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Leadership Weekly

The Low Rank

But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. — Luke 22:26

This verse states a view that is so different than what the world practices. According to the world, a leader is to have special privileges and to be treated better than everyone else. A former employee of mine thought that she didn't need to do as much work because she had "paid her dues." It only caused dissent with the rest of the employees. Wouldn't you love to arrive at work someday and find your boss cleaning? Or how about the husband who doesn't feel like he needs to help around the house because he is the "king of his castle?" Wouldn't you love to have your husband cook you dinner after you've spent a long day with the kids? And what if he did that often? Now that's serving up love!

Why are these scenarios so unusual? I think that it's because we have a messed up idea of leadership--and a messed up idea about service. The world seems to see service as a form of weakness. Jesus tells us and shows us that service is a sign of strength--it takes inner strength to serve those around us. It's a very humbling experience. Leaders who think they are above serving are simply afraid of their weaknesses.

Christ tells us that our leadership should be different than what the world expects. We shouldn't gloat over being above anyone else but use our place in life to help others. The best leaders or teachers are the ones who can admit when they are wrong or they don't know the answer. Then, because they are leaders, they work to find the correct answers and lead people down the right path.

Look at the leadership examples around you. Do they tend to be humble or haughty? Take a look at your own leadership style. If you're a parent, how do you lead your children? As a wife, how do you serve your husband? Husbands, how do you serve your wives? Service isn't just a sign of humility but of love as well. Good leadership requires love. It's a love outside of us--God's love. Ask God for his love to empower and guide your leadership and relationships with people. Follow him, for he is our ultimate servant-leader.

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Full of Holes

We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. — 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

Every Christian is a vessel God has uniquely created for sharing a treasure with others. This treasure, referred to as the gospel of Jesus, is contained in "fragile clay jars" so it's "clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves." Paul uses the phrase "fragile clay jars" because as humans we are easily broken and we struggle with the most basic details of life. Yet we are called to pour out our treasure so that the world comes into contact with God.

God's works flow naturally from a person whose life has been totally committed to him. The key is to give liberally of what we've received, knowing that the Lord will continue to fill us so that we are never totally empty nor constantly overflowing. Instead, our container will be full of holes that continuously pour out the love of Jesus. As long as we are being filled by God daily, we will never have a problem serving those he wants us to serve (see Galatians 6:10).

However, these clay jars can eventually become empty from lack of use. Empty vessels serve little purpose other than taking up space. And the Lord does not want us to simply exist. As pastor Rick Warren has correctly noted, each person has been made for a purpose. When a follower of Christ is not connected to the source of these gifts, his or her desire for serving God and other people diminishes.

Think about your life-vessel today. How has it been used to store the goodness of God? Has that goodness flowed into other lives? Has God's measure of goodness in you evaporated from days and months of non-use? Or is your life a container full of holes, leaking the goodness of God continuously because you are continuously filled by the source that never runs dry?

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Pears, Pears, Everywhere

Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. — John 15:5

My family had a tree in our backyard that provided two things: shade and countless jars of pear preserves. One day, I asked my mother why she made so many jars every year. Her response was, "If I don't, they will start falling off the tree and go bad." With that, I went outside to take a look for myself. There were pears everywhere--so many, in fact, that the tree branches were beginning to sag and snap under the immense weight of their fruit. It looked to me like my mother's faithful picking was encouraging the tree to produce even more!

Jesus told his disciples that God acts as a gardener in the lives of those who claim him as Lord. He wants his followers to be abundant producers of good fruit, showing the world that they are children of God (see John 15:8). But this is not enough. Instead of simply harvesting the fruit that is produced, the Lord grabs a pair of pruning shears and begins to trim the branches. A little here, a little there, until he is satisfied with the end result.

This process of subtraction is a good thing. For it is in these times that God rids us of attitudes and actions that limit our effectiveness for the kingdom. In their place, he grants new opportunities to exhibit love, patience, kindness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22-23). As these values are acted upon, what started out as subtraction becomes addition, and more fruit is produced than before the pruning.

If the branches are not pruned they may become weakened or stressed, and they will eventually snap. Once that occurs, the branches will wither and die because they are not attached to the tree, leaving wasted fruit behind. But the result of a life lived wholeheartedly for Christ will be an abundance of fruit--fruit that will last.

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Bottom Line

After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, "What were you discussing out on the road?" But they didn't answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. — Mark 9:33-34

It's embarrassing when someone demonstrates he or she can read your mind. Most of us would rather not have our thoughts exposed. We're not proud of our motives. We don't want our intentions broadcast. The disciples had a problem--Jesus understood them. Just as he understands us.

Every tactic we use in human relationships to avoid the truth is absolutely transparent to God. The fact that God knows us that well isn't amazing. After all, he is God. The fact that we still try to work our magic on him isn't all that surprising either. After all, we are human. It is amazing though that God knows us as he does and still draws near to help us be better than we instinctively are.

The disciples were arguing about leadership. They were mind-wrestling over who could claim the top of the heap. They were all poised on the ladder to greatness, and thankfully we are not given the details on how ready they were to step on each other on the way up. Apparently the discussion ended in a draw.

Jesus' question caught them by surprise. The subject of greatness suddenly didn't feel right. Jesus broke the strained silence with a challenge. He gave them the ultimate measure of leadership: "Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else" (Mark 9:35). Apparently the silence resumed. The disciples neither argued with him nor asked any questions. We don't know how long this went on, but Mark records that Jesus spotted a little child in the vicinity and decided to make an additional point while holding the child. "Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me" (Mark 9:37). Are the two points connected? Perhaps Jesus was saying, "Do you really want to be first? Then start small."

As you go about your day, think about whom you serve. How aware are you of people who are not being served? Can you see those who are overlooked? In the end, what do you find most important: being called a leader or doing what a real leader does?

If our thoughts and intentions are to serve Christ, we don't have to worry about someone reading our minds.

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Pedestals

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. — 1 Corinthians 10:12

Have you built any pedestals lately? In the last couple of decades, newspapers and newscasts have been filled with reports of sin in high places. Television evangelists have fallen with embarrassing regularity. Today's righteous finger pointer often turns into tomorrow's suspect of impropriety. Only the exposures of political leaders vie with the revelations of religious scandals for front-page coverage.

I'm not sure how the average American views these scandals. Certainly the news media seem to delight in their revelations. And comedians have grist for hundreds of new routines. But as a person who also claims to be a born again Christian and a follower of the same Jesus about whom these men have preached, I am dismayed and angered. When these high profile Christians are impugned, I feel as if the barbs are being hurled at me. Their proven or alleged wrongdoings seem to indict all of us. Maybe you can identify with those feelings.

If we the evangelical Christian community are honest, however, we would have to admit that we are part of the problem. You see, by putting these men on pedestals, we have made them larger than life and we have made them susceptible to the temptations of power and pride.

In reality, they are fallible and sinful human beings, just like you and me. Think of how you would fare if your inconsistencies and secrets were exposed--those angry words, gossip, lust for things, murdeous thoughts. But we elevate those with special gifts. We treat celebrity converts with almost worship status.

Years ago, as a college freshman and aspiring athlete, I went to college football camp. It was a Christian institution, staffed with excellent role models. I admired these upper classmen "superstars" as athletes and as great examples of the Christian life. But during one of our team meetings, a massive All-American tackle said something that I have never forgotten. "Don't put your faith in us or in any human being. If you watch us long enough or close enough, we'll let you down," he said. "Instead, keep your eyes on Christ. He will never fail."

Who are your Christian "superstars?" A pastor, a musician, a parent, a close friend? By "overrating" you hurt them and yourself. Instead, let us put our Christian leaders in their proper place as fellow strugglers who are striving to be Christ-like and who are using their gifts to serve him. And let's uphold in prayer our Christian leaders and those in the spotlight.

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Heroes

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. — Matthew 6:33

In a column, reporter Bob Greene once opined on "How to Become a Hero." He described a Texas gem dealer who went to a mineral show in Arizona. There he met a man who wandered creek beds, looking for interesting stones. This man was displaying some of his finds in plastic containers.

Among the smaller stones the dealer saw a large rock, and that's all the displayer thought it was--a big rock. But this gem dealer knew otherwise. He recognized it as the biggest star sapphire he had ever seen.

Knowing that the owner had no idea of the true worth of the stone, the gem dealer bargained with him and paid $10 for the rock. Later he reported that it was worth $2.5 million.

And, noted Greene, this gem dealer has become a sort of folk hero because he found something of value and purchased it at the lowest possible price, without hinting to the original owner what was going on. Greene went on to say, "This is just a particularly dramatic example of the way so many people are getting rich these days. They don't do anything of importance or value; they just manipulate and sidestep and feint and parry. They make people think they are going to do one thing, and then they do another. The lesson seems to be that only suckers believe in putting in a day's work for a day's pay. The smart boys are the tricksters."

Unfortunately, Bob Greene is right. People's lives today seem consumed with lotteries, long shots, and insider trading . . . and a continuing saga of greed, bribery, extortion, and embezzlement.

As Christians, however, we shouldn't be too surprised. Jesus said that his values are the opposite of the world's and that people who follow him will be misunderstood. True followers of Christ won't fit into society.

The Bible says that who we are on the inside is infinitely more important than our outward appearance, the way we achieve our goals is as important as the goals themselves, and that seeking Christ and his kingdom is more important than being the richest person on earth.

Greene concludes his column with these thoughts: "Let's imagine that the gem dealer sees the star sapphire and instead of purchasing it for $10, he tells the man of its real worth and urges him to get some advice about what a fair asking price is before selling it. I know, I know; that's not the way the world works. Maybe, though, he could have at least cut the poor rock-hunter in on his profits. But then he wouldn't have been a hero for these days, would he?"

"And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?" (Matt 16:26).

Don't worry about making it in today's world. Focus your attention on being a "hero" where it counts . . . in God's eyes.

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Redefining Success

So the LORD was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did. He revolted against the king of Assyria and refused to pay him tribute. — 2 Kings 18:7

What does it mean to be successful?

Success usually brings to mind financial achievement or being number one. Others would define success by the bumper sticker: "He who dies with the most toys wins." Some like to think that success is being busy--on the go, racing from one appointment to another, and having too much to do with too little time to do it.

The problem with these definitions of success is they exact a high cost. The Executive Digest has noted, "The trouble with success is that the formula is the same as the one for a nervous breakdown." That's sobering, uncomfortable, and too often true.

Maybe the definition of success that you are familiar with is not the correct one. I would encourage you to reassess your definition of success before it is too late. May I propose a new look at the word S.U.C.C.E.S.S.?

Service. There is no such thing as success without service. The secret of success lies in meeting the needs of others. And when we are meeting people's needs, we will discover fulfillment.

Understanding contentment. Let's not measure success by how much we own or how much money we have but by a sense of inner contentment. Real success is always internal, never external.

Character. Character is of greater value than how much money or status we have. A man's best test of character is revealed in how he treats people around him. So measure your success not by your possessions and achievements. Measure success by the quality of your character and conduct.

Compassion. What really matters is not money, power, and ego but issues of the heart--such as compassion, kindness, bravery, generosity, and love. Do you love people more than things?

Excellence. Excellence is not being the best but being your best.

Significance. The popular notion of success has not cut it. A growing number of people yearn for significance more than success. Significance comes by giving ourselves to something that is greater than us and that will outlast us.

Sacrifice. A problem in our society is that we are spending our entire lives looking for something worth living for. It would be better if we found something worth dying for. Success under these guidelines will bring you into harmony with God's guidance.

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Find Us Faithful

Don't be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life. — Revelation 2:10

Faithfulness is not a word we hear often these days. Sometimes we hear it at retirement parties: "After twenty-five years of faithful service, we give you this gold watch." Or we use it to describe our dog: "My dog may be old and ugly, but he's faithful." The word is employed to describe the most famous geyser in America, Old Faithful, at Yellowstone National Park. Old Faithful is not the biggest geyser in America. And it's not the most powerful geyser in America. What makes it famous is its faithfulness! It's like clockwork. Dependable. People appreciate constancy, even in a geyser.

It's not easy to find someone who can be counted on. One who will be faithful to the end. One who is dependable through thick and thin. The fact is that not everyone who volunteers actually comes through. Not everyone who says they will perform a task actually does it. Not everyone who makes a commitment can be counted on.

Faithfulness is not just a religious duty that we employ on Sundays or when we are supposed to be Christian. When we tire of our roles and responsibilities, it helps to remember that God has planted us in a certain place and told us to be a dependable and reliable accountant or teacher or parent or engineer. Christ expects us to be faithful where he puts us.

In the eleventh century, King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and the pressures of being a monarch. He made application to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the rest of his life in the monastery.

"Your Majesty," said Prior Richard, "Do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king."

"I understand," said Henry. "The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you."

"Then I will tell you what to do," said Prior Richard. "Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you." (Steve Brown, Key Biscayne, Florida)

Not bad counsel. Go forth and do likewise faithfully.

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