Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Lead like a servant

Many things that Jesus taught were contrary to conventional wisdom. But, when you examine them from a Godly point of view, they make complete sense and when put into practice we can see the result that He taught would happen. One idea that is the exact opposite of what the world would teach us today is about leadership and that true leadership is being at the bottom, a servant, instead of at the top.

When we think of leaders and leadership, our mind naturally gravitates towards people such as the President of the United States, a General in the Army, your principal at school, or maybe a top-performing athlete in a sport. We view them as leaders because of the position they hold, the influence and power they wield, and the commands they give to the people they lead. We express this as “top down” leadership in which orders are given and they are followed. But, that is not the kind of leadership defined by God and patterned in the lives of the leaders He has chosen.

First, consider Moses. The Jews viewed Moses as the ultimate leader and revered his name. But, how did Moses become the chosen leader by God of the Israelites? It certainly wasn’t because he sought after it! Beginning with Moses’ story in Exodus 2 after he had killed an Egyptian beating a fellow Hebrew, he came upon two others having a dispute. When Moses had rebuked them, their response was the challenge “Who made you a prince and judge over us?” (Ex 2:14). Here we see the beginning of what true leadership is not: it is not by self-determination. Moses could not make himself to be a leader of the Hebrews.

After Moses fled Egypt, we see the call of God to Moses many years later. The scene of the burning bush in Exodus 3 has God telling Moses He has chosen him to lead his people from Egypt. But, Moses first response is “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11). You might think that Moses did this out of politeness not wanting to seem eager for the position but in his heart desiring it. After all, he was raised in the house of Pharaoh, the very seat of authority. No, in continuing to read the story, we find Moses giving four more excuses why he should not be God’s chosen leader before he does agree. Surely Moses was not seeking to be a leader of God’s people. Which gives us another aspect of Godly leadership: it is not sought after but taken on understanding the seriousness and responsibility of the task.

Why was Moses so reluctant of becoming the leader that God chose him to be? To answer that requires us to look into the mind and heart of a Godly leader. The best insight we can find is Jesus, the ultimate servant leader. First consider who Jesus was being both God and Man. In being God, he quite literally had everything: divine authority, power, and influence. Contrast that with the Man Jesus was: not attractive, without wealth, and not of the spiritual ruling elite. You would think, and the Jews of the day did think this way, that the God of Heaven would come in regal, glory and large fanfare but that’s not the way Jesus came to this earth.

We can see some answers as to why Jesus chose to come like this in Matt 20. The context begins with the mother of two disciples asking the position be granted for her sons to be seated at the right and left of Jesus. (v21) Jumping to the conclusion of this exchange we see leadership through God’s eyes and why Jesus chose the Man he was in appearance, “Even as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (v28). Jesus contradicts her view of what leadership means showing that it is by being a servant that one leads, “But whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” (v26)

Jesus epitomized the servant leader in washing the feet of his disciples. John 13:3-8 is a passage of Jesus serving His disciples to give them an object lesson in servant leadership. This is emphasized in what is revealed leading up to this account in v3, “Jesus knowing that the Father has given all things into His hands”. He had the ultimate authority and chose to use it this occasion to serve others. Being a servant does not make one a leader, but to be a Godly leader requires you to be a servant. By serving others you influence them to seek and serve God instead of commanding them. God seeks leaders. Will you be one?

You're not from around here

I sometimes hear that said to me. You might say I’m “traveled” in my life. A kid born in Indiana, grew up in South Florida which I watched become “Little New York”, 13 years in Texas, and now in Alabama. It doesn’t take much talking from me to know I’m not from around here because I have an accent from everywhere but yet nowhere.

Words carry great meaning and especially so of the words God uses to express Himself in scripture. Peter uses two small words in his first epistle found in 1 Peter 2:11:

1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I beseech you as sojourners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lust, which war against the soul;

He addresses them as “sojourners and pilgrims”. Two small words that contain a deep and profound meaning for Christians because ultimately they tell us who we are, how we should act, our view of life, and where we are going.

Literally, the definition of sojourner is a non-resident alien, a stranger, a foreigner, someone passing through on a journey. The definition of a pilgrim is a resident alien, someone who comes from a foreign country to reside by the side of the natives. These two words provide us two perspectives on the Christian life but each has in common one thing: Christians are aliens in a foreign country. Which leaves us asking, if a Christian is a foreigner in this life then where is home? What “country” am I a citizen of? What am I doing in this foreign land?

We have in American history the story of the Pilgrims from England that came to the “New World” in 1620. Their purpose was to escape from the religious persecution that they endured and find a new home. They called themselves Pilgrims because of the journey they made and the decision to reside in a new land with the natives. But, to them, they left behind the life in England with no intention to ever return. In Heb. 11:13, a context sometimes referred to as the Hall of Faith, we are told of spiritual pilgrims:

Heb 11:13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

God has always called His people to remember where their true citizenship is. The Israelites were given a special feast that they were to keep to remind them of their deliverance out of Egypt, the Feast of Tabernacles found in Lev. 23:42-43. God tells them the reason they were to keep the feast as a reminder that God made them dwell in tabernacles in bringing them out of Egypt, and that “I am Jehovah your God.” As Christians, we are citizens of a Heavenly country, one that we cannot see with our eyes, but one seen from afar at the end of our journey.

As our King, God expects us to work and behave in a way keeping with our citizenship. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes tells us in Eccl 3:9-12 the broad meaning of a purposed life for God. The tasks and responsibilities we are to be busy doing are rejoicing in doing good in this life. This is all framed in the perspective that God has set eternity into the heart of man. What is this good? Jesus responded when questioned about the greatest commandment in Matt 22:37-40, that the first is to love God with all the heart, soul, and mind, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. As Christians we are concerned with reaching our goal of Heaven and the good we should be trying to do is to take as many with us as we can.

However, it’s so easy to become content with this life and just “settle down”. We become busy with the work of this life forgetting about the good we are to be doing and effectively renouncing our Heavenly citizenship. People begin thinking you “look like just one of us.” We must be diligent to maintain the “eternal perspective” that this life is a journey, not a destination. We may have an address, telephone number, and email, but don’t be fooled into thinking that’s who you are. Look beyond these things and act in a way that people ask you, “You’re not from around here, are you?” And then explain where you’re going and why.

God's Flood Lamp

Growing up in South Florida, life was infested with cockroaches, or sometimes more tastefully referred to as water bugs. We could never get rid of the things in spite of the effort in killing them by force or with pesticides. When you turned on the lights in the kitchen late at night or in the morning before the sun was up, it was almost a guarantee that you would see several of the little pests running for cover trying to escape from being exposed in the open where they could be easily killed, choosing to invade under cover of darkness.

This effect is not too different from what we find around us in life at times. The Gospel of John gives us a picture of the entry of the Light into the world in John 1:1-10. John introduces this image to us by starting at the beginning and describing the Word and that the Word was with God and was God and all things were created by the Word. Later in v14 we learn who the Word is when John writes that the Word became flesh and dwelt among them. The Word was Jesus. But John also gives us some additional imagery in identifying him as the life and light of men, v 4. In particular there are two key things that John identifies with the light. First, in v5, the light shone in the darkness but the darkness did not comprehend it. Then further in v9, the Light, Jesus, is the true Light that lights every man that is in the world.

To expand on this imagery further, we find another instance of light being used in the book of 1 John 1:5-7. Here the light is used to describe that God is light and that there is no darkness in him. The image is then expanded to that of us walking in the light, but that we cannot claim to have fellowship with God and also walk in darkness for to do so would be a lie. But, it’s the basis of walking in the light that allows us to have fellowship first with God, then with others that are walking in the light, and also to be cleansed from our sins by the blood of Jesus Christ.

For us living in a physical world where absolute bright light or darkness is difficult to relate to, the contrast provided in 1 John can be missed but the contrast is clear, we can either walk in light or darkness but not both, there is no “grey area”. When I’m outside on a hot, sunny day or happen to be in an area where the light is especially intense, I look at myself and all of a sudden the imperfections in my skin become very obvious. Likewise, everything around me is seen for what it is: the scratches in my car, the cracks in my driveway, the leaves under my trees that need raking. However, on a moonless night I can barely see the shape of my hand in front of my face let alone know what imperfections I have or are around me or where I’m going. It’s no wonder that a majority of crimes are committed at night.

It is important to understand what 1 John means by encouraging us to walk in light rather than in darkness. The word walk is used throughout scripture to identify the manner of life and conduct, our direction and aim. In application then, we should want to be in the light and strive to stay in the light. But how many times have we caught ourselves seeking how close we can get to something that is not part of the light, to that which is in darkness? Is that walking in the light? Likewise, do we try to rationalize our actions at times in an attempt to convince ourselves that it’s not that big of a deal and in effect living out the contradiction in the statement “innocent looking sins.” What about when we chose to do it our way rather than God’s although it may seem good?

Walking in the light is not easy for it will expose us for what we are and if we’re not humble enough to deal with what is easily seen and try to remove it from our lives with God’s help, it can drive us to instead seek darkness where those faults cannot be seen by us or by others. But, while we might succeed in hiding these things from our consciousness and that of others, do not forget the two warnings that we find in these passages. First, the Light exposes and lights every man in this world, John 1:9, none will escape it. Second, that if we say we have fellowship with God but walk in darkness seeking to hide what we are or are doing, then we lie and do not the truth, 1 John 1:5. What will be our response then in being exposed to God’s flood lamp of truth?


Why start a blog of Bible meditation? To answer that question requires me to step back in time and give a little background.

My father, now retired, was a college English professor. He's a very laid back person but you always knew he loved his work. Mix that with his dry sense of humor and you might guess that we had more than a little "chiding" about our grammar skills, or lack there of, over the dinner table, driving somewhere, any time, any where. It didn't take a special time for him to gently correct us in the correct paths of the English language. For the better part of 18 years I had my own personal English tutor and that left a mark on me. Not a bad one, just one that to this day shows his influence in my appreciation of writing, reading, and speaking. Even though I'm a "techie" and most others of my type have a real aversion to writing, I can honestly say that I don't. And of course, I must credit him with teaching me the Truth growing up. He is even to this day very diligent about studying God's Word which is another mark he has left with me. He's probably forgotten more than I'll ever know. In all these things I am extremely grateful.

There is another person that has had an impact and influence on me, Jim Everett. Jim was the local preacher at the congregation we attended in Cedar Park, Texas beginning in 1993. He had a real gift for writing about Biblical subjects in a very concise way. Jim's writing was a reflection of his personality and style: direct, succinct, and rich thoughts presented with a little dry humor on occassion. The focus was always about understanding the Word of God, not the writer or what the writer thinks. He always used some simple rules in his writing confining it to a single page of two columns and a short title that caught your attention. He would spend hours writing and re-writing to craft the thoughts and remove the "fluff".

It is said that often you don't realize what you have until it is gone. We moved from Cedar Park in the Summer of 2003 and missed Jim and his teaching and preaching. At the time we moved I had not spent much time writing or developing my skills. After all, we had Jim and he did it so well. At some point during 2004 I decided to get to it and use what I had learned from my father and Jim and developed a few subjects to use in lessons presented at our congregation here. Then what was least expected happened and set my mind to develop my writing skills even further. Jim was diagnosed with terminal cancer in early February and died 2 weeks later. He was an inspiration to me in life and now that he's gone I feel compelled to continue his legacy of writing.

With that short history, I hope you can understand why I set my mind to this and what I hope is accomplished. The goal is simple as Paul wrote in 1 Corithians 3:6 "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." So, we're going to get at some planting and let the Word of God operate on our hearts. My goal is to develop a subject and post it about one every two weeks. So, check back from time to time and let's be meditatiing on God's precepts.