds of pastors and leaders in this region.
  21. I would potentially stop the spiritual momentum in our church.
  22. I would invite shame and life-long embarrassment upon myself.
  23. I would cause pain and hurt to the people of Woodside that I love.

I am aware that fighting temptation involves more than a list, but reminding myself of the cost is a huge “buyer beware” that I must heed before it is too late. Let me encourage you to make a personalized list as well, review it often and let’s pray for each other to remain pure and faithful to our calling as followers of Christ.

Why Do All Lives Matter?

We have heard so much about lives that matter. Do all lives matter and if so, why? The Bible clearly answers that question leaving no room for doubt.

Genesis 1:27 states: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” I am one of those who believes that image of God means that we are God’s representatives on earth and therefore have dominion over the rest of creation (Genesis 1:26). We have a special relationship with God.

The late theologian John Stott expands on the possible meaning of “Image of God”: “Firstly, we human beings are rational and self-conscious. Secondly, we are moral, having a conscience that urges us to do what we perceive to be right. Thirdly, we are creative like our Creator, able to appreciate what is beautiful to the ear and the eye. Fourthly, we are social, able to establish with one another authentic relationships of love. For God is love, and by making us in his own image, he has given us the capacity to love him and others. Fifthly, we have a spiritual faculty that makes us hunger after God. Thus we are uniquely able to think and to choose, to create, to love, and to worship.” (Through the Bible-Through the Year, p.18)

As a result of being made in the image of God, we have incredible value as human beings. It also demands equality. As a result of the fall of man through Adam that image was marred but not destroyed (Genesis 9:6, James 3:9). Fallen man has not done well to live up to the high creation calling. It is only through the cross that the image of God can begin a restoration process in a person’s life. The Apostle Paul writes that a follower of Christ having “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

All lives matter so much because we were all created in the image of God. Therefore, we must have a strong commitment to value life whether that life is in the womb, on a death bed or anything in between. We must also treat each other with deep respect regardless of our differences. May the Lord help us to do it well as human beings and especially as those who claim to know Him.

Biblically Responding to the Supreme Court Ruling on Marriage

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court made it constitutionally legal for same sex couples to get married in every state of the Union. This vote was anticipated by many in the weeks leading up to the ruling. Now what? How does the church respond in ministry? How does the church respond emotionally? I have been reading a lot of materials on the answers to these questions and the answers are broad and varied. The following reflects my thoughts in response to this ruling.

  1. We Must be Grounded in Biblical Truth

While the ruling has essentially changed the definition of marriage in America, God’s definition has not changed. Every Christian will have to decide if his or her values will be shaped by the changing views of a culture or by an unchanging God.
For many evangelicals, the Bible is the sole authority for faith and practice. That commitment is based on the self-proclamation of the Bible, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
This means that we must understand the Bible and live the Bible as it was given for our time. The truth of the Bible cannot be altered because public opinion polls change. We do not have the option of picking and choosing the portions of Scripture that we prefer. So, while a law has changed, the Bible and our commitment to it has not.

  1. We Must Pray

Many Christians are responding in panic and anger. We are to be reminded that the Lord has not promised a perfect place to do ministry. That perfect place is yet to come. It is not like this is the first time the church has been challenged to reach the world in a hostile environment. The first century church was born into a context of persecution. Not only did it survive, through the ensuing centuries it turned a world upside down.
In this first century of hostility toward Christianity, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:1-4), “First of all then, I urge you that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior who desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
I hear people say that we have to do more than pray. And, while there is truth to that, we had better first pray and continue to pray. Our God is sovereign and in control. Ultimately, what we want to see is changed lives and a righteous nation, but only God can do this. Our church leadership has made all of the recommended changes to our statement of faith and related documents to prepare us for this day.
The ruling is not the end of a battle but perhaps just the beginning. I don’t believe the agenda was just to change the definition of marriage, but rather to silence, if not wipe out, the church and the influence of religion. I suspect more state laws will be introduced to protect religious liberty while other laws will be introduced to label all dissent to the LGBT agenda as hate speech.   All of these laws will face court challenges and will ultimately be determined by nine justices.
This is why prayer is so important. 2 Chronicles 7:14 challenges the followers of God to humble themselves, confess their sins and pray.

  1. We Must be Focused on Mission

Our mission has not changed. Christians and the church are to shine as stars in a wicked and directionless generation. The challenge to make disciples though the powerful gospel is still our first priority. All other enterprises cannot take priority or supplant our reason to exist. Like never before in our lifetime is our culture in need of the church to be the salt and light that Jesus commanded. The power and will to do so must also be the essence of our prayers.

  1. We Must Demonstrate the Love of Christ

Jesus showed us that while we are not to love the world and its ways, we are to love people. We have to love people not just the ones who agree with us or live like us. Jesus taught it and modeled it. Ed Stetzer, church leader and consultant, has stated well, “You cannot hate a people and reach a people at the same time.” Perhaps those in our world will find it hard to understand that it is possible to disagree and yet love, but that is our challenge and our prayer!

My prayer is that we at Woodside would do all four of these really well. And in doing so, we will bring honor to our God and his Word while we fulfill our responsibility to reach our world.

 

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