Surrendered Leadership

How bad do you need to be for history to classify you as a scoundrel?  Paul Martin, in a Huffington Post article, cites some of the worst historical scoundrels like Daniel Drew, the Fox sisters, and Hetty Green.  These folks, and others like them, lived unscrupulously at the expense of others.

Now, how bad do you need to be for the Bible to identify you as a scoundrel?  That’s a whole new level.  But that’s exactly how Phinehas and Hophni are described (1Samuel 2).  They consistently robbed people; slept with whoever they wanted; disregarded authority; and ignored God.  Their story may not raise many eyebrows until you know that these two men were leaders.  They were part of a family that had been committed to serving God and God’s people.  But nothing they did reflected their position as leaders.

Leadership is hard.  If you lead, you get this.  As a country we’re tough on our leaders – from the government to the church and everywhere in between.  We certainly expect our leaders to be people of character and integrity, and we should.  But we also have the propensity to knock leaders down.  We want them to be the best, but we quickly look for their flaws and cheer when those flaws are well known.  Leadership is not for the faint of heart.

And that’s precisely why those who are leaders – especially spiritual leaders – need to pay attention to the details.  While Hophni and Phinehas were disregarding their character and position, God was raising up another leader to replace them.  Samuel was still a young boy but God was shaping him into the kind of leader both God and the people needed.  God gives us a hint of the kind of leader Samuel could be – “those who honor me I will honor but those who despise me I will disdain…I will raise up a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind” (1Samuel 2:30-35).

When it comes to spiritual leadership God looks for a particular kind of person – one that wants what God wants.  Wanting what God wants has a way of shaping our character and increasing our integrity. When temptations challenge our moral fiber, leaders after God’s heart trust God’s strength.  When moral failure happens, leaders after God’s own heart seek forgiveness and restoration.  Spiritual leaders don’t ignore or dismiss their actions they come to terms with the call and grace of God.  God raised up Samuel to do what was on God’s heart and mind.

Whether you are a Christian leader at work, in your home, with you kids, or at your church – God is inviting you to do what is on his heart and mind.  Phinehas and Hophni reveal the destruction unsurrendered leadership creates.  Don’t be a scoundrel!  Seek the heart and mind of God, surrender yourself to God’s purposes and lead well.

Abundant Life is Found Out on the Water

Bread and water are the often joked about references to the food of the incarcerated.  But bread and water are two elements Jesus uses to show Peter the secret to a full and abundant life.

The story begins in Matthew 14.  The crowds have followed Jesus into a remote place.  The sun’s going down and everyone’s getting hungry.  The disciples want to send the crowds into town for dinner.  Jesus has another idea – “you give them something to eat.”  The reaction of the disciples is one that we would share if we were in their shoes, “We don’t have enough…”

  When faced with obvious need, “we don’t have enough…” is our usual response.  I’ve been guilty of that.  We don’t have enough time, money, people, money, time…you get the idea.  We’ve all been there and we’ve all uttered the same thing.  But I love what Jesus does in light of their scarcity.  Jesus says, “Bring them here to me.”  Bring me your resources.  Bring me what you do have.  Then Jesus does what only he can do.  He takes our limits and stretches them to meet the need.

This story is immediately followed by Peter walking on the water.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so.

Peter and the other disciples are in a boat struggling against the storm and waves.  They’re trying to get the other side of the lake to meet Jesus, but they’re stuck.  So Jesus comes to them, walking on the water.  Peter sees Jesus and wants to be where he is – out on the water.  But Peter let his water walking certification lapse.  So he says, “Jesus, if that’s you tell me to come to you on the water.”  If I were Peter, I’d want Jesus to respond with something like, “No. Don’t worry about it. Stay in the boat and I’ll come to you.  No need to get your feet wet.”  But he doesn’t.  Jesus’ response to Peter’s longing is simply – “Come.”

Now Peter has never walked on water but here’s what he has done: he has stepped out of a boat before.  He was a fisherman, after all.  He knows how to lift a leg over the side, set it down, and walk.  So Peter does what he knows how to do.  He gives Jesus what he already knows how to do.  And Jesus does, in those moments, what only Jesus can do.

I’m convinced that this is a life truth.  We give Jesus what we know how to do and Jesus takes it and does what only he can do!

Following Jesus is about being stretched.  Left to ourselves, we usually see what we can’t accomplish.  And that always limits the abundant life Jesus promises.  Jesus stretches our faith when he says, “Give me what you do have” and I’ll take it and do an amazing thing.  Abundant life is found out on the water – when we give Jesus what we know how to do and let him do with it what only he can do.

Last night I attended an event hosted by The Asservo Project (theasservoproject.org).  The Asservo Project, based out of Pittsburgh, exists to combat global human trafficking.  They are a David facing a Goliath.  Human trafficking is currently one of the world’s most profitable criminal enterprises.  There are 40 million victims globally.  At $150 billion annually, this criminal enterprise makes more money than Google, Apple, Yahoo, and Netflix combined.  Since 2010, human trafficking has grown 850%.  Trafficking and sexual slavery is real.  Open your eyes and it becomes so obvious.

This reality is so staggering I couldn’t help but think, “Jesus, we don’t have enough…”  That’s all I could think about on the way home.  How do you even make a dent?  And I kept going back to this story.  Jesus says, give me what you have/what you know how to do and I’ll do what only I can do.

So that’s my current next step.  But what about you?  You may not be passionate about ending human trafficking (I hope you will be) but there is something that you are passionate about.  There is something that God is calling you to and you’re first response is “I don’t have enough…time, education, money, fill in the blank.”

But here’s the spiritual truth.  The only way disciples grow is when they are stretched.  When they say, “Jesus, I hear you, and I don’t know how I will accomplish this but I will give you what I know how to do and I’ll let you do what only you can do.”

Abundant life is found out on the water…so get out of the boat.

Stand up!

There are seasons of life where we come to the end of our ability. Hopefully these are the very seasons that drive us to a deeper place of surrender.

…Hannah stood up.

I’ve never really seen this phrase before.  It seems to come out of nowhere, yet Hannah’s action is a consequence of years of provocation.

Let’s remember the story.  Hannah was the wife of Elkanah.  But she wasn’t his only wife.  In a context unlike our own, Hannah was a product of polygamy.  She shared Elkanah with another woman – Peninnah.  Furthermore, in a culture that placed wealth, privilege, life, and success on a person’s number of children, Hannah was losing.  She had given Elkanah no children, while Peninnah seemed to be very fertile.

Not only was Hannah seeming to suffer from the depression and frustration of a “closed womb,” she was constantly provoked by Peninnah.  This troublesome relationship went on year after year until Hannah was so depressed and broken down that she couldn’t eat and constantly wept about her painful reality (1Samuel 1:1-20)

This was Hannah’s reality until she stood up.  She had enough and stood up.  She was tired of her pain and she stood up.  She was done being provoked and ridiculed.  She stood up!  She was done with the depression.  She was done feeling sorry for herself.  She stood up…and went straight to her knees. Hannah came to the end of herself and to the beginning of God.

There are seasons of life where we come to the end of our ability.  Hopefully these are the very seasons that drive us to a deeper place of surrender.  I cannot…but God can.  Often these seasons arrive after long periods of frustration, pain, brokenness, and maybe even some ridicule.  The time before we come to a place of surrender may find us filled with self-doubt and devastated self-worth.

Hannah offers a beautiful portrait of strength.  She is tired of her present reality.  She wants change – not just for herself but for the people she loves.  I also suspect she wants God to be honored with her future.

Hannah comes to the end of herself and to the beginning of what God can do.  This is a remarkable picture of maturity.  Hannah speaks to me about moving from a life of brokenness into the full and abundant life of God.  And the one act that separates the two realities happens when Hannah stands up and say’s “enough is enough!”  I am tired of existing in my current status.  I want a better future.  So she stands up and goes straight to her knees believing that God is the one who changes our story.

Where do you need to stand up today?  What are you tired of living with?  What are you tired of permitting?  What are the habits or cycles that you’re done with for the last time?  Where have you reached the limits of your abilities?  Remember the definition of insanity – if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we always got.  Stand up!  And go straight to your knees.

In chapter 2, Hannah offers a prayer of thanksgiving for what God has done to change her reality.  In that pray she pronounces a new path, “My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my [strength] is lifted high…there is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no rock like our God.”

Stand up today and surrender your current reality to God’s best future for you.  Remember what Jesus said, “the thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy.  I have come that you may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Ron Geisler (@rongeisler) has shared a tweet with you

Parents are the primary disciplers of their children. The church can reinforce, but can’t replace — Mike Glenn (@mikeglenn)

Ron Geisler (@rongeisler) has shared a tweet with you

To reach unchurched; means to radically realign our focus, time, energy & resources — Mike Slaughter (@RevMSlaughter)

Ron Geisler (@rongeisler) has shared a tweet with you

God chose church 2 be his hands & feet in world; not for dinners & bazaars; it is time for new visionGod chose church 2 be his hands &… — Mike Slaughter (@RevMSlaughter)

Role Models: Passing It On

Have you ever wondered what deceased people would say to us if they had the chance? What do you suppose their counsel to us would be if they could rise from the grave for just a few minutes? What advice would they share with us?

Sometimes people in the last throes of the dying process have very profound things to say. John Newton, a former slave trader turned Presbyterian minister and author of that famous hymn “Amazing Grace” said upon nearing his death, “I am still in the land of the dying; I shall be in the land of the living soon.”

Other times, they don’t say too much. Lady Nancy Astor, the first woman member of the British Parliament who lived from 1879 to 1964, woke up for just a moment from her deathbed to see her entire family surrounding her. She looked around and said, “Am I dying or is this my birthday?”

The very last words of P.T. Barnum were, “How were the receipts today in Madison Square Garden?”

Just before he died, Pancho Villa said to a friend, “Don’t let it end this way. Tell them I said something.”

Marie Antoinette, on the way to her death said, “Pardon me sir” after she stepped on the toe of her executioner.

King David had some advice for his son Solomon as he lay dying. When his time drew near, he charged his son Solomon with these words: be strong, be courageous, and be faithful. Sounds like pretty good advice to me; advice that still resonates a few thousand years later.

Be strong. This sounds like something we tell our sons, doesn’t it. Be strong. Stay tough. Hang in there. Don’t give up. But it is good advice for all of us, regardless of gender.

Let’s face it, human life is not for the faint of heart. You never know when things will fall apart. You never know when your well laid plans will unravel. You never know when your own mistakes will catch up with you. Stuff happens in life. Sometimes it is unexpected. Most often it is unwelcome. It causes us to reach outside our comfort zones and find new ways of coping, surviving, winning.

Strength in human life requires character, certainty, integrity, and a belief in something greater than you. Such a strong person is one who can overcome adversity. Such a person is one who refuses to give up, even in the face of tremendous odds. Such a person will not be defeated. Such a person finds his or her worth, not in outside circumstances, but rather in one’s standing as a child of God.

The second piece of advice the dying King David gave to his son Solomon was, “be courageous.” David showed courage throughout his life as he fought for and won a kingdom.

Many of us are risk-averse. We go out of our way to protect ourselves against any and all perceived threats.

Now, I’m all for safety and I realize that accidents happen, but sometimes I think that we may go overboard in our quest to defeat any risk before it presents itself. We dress our kids up in helmets, shin guards, knee pads, gloves, and goggles to go out riding their bikes. Perhaps we are giving them a false sense of security. Perhaps we are

communicating to them that you can get through life without being hurt.

The problem is that, when we become so afraid of risk, we also strip ourselves of any chance of enjoyment. Of course there is a difference between courage and foolishness, but we can’t let fear dominate our lives.

One of the things I have been saying to folks around here is that the church has to develop and nurture an organizational climate in which we are not afraid to make mistakes. We need to give each other permission to make mistakes. Only by boldness and courage can we move into the future with any hope of reaching new populations for Jesus Christ.

Making mistakes means that we are not being content with sitting still. The only way to prevent mistakes is not to do anything. The key, it seems to me, is to trust God and be courageous enough to step out in faith. If we make mistakes we will learn from them and not make them again. But people who trust God cannot be afraid to step out and take a risk or two or three for the Kingdom.

Remember that King David said, “Be courageous.” He didn’t say, “Don’t be afraid.” There is a difference. Mark Twain was the one who said, “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it.”

David didn’t say, “Act only when the way is clear before you.” He said, “Be courageous.” I don’t know who said this, but I read this quote just the other day. “Courage can’t see around corners, but goes around them anyway.” Courage is acting in the knowledge that God has the power and control of any situation, even failure. If failure comes, it is courage which learns and goes forward.

Finally King David told Solomon to, “…keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies…so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn.” In other words, “be faithful.”

Granted, you may be strong and courageous without having faith in God…history is full of examples. But more often than not, such strength and courage is likely to be misplaced or misdirected. Strength and courage must be fortified, equipped, and prepared by the Word of God.

The world in which we live is not always an easy one to survive. Mistakes happen. Troubles come and go. Tragedy sometimes strikes. Misunderstanding comes along. Our own stubbornness or inabilities may serve to get us into more trouble than we can imagine. Sometimes it seems that the deck is stacked against us.

Perhaps, like King David, their advice would be to be strong, be courageous, and be faithful. Such people make it to the finish line and join the mighty cloud of witnesses, as spoken of in Hebrews chapter 12, who have already completed their race. My prayer is that we will be such a people.

What Do I Do When My Kids Aren’t Living Like I Raised Them?

During my years as a pastor who has served several churches I am often approached by weeping parents.  Sparked by a message or a deep encounter with God’s Spirit, they come to tell me stories of heartbreak and disappointment; their teenage daughter is pregnant, an adult son is an addict, a daughter refuses to take the kids to church, a son is devastated and abusive because he can’t find a job and support his family.  As I look into the eyes of the parent telling me these stories I not only see the depth of pain but I can see  their question – “Why?  This isn’t the way we raised them.”

So what can a parent do when their adult children are living a different kind of life than the way they were raised?

I wonder if King David had some similar questions.  His son Absalom was causing David a great deal of pain and heartbreak.  Absalom was a vengeful person.  In 2Samuel he appears to be a person full of hatred and pain.  I’m not sure of the root of his pain.  Maybe it had something to do with David’s sin.  Nonetheless, Absalom plots to take over David’s throne and rule the kingdom.

David ends up fleeing for safety.  He orders his armies to put down the rebellion while making it very clear that Absalom’s life should be spared.  In the end, that’s not what happens.  Absalom is killed.  David is broken, again.  He weeps and wishes it had all ended differently.

My guess is that there are some parents who can resonate with this.  Your adult children are not living like you had hoped.  Their life is broken and all you can do is stand by and helplessly watch.  Your advice is ignored.  You want to help yet you can’t prolong their dysfunction.  What can you do?

One writer has suggested that parents can rightly grieve the losses these changes symbolize.  Whether they are moral issues, a change in faith, complex problems, or lifestyle choices, parents must give themselves permission to feel the pain.   These are the moments to get real with God.  Tell Him how you are really feeling.  God grieves with you and wants more for your children than you.

Once grief and disappointment has been acknowledged, you can move to the next phase which is embracing hope.  This isn’t about trying to change them but the hope is about loving them in the middle of your pain.

Loving your adult children even when they have walked away from the values with which they were raised reveals to them the depth of your love.  It shows just how unconditional love is.  It reminds them that you will be there no matter what.  This doesn’t mean you’ll rescue them from the consequences of their decisions.  But it does mean you can be respectful, listen and be there through everything.

Talking With God After Failure

Yesterday I alluded to just how hard it was to worship after I experienced a career failure.  My connection with God wasn’t strong.  I really didn’t want to talk to God – at all!  Not only did I feel like I let God down but I felt like maybe God let me down, too.  Have you ever felt that way?

Perhaps one of the most challenging points of spiritual growth is to stay with God even after failure.  In other words, how do we allow failure to be a springboard to a deeper relationship with God?

As I continue to look into the post-failure life of King David, I’m personally challenged by his reliance upon God.  The first thing he does is to admit his failure.  But the story continues to unfold at a deeper level.  The child that David has with Bathsheba becomes gravely ill.  David remembers what Nathan said – “the child will die” (2Samuel 12:14).  David is undeterred.  He fasts, weeps and prays for the baby to live – even to the point of willingly giving his own life for the life of his son. Unfortunately, the child dies.

Do you see what happens to David, though?  The failure and the consequences of the failure propel him to a deeper reliance upon God.  He doesn’t run away.  He doesn’t brood or feel sorry for himself.  David doesn’t neglect God. David gets even closer. In fact at the end of his life David reflects on the strength of God in those moments of failure:  “The Lord is my solid rock, my fortress, my rescuer.  My God is my rock…” (2Samuel 22:2-3).

Stay in love with God.  Some of the hardest moments of your spiritual formation will take place in the shadows of failure.  Many will run away from God, blaming God rather than seeing what God will do after the dust of failure settles. God is not done with you.  Failure can redirect you to deeper places with God.

 

Fail Forward

There are consequences to our failures.  I wish it weren’t true, but there are.  David became vividly aware of the consequences of his failure: the child born to Bathsheba died and David’s family was broken.

I really don’t want to admit it but there were very definite consequences to the failure I wrote about yesterday.  It took a great deal of time for life to once again resemble a sense of normalcy and to regain much of what was lost.

So I read this story of David with a sense of hope.  I want to anticipate that God is still for David – that he remains a “Man after God’s own heart.”  It’s exciting that even in the midst of the consequences of David’s failure God speaks a word of promise into David’s life: “The Lord has removed your sin…you won’t die.” (2Samuel 12:13)  What a word of hope!  Yes, there are consequences.  Yes, those consequences may be horrific and devastating.  But there is hope.

Failure can potentially anchor us down and paralyze.  Or, the failure can be a springboard.  I’d like to think that even when we fail, we can fail forward.  Here are some thoughts about failing forward that I learned.

Get up!  Failure can quickly move to depression.  Force yourself up and out the door.

Stay connected with the people who still love you.  You’d be surprised at the people you thought were friends who now want nothing to do with you.  Stay close to the people who stay with you.

Stay connected with God.  That can be tough especially when you think that God let you down.  I dropped out of worship for awhile.  I was mad at God.  Through the gentleness of leaders and friends in my life I found my way back to worship.

After awhile, start to dream again.  By nature I’m a dreamer.  I am always thinking about future possibilities.  After the failure I could not dream.  I really didn’t care much about dreams.  Why dream?  Those dreams will just fall apart. 

It wasn’t until I realized that my dream of reaching unchurched people didn’t fall apart that I was able to move again.  You see, what I thought was a failure – a new church start that wasn’t allowed to move beyond reaching a handful of unchurched people – was a springboard for doing ministry in a secular culture.  Immediately, God moved me to hospice ministry.  It was there that I was able to connect to and offer hope and transformation to hundreds of unchurched people, who at a crisis moment, were very interested in God.  Finally, I was able to start dreaming of a future of possibility.

Often the enemy shows us our shattered dreams and says, “Why keep going?  You’re just a failure.”

God’s the one who removes the past and begins to do a new thing.  Let him.