Leadership

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August 27

Thursday, August 27th, 2020

Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill has always been an interesting one to me. You can find it in Acts 17: 16-34. Paul is in Athens, the religious center of Greece. In fact, as you walk with Paul and listen to him, it is easy to come to the conclusion that Athens was the home of virtually every god known to man. In 17:16 it says, “Paul’s…spirit was provoked as he saw the city was full of idols.” In verse 22 it says he begins his sermon with “I perceive in every way you are very religious.” I’d say those are dead giveaways! 🙂

As Paul reasoned with the people, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers were curious (they loved engaging with others for the purpose of learning and discourse), but some were hostile. Why? Because he preached Jesus and His resurrection.  He didn’t “preach” health and wealth. He didn’t “preach” a glory cloud will fall. He didn’t “preach” God wants to bring a miracle to your life. No. He preached Jesus and His resurrection.

They wanted to hear more, but it was more of a defense of what he believed. The Areopagus was a court named for the hill on which it once met. His defense is interesting.

  • He alludes to their multiple gods.  They were “very religious.”
  • He zeroes in on the altar To An Unknown God. They were “spiritual;” they believed in the supernatural. Sort of like many in our day. They believe in something; they just aren’t sure what or who.
  • He teaches with purpose.  Take note of it: The God who made the world (the one they classified as unknown); He doesn’t live in temples; He gives life, breath, and all things; He has made us all equal (one blood); He has put in all of us a need for Him and a desire to seek.
  • He presents the appeal. Now is the time. God has overlooked our rebellion but no more.

Such a far cry  from the mere pablum of our day. No hype. No promise of wealth. No “God wants His kingdom here now.” No “think better of yourself because you are worth it.” Just Jesus and our need for Him. Just Jesus and our need to repent. Just Jesus- and it was all cemented not by our agreement-but by His resurrection. And like today the response was mixed. Yes, as expected there was hostility. But that day Paul’s honesty in preaching brought some into the kingdom and raised the curiosity of others.   

“Father, my mandate is to preach Jesus and Him crucified and resurrected. Help me not to waver from that mandate.”

August 25

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020

One constant throughout the past 6 months -give or take a few weeks- has been the presence of fear. For some it is very palpable. One can almost see it in the eyes, brows, or body language. At times one can see a paralysis present, so much so that a person is afraid to interact with others at all. When this whole virus thing started, I saw someone at Kroger wearing a Hazmat suit, covered top to bottom. That’s not saying there were and are those with legitimate health concerns, but a Hazmat suit?

But there are other kinds of fears also. It’s the fear of moving forward, of moving beyond the status quo. It’s the fear of traditionalism. We can see this fear in certain words/phrases we use or hear: (1) We’ve never done it that way before; (2) I’ve always been this way; (3) Those are the rules!; (4) Where will you get the money?; (5) Try to be normal; (6) Don’t make waves; (7) Failure is not an option; (8) That’s not my responsibility; (9) We don’t have room; (10) He’s never going to learn. {Note: I’m grateful to Chuck Swindoll for that list}

The sad part? I’ve probably heard most of those…and to my shame… admittedly have used a few of them in my own rationale and in my judgment of others. Each of those phrases basically is fear wrapped in a different package. That’s not saying there aren’t times when fear is legitimate, or caution is essential.  But when fear become a real ghost that haunts us, it has gained too much power. Paul wrote these words in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love and self-control.” Let’s not allow irrational fear paralyze our desire to follow Jesus. Let’s not allow fear to get a foothold in our lives.

“Father, please replace fear of moving forward with faith to trust. Help me to not to cloak fear with excuses.”

August 21

Friday, August 21st, 2020

Have you ever been hurt so deeply you wanted to strike back? You know…give them the old one-two punch. Hit them with the left jab of “love,” then hit them (i.e. put them down) with the right cross of power. The full punch will always be more powerful than the left jab that either keeps a person at a distance or sets them up for the power punch.

More often than not that power punch is the result of the desire to get even, to defend my rights. An illustration: several years ago I was hurt deeply. I’ll not say how or when or where. It hurt my family as well. That happens when a member of a family is hurt by another. Tami was really hurt and said some things to me about this person’s actions. I told her she has to let it go. So she wrote a letter of apology asking for forgiveness. (I was so proud of her). Instead of a letter of grace acknowledging and offering forgiveness, she received a letter of defense-one justifying that person’s actions, taking more shots at me and adding fuel to the fire. She was hurt all over again; I was livid. We moved away and over the course of time God dealt with my own anger. How could I help her process if I myself couldn’t handle it? In time, and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life, I was able to lay down my “rights” and forgive.  I wrote a letter explaining my feelings and asking forgiveness, but I never received a reply. But God’s grace allowed me to move on-stronger, more mature, and able to help others do the same. In fact, it was after that when I was working at a non-church related job that I was able to help someone else.

I was working the other morning on a sermon from Ephesians 4: 25-32. Paul tells us there are certain things we are to put away. One of them is clamor. Clamor is the cry of passion railing against another.  To get rid of that I/we must give up my right to be right.

“Father, You got this. You have in your hand all that happens to me at the hands of others and will deal with them. Help me to give up my rights to always be right.”

August 20

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

Have you ever read or heard the story of someone and wondered “could I do that?”  For example, you read the story of someone wrongfully accused of a crime and spends years in prison, only many years later is found to be innocent. When that person is released he/she holds no grudge, no desire for vengeance, no animosity, and no anger. Then you read/hear that person has come to Christ while in prison and then you know the reason. But it doesn’t stop the “could I do that?” from going through your head.

Or how about this? You read the biography of someone who has an incredible life story. You are moved deeply by it and again wonder. For example, Joni, who has been a quad since a diving accident in her teens. It has now been over 50 years and along the way there has been two bouts with breast cancer as well. She holds no bitterness toward God.

Or how about George Mueller? He ran an orphanage for over 300 children. Often times his faith was tested. The story I read this morning was just such a story. He gathered his 300 children for breakfast…but there was no food for breakfast. So they prayed and thanked God for the food. What food? Oh, the bread a baker made when he could not sleep and delivered. And let’s not forget the milkman standing outside the door with milk from his broken down cart. He didn’t want it to spoil.

Talk about faith! Sometimes I’m just downright ashamed of my lack of it. Just the other night I laid awake a good part of the night wondering how I was going to pay for a dental procedure that is going to cost me close to $4k. Oh, me of little faith! I read the story of Mueller and I’m encouraged because His God is my God. The same one who owns the cattle on his hill owns them on mine. I still don’t know how that procedure will get paid for but it will. It’s not a want; its a need, a have-to. Maybe He’ll sell one of my cattle. 🙂

In I Cor. 10 (and I know I’m taking this out of context) it says, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.” Perhaps that story of George Mueller was written down and read by me this morning just for me. For this time.

“Father, no lesson is ever wasted. No challenge is ever lost. Help me not to lose sight of that truth. Help me to keep my eyes open to lessons from You.”

August 19

Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

After yesterday’s post, I felt I needed to say something more. In all this talk about social justice, it is easy to forget what really is the task of the church-which is, in fact, tied to social justice.

We spent time last week with our grandson. Man, I love that dude and would gladly give my life for him. I’ve lived 67 very good years; he only 13 (soon to be 14). His mom and dad have split up and no reconciliation is in sight. At all. I/we have watched him grow from birth to be one of the lights in our world.  Our time with him is all too short, and I realize someday he probably won’t want to spend time with us. There are times I want to be closer but that is not to be. And I’m okay with that because I am in God’s will right now.

Children were loved but not really valued in Jesus’ day. He changed all that. When others were pushing them away, Jesus was saying, “Bring the children to Me.” He welcomed the lame, the blind, the deaf, the outcast, the demon-possessed, the diseased, and the poor with no qualms whatsoever. Who the person was or what his “deal” was, Jesus never shrunk away. He reached out. In that way, Jesus left us an example on how to treat others. In that way, He showed us what social justice was: doing for the “least of these.”

But notice what was missing? Protesting. Loud rhetoric. Inciting hate. Getting His message out for His cause. He wasn’t a warrior, least not as we think of one. He was an example of how it is to be done. All kinds of people fell under the loving eyes and touch of Jesus.

I find it interesting when reading about Paul’s life that I was directed to read Galatians. In Gal.2 Paul writes about seeing James, Peter and John where he and Barnabas were offered the right hand of fellowship.  They were sent out to minister to the Gentiles with one word of advice: “They desired only that we should remember the poor, the very thing which I was also eager to do.” (2:10) Hmmmm, social justice in action. The mission of the church to get the Good News of Jesus out. Our work with people is simply an outgrowth of that mission. It is not to be the only thing we do.  Social justice must never take the place of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is not just helping someone; it also to be used as a springboard to present Jesus.

“Father, help me not to forget others, especially those in need. And help me not to forget why I do what I do.”

August 18

Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

As I write this devotion, I hesitate. I have, in the past, said I would not write on politics. But, even though I can say this is not political, there would be some who would take it that way. Such is the state of our world. But this truly is not meant to be a political statement.

There are always catch-words or catch-phrases people use. Some catch on but others go by the wayside after a time. One that is big right now (2020) is the term “social justice.” It has been spurred on by the different social events that have happened, and while it may sound innocent on the surface, those two words have become the rationale for all kinds of lawlessness and other actions. It has also become the litmus test for many in the church.

Right up front I will say social justice-the desire for equality according to the law (my definition)- is good. There is one factor which must never be forgotten. Social justice, especially when it involves right/wrong or evil, must never, never (did I say never?) usurp the gospel of Jesus Christ. Churches, and even pastors, who push aside the gospel of Jesus for the social justice banner have stopped being gospel churches and gospel pastors. If they are not going to preach the gospel of Jesus as the cure to this world’s ills, and if they are going to spend their time protesting and breeding hatred, they need to step down from their pulpits, get rid of the “pastor” or “Reverend” in front of their name and be what they really are-a social justice warrior. Speaking of which, don’t call Jesus a Social Justice Warrior. I don’t see Him marching in protest; burning buildings; hating cops; throwing molotov cocktails; looting. screaming and inciting riots; or any other type of inflamed rhetoric.

I repeat: Social justice should never, never, never take the place of preaching the Gospel message.

“Father, Your Word changes lives.  Our world doesn’t know that. Many people in pulpits don’t know that. And it stand to reason many in the pews/chairs don’t. Help me to always preach the gospel.”

*Note: I have more to say but kept it to this length to be more readable. Stay tuned for more tomorrow.

August 17

Monday, August 17th, 2020

Several years ago Jo and I went to see a movie with some friends. It was called Seabiscuit and it was based on a book by the same name by Laura Hillenbrand. (She also wrote Unbroken, the story of POW Louis Zamperini). Seabiscuit was a horse case aside by it owner and handlers and used primarily as a training horse for the “cream of the crop”-horses which were supposed to bring home the roses.

But in my mind, it was about so much more than a small horse.  Here’s why:

  • Seabiscuit was a cast away horse. Too small. But Tom Smith saw what he could be.
  • Tom Smith, a cowboy whose way of life changed with the introduction of barbed wire fences and an out-moded way of life.
  • Charles Howard, a bicycle mechanic, turned car enthusiast, turned tycoon, turned divorcee’ after his son took off in a car to fish and died in an accident, to a broken man. His life was turned around by the love of a woman and a horse named Seabiscuit.
  • Red, the privileged, rich kid turned destitute by the stock market crash, turned bitter fighter, turned jockey who rode “Biscuit” to victory.

There is so much more. I’d say, “Watch the movie” but beware it has some rough language issues. But it’s real (and probably nothing you or I have not heard more than we care to).

Several statements in that movie stand out to me:

“Though she be small she is mighty.”  Red quotes Shakespeare when describing Seabiscuit to adoring fans and press.

“You don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.” Tom on Seabiscuit’s future.

That latter applies to all of us. I can guarantee you after 67 years of life, I am banged up. I’m glad God didn’t throw me away because of it. No, His forgiveness was/is real. I must do the same with others.

“Father, thanks for not throwing me away or giving up on me. may I be the same with others you place in my world.”

August 13

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

Have you ever been-or seen someone-so locked into an idea or action that prompted you to say, “Man, he/she is really locked in.” That might be said of a baseball pitcher who is so focused and so dominant: “WOW! He is really in a zone.” I’ve seen cyclists in a race on TV struggling to keep up, but then when he hits the mountains suddenly all else falls away, he gets locked in and it seems as if he is flying up the mountain.

We might be like that-or someone we know-and comment on how “he/she is a man on a mission.” Nothing causes that person to look to the right or the left. In yesterday’s devotion I wrote about our calling. To just piggyback on that a bit, when a person knows his/her calling, he knows his mission.

Follow Paul and Barnabas through Acts 13:42-14:28. That was my reading for today. I was struck by their resolute mission.  Nothing derailed them. Nothing deterred them. You might say, “Wrong Bill! The Jews were against them. They had to leave towns and cities. Paul was stoned and left for dead. That stopped them dead in their tracks.” Oh, really? In the first incident of rejection, they took the gospel to the Gentiles as a result (13:41-49). Stop? Oh no!! Spread the gospel.  Next, after being in Iconium for a long time, they fled. They healed a lame man and were revered as gods in Lystra. They tried to stop that but encouraged the people to turn to God.  When radical protesters came, Paul was then stoned and left for dead…in the town that had revered him!  The passage ends with a report on the gospel being taken to the Gentiles.

How’s that for staying on mission? While the enemy stirred up difficulty, it simply spurred Paul and Barnabas on. They would not be deterred. They would not be sidetracked. They were men on a mission.

Am I/are you gripped by the mission? What mission? The mission of telling the gospel to others-wherever that may be-however that is to be done. Stay focused. Stay in the game. Stay on task.

“Father, You have given me a task, a mission to accomplish. Help me to fulfill it, to not be distracted or turned aside or derailed.”

August 12

Wednesday, August 12th, 2020

Seems to me a lot of people either ask or silently wonder about the answer to this question: what am I here for? Many, many-maybe most-young people ask that question somewhere along the line.  It might be heard in other words like “What am I supposed to do with my life?” or “I’m not sure what I want to do for a living” or if that person is a follower of Christ: “What does God want me to do about my future?” What a person is doing when they ask that question or those questions is simply saying, “What is my calling?”

Calling. This came to mind this morning as I read the story in Acts 13 where God had the church leaders set aside Paul and Barnabas “for the work to which I have called them.” (13:2)  (emphasis mine). We talk a lot about “calling.” There are those who feel “called” to being a pastor. You might hear someone say, “I’ve been called to the mission field.” By the same token you might hear someone say, “I’ve been called to be a teacher…or a fireman…or an EMT…or a barista…or a (fill in the blank).”  Nowhere does it say a calling must be in full time church work. I have a blogging friend who feels called to be a loving wife, a Gammy, and a writer. I might also add “encourager.” She has certainly encouraged me. I have another reader who feels called to reach out with a food ministry, to deliver food to help those who can’t get it themselves. I feel called to be a pastor and that calling has sustained me for over 45+ years-through dark days and through light days; through full days and empty days; through highs and lows; through day of doubt and days of faith.

There is one interesting aspect of Acts 13 and Paul and Barnabas’ calling. Another name crops up: John, aka Mark. He must have thought he was called but later dumped them during that first mission trip (13:13). But if your calling is from God you can’t escape or forget it. Mark’s was. He came back, even though initially it caused a rift between Paul and Barnabas. Mark could not forget his calling. Neither can I. Neither can you.

“Father, each one of us has a unique calling from you. May I be faithful to that calling…no matter where it takes me.”

August 10

Monday, August 10th, 2020

I read an interesting passage of Scripture today from Acts 11:19-30. I’ve read it oh-so-many-times before but I had a different reaction today. I suspect its because of the past 5 months of world events. Covid. George Floyd’s death. Protests. Riots. Lies of the media. The church having to adjust. It is the latter that hit me.

Acts 11:19-20 says, “Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they came to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.”

Noticed what spurred them on? Persecution. Did you notice who they took the message to? The Jews-their own people. UNTIL some came from Cyprus and Cyrene and took the gospel to the Greeks at Antioch. Bingo!

There has been a lot of chatter and a lot of blogging about the church’s response to Covid and being told to shut down. My point here is not to argue that. My point is how, because of Covid, and because of “persecution,” the church had to go beyond its walls. No longer was I preaching to the church attender, to those who came on Sunday. I was preaching to unknown faces, unknown people, from who-knows-where. The church has expanded beyond the walls. And it looks as though it will continue. And that is all for the better. The message of the gospel was never intended to stay within its walls on a Sunday. The church must not waste this opportunity.

And FYI.  Want to see how Acts 11 culminated? Read verse 26.

“Father, thank you for the opportunity to take the message beyond the walls. I pray it will continue to expand until those who need to hear the message, hear it.”