Turn Signals

Recently as I was driving on the highway, I was reminded of the significance and importance of using turn signals and the fact that some people have forgotten about this factory installed feature on their vehicle. Turn signals provide a means of communication to let other drivers around you know where you are going so that they can act appropriately. 

My last blog entry (click here if you missed it) indicated that I was closing off my time in Nehemiah, but I was inspired one last time by his words and I wanted to share one last thought. 

For twelve years Nehemiah used his God given gifts of leadership and discernment to bring honor and glory back to a nation of people that God had chosen as his own, to bring honor and glory to the great and awesome God that he served. During his time as governor of Jerusalem Nehemiah never led the people without a signal of what direction he was going. All the rebuilding, the prayer, the scripture reading, the teaching, the love and compassion were signals that were used to help bring the people back into a right relationship with God. 

Through opposition by other leaders, corruption in his own ranks, and amid intimidation and offerings of bribes Nehemiah never lost sight of the direction he has heading. He may have had to signal around these obstacles but always stayed on course making sure that everyone knew where he was leading them to go.

This made me think about the signals that we may or may not use that other people see, indicating the direction that we are headed in our own relationships with God. While some of these things are personal and remain between God and us, there are some that are obvious indicators that provide opportunity for others to see and follow. 

What are these signals? What will people recognize in our lives that set us apart from the rest of the world? Well, after reading Nehemiah I would say the number one signal that others can see is humility.

First, Nehemiah did nothing for his own personal gain or recognition. His motivation was to serve God first, then the people of Jerusalem. Living humbly and serving God and others before ourselves seems counter-cultural in our world today. When we live a life outside the bounds of cultural norms, we signal to others that we are different and that opens opportunities to share the answers of why.

Second, Nehemiah showed incredible compassion and generosity to the people. He did more than just listen to the needs of the community around him. As governor he put into motion a plan that levelled the playing field in respect to social and economic injustice. He gave generously from his own wages so that other could benefit. When we serve and give freely to those in need, we signal to those who are watching that other people matter to us. 

Third, Nehemiah was dedicated to the reading of the word of God and prayer. Our lives should reflect the same. We have an incredible opportunity to show the people around us who our God is and how much he loves them. Prayerfully reading and studying the word of God will inspire us, motivates us, and show us that our God can and will use us to be a signal of hope for those in the world. 

High-Beam Headlights

Have you ever been driving at night and found your eyes momentarily blinded by the piercing stream of light from the high-beam headlights of an oncoming vehicle? Many of you have. What’s your first reaction? Do you give a quick courtesy flash of your lights back to the driver coming your way in hopes that they dim their lights and pass you by? Or, do you return fire with fire and burn your halogen bulbs at full candlepower until the other person gives in and relents to your stunning retaliation?

The apostle Paul has received word about a “high-beam” situation infiltrating the church in Corinth. Various groups within the church were beginning to “flash their lights at each other” over who they were following along with reports of sexual immortality, lawsuits and other troubling activities. Paul deals with the first issue of divisiveness before the others in chapters 1:20-4:21. He describes the problem in 1:12, “What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another “I follow Cephas”, still another, “I follow Christ.” 

The opening of Paul’s letter “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people” was a call to unity where disarray was brewing. “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you.” What was Paul’s plan? How in the midst of disagreement can the church come together in love for one another? 

Paul outlines four methods for us to “dim the lights” and foster an attitude and environment where unity can flourish. 

First and foremost, Paul instructs the people to focus on the cross of Christ. (1:18-2:5) Simply put, the Corinthians have lost sight of the cross, their “high-beam” focus on other leaders for power and authority has to be refocused, the need to return to the truth of the gospel message. It is not about them but all about Christ. 

Second, He speaks to the truth of spiritual wisdom. (2:6-16) Without the leading and guiding of the Spirit in all matters of faith in life as believers we will fail in our own weaknesses. He reminds us of God’s wisdom as revealed by the Spirit. “The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.” (2:10b)

Third, he speaks to the true equality of all believers. (3:1-23) Paul uses two metaphors, one of farmers in a field and another of construction workers building together. He stresses in verse 9 that we are “co-workers” (working together) in God’s service. 

Lastly, Paul speaks to the true nature of leadership. (4:1-21) Called by God, the leaders are his faithful servants; “This then is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.” (4:1) In short, Paul highlights the truth that Christ is to be exalted over his chosen leaders (servants), while at the same time given the respect they deserve because of their calling. 

Having been momentarily “blinded” by the powerful lights of an oncoming car I will admit I’ve responded to the situation with both a quick courtesy flash and more aggressive retaliation. For all of us, whether sitting in the driver’s seat or walking through other events in life, Paul’s timeless reminder to “dim the lights” and focus on the cross and listen to the leading and guiding of the Spirit will do us well.  

Wise Old Owl

Owl

Our western culture portrays this rather mysterious birds as wise; the owl is known for its stealth like ability to hunt its prey at night. It has been said that Athena, who was the Greek goddess of wisdom is often represented by the image of an owl. The famous character Owl from the classic story of Winnie the Pooh is characterized as a know-it-all. What about this perspective; The owl is considered dumb and empty-headed in India because it has the tendency to sit and stare blankly into space. So, is the owl really all that wise? I will leave that up to you to decide.

The book of Proverbs is filled with wisdom, instruction and divine truths. This is how the author opens this book, “Purpose and Theme: The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple.” This short introduction gives us a pretty clear scope of what God has provided through His word for direction in our lives. Verse seven of chapter one is the key to everything we find written in this book of wisdom, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” What is this fear? Well, it is an attitude of the heart and mind, an attitude of reverence, respect, awe, loyalty and obedience to live according to the words of the Lord.

The Bible is the inspired word of God given to man. The wisdom imparted through the Book of proverbs came from the Lord in a time much like we are living in today. The world that surrounds us has been plagued with foolishness (the antithesis of wisdom), dare I say it as the Indian culture describes, “empty-headed”. Reading through proverbs I found it noteworthy that the author was often addressing his son; the message was directed to those who were young and receptive to the teachings of the word. Solomon records these words in Proverbs 10:17, “Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.” As Christian leaders, we are called to be an example of one who heeds discipline, to increase in our knowledge and understanding of who God is and how we should live. We are called to teach this wisdom, knowledge and experience to the next generation of believers, giving them the proper foundation to grow on.

Take 42

In filmmaking, there are many different ‘takes” that typically make up a scene. Actors do their best to avoid making mistakes until the scene is complete and to the satisfaction of the director. One of the things I really enjoy about some filmmakers is how they include some of the out-takes at the end of the movie. Often, these raw clips make me laugh more than the movie itself did. The out-takes are what make the actors seem real, they reveal their authentic character which shows us that we all make mistakes.  

1 and 2 Kings remind me of this concept of “takes”. Throughout these two books we have 42 different takes on the role the kings plays in the life of Israel. Each of these Kings set out with a vision as they took on the responsibility of leading the people. The events in the two books of kings happen over approximately 384 years. During this time we read about two characteristics that in part help define the landscape of the vision held by these leaders. Scripture tells us these two things, “He did Evil in the eyes of the Lord” and “He did right in the eyes of the Lord.” Two very closely related statements with incredibly different outcomes which also highlight one of the character traits each of these leaders posses. Out of forty-two “takes” only six of the kings listed started and carried out their role as king with God in the picture. 1 and 2 kings only give us a glimpse into the lives of these men, one has to wonder about the differences in the culture and quality of life between the good kings and the evil kings.  

One of the incredible characteristics of our God is that He is the same today as He was in the time of all these kings. Today, as leaders we serve the same God who looks at all we do, the vision we cast, the lives that we live and holds us to the same standard as these kings. Are we doing right in His eyes or are we doing evil in His eyes. What is at the heart of our vision? Are we keeping God at the centre of all we do? Are we giving God the glory for the work he is doing through the plans (vision) he has inspired in us. I hope and pray that what I am doing as a leader having been called by Him into His service is being seen as right in His eyes. I want this “take” on life and leadership to have an impact in His great Story.  

“All In”

Have you ever pursued something with such an intense drive and unwavering persistence that people around you said you were “all in”? Have you ever been in a sticky situation where you can say you and a group of others were “all in the same boat”? Consider for a moment the beauty and power of Niagara Falls or the vast expanse of the Grand Canyon, you cannot help but stand back and “take it all in”. We are often “all in” when the stakes are high, when we have nothing else to lose or in some circumstances everything to lose.

1 and 2 Samuel describe a man who was “all in” when it came to living life. Known as a shepherd boy, courageous warrior, devoted friend, king and most notably a “man after God’s own heart”, David was a visionary leader who lived his life under the direction of the Lord. When I read through the life of David in scripture one of the things that grips my attention is how many times I read the words “David inquired of the Lord.” David, blessed by God, went to Him for direction and decisions in life trusting that He would provide for his needs and the needs of his people. With the confidence in knowing that God had a plan, David was able to lead his people through some incredible obstacles and unbeatable odds with God’s help. I want to say that David never lost sight of his vision, but he did, he was human just like you and I. David, despite his shortcomings stood in the light of a great and powerful God who was the foundation that his vision was built on. David had success in his leadership because he was focused on God, he knew where he was going and what he was doing because he was following God.  

When the Lord sent Samuel to call on David we learn something about David even before he enters the scene. David was different, it was not physical appearance or stature that set him apart, it was what was in his heart that pleased the Lord. As leaders today we can’t take this point lightly, we need to examine what is in our heart. What is at the heart of our leadership? What as leaders in the church today is the foundation of our mission and vision? Without God, without a passion to lead with God’s direction, our vision is empty and fruitless. Being a Godly leader means being “all in”, the stakes are high, we are fighting a battle for lost souls. We have everything to lose but so much more to gain when our hearts and lives follow that of God’s will.  

“You Have Been Forewarned”

do-not-enter-danger-signWe can either heed the warning of the “do not enter” or “danger” sign and stay on this side of safety or we can ignore the warnings and walk into a potentially dangerous situation. The sign has a very clear purpose and is pretty much universal in its message across the world. With that being said, I know that there are a number of people out there that see this sign and ask the question, “how dangerous is it?” For them it sparks a certain amount of curiosity and interest, questioning that of what lies beyond the warning.

“Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.” (2 Peter 3:17). Peter is closing his second letter with this warning, so it makes sense that he writes to us in his letters in a way that alerts us of some potentially “dangerous” situations. The most notable of these warnings is the influence of the false prophets and teachers that have been working their way into the lives of the people and the church. Over and over through his letters we are told that we will suffer because of our faith in Jesus, a warning and notice that our suffering for doing good is commendable before God. As we continue our reading through the text we are also warned of the enemy (the devil) who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 peter 5:8).

As leaders today we can fall prey to theses dangerous situations. Peter describes for us, the means by which the false prophets work, secretly introducing destructive heresies that are contrary to the sound doctrine we are growing in. Often times there is no danger sign shouting out to us to stop. Peter reminds us to grow not only in our faith through knowledge, but in goodness, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love. When we build these qualities into our faith, into our leadership we will not stumble, we will see the warning signs against the teachings of false doctrine, we will stand strong in suffering, and we will see the devil prowling around us (standing on guard). We may hear these warnings, we might see the signs, it is up to us to heed them even when our curiosity, our broken human condition of self and pride try to prevail.

What if the Shoe Doesn’t Fit?

 

Shoe fitHave you ever tried to wear a pair of shoes that didn’t fit properly? If they are too small your toes get a throbbing, aching pain in them from being jammed (no pun intended) together. If the shoes are too big, they will constantly rub on the back of your heel eventually causing you to get a blister. When it comes to shoes there is nothing better than a comfortable snug-fitting pair to keep your toes and heels intact.

The pastoral letters of First and Second Timothy hold a wealth of information for the training and encouragement of leaders today. Paul was writing to Timothy, his protégé, passing down instructions on how church leaders were to be shaped. 2 Timothy 4:5 offers up some heavy hitting instructions for Timothy and for us, “But you [Timothy, Steve, insert your name here], keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”. A part of Paul’s charge to Timothy here was “to do the work of an evangelist”. Is this who you are? An evangelist? I have devoted a considerable amount of time over the past couple of years to understanding God’s call on my life. When I consider my gifting, my abilities, I don’t “fit the shoe” in the role of evangelist. So how can I take this verse, this charge, and apply it to my life? I appreciate Eugene Petersons translation of this verse in the Message, it reads, “keep the message alive”. You or I may not be called to be an evangelist but we are called to be witnesses, men and women that live a life that honors God and reflects his love and compassion to those around us.

We only have to read a few verses into the book of John to understand that he was a “witness to the light”, A witness who testified to “the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14b) You or I may not be the person who is called to “go and tell” (the evangelist), it may be that we are the ones to say “come and see” (the witness). Please don’t get me wrong and think that I am dismissing the role of the evangelist like I would a pair of old worn out shoes. The role of the evangelist is critical in the advancement of the kingdom of God. What I am saying is, if the “shoe doesn’t fit” find a pair that does (discover the gifts that God has given you) and do everything you can to “keep the message alive”. Let your life reflect God’s love, be a witness to the Good news of Jesus Christ, be the one who says, “come and see”, this is what the Lord has done for me.

Nourishment & Goodness

tomatoSome of the key ingredients to growing a “perfect” tomato is providing consistent water, temperature and just the right amount of daylight. According to Google there are 6,840,000 references to “growing perfect tomatoes”, that’s a lot of information to pick and choose from. I have tried to grow tomatoes over the years in varying ways that produced somewhat undesirable results. I am going to attempt another batch this year and the one advantage I have over the others years is an automatic watering system to provide consistent nourishment.

The apostle Paul talks about being “nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed” (1 Tim 4:6). He is writing a letter to Timothy, giving him direction through his letter so that if in his absence He, (Timothy) will know how the people should conduct themselves in the church. With instructions on proper worship and qualifications for overseers and deacons we have quite a list of requirements to live up to as leaders in the church. There are some high expectations to which we are called as leader in the church. In each and every one of us there is a goodness that God has created, it is a goodness that needs consistent nourishment, a source of sustenance that is found in the truth of His word. In order for the goodness to produce new fruit in His kingdom we must give ourselves fully to God, “we have to put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people.” (1 Tim 4:10)

I don’t know of any “automatic system” that will feed or provide the nourishment of God’s word into our lives. The writer of Hebrews describes the need to be nourished by the “solid food” (teachings of righteousness), the same truths of the faith and teaching that Paul writes about here in 1 Timothy. As mature believers, as leaders, we have to be disciplined in our time being nourished by the word. This means spending time in the word, reading and meditating on its truths, living by its example, encouraging others, training ourselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:14) and faithfully teaching others. The word of God provides us the life giving nourishment necessary for growth, health and conditioning to be his leaders in the church today.

“In The Eyes of the Lord”

eye ballKeep your eye on the ball…  in the eye of the storm… a bird’s-eye view… beauty in the eye of the beholder… a second set of eyes… in the blink of an eye… camel through the eye of a needle… eye for an eye… evil eye… I could go on and on but I think you get the point. I played baseball in my younger days and heard the “keep your eye on the ball” idiom all the time.  I use this phrase when I teach my own kids to catch a ball or attempt to take a swing at it with a bat. “In the blink of an eye”, this phenomenon occurs when you put a bowl of candy or chocolate in front of some sugar crazed kids.

“In the eyes of the Lord”. This is a common expression used when we read through the books of 1 & 2 Kings. Most of the introductory words we read in respect to the reign of each king tells us up front the outcome of their rule. Quite simply they either “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” or “did evil in the eyes of the Lord”. We don’t have to read much further to understand all the particulars of what ‘right & evil’ are. I do believe it is a valuable lesson to spend the time to read deeper into the actions of the kings, to understand how what they did shaped the culture and ultimately the lives of the people. When I reflect on what each of the good and bad kings did, I came to this conclusion: the bad kings focused their actions through their own (self-centered) eyes and the good kings measured their actions as though they were looking through the eyes of the Lord (doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord)

What if we all operated our leadership focus from within this perspective, “lead, teach and preach through the eyes of the Lord. Our eyes, our perspective, has been skewed by the the cultures we live in.  1 and 2 Kings lay out some very clear principles and some not so obvious examples of both “good” leadership, and leadership “folly”. We can learn from the good and from the bad. Learning from those who came before us, should encourage us not make the same costly mistakes. We live in a day and age where our focus is easily distracted and pulled away from what is right in the eyes of the Lord. Spending time in God’s Word, reading, reflecting and praying for direction will help sharpen that focus. It will help us to lead in a way that is right and good.

Determination and Loyalty.   

Seattle's Canine Police Force

Have you ever seen a police dog at work? There is an uncanny sense of determination that drives these highly trained animals to do their job. With a single command from their handler they jump to their feet ready, focused and set to complete thier mission. One other characteristic that stands out is the incredible sense of loyalty they have to their human counterpart, a loyalty that often rivals that of human relationships.

Elisha was confident of his calling to serve the Lord (an important leadership principle). In some respects, his story reminds me of that of Solomon’s. Elisha followed closely in the footsteps of Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of his time. It is Elisha’s response to Elijah’s question that is reminiscent of Solomon’s response to God’s question. When asked what he (Elijah) could do for him, Elisha did not request the desire for status or fame. He requested a double portion of his Spirit, a request that shows us his desire to serve the Lord in ways that go far beyond his human capabilities. 2 Kings chapter 2 highlights the story of Elijah’s spectacular parting from this world to be with God in heaven. As I read through this chapter my attention was drawn to the determination and loyalty of Elisha to stick by Elijah’s side despite his attempts to have him stay behind. When I consider the loyalty displayed by Elisha to follow his mentor, I can’t put aside the bigger picture, his loyalty to God. Elisha was on a mission for God.

Elisha was a regular guy, working what was likely a regular job for many in that time. The text tells us that he was ready to follow Elijah when he came and “claimed” him for service. The words “ready to follow” carry a powerful message here for us in context to Elisha’s calling. For many of us today, God had been preparing or is still preparing our hearts for His service. Life carries us in many directions. One day we could be plowing a field like Elisha and be called into leadership or we could be working in the wholesale plumbing business and be called into ministry. Wherever we are, young or old, the Lord has a plan for our lives and when He calls we need to be like Elisha, ready and determined to do great things.