More More

Last week, I wrote an entry titled No More More that discussed our cultural obsession with more—more things, more variety, more experiences, more of just about everything. God has hit the pause button on all that and is about to reboot the world's economies, and the shake out and shake up will be significant. Yet there is a more that God does want and I thought I would discuss that this week under the title Screen Shot 2020-05-15 at 7.43.48 PM"More More." My thoughts on this began when I read 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 this morning:

Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other. And in fact, you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more . . .

There is a more that God is interested in but it isn't the abundance of possessions; it is more love practically expressed first to the household of God and then to the world. In our pursuit of the wrong more, we suddenly did not have much time for the more more that God desired and that more is service to others in the power of our purpose and with the flare of our creativity.

My study of more didn't stop there, for then I did a search of the word more in the gospels and I came across a promise that Jesus made: "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them" (Matthew 13:12). This more is in the area of knowledge concerning the things of God, and it is interesting that this concept is mentioned in the three synoptic gospels—but is not limited to knowledge. Not to be left out, John describes his concept of more in John 15:1-2: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." Define fruit however you wish, but however you do, be sure that God wants more of it.

I have counseled and talked with many people who are quite satisfied with no more. They are content with where they are, and are diligent to protect their privacy and way of life. God would have to break into their world with a spiritual crowbar before they would consider doing more for missions, being more creative, or being more involved. Yet notice the promises in Matthew and John. Jesus promised that those who have will get more; they have no choice in the matter. If they are fruitful, God will prune them so they will produce more fruit. You get the idea that God wants more more from you, for you, and through you, and there is no discussion about it. That's His will and plan.

When I have taught on the concept of organization, I have taught that we must organize our lives to handle more more. That isn't about stuff, for if anything we need to have less of that kind of more. Yet how can you organize your life and world to produce the more more that God intends for you? I have organized my life, my office, my schedule, my connections, and my entire world to produce more: more books, more insight, more service. When I had mastered the art of writing books, I started a publishing company. Why? To make more money? Hardly! It was to structure my life so I could produce more. I had a say in that, but my only say was yes or no. When I said yes, then I had to invest my finances, and position my life to receive and support the more more. 

What are your thoughts on more more? Do you think it's God's will for you? Do you think this season may have come to help you have less of the wrong more focus and more on the more more? I was so taken with this topic today that I decided that my next book after Proverbs 31 Men is done is going to be titled The Gospel of More, and it won't be about possessions. It will be about the right kind of more more. The sooner we can settle in our minds and hearts that God wants more and that more more is not an option, the sooner we can get about preparing and then realizing more. And if that is the result of this pandemic, it will have a redemptive harvest that was fertilized by the pain and suffering of people the world over as they embrace no more more and accept the fact that God wants more of the right kind of more.


No More More

When I first came to the Lord in 1973. I was on fire as I discovered many spiritual things I had never known before. One of those areas I discovered was the joy of giving. I was earning $600 per month (which is about $3600 in today's terms) and the day I got paid, I would pay my rent, my car, buy some food, support a few orphans overseas, and gave the rest of the money away—the day I got paid. Then I would live by faith for two weeks until I got paid again. I was happy and I learned so much about myself and the Lord.

Now fast forward 50 years later and I am still learning many spiritual things but I am not so much on fire any longer. While I am at home reflecting on pandemic lessons, I have two cars in the garage (we only need one right now) with full gas tanks, and a closet full of clothes—but I have no place to go. And I am reflecting on how I used to live and how I live now.

Then someone called me the other day and said, "I have some money in the bank and it's' not doing me Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 7.43.11 PM any good there. I want to give it to you for your work in Kenya." It is not a small amount and I was blessed and exhilarated for what the money will do, but then again, I thought of my current lifestyle and how I used to live. When I apply that to our culture at large, it made me think of something I read in Fast Company Magazine the other day in an article titled "For Weaving The Clothing Industry into the Circular Economy":

For decades, Americans have had an insatiable appetite for new clothing's spurred on by the fast-fashion industry, which cranked out cheap, disposable garments that helped global clothing production double from 50 billion items a year in 2000 to more than 100 billion today (There are only 7.8 billion humans on the planet) (March/April 2020 edition).

The article went on to describe the environmental impact to the production of that much clothing and it is staggering, but can you imagine one hundred billion pieces of clothing in just one year? Is there any doubt that part of the message of this latest crisis is that more is not better, is not sustainable, and is an enemy of the words of Jesus that warned us about the addiction to more?

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:13-21).

In this context, Jesus equated more with the concept of greed, but more sounds better than greed. In this season of less, God is reminding us that more, or faster, or cheaper, or new is not always better. I  for one know I have had an attitude adjustment while sheltering at home that will carry into the new normal.

Yesterday, we went to a store and had to stand in a long line after some of the things we wanted were out of stock. It seems that there will be much more of that (waiting and doing without) to come but that's a good thing, if it will help us get back to what I knew in 1973. There is more joy in giving and more comfort in trusting the Lord than more in our bank accounts, wealth, or retirement funds. The article and the person who called to donate the money have reinforced in my mind the idea that this season can be of great benefit to us as the people of God if we realize how deeply we got sucked into more and how much freedom there is to establish that there is no more more.

    Feel free to leave your comments on the site where this is posted. 


The Church, Technology, and Social Media

This is long, but it is the intro to my new section as I revise my soon-to be-re-released book, Changing the Way We Do Church. Stay tuned; there's more to come.
 
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It is hard to imagine a book that focuses on changing the way we do church without including a section Screen Shot 2020-05-05 at 10.13.38 AM on technology. When I first wrote this book in 2009, I was a novice to Facebook. I had been using it for only three years and had been blogging for about that long as well. I don’t recall if I was using Twitter, but Instagram, Snapchat, the cloud, smartphones, and iPods were just coming into their own. A church was considered cutting-edge in 2009 if it was able to put their Sunday service online using their own website; social media wasn’t yet a possibility as a means to do so.

Now in 2020, we have an explosion of social media options and opportunities, and quite frankly, most of the church is stuck. Many churches livestream their services and maintain them in an archive for future reference. Some have blogs, chat rooms for prayer and counseling, and actively publish other ministry resources. Yet many churches are yet to make the transition to the digital age. Those churches don’t have websites, do not pay much attention to social media, and are addicted to what I call as face-to-face ministry. Unless someone comes in the door of the church, there is no relationship or attempt to establish one.

Lo and behold, in 2020 we have a world crisis known as the COVID-19 virus pandemic. The entire world was sent home, including the Church, and everyone, including the Church had one thing to utilize to stay in touch: social media and technology! We had gas in our tanks but no where to go, so we either watched television, read a book, or learned how to utilize things like Zoom, Facebook, GoToMeeting, LinkedIn, or for some who were way behind, the features of a smartphone.

Many leaders I talk to are ambivalent or downright hostile toward the concept of anything but face-to-face ministry—and it has showed up in their demeanor or words when using social media. I have watched many church “broadcasts” on Facebook during this time of sheltering in place, and it is apparently clear that they are uncomfortable and ready to go back to “normal” as soon as the all-clear alarm is sounded. Most have simply tried to replicate their live services online without anyone monitoring who is watching, if those watching have any prayer needs, or if those watching are “visitors” to the online service. That tells me their online presence is a stopgap measure that is not being introduced as a permanent feature or fixture in the church’s ministry repertoire.

Why does my generation hate social media like many do? When I pose that question, I hear the usual complaints:

  • “Those who use social media are self-absorbed.”
  • “I don’t have time for anything but preparing my Sunday message and caring for the needs of those in the church.”
  • “If we deploy social media, people will stay home and not attend church.”
  • “People need to stop playing with their phones and pay attention to one another.”
  • “We don’t have money for technology.”
  • “We have no interest in broadcasting what we do to the larger public. Our first responsibility to take care of our own.”
  • “Social media destroy relationships, and the church is all about relationships. We must have face-to-face time to build and cultivate relationships.”

I am sure you can add other laments to the list—those you have heard or uttered yourself.

Before the pandemic, the ministry opportunities available through the creative use of social media were huge—and now they are even greater. For example, one-sixth of the world’s population is now on Facebook. The Church was given the Great Commission to go into all the world, so now we can simply go to our computer (or phone) to reach a large portion of it. When we “go,” we have access to do or say pretty much anything we want and people are free to read or not, respond or not, reflect or not. What would happen if we paid as much attention to our online presence as we did to our face-to-face presence? That is the question I was asking before the pandemic. What will happen if we don’t pay as much attention to our online presence? seems to be the new, relevant question.

We don’t know and that’s the problem. What is going to happen to our church financial model? How will we fund ministry? Will people stay home after the pandemic? Will our content be censored, hacked, edited, or misused? What will happen to those who are currently addicted to face-to-face ministry? Will they go to another church?

All these are real concerns, and I am not here to predict what will happen. All I am saying is that this shift to technology that was optional before the pandemic is mandatory now. Before the coronavirus, church attendance was down; now it’s almost nonexistent. People don’t like change and shifting to a broader, more strategic use of technology is a BIG change. For many, church attendance anchored their week; for some it was a ritual. What will happen when the all-clear signal is given? Will people continue to rely on social media, apprehensive to assemble for fear of a new wave of sickness?

My own sense is that this represents a significant opportunity for the Church to do what it should have done where the appropriate and aggressive use of technology is concerned. God is using this pandemic, as He has other past plagues, famines, and catastrophes, to awaken and reposition His people for more effective ministry and witness.


Pandemic Pondering

It has been six weeks since we were directed to stay home and shelter in place due to the COVID-19 Screen Shot 2020-05-01 at 8.11.52 PMpandemic. These have been busy days for me since I took on a few new projects like a Facebook Live half hour session three times a week and an hour-long blog radio show Monday through Friday. That is on top of the coaching, publishing, and fundraising that has emerged as people have had more time to think, do some self-analysis, and create. The fundraising is for our partners in Kenya, who are going through their own pain as they stay indoors and trust the Lord for food and health.

Every morning when I get up (earlier than ever these days), I post my daily devotional on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Then I wait before the Lord and start to post short sayings meant to challenge the readers to be more purposeful, creative, and productive--and also less fearful. Those sayings have created a lot of "buzz" on social media, and the blog radio has been averaging 35 downloads every day (that's pretty good for the size of my audience and reach). 

I launched my free ministry mobile app for PurposeQuest International a few weeks ago. If you have not downloaded it, please do so now. It will help us stay connected and give you notices when I post or publish new resources. I have also updated my website and continued my weekly Purpose Study Bible Studies and the weekly Monday Memo.

My work in my publishing company is busier than ever. I counted 19 projects in various stages of development from the conceptualization phase to final proofing before publishing. Those are in addition to the three projects of my own I am working on. I also just finished teaching a class in the Gospels for Ottawa University in Kansas and posted the grades this past week. 

Why an I telling you all this? It is because I want to encourage and challenge you at the same time. Jesus told a parable in Luke 19 in which the master gave each servant one mina to work with until the master returned: "So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back'" (Luke 19:13). One servant earned ten minas, one five, but one did not increase at all. The master told the one who showed no increase,

“His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?" (Luke 19:22-23).

The lesson of the parable was and is that God expects increase from His Kingdom citizens. The absolute increase is not what's more important; it's just that God invests in us and wants to see a return on His investment. You don't have to write books or do anything like I do or in the quantities I do them, but you do have to take who you are and what you can do and see how you work them so you bear much fruit for His glory.

Where do you think your greatest opportunity for increase is? That is where you should put your emphasis, especially as we look to enter into a new normal as the world emerges from the pandemic. If I can help you discover those areas of strength and potential growth, please contact me. You know where I will be: sitting at my home desk broadcasting, writing, and helping others to create as I feel God wants me to do. 


Leadership Ethos

Aristotle, that philosopher of old, taught that there are three components to effective communication and Screen Shot 2020-04-24 at 12.06.20 PM persuasion. Since leaders should be good communicators, what he had to say has relevance for leadership development. The three components are logos, pathos, and ethos. I am sure there are many more qualified to speak to these three topics, but forgive me if I make a feeble attempt to look at one of the three: ethos.

What stirred my interest in this was a post I wrote last week on Philip the Evangelist whose activities are described in Acts 8. The verse that caught my attention is Acts 8:6: "When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said" (emphasis added). It occurred to me that having people pay close attention is what every wants (or should want). What made  Philip so irresistible was that he had logos, pathos, and ethos as he spoke with the crowds.

Logos is quite simply the information or skill that the communicator is discussing (it is also the orderly case that appeals to the minds of the listener). When I preach or teach, I have to know the Bible and convince my audience that I know it so they will be open to the lessons I am teaching. Pathos is the passion or energy of the communicator. If the listener is bored because the speaker is boring, that speaker can have all the logos but not the enthusiasm that is like a booster rocket capable of launching the message into a higher place. 

Ethos is a more complicated trait but let's just say for the sake of this discussion it is credibility. A speaker can have the information (logos), the enthusiasm or drive (pathos), but if people don't believe they are credible (ethos), the message is not received. In fact, if any one of the three are missing, communication is incomplete, for someone can have the enthusiasm and be quite credible but soon reveal they don't know what they are talking about. 

Philip had the crowd's attention because he had the information (the truth of the gospel), the passion (he was a Jew who traveled on his own to the area called Samaria, which most Jews avoided due to their hatred of Samaritans), and the credibility (he performed miracles and presented himself as a man in touch with God who had an important message).

It can take a lifetime to gain credibility (ethos) but it can be lost in a moment due to a bad decision or moral failure. That's why morality is important for any leader for it bolsters the spiritual aspect of their work whether they are in church work or not. No one is seeking out the leaders of companies gone bust due to fraud to hear what lessons they learned. They may have the logos and the desire to help others (pathos), but their credibility is shot.

What are the implications for you? Most people spend their time on the logos and may spend some time on the pathos but neglect the ethos, which includes so many things like delivery, dress, vocabulary, transparency, experience, demeanor, tone, and the list goes on and on. When I preach, I cannot only be mindful of the information in my message or the passion, I must connect with my audience so I can connect with the at a deep level so they will receive, process, and hopefully accept what I say.

I want to be like Philip when I speak to or lead a group: I want their undivided attention. That means I have to pay attention to the little things that will contribute to the big thing called ethos that can make or break my ability to impart the truth God has shown me and people need. I want all three aspects that Aristotle said I need in order to be a truly effective communicator. Help me, Lord, to be just that.


The Wise Servant

I now have a ministry app you can download that will keep you in touch with my resources, broadcasts, books, and essays as they are available. See the end of this article to find the link and then download to your smartphone.

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In my weekly devotional reading, I read this story found in Luke 12 of Jesus' address to His disciples and the crowd listening. Peter got a bit confused and asked for clarification when he heard the message: “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?” (Luke 12:41). Jesus gave this response:

The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge Screen Shot 2020-04-18 at 9.48.34 AMof his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers" (Luke 12:42-46).

I had never viewed Jesus' response as a directive to leadership, but yesterday I considered it from that point of view. Here is what I learned.

  1. Leaders are servants first and must maintain that attitude and perspective. 
  2. Leaders are stewards of opportunities to care for the other servants who belong to the Master, not the servant leaders.
  3. Power if intoxicating, for once the servant leader has been given power by the Master, the leader must be careful to use it wisely and properly.
  4. Abuse of leadership power stems from wrong thinking. When this servant thought, "I can misbehave because I've got time before my Master requires me to give an account," he began to abuse those under his care.
  5. God will hold His leaders accountable and since God is the source of all promotions to leadership, in and out of the church, He expects all leaders to follow His directives for attitude and behavior.
  6. All leadership comes to an end and then, and only then, will they receive their rewards and punishments.

Peter heard what Jesus was saying, that the parable was specifically directed toward him but anyone listening could "join in" and benefit from Jesus' lesson. Peter later wrote,

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:2-4).

If you are a leader, are you serving and caring for those under your care? If you are not yet a leader, now is the time to develop a leadership philosophy that incorporates service and accountability. Once you get the leadership power, it is so "heady" that you can begin to think you earn or deserve that power and start to abuse it. The time to decide what kind of leader you want to be is before you get the money, power, or prestige that can come with position. If you are already a leader, how are you handling yourself with your power? Are you using it to build others up or to build yourself up? Whether you're leading now or not, it is important to remember that God is watching and you ultimately answer to Him for what you did or didn't do with your opportunity to lead.

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Woe #7: Talk Is Cheap

Here it is, the last essay on the seven woes Jesus described in Matthew 23. I have tried to distill these woes down to leadership lessons for us today so we can learn from the mistakes of Jesus' Screen Shot 2020-04-10 at 6.41.59 PMcontemporaries who were convinced they were good leaders when the opposite was true. This seventh woe is a bit longer because it wraps up Jesus discourse:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation" (Matthew 23:29-36).

Let's review this story. These leaders were claiming that if they had been around, they would not have persecuted God's prophets like their ancestors had. Jesus knew that they were hiding the reality of their hearts and had done it so long that they had successfully deceived themselves. Therefore, the greatest prophet was standing before them and they were going to kill Jesus, which would reveal the truth that they would have indeed acted like their parents way back when and were going to repeat how their parents had treated the prophets of old where Jesus was concerned.

Jesus referred to these men (and they were all men) as snakes and vipers because He was trying to wake them up so they could save themselves from the trouble ahead. They were so far gone in their deception, however, that could not even consider that they were in the wrong. They talked a good game, but they could not really play the game.

There are two lessons I want to focus on from this story. The first is that God requires truth and will set up circumstances to reveal the truth, not to judge us, but to set us free as only the truth can do. The second is that talk is cheap and meaningless unless it is backed up by reality. These man talked like they were just and fair, but their actions spoke of corruption, which Jesus labeled hypocrisy. Leaders must not try to look real, they must be real. That means they do the work of examining their own hearts, with God's help, to see what's there and then seek the Spirit's help to produce what God would want to see there. Leadership integrity must be that their declarations match their realty. 

As we close our study of the seven woes, let us recommit ourselves to the hard work of becoming the leaders that God wants us to be. Let us not settle for a good appearance only, but let the outer reveal the godliness of our inner life. Let us learn who we need to be based on who these leaders were not, and let us hear the heart of Jesus that yearned for these leaders—and for us—to walk in the truth. It was clear that if they refused, then He would orchestrate circumstances that would reveal the truth. I want to walk in the truth and not in appearance of the truth and I trust that you will join me in this leadership practice.


Woe #6: Whitewashed Tombs

We are almost finished with our look at the woes that Jesus delivered in Matthew 23. This week, we Screen Shot 2020-04-04 at 5.36.05 PM
look at the next-to-the-last entry, this one found in Matthew 23:27-28:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

In the essay on the fifth woe, we saw how the leaders were more interested in cleaning the outside of the cup, so to speak, while ignoring cleansing the inside, which was more important in God's eyes. This woe continues with that that theme, The problem with this woe is that people were coming into contact with the leaders and there was no benefit. Let me explain.

Jews were not permitted to come into contact with a dead body or else they were rendered ceremonially unclean, which meant they could not participate in Temple worship or sacrifices:

“Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean.  If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the Lord’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them (Numbers 19:11-13).

Anyone in Israel who would whitewash a tomb was putting an outward decoration on something that was anything but beautiful or desirable. Jesus was not insinuating that anyone who "touched" these leaders were unclean according to the Law, but He was saying that those people were not helped because of the leaders' spiritual condition—and that is the exact opposite of what God intended to happen when His shepherds or leaders interacted with His flock. This was always a serious problem for the Lord:

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”declares the LordTherefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:1-4).

Paul was clear as to God's expectations for results from the leader/follower relationship: "This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down" (2 Corinthians 13:10); "If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer" (2 Corinthians 1:6); and 

You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12).

When people had an encounter with Jesus, they usually came away better than when they first arrived. That is how God expects the interaction to be between His people and His leaders. That can only happen when the leaders, while not perfect, are not pretending to be in a better spiritual place than they truly are. That requires transparency and humility, but it makes the leaders able to help others who are on the same spiritual journey to wholeness as the leaders. Then those leaders can feed and tend God's flock just as Paul did—as one encouraging, comforting, and teaching example of a follower of Jesus.


Woe #5: Kiss or Miss

Jesus criticized the leaders of Israel in Matthew 23, pronouncing seven "woes" that summarized His Screen Shot 2020-03-28 at 5.06.47 PMcomplaints against them. Jesus was still reaching out to them through strong words, hoping that they would come to their senses and repent, but alas, they were too far gone to hear what He was saying. We must take His words to heart today in order to avoid the mistakes those leaders made. In His fifth woe, Jesus said, 

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean" (Matthew 23:25-26).

What was the main problem represented in this woe? It seems that it was the problem of emphasis of external appearance as opposed to internal substance. Jesus expanded this problem at other times:

  • “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces" (Luke 11:43).
  • Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person" (Mark 7:15-23).
  • "But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:11b-12).

Of course, Jesus modeled the behavior He expected in His leaders, which was the exact opposite of what He was describing in this woe where the leaders of His day were concerned. Isaiah reported this about Jesus: "He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2). Jesus had no armor bearers, no badge of honor, or no trappings of leadership that the people of His time had come to expect.

In fact, when Judas betrayed Jesus, he was concerned that the guards he was to lead to Jesus would not recognize him because the Romans and Temple guards were used to their leaders standing out by their uniform or some other external distinctive. Judas in essence said, "You had better let me kiss Him or you will miss Him!" The guards would have arrested Peter or John or any other of the disciples because Jesus would not have stood out as the leader.

Jesus' message is clear to His leaders. Don't work on the external trappings of power; work on the heart. He made it clear at the Last Supper how we are to do this: 

"But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:26-27).

What are you working on to enhance your leadership? Is it the inner person of the heart? Or are you enamored with the outward benefits of leadership—the respect, the special honor, the perks like a corner office or other special benefits? Be careful, for you may begin to think you deserve those things when they are available to you, which can lead to the self-indulgence and greed that Jesus identified in the fifth woe. The only antidote for the negative effects of leadership power is service, and that service requires a humble heart that focuses on the' welfare of other people.


Woe #4: Justice, Mercy, Faithfulness

As we continue looking at the list of "woes" Jesus presented in Matthew 23, we come to Jesus' fourth Screen Shot 2020-03-20 at 12.15.11 PMadmonition as found in Matthew 23:23-24:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel."

These leaders had overextended the Law to apply to irrelevant matters, or as I wrote last week, they were majoring in minors. Their hollow ritualism caused them to be blind to weightier matters that according to Jesus were the concepts of justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Before we condemn these men too quickly, do we have any traditions that also major in minors? How about the practice of armor bearers that some leaders deploy? Or how about the attachment to titles like author, apostle, prophet, or deacon? Or corner offices for leaders and cubicles for "lesser lights." Every culture has bestowed certain perks on its leaders, but do those perks contribute to justice, mercy, or faithfulness? If not, then perhaps Jesus is speaking to us as well.

Justice, mercy, and faithfulnessthose words and concepts are subjective and mean something different to everyone. If I mention justice, what does it cause you to envision? For some, it is feeding the poor, for others it is education, and for still others, it may mean environmental sensitivities. How can we come to a definition upon which we all can agree? One way would be to see what Jesus' definition was and submit to that, so let's try and do that by looking at a question someone asked Jesus:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:36-40).

So the first part of the definition for justice is to love God and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. How should the second part play out in our lives? Jesus answered that in Matthew 7:12: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." The Law and prophets both hang on and are summed up by loving your neighbor as yourself.

Justice and mercy are therefore to be faithfully expressed according to what you would want others to do to and for you. It's not about the church feeding more people; it's about you feeding more people. It's not about the government doing more for children; it's about you doing more for children. Then when you lead an organization or movement, you can influence that group from a position of integrity and faith because you have done not what you are demanding or expecting others to do but what you have already been faithfully doing.

How do you present yourself with justice and mercy through social media? By treating others as you would want to be treated? How do you present yourself with justice and mercy to the church or government? By asking them to help you do what you are already doing to express justice and mercy, and not demanding they do it in your place. 

Do you have any traditions, ways of thinking, or pet peeves that are blinding you to the need for justice, mercy, and faithfulness in your life? Are you majoring in minors? Are you self-righteous like those people Jesus was addressing in Matthew 23? Don't answer too quickly, for you may be blinded to the reality of your own heart, just like the leaders in Jesus' day were. Instead, ask the Lord to show you where you lack justice, mercy, or faithfulness and then seek to correct your own approach to those matters before you try and correct someone else.