Leadership

Broken Trust

I gave you your master's house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the word of the LORD and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. — 2 Samuel 12:8-9

The life of King David was filled with numerous triumphs, conquests, and successes. He single-handedly took down Goliath with a sling and a stone. He wrote many of the psalms from which we find comfort in our times of difficulty. He presided over the nation of Israel and was considered by many to be its greatest leader.

David also learned a harsh lesson about the importance of trust. While sitting on his rooftop one day (when he should have been at war), he saw Bathsheba bathing and sent for her. This act led to adultery, the murder of Uriah the Hittite, and a cover-up of the whole situation. Only when the prophet Nathan confronted David about his actions did the king ask God for forgiveness. However, the Lord did not let David off easy. The child he fathered with Bathsheba died, there was a constant threat of murder in his family, and his son Absalom caused David problems until he was killed in battle.

When someone is trusted with a leadership role, they are given the opportunity to use their talents, time, and influence for causes bigger than themselves. As they make good decisions while showing integrity and concern for others, they earn trust. John Maxwell likens this to putting change in their pocket. However, when they betray that trust, it becomes difficult to regain. In addition, the leader has to pay some of their change back to the people. When one runs out of change, trust is gone. And when trust is gone, the leader ceases to be a leader.

King David's story should serve as a reminder of the importance of trust and how quickly it can disappear. Allow God to mold and refine your character so that your decisions will inspire others to trust your abilities. read more

Intimacy Revealed

Jesus replied, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don't know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you?" — John 14:9

Knowing God personally is the greatest satisfaction a human can have while living on earth. What a privilege to be able to talk and spend time with the one who created us! And yet there are times in our lives when we don't strive to be truly satisfied in the Lord. Leaders always have to be on guard against callousness when it comes to their personal faith in Jesus. Head knowledge, education, and work experience do not equal intimacy. Instead, intimacy involves a meaningful friendship with Jesus where deep secrets, struggles, and successes are shared. What results is an extension of his life in their thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

But what if our hearts are calloused and hardened, wrapped in protection much like an artichoke? We first must realize that we cannot, in our own power, fix the problem. Secondly, we have to be willing to discard our pride and re-surrender our lives to the Lord. Only he can peel away our layers of protection so we can be changed for his glory. He knows our hearts even when it's hiding behind the artichoke leaves.

The twelve disciples had life experiences unlike any of us will ever have. They were able to spend time daily with Jesus, walking, talking, and watching him perform countless miracles. Even with their proximity to the Lord, they still didn't understand who he was. Jesus' question to Philip in John 14:9 is one that he asks his followers today. Just replace Philip's name with yours. At the same time, Jesus says to us, "Come and know me. Really know who I am." It's a call of hope, of rest, of excitement that cannot be easily forgotten.

Not now. Not ever. Can you hear that call to intimacy with Jesus today? read more

How's Your Vision?

When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful. — Proverbs 29:18

Robert Fritz wrote, "It is not what a vision is; it's what a vision does." What does a vision do? Vision is the ability to see. Helen Keller was asked, "Is there anything worse than being blind?" "Yes," she replied, "having eyesight but no vision!"

Leaders imagine a preferred future. Vision is the stuff of the future. Vision is the vivid image of the compelling future God wants to create through you. Leaders can stand up and say this is where we are going.

Mike Vance tells of being at Walt Disney World soon after its completion when someone said, "It's too bad Walt Disney didn't live to see this." Vance replied, "He DID see it--that's why it's here."

What kind of vision do you have?

Myopic vision. Leaders with myopic vision are so terribly nearsighted that they live only for today. Their vision of the future is fuzzy. They can barely see beyond their noses.

Peripheral vision. Leaders with peripheral vision are blindsided by side issues. These visionaries are hampered in moving forward because they catch the threatening images of lurking problems in the corners of their eyes. They are fearful of shadowy difficulties and people lurking on the sidelines who will defeat their efforts. These folks are easily distracted.

Tunnel vision. Leaders with tunnel vision see only what's dead ahead of them and assume that their slender view of reality reflects the whole world. They don't see other persons or other issues.

Panoramic vision. Leaders with panoramic vision see the big picture. They see beyond today. They see what is ahead of them. They see what is to their sides. They have a basic understanding of the key ingredients of a healthy organization and know the steps that it will take to get them there.

Vision is perhaps the greatest need of leadership today. As someone said regarding the church but it pertains to any organization, "Our preachers aren't dreaming. That's why the church is such a nightmare."

How's your vision? Without it your organization will be like an unbridled horse. With it the organization will be focused, moving toward the fulfillment of the dream. read more

Is Your Life Balanced?

Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people. — Luke 2:52

A balanced life is characterized by order, peace, and wholeness. The various parts of life are as they should be and where they should be. Each part of the balanced life gets the right amount of time and effort at the right time. It's not giving each part of life the same amount of time that makes life balanced; it's giving each part the necessary allotment of time.

The life of Jesus is an excellent model concerning balance. Throughout his life, Jesus was under constant pressure. Friend and enemy alike pursued him. Yet, when examining his life as recorded in Scripture, one sees that he never hurried, that he never had to play catch up, and that he was never taken by surprise. He managed time well, bringing it under control, because he knew the importance of balance. Jesus' life was well rounded. He grew intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially.

Does your life reflect a balance? Do you make time for intellectual growth? If you are too busy to read a book or engage in study that stimulates the mind, you are too busy. Do you make time for physical health? Many people burn out because of improper personal maintenance. Don't be another fatality on the emotional highway. Take care of your physical self. Do you make time for your relationship with God? Do you feel too busy for prayer, Bible study, meditation, or devotions? Psalms 46:10 can be translated, "Take time and know that I am God." A popular hymn gives this advice: "Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord . . . Take time to be holy, the world rushes on," but do we do it? Do you make time for primary relationships? Is adequate time provided for your spouse, family, and friends?

Only you can answer those questions honestly. And, only you can take the necessary steps to bring order, harmony, and balance back in your life. Start today. read more

Back to Basics

"Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come." This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. — 1 Timothy 4:8-9

Each year, people from around the globe compete for the title of world's strongest man. Held in exotic locales, these competitions feature events involving the placing of heavy stone spheres atop pillars, lifting large numbers of children on one's back, and pulling double-decker buses down a street. The strength and determination of the contestants are second to none. But for them to get to the world championships, they have to be disciplined in the way they train, the foods they eat, and the way they recover from injuries. If any one of these three aspects is neglected, the results could be disastrous.

Christians are not typically known for carrying 300-pound weights long distances, but their feats of strength are equally remarkable. People are healed of sickness and disease, families are reunited, and individuals surrender their lives to the Lord God for eternity. For the leader, there has to be a constant regimen of spiritual training. The apostle Paul understood this and made sure Timothy got the message.

The routine is pretty straightforward: Talk to God, the Lord of heaven and earth, daily. Tell him your needs and the needs of others, thank him for his answers, and let him know how wonderful he is. Get to know him and his son Jesus better by reading about them in the Bible. Learn what your spiritual talents are and begin to use them. Spend time with other followers, encouraging and challenging them to become more like Christ. As opportunities arise, tell those who don't know Jesus as Forgiver and Leader about him and his love for them. Repeat daily.

If properly followed, this regimen will provide a lifetime's worth of challenge and excitement. It's time to get serious about the faith. It's time to become truly strong.

It's time to get disciplined. read more

People Do Things for Their Reasons, Not Yours

But now I said to them, "You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!" — Nehemiah 2:17

Gordon Bethune took over Continental Airlines as CEO when it was in a free fall in 1994. The airline had one of the worst on-time records in the business. Customer service almost didn't exist. Planes were dirty. Workers lost luggage.

The first problem Bethune tackled was the on-time record. He pledged non-manager workers $65 bonuses every month the airline's on-time rate put it in the top five nationwide. Baggage handlers, gate and reservation clerks, flight attendants, and secretaries were all part of the pool.

He arrived at the $65 by determining what it cost the company each month to run flights late. At $5 million per month, Bethune was willing to give half of that back to the employees ($65 times 40,000 employees) if they turned their on-time record around. He announced the program in January 1995. In February of 1999, 80% of Continental's flights landed on time.

By providing a financial windfall to the employees, all of a sudden, planes were clean. Motivation was up. So were profits. People were doing things for their reasons.

During Nehemiah's time, the city walls encircling Jerusalem, God's holy city, lay in ruins. It was a disgrace. A city's walls were for protection. Without the stone barricade and nothing to stop their enemies, the inhabitants were defenseless and vulnerable to attack.

People are experts in cost-benefit analysis. Everybody asks, "What's in it for me?" Constructed walls around Jerusalem would benefit the residents of the city. Nehemiah knew this and acted on it. He led the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, not for his sake (he lived a thousand miles away) but for their sake. And, it wasn't an extra $65 a month in their paycheck; it was for the protection of their very lives and their families.

One can poke, prod, and push people, and they don't move. But give them a good reason--one of their reasons--a way in which they will benefit, and they will follow where you lead.

People do things for their reasons, not your reasons. Their reasons. read more

We Are in This Together

But now I said to them, "You know very well what trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire. Let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem and end this disgrace!" — Nehemiah 2:17

Did you notice the words we and us in this verse? In order to motivate the people of Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, Nehemiah had to identify with their problem, their need, and their future. It was no longer their problem. Now Nehemiah saw the broken wall as our problem. Imagine the kind of response Nehemiah would have received if he had said, "You folks have gotten yourselves into a bad mess. You know what you need to do? You need to rebuild that wall. If you need me, I'll be in my office. After all, I wasn't part of the problem. You people will have to get it on and do the work. Let me know how it turns out."

Identifying with the problem encourages motivation.

When Lee Iacocca became chairman and CEO of Chrysler at the height of the auto giant's problems in 1979, he knew he would have to ask employees to take a pay cut to keep the company out of bankruptcy. Although he persuaded Congress to guarantee the company loans, he was still deeply distrusted by Chrysler's union members. He knew that he had to find a way to persuade these workers that he had Chrysler's best interests at heart.

Iacocca called a meeting of key management and union executives. He announced that for the next year his salary would be $1. The gambit worked. By sacrificing his own salary, Iacocca proved that he placed the welfare of the company over personal gain.

He identified with the workers. He was saying, "We are in this together. And, together we can make it through." He knew that people will accept a lot of pain when everybody is going through the trial together. If the followers know that the leader's in with them, together they can move a mountain or, in Nehemiah's case, build a wall.

In what ways can you identify with the people you lead? How can you say to them, "We are in this together?" read more

The Force of Faith

It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches. — Matthew 13:32

There is strength in smallness. It only takes a spark to get a fire going. A small rudder steers a large boat. One idea can spur an individual to change the world. And faith, regardless of its size, can change a desperate crisis into a hope-filled event.

Jesus' parable about a mustard seed is a parable about smallness effecting greatness. The mustard seed was known for its smallness. In fact, the term was proverbial for smallness. The mustard plant was an herb. There was a particular variety of mustard plant in Palestine in Jesus' day that grew rapidly from a minute seed into a bush and then into a tree. Mustard seeds were so small, the naked eye could barely see them. Yet the result was a strong-branched growth in which birds could not only perch but also build nests.

How often have you said when you felt like giving up, "I wish I had more faith?" Or, how do you respond when you are going through a difficult situation and someone says, "You need more faith?"

According to this parable, more faith is not needed. The issue is not the size of your faith but the object of your faith. Faith needs to be directed toward God. Even the smallest amount of faith can lead you to a strong finish.

In 1972, NASA launched the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10. The satellite's primary mission was to reach Jupiter and complete a life span of three years. Remarkably, by 1997, twenty-five years after its launch and more than six billion miles from the sun, Pioneer 10 was still beaming back radio signals to scientists on Earth from an 8-watt transmitter, which radiates about as much power as a bedroom night light.

The seed of faith planted within us is like that tiny 8-watt transmitter. We can keep going and going and going. God has implanted with us all the faith we need. As long as we keep our heart focused on him, God can work. read more

The Power of Partnership

Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. — Philippians 1:4-5

Partnership is the ability to accomplish more together than apart. It recognizes that a team is stronger than a lone individual. A group committed to each other will help the struggling and the fallen.

Mother Teresa said, "You can do what I cannot do. I can do what you cannot do. Together, we can do great things." An anonymous author wrote, "It is better to have one person working with you, than three working for you." Andrew Carnegie confessed, "I owe whatever success I have attained, by and large, to my ability to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am." John Wooden, perhaps the greatest basketball coach of all time, reminded his team, "The man who puts the ball through the hoop has ten hands."

Call it whatever you want--teamwork, association, synergy--partnership is the remarkable ability of two or more people working together to accomplish more than what each could do alone.

This truth is a fit reminder to God's people that when we are working together in harmony, the talents and gifts of the body minimize the weaknesses and shortcomings of the body, thereby making a stronger unit. Just as a baseball team needs nine players on the field or the game is forfeited, the local church needs everyone participating, or the strength of the body is weakened and the advancement of the gospel is threatened. If you took away one musician from an orchestra, the symphony would be incomplete. So, too, if one member of the family of God is missing, the church is incomplete.

We need each other. You need someone, and someone needs you. read more

The Purposeful Life

Pilate said, "So you are a king?" — John 18:37-38

Jesus responded, "You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true."

"What is truth?" Pilate asked.

It's an age-old quest. The search for the meaning of life has always dogged mankind. Why am I here? What am I striving for? How do I make my mark in life, and what does it matter if I do or not? Finding no answers to these questions, many become defeatists; some become suicidal, while still others become tyrants.

During Pilate's interrogation of Jesus, Jesus volunteered that his purpose was to testify to the truth. Looking at Jesus with both pity and contempt, Pilate must have wondered what Jesus meant. A prisoner, beaten within an inch of his life, betrayed by his friend, deserted by his followers, and about to be hung on a tree until dead; what "truth" could Jesus possibly testify to that would hold any meaning for Pilate? Having been a witness to the heartless cruelty of man toward man, Pilate looked at Truth Incarnate and asked, "What is truth?"

The true condition of Pilate's heart was revealed when he turned to the screaming mob and, in an act of appeasement, sentenced Jesus to death. The words Jesus spoke on the cross while he was dying testified to the truth of his unparalleled love for man. Jesus' death testified to the tragic truth of man's rejection of God. Ultimately, Jesus' resurrection testified to his victory over sin and the glorious truth of God's passion for the redemption of man.

Jesus knew his purpose in life and fulfilled it with resolve. His victory over sin and death gives us the opportunity to live a purposeful life today. As Jesus testified to the truth of God and man, so we are called to testify to Jesus. Every day our lives can and do give evidence to the power of his loving sacrifice. Since we are liberated in Jesus, we can live in freedom toward others, unrestrained and generous in our compassion and fervent in our witness to our Savior. Our lives can be lived with purpose, determination, and joy in the knowledge that we are freed from the consequences of sin and the finality of death. read more

What's Love Got to Do with It?

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God's secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn't love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn't love others, I would have gained nothing. — 1 Corinthians 13:2-3

Influential individuals often demonstrate a care and compassion for the people they are around. This love propels them to make a difference. Without love nothing else matters. The famous love essay, written by the influential apostle Paul, reminds us of the need for love.

Love keeps the flame of influence burning brightly. Teilhard de Chardin said it this way: "The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire."

What is love challenging you to do in your life, at your church, in your community? What sacrifices are you willing to make to see God's dream for you become reality?

A college professor had his sociology class go into the Baltimore slums to get case histories of 200 young boys. They were asked to write an evaluation of each boy's future. In every case the students wrote, "He hasn't got a chance." Twenty-five years later another sociology professor came across the earlier study. He had his students follow up on the project to see what had happened to those boys. With the exception of 20 boys who had moved away or died, the students learned that 176 of the remaining 180 had achieved more than ordinary success as lawyers, doctors, and businessmen.

The professor was astounded and decided to pursue the matter further. Fortunately, all the men were in the area, and he was able to ask each one, "How do you account for your success?" In each case the reply came with feeling, "There was a teacher."

The teacher was still alive, so he sought her out and asked the old but still alert lady what magic formula she had used to pull these boys out of the slums into successful achievement.

The teacher's eyes sparkled and her lips broke into a gentle smile. "It's really very simple," she said. "I loved those boys." (Eric Butterworth, "Love: The One Creative Force," Chicken Soup for the Soul) read more

Compass or Clock?

But I am trusting you, O LORD, saying, "You are my God!" My future is in your hands. Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly. — Psalm 31:14-15

A friend said, "My problem is that I have surrendered my time to work, to other people, and to bad habits."

That truly is the problem, not only for my friend but also for many of us. We should first surrender our time to God. God owns it anyway. Unfortunately, we often ask God to wait in line for leftover time. No wonder life seems out of sync! We need help with our task to manage properly what has been entrusted to us until Christ returns or wants it back, and that includes our time.

Think about a compass and a clock. Two very important tools with two very different purposes. One would be wise not to confuse the two. To surrender our time to God is to be governed by a compass rather than to be controlled by a clock. A compass provides a sense of direction, purpose, vision, perspective, and balance. A clock measures duration, the expenditure of time. A compass determines effectiveness--doing the right tasks. A clock determines efficiency--how long it takes to accomplish a task. Each has its place. But, the compass must come before the clock; therefore, effectiveness before efficiency. The "mega priorities" of the compass subordinate the "mini priorities" of the clock.

A compass, therefore, becomes a symbol of an internal guidance system that provides us with our values and convictions based on God's Word. This non-negotiable governs our lives. In the same manner that the magnetic force pulls the compass needle, it is God who governs the drive of our lives. We surrender to his force.

Our time should be surrendered to God daily. I asked a friend who is engaged in many pursuits successfully how he managed it all. He said, "I give my first minutes to God, then I commit the remainder of the day to his Lordship. And amazingly I work more effectively and efficiently."

Have you surrendered your time to God? Is your future in his hands? read more

Getting the Right People on the Bus

At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be apostles. — Luke 6:13

A popular business book states that effective organizations get the right people on the bus, meaning the right people in places of leadership. When the right people are in the strategic roles, the company can ascend to any height. But, if the wrong people are on the bus, the organization is doomed to flounder regardless of the vision, values, strategies, marketing, and management of the leadership.

Putting the right people in the right place at the right time is a critical need for an effective leader. Select the right people, and churches, business, and organizations thrive. Select the wrong people, and the door swings open for problems that stifle growth and productivity and hurt credibility.

The concern of Jesus was not about programs or structure or organization but about people. Jesus selected his disciples before he ever organized an evangelistic campaign or even preached a sermon in public. People were to be his method of reaching the world. It was just that simple.

No evidence of haste is apparent in Jesus' selection process, only determination. Initially one might wonder if Jesus selected the right people for the right job. They lacked the professional training, academic training, and sophistication of their day. One might wonder how Jesus could ever use them. They were not the kind of people one would expect to turn the world upside down. But as it turned out, these men became the leaders of the early church. Their influence can be felt throughout the pages of history. Jesus got the right people on the bus.

As a leader you would do well to select people that display these qualities:

Calling–They are motivated by something deep within themselves, not by the accomplishments of outward adornments.

Character–They possess a high standard of living based on a personal code of morality that doesn't succumb to the whim of the moment or the dictates of the majority.

Commitment–They display spiritual authenticity over time.

Compatibility–They show a job fit, a relational fit, a skill fit, and a passion fit.

Contribution–They function as a part of a team.

Coachability–They are trainable and teachable.

Get the right people on the bus, and it makes all the difference in the world. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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. read more

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