Sunday, March 29, 2015

The "Saul Leader"

I may be a minister, but I gotta be honest: The church can be a messy, messy place.

I mean…I know we all like to think the church is a magical place with unicorns, double rainbows, and glittery flowers.

But truth is: the church is no family picnic…especially if its leaders lack unity and interdependence.

Now I admit: there are many exceptional church leaders out there; however, not all walk in their qualification.

Take the “Saul leader”, for instance (i.e. any leader who mars his leadership by catering to jealousy, fear, and/or a lack of humility).

If you’ve ever served under Saul leaders, chances are you know how challenging it is to submit and honor their authority. Perhaps you’ve been burned by a Saul leader unfairly blaming you, spreading gossip about you, or ignoring your counsel. Maybe you know the feeling of other people wanting to follow your lead as opposed to your higher-up.

At any rate, the topic is worth discussion, since many believers today are being intimidated by insecure leaders who have abandoned the call to own their mistakes.

In Saul’s case, these fatal flaws dominated his rulership. The more he cared about what others thought, the more he comprised his allegiance to God by vain comparisons and insubordination (see 1 Samuel 13:8-14; 18:6-16). Ultimately, Saul’s rebellion resulted in his rejection as king1 and set the stage for David’s reign.

Now I don’t know about you, but the story of Saul grips me. A decorated hero with strong intellect, charisma, and physique, Saul initially showed great potential as God’s choice to rule Israel. In fact, it was Saul’s bold raid to rescue the Tablets of the Ten Commandments from the Philistines that paved the way for David’s eventual triumph over them in 2 Samuel 5.

Yet, Saul had a critical problem – whenever courage called, he often withdrew2, trusting his own strength instead of taking his timidity captive. Thus, of all Saul’s vices, perhaps none were as self-destructive as his pride and unbelief3.

So when we talk about a Saul leader, we’re talking about anyone in a place of authority who lacks the confidence, maturity, and /or trust to shepherd effectively.
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No doubt, many of us have experienced the damaging effects of what a Saul leader can do.

I know for me, I’ve seen family members manipulated by proud pastors foreign to meekness…and friends alienated by leaders who’d rather transpose their failure then own it.

Yet, whenever I’ve grieved in light of these trials, I’ve come to realize something.

As much as we hate the deceptions governing the Saul leaders in our lives, they’re only as good as what they know and sow.

After all, to loathe is easy, but to pray, contend…and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39)? That’s when the rubber meets the road in our dealings with compromised authority.

At the end of the day, the best choice we can make is to trust God and surrender the desire to use pain as motivation.

Look at David, for example.

When we examine David’s leadership, we find a man after God’s own heart who not only respected Saul, but trusted God’s timing and sovereignty, even in the face of jealousy and persecution. Why? Because David believed no matter what happened, God was enough to get him through. Literally, there was nothing that could hinder David from believing God’s best, even when he was attacked by those he looked up to.

In the end, God raised David up to lead Israel in the way Saul couldn’t. All David had to do was trust God, surrender the desire to judge, and humbly submit to authority.

My encouragement to you, friends, is to keep contending for God’s best, even for the Saul leaders in your life. You may wonder why God appoints certain leaders in certain roles; you may question if their decision-making is right. But whatever you do, never stop prayingfor those who persecute you; never stop loving those who assail against you.

Think of this way: you don’t have to bear the weight of dealing with their sin. Or better yet…you don’t have to bear the weight of being them!

Can I hear an “Amen”?

So if you’re walking in greater freedom than your boss, pastor, or superior, rejoice, and rest in peace.

Apparently, they need the prayer more than you do.

Footnotes

1) The peak of Saul’s defiance takes place when he disobeys Samuel’s order to kill all the Amalekites       (1 Samuel 15:1-11)
2)  Perhaps most evident when he hides among the baggage (1 Samuel 10:9-26)
3)  This killer combo arguably kept Saul from embracing repentance as a lifestyle
4) A heartfelt text or letter (after emotions have settled, of course) may be wise in some cases as well

Photo from www.idisciple.org & www.preaching.org; blog inspired by recent events

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

I AM Enough

Imagine preaching for three days straight, feeding tens of thousands of people, and defying the law of physics, only to find yourself stuck at sea with a bunch of clueless comrades.

Quite the improbable predicament, eh?

Yet, in Mark 8, this is exactly where we find Jesus...having to navigate a queer quandary amidst his most intense stretch of on-earth ministry.

Let's set the stage:

Shortly after John the Baptist is beheaded, Jesus channels his inner 'Southwest' and gets away.

And who can blame him? The man had every right to mourn the loss of his cousin and pursue privacy to recalibrate.

Yet, what do we see? The masses find him and start following him.

Now, I don't know about you, but being followed by a throng of stalkerish fanatics after a long day’s work would irritate the living crap out of me. Dare I say…my reaction probably would be something like this:
 

However, Jesus couldn’t be more contrarian, as he chooses to not only show compassion on them…but heal their sick as well (Mark 8:2, Matthew 14:14).

Pretty remarkable, even for a burnt out Jesus1.

Around this time, the disciples take note of the situation and advise Jesus to send the people away to buy food. Honestly, I probably do the same thing if I was a disciple.

Yet, it’s at this point when Jesus starts to get a little snarky.

“They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16).

Now, you're probably thinking: Why the shrek is Jesus being so cranky? Wouldn’t it make better sense to recharge the batteries at this point?

Well...yes, from a physical perspective; however, Jesus never let his natural state compromise his spiritual conviction.

In this case, not only did Jesus continue operating within a nurturing vein, but he also sought to use an insurmountable challenge to model Holy Spirit reliance to his disciples2.

Yes, filling 5,000 Jewish bellies was an important issue requiring immediate attention; however, Jesus also knew the hours at hand would be paramount in the spiritual development of his disciple-makers3.

However, the story doesn’t end with twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread (Matthew 14:20).

A few verses later, the Bible says, Jesus immediately made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side.

Why the rush, you might ask?

‘Cause Jesus knew the time was ripe to equip/inspire his disciples to a higher level of faith.

He knew if he sharpened their perspective at that critical point, they would begin to see what lay ahead in an entirely different light.

You see…Jesus often instructed in layers, whether through word pictures or repetition; he wasn’t just “one and done” when sharing his wisdom.

So when Jesus flees the scene in v. 22 to pray, perhaps he's setting time aside to discern God’s will on how to reinforce a relational principle4.

Flash-forward a few verses and we find the iconic moment of Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:25)…the breadth of his lordship on full display.

But again, as great as the miracle was, Jesus wasn’t trying to prove his power as much as he was looking to empower his disciples to embrace his true identity5.

Thus, as Jesus approaches the boat and tells his disciples to take courage, he’s basically putting words to what he was emphasizing back at Bethsaida: Take heart. I’m not only here, but I’m enough6. I’m enough today as much as yesterday and tomorrow. So don’t put your fear in the situation, but keep it in me at all times7.

After some fourth watch worship, the Bible says Jesus and his disciples arrive at Gennesaret (on route to Decapolis), where Jesus goes on two separate healing sprees, while engaging yet another showdown with the Pharisees8.

With commotion building, Jesus notes the gathering crowd, is struck with compassion, and instructs his disciples to feed them….again


Now, one would think the disciples would have learned to respond readily without any trace of doubt by this point.

But instead, the disciples answered, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” (Mark 8:4)9

*Sigh*


Okay…seriously, disciples?

With all you’ve seen and heard…you’re still trippin?

I mean…Jesus has got to be in annoyed Picard mode at this point, wondering what he has to do to elevate the faith in his disciples.

But instead…Jesus, in perfect grace, replies with a simple math question10, multiplies the bread, and gives thanks…just as he had done a few days before.

Moments later, the Pharisees make their predictable cameo and demand a heavenly sign11, prompting Jesus to deliver a tasteful metaphor in v. 15:

“Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”

In reply, the disciples, helplessly mired in some sort of mental oblivion, take the comment literally, and begin talking about the bread they left behind.
 
Again…talk about a complete whiff.

Granted, the disciples are likely exhausted beyond all belief at this point…but at the same time, one has to assume Jesus is talking about something far more than a measly loaf of bread.

Surely, if Jesus wanted to upgrade into double-facepalm Picard mode, his incentive would be justified.

Yet, rather than chastise, Jesus gently leads his disciples through an eight-question recap of the days’ events (Mark 8:17-21) to, once again, remind them how he is everything they’ll ever need
 

and how he’s more than enough, even in dark, uncertain times.

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Now...I don’t know about you, but I find this all incredibly invigorating, in large part, because of the cross in the story.

Yes, Jesus performed spectacular miracles, owned his haters...and even had time for a stirring convo with a Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28); but perhaps most impressively, he never forsook the opportunity to pursue the faith development of his disciples...always keeping the cross in the forefront of his intention, even when life got chaotic.

Sure, he may have sounded harsh at times when dealing with his disciples, but this was because Jesus desperately wanted them to understand how a) salvation is Jesus being enough and b) faith is the overflow of believing this truth.

So it’s interesting to see how the “other-centered” nature of Jesus in Matthew 14-15 & Mark 8 ultimately foreshadows the way of the cross, while also confirming his identity as not only the Son of Man, but the Son of God.

In closing, I encourage you not only to consider what it means to take up your cross…but also to tackle any place of unbelief interfering with the fact you have what it takes to take up your cross and follow Jesus.

Why? Because He is enough.

#Enoughsaid.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Footnotes

       1)    No doubt, emotionally fatigued from multiple angles (death of John + three straight days of intensive ministry + the fact it's either dark or getting close to dark as implied in Matthew 14:15)

2)      With his divinity fully intact, Jesus knew the future better than anyone, so by using the moment to teach his disciples, he was ultimately setting them up to feed Gospel truth to

3)      Clearly, Jesus understood the magnitude of the moment when he entrusted the disciples to walk on the water of the situation. Haha, see what I did there? ;)

4)      The urgency of the situation reminds me of John 8:6, when Jesus starts to write in the ground with his finger in the adulteress account

5)      and the power that comes when presence and purpose collide; also, this makes sense, considering Jesus had already achieved many miracles by this point.

6)      A definition of Jehovah-Jireh meets the New Testament version of the “I Am” account in Exodus 3; also, dependence on God is always a part of anything Jesus teaches/models to his disciples

7)      Clearly, the push for ‘1 on 1’ time with God back in vs. 22 made perfect sense, as it allowed Jesus to keep a reliant rhythm on God.

8)      A noteworthy theme consistent throughout Jesus’ ministry

9)      Déjà vu, anyone?

10)  Foreshadowing Watch

11)  As if the miraculous feedings weren’t enough

Photos from genedaustin.com & hungerintohealth.com



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Monday, March 2, 2015

LEGACYouth: Rousing Resilience (Part 1)




We all have heroes.

Whether they’re family members or historical/cultural icons…we all have figures we look up to1.

Of course, not all protagonists and champions are alike; however, when we consider their innate qualities, it’d be hard to find any who lacked some form of resilience.

What is resilience, you ask?

Well, for starters, it’s the theme of this year’s Acquire the Fire event (hence, the topic’s prevalence).

Yet, as far as definition goes, resilience bears rich substance2.

In fact, when we dig into Scripture3, we find resilience to be a number of things. Among them...
  • A refusal to quit…
  • A pledge to stand firm…
  • Courage maintained…
  • Boldness with honor…
  • ...and a fearlessness rooted in two instinct-defying words...                    
"I can't."4

Now, I know it sounds weird, but when we confess this itty-bitty sentence to God, it not only offers Him great delight, but it also allows us to see just how much “He can.

Why? Because owning our weakness is the first step to being set free from it! 

In other words, when we admit and release our crap to God, He doesn’t just listen - He intervenes, He intercedes…all the while, showing us the pathway to real, radical heart change.

Pretty cool, eh?

But resilience doesn’t stop there. 

‘Cause when we drill a little deeper, we find resilience also enables us to know how…
  • …our helplessness can be expressed as acceptable worship and reference (Hebrews 12:27-29).
  • …our weakness can be flipped into God’s strength filling in the holes of our efforts (2 Corinthians 12:9).
  • …and our problems can (and will) be fixed simply by fixing our eyes on the One who ultimately is in control (Psalm 16:8Hebrews 12:2).

When you think about, this can be especially encouraging, considering we will encounter adverse circumstances at some point, whether it’s an abusive relationship, financial and/or occupational turbulence, past woundedness, and/or the stubble of our sin.

But even when life seems stuck on cruise-control and hope is nothing but a fleeting fairytale, we can still know “no fear5.

Cause truth is: all it takes is one simple shout of surrender to bounce back...




…one victorious “Yes” to God in the face of apparent defeat…

…and one resolute declaration of “God is enough”…

even if 6 we’re walking through hell, unsure of what’s to come (see Daniel 3).

And I’m sorry, Captain Nesmith, but the phrase, “Never give up. Never surrender” doesn’t fully capture the essence of true resilience.

Because the only way to “never give up” is to surrender…abandoning any independent pursuit that suggests we’re strong enough to adjust our course.

At the end of the day, the only means of courage is to admit we must be filled with it to live it.

And that, my friends, is what real resilience is all about it.

Next time, we’ll examine some practical points on how to live resilience out in a transformational way. 

In the meantime, I leave with some passages from Isaiah & one from Habakkuk:
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In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” ~ Isaiah 30:15

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” ~ Isaiah 40:29

“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” ~ Isaiah 40:31

You wearied yourself by such going about, but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint.” ~ Isaiah 57:10

The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” ~ Habakkuk 3:19
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Footnotes

1)   Which is how we’re designed
2)   And is arguably one of the most overlooked faith terms in Scripture.
3)   Especially Joshua, 2 Timothy, Philippians and Romans
4)   Point inspired by Christ Is Life Ministries
5)   The fact this sentence contains a “triple-negative” doesn’t devoid it of truth.
6)   The story of Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego really centers on these two words (Thanks to  Kemtal Glasgow for the inspiration)

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