Category Archives: Leadership

Ephesians 6:1-4 — Conversations with God

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

I can see, Lord, that You view children as having both a place of submission to their parents that leads to obedience and safety and a place of respect as those made in Your image.

They are, in Your view, unable to make sound decisions that will lead to healthy living so that it goes well with them and they live long in the land.  I suppose that it is possible that a parent or parents might give their children bad direction, causing them to make poor decisions that both result in unhealthy living and bring them into conflict with You.  I don’t suspect You would want children to obey such parents.  But normally, parents are concerned to help their children to live good lives, morally and spiritually correct lives.  And I thank You, Lord, for giving me parents who had that concern for me and my siblings.

But children are also, in Your view, worthy of respectful treatment.  Parents can’t treat their children as conveniences to push around at their will and still suppose themselves to be pleasing to You.  Parents can’t impose their authority on their children in such a way that they stir up anger instead of godly living.

It seems the way You are showing us to avoid such poor parenting is to make our goal bringing them up in Your discipline and instruction.  When my goal with my children is to show them Your ways that helps me exclude other goals I might have (like wanting them to fulfill my dreams, or making them my convenient slaves, or blaming them for my own failures, or demanding they be fully developed adults).

I know, Lord, that when I was a young parent I got off track at times in this area.  I would be angry at my kids for upsetting my peace, or not treating me with respect.  I would ask of them things they were not capable of doing.  I would not give them the time they needed to fill their hearts with security and love.  I provoked them to anger.  So thank You that You forgave me and protected them.

It speaks volumes to me, God, that You care this way for children and for parents, and so give us this instruction that we need.  You are an awesome Parent!

Ephesians 5:22-24 — Conversations with God

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Lord Jesus, I’m a husband and so are You.  My wife is to be subject to me as we, the church, are to You.  I dare say my wife has done a way better job of being subject to me than the church has to You.  That is as much a praise of my wonderful wife as it is an indictment of me as a part of Your church.  You have earned the right to have a submissive “wife” by becoming our Savior.  Forgive us for not being more submissive and obedient.

I don’t know, Lord, that I have earned my wife’s submission, but she has freely given it and trusted me beyond my trustworthiness.  Perhaps that trust has helped me become more trustworthy.  I want to be as wise and loving a leader of her as You are of us.

Being a follower of someone else, whose leadership might result in financial failures, unhealthy responses to stress, and less than godly paths, is an exercise in trusting You, really.  You are the one who put people in authority in our lives.  You know how subject to failure all leaders are, especially husbands.  Help my wife by helping me be a more stalwart “head” to her, and in so doing help me be a better, more submissive “spouse” to You.

Ephesians 4:11 — Conversations with God

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers…

You have always given generously to Your church, Lord Jesus.  The apostles You trained and gave to us and those You called after Your ascension have continued to provide a solid foundation upon which to build.  I love that they have been able to speak authoritatively for You without being overbearing or controlling.  The truths they were able to communicate in that first 60 or so years have faithfully guided us all these centuries.

Your prophets have been faithfully leading us all these centuries, as well, and those with prophetic gifts still serve to keep Your church on track.  Their insight from You has served as needed correctives and positive vision to lead Your church.

And the evangelists — what an extraordinary gift You have given us in men and women who faithfully proclaim the gospel and help people find an entrance into Your family and the church!  We need them and we need the pastors and teachers who faithfully, week after week, serve to train and equip us for ministry to each other and to a lost and dying world.

Lord, You have always supplied Your church with exactly what we need.  Please help us to recognize the gifted persons You have placed among us and not despise their gifts.  If You think we need them, we do.

Casting for Christians (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Bust of Menander. Marble, Roman copy of the Im...

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Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. (Paul’s letter to the Phiippians, chapter 3, verse 17)

One of our most ancient arts is casting, that is, the use of molds into which some liquified material is poured, allowed to set or cure, and then removed as a solid replication of the mold.  The mold, by necessity, is a work of art in itself and is able to be used over and over to turn out replicas.  Lifecasting is the art of taking molds directly from the human body. It is an ancient art form dating back to the time of the Egyptians where body casts were made as a means of transport to the next world.

One of the words used for mold is the Greek word tupos, sometimes translated as here in Paul’s letter, “example, model”.  Paul is urging his friends in Philippi to beware of false teaching that leads to wrong living.  But first he encourages them to imitate him and replicate the model he and his team have set for them.  They are the positive “mold” into which the Philippians may pour themselves to ensure they come out in the form desired by Jesus Christ.

Have you ever noticed that you become like those with whom you spend the most time or those whom you idolize or respect?  We have a proverb, “Bad company corrupts good character,” from the Greek poet Menander and quoted in our own 1 Corinthians 15:33 by Paul.  Paul is stating the corollary here in his letter to the Philippians.  Good company casts good character.

We need Christian casting.  We need not only teaching about how to live the Christian life, but molds into which we might be poured.  We need people with whom we might “hang” who know how to live for Christ and become our tupos, our example or model, and show us how to live.  This means we need to become tupoi (plural for tupos) ourselves, casting for other Christians who need a model or mold to fit into.

Are you in need of a Christian model?  Find one and hold on.  Do you need to become a Christian model?  There has never been more need for Christian casting than today.

The Quickest Way Up Is Down (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

(Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 9-11)

Here is the completion to the song/poem Paul shared with the Philippians as a teaching source on the humility that leads to unity.  It began with an astonishing description of Jesus’ willingness to give up the right to express His deity so that he might accomplish our salvation.  In humility of mind Jesus considered us more important than Himself and was moved to meet our needs above His own.

Now comes the startling and counter-intuitive exaltation of the humbled Jesus.  Because he was willing to humble himself God rewarded him by elevating him back to his position of glory he had shared with God the Father from all eternity.  And a declaration was made that he is indeed the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, the Lord, Yahweh, of whom Isaiah said, “By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return:  ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance’” (Isaiah 45:23).

Though Jesus humbled himself and no one could see his glory from his mere appearance, every tongue will one day be required to acknowledge who he is.  Those who can see who he is even in his humiliation have already acknowledged that he is Lord.  The demons currently must confess that he is Lord.  At the judgment, all knees will bow to him as their Sovereign.  Yet this great king first gave up his own rights, even as we must, in order to benefit the many.

Jesus himself taught us this lesson when he was here in his humbled state.  “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled,” he said, “and those who humble themselves will be exalted”  (Matthew 23:12).  He taught it and he lived it.  And now we must do the same.  Yes, there is inside us a desire to exalt ourselves, to make sure that people know what we did that deserves credit, to take care of ourselves even at the expense of others, to want our way no matter what, to be selfish and self-absorbed.  But this is the way of death.  This is the way that leads to the kind of humbling that God brings.

The Pharisees had trouble learning this lesson.  Politicians have trouble with it.  Pastors, too.  It is a danger of positions of leadership that we are tempted to think we are there because we are so great, rather than understand that God put us there to serve others.  The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.  The gospel will not advance outwardly (transforming hopeless people) or inwardly (transforming our residual sinful baggage and making us more like Jesus) unless we humble ourselves.

The quickest way up is down.

Building Blocks of Unity (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verses 3 and 4)

If the first part of verse 3 gives us the roadblocks to unity (selfish ambition and vain conceit), the end of verse 3 and verse 4 give us the building blocks of unity.  We might better think of selfish ambition and vain conceit as potholes, huge potholes in which the entire vehicle of the church can get plunged and from which freeing ourselves is incredibly difficult.  But humility of mind, which manifests itself in valuing others above ourselves and considering their interests, is like paving material that fills in the potholes and gives the church a smooth pathway for the gospel to travel.

What is humility?  The Greek word is tapeinophrosune, a mouthful of a word.  It means “lowliness of thinking.”  But that could mean all kinds of things.  We have seen those who consider themselves worthless and when they compare themselves to others they see themselves as therefore insignificant.  But that attitude is never encouraged in Scripture.

Moses, who is called the most humble man of his time (Numbers 12:3), was certainly repudiated for his self-description as unworthy of leading Israel (Exodus 3&4).  In fact, he became quite an effective leader, not because he was self-deprecating, but because he longed for all to have his spirit and wisdom (Numbers 11:29), and he was concerned more for God’s glory and the protection of His people (Exodus 32; Numbers 12).

So, in fact, humility as demonstrated in Scripture, is about considering others more important than yourself without demeaning yourself, and therefore being willing to think about the needs or interests of others but not failing to think about your own needs or interests as well.  And though Paul does not mention it here, he too advocates that humility means giving God glory for the good He works in us (2 Corinthians 3:4-6; 4:7; and of course, Philippians 1:11).

So the truly humble person does think about his or her own interests or needs (the Greek reads literally, “things”), but also thinks about the interests or needs of others and considers them more important than his or her own.  This is always a bit of a tightrope to walk.  I can’t ignore my own needs without, perhaps, suffering losses to myself that prove destructive to my meeting the needs of others.  I can’t consider my own needs as so important that I don’t consider my own agenda as the one to push to the exclusion and detriment of others.  I must learn to discern what is best (Philippians 1:9-11) by adding knowledge to my love and recognize that the advance of the gospel is the most important purpose for the church.

In doing so I learn to give up  needs I have that will hinder the progress of the gospel.  I learn to discern what is crucial to the integrity of the gospel because if that is lost there is nothing worth unifying around.  I do everything for the sake of the kingdom, knowing that God will take care of me, whether in this life or the next.  I give the meeting of my needs to Him, in essence, as the only one who can truly meet my needs.  I am a living sacrifice, the only reasonable thing to be in light of the salvation the gospel has brought to me (Romans 12:1).

So when my Bible study group argues about Calvinism and Arminianism, I may take a side, but it does not, can not, keep me from being 100% behind my fellow believers when it comes to proclaiming the gospel.  When my church gets in an argument over whether we should build or not, I must be a peacemaker, despite my personal view, and an advocate for the progress of the gospel no matter the outcome.  And when I hear others disparaging another church that does not believe the way we do, I must become a defender of my brothers and sisters in Christ if they preach the true gospel, because it is only in unity that we have power against our enemies.

I must pave the way with the humility that acknowledges my own needs but sees them as secondary to the needs of others when it comes to seeing the gospel gain territory in the world and in the lives of individual believers.

Lessons From the Old Testament: Not by Might, nor by Power

Zerubbabel displays a plan of Jerusalem to Cyr...

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So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. (Zechariah 4:6)

One of the consistent messages of the Old Testament is that despite the fact that we are made in God’s image, despite the fact that we can do amazing things with the abilities God gave us, and despite the fact that God loves us immensely, when it comes to accomplishing the purposes of God we are severely handicapped.  God communicated this to Jacob when, after wrestling with him all night at Peniel (Genesis 32:22-32), and after abiding Jacob’s lies and other means of making his life work out the way he wanted it to, He finally touched Jacob’s hip and disabled it.  Jacob needed to know that he could not depend on his own resources to accomplish even what he wanted to accomplish, much less accomplish the purposes of God.

This is the reason for David’s frequent self-description in the Psalms as “needy” (Psalm 40:17, for example).  This is why we read in the Psalms, “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of the warrior; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love (Psalm 147:10).”

And when God is instructing His people Israel about the restoration of their exiled nation, He makes a point of noting to Zerubbabel, one of His appointed leaders, that it is not Zerubbabel’s strenth or might that will accomplish this.  Does this mean that Zerubbabel’s leadership is unnecessary?  Absolutely not!  Rather, it is an invitation to Zerubbabel and all leaders to look to God for strength and wisdom to do what is required.

We recognize that as a people we are hampered by our own sinful ways of responding to others, our own inner fears and failures, and our own lack of wisdom, at times, to always choose the right path.  And there are some obstacles that we cannot overcome no matter how righteously and wisely we are acting.  All of this combined makes it imperative that we look to the Lord for help.

Hezekiah did not have the resources to deal with attacking Assyria when they stood outside the walls of Jerusalem demanding surrender (2 Kings 18).  He brought the problem to Yahweh and Yahweh delivered His people.  Jehoshaphat faced much the same dilemma (2 Chronicles 20) and trusted in Yahweh in much the same way Hezekiah did.

Other leaders, however, trusted in their own wisdom and reacted out of their own selfishness and woundedness and failed to properly lead their people.  The examples of this are unfortunately very much more prominent in our biblical record than is comfortable.  Saul chose to sacrifice without Samuel, David chose to stay at home instead of going to war and committed adultery and murder, Solomon married into idolatry, his son listened to the advice of his young contemporaries and threw the kingdom into division, and the list goes on and on.

When will we realize that it is not by our might nor by our power that God’s purposes will be accomplished?  Rather, “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).