Leaders Are Learners

We are well into the new year. How’s it going for you? Are you feeling productive, or do you feel as if you are in the same routine, the same way of thinking, feeling like nothing as changed except the numbers on the calendar?

I would like to offer this question, “If, for you, everything seems the same, what are you learning?”

What’s interesting to me is how many times I ask this question and get a similar response, “I don’t have time,” or my favorite, “I’m too old”/“I have a hard time learning new things.”

Many people have god intentions to follow through with new year resolutions. I know I have, in the past. But then something seems to happen. There seems to be a new stressor, a new amount of pressure, that is causing us to change or to follow through with what we said we wanted to do. Change is hard. After all, it is said the only people who like change are babies with a dirty diaper.

So if it is change we really desire, what can we do to make it happen? The underlying truth we all have to realize is, if we are going to have a better life (a deeper life in Christ for those who are Christian), we have to seek and live into ways that help produce change.

How many of you have said you want to lead other people? I typically hear it like this, “I’m a good leader.” My question, then, is how many people do you have following you? Then we have to look at what makes a good leader. The truth is, real leaders are constantly learning something new, and improving what they already know and do.

I have heard that CEO’s of businesses read an average of 60+ books a year. Do you think this is something you can do? Why/Why not?

If the goal is to improve ourselves so we can do more, for our family, for the world, for our lives, then where can we begin?

I would recommend starting with something you already love. If you like to play golf, take a few lessons to help improve your swing. If you like to play other sports, play them more and ask people for pointers. If you speak for a living, ask people to constructively critique the messages. If you like to garden, seek someone who can give you some advice. If you have a desire to read, or say you don’t like reading, begin with a short audio book or podcast. This list can go on and on.

Part of the reason we do not follow through on our new year resolutions, I believe, is becasue we try to do more than we can manageably accomplish, then get frustrated when we do not get the desired results (if we have thought about results) within a week or two.

Leaders are learners. If we want to see our lives really change, and do great things, then we have to find ways to learn something, even if it is something we see as small. It is amazing how many things, business and world leaders can learn from attempting to master a golf swing.

Now, I am a pastor and I firmly believe that real change does not happen on our own. I believe we do not possess the power and ability to change within ourselves. We do have access to channel the Source of all Power and Grace in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, given by Jesus Christ, and directed by God. So, if you are a believer, have you sought out how God is asking you to be different? Have you followed his voice to undergo the process of transformation?

If you are not a believer in Christ as Savior and Lord of your life, his mercy is available and ready to aid you in achieving so much more than you can ever imagine.

The point of all of this is, what are you learning? Start small. It is never too early nor too late to expand our minds and watch the power of God flow in and through us to make lasting change in the world.

Oh, and it never fails to have some people with you as you learn something new: people to share ideas with, and to help hold each other accountable. God works well in those relationships.

Rise and Walk

Click here to read today’s scripture: Acts 3.

One of the best lessons I have heard from prayer reminds us to pay attention when we are praying, especially in public. So much of the time, we tend to want to be by ourselves. We’ll have our eyes closed. We’ll try to keep everything quiet. But then, what if the noise is too much to turn off? What if we keep getting interrupted while we’re praying?

There are times, I believe God allows interruptions in our prayer time with him because he is desiring us to connect with other person who is in need. If our prayers are communication with the Creator, should we be surprised when he is asking us to be an answer to another person’s prayers?

Peter and John, in today’s passage, are on their way to pray at the appointed time. They had a schedule. They had things to do. That’s when they got interrupted by someone asking for help.  Granted, this was someone who asks for help all the time by begging for money, for food, etc. We have seen this kind of situation in our day to day lives. The same person asking for assistance. Sometimes we give them the pocket change we have. Sometimes we’ll buy them food. But is this what they are really after?

In the short term, we are all looking for what we need in that moment. We all need food. We all need some sort of currency. But don’t we need relationships even more? Don’t we all have a need, deep down, to know we are valued?

As I am writing this, the day before it’s published, I am convicted. As a husband, as a father, as a father-to-be, as a pastor I am constantly around people who need something from me. Can I give them everything all the time? It is challenging and I would burn out and run out of care quickly. What I can give more generously than anything else is a relationship.

Now, this also means that I can point them to Jesus Christ as much as possible so they have an opportunity to experience grace, to experience his love, to experience being valued. It is through Jesus’ love and grace for me that I am able to go out and share his love with all those I come in contact with.

The apostles had three solid years with Jesus. They had a great relationship with him. It is because of that relationship they were able to go and share the good news of Life. When they came across this man who was begging for food and money, they did not really have any to spare. But they did have something very valuable. The gift of grace. The offered him Christ.

“Rise up and walk.” Go into the world knowing you are loved by the Creator. Get up and realize you have been given gifts and talents to be part of another person’s life. Rise, share God’s love through acts of mercy, yes; but also through compassionate words. Give what you can. Rise up in the strength of Jesus Christ. Go on your way. Since he changed your life, go with him to change the world.

Rise up and walk.

REDEEMED: Out of Egypt

This week, I want you to think about what your defining story. This would be a story that defines your life journey from where you were to where you are, and are going.

The defining story of the Hebrew people is the Exodus, the escape from Egypt. I invite you to read the passage for this week, Exodus 12.

Now if you had a story like the Hebrew people, you would definitely remember what happened and how your past changed you into the person you are today. This is one of the things we should reflect upon during the season of Lent. When we remember where we have been, we keep in focus who we are being formed into. The question we need to keep thinking about is, “what are we being transformed into?”

The Israelites moved to Egypt as a family of 70 people (see Genesis 47-50) and grew into millions of people in the next 400 or so years (Exodus 1). There came a time when the Pharaoh of Egypt forgot about Joseph, the son of Jacob (Israel), and enslaved the Hebrew people for fear become too numerous and too powerful and they would take over the country of Egypt.

So, the Israelites were praying for deliverance from the oppression they lived in each and every day. There were times, I am sure, the people lost hope at times because their situation had not improved.

But God did not forget the people of Israel, and raised up a man of power to deliver the people of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt. This man was Moses. Moses was not who the Hebrews thought would be their deliverer; but God showed otherwise. God used Moses, who was raised as Egyptian royalty by Pharaoh’s daughter, and knew how to move through the governmental system to get to the right person, Pharaoh himself.

Moses was still not the right person in the Hebrew people’s eyes because he murdered and Egyptian for beating one of the Hebrew people. He had to flee because he was going to get found out. Moses ended up spending the next forty years in the desert as a shepherd.

When the time was right, God called to Moses and had him go back to Egypt. The unlikely person of Moses, now 80 years old, was going to lead millions of Hebrew people out of Egypt.

Whenever the Exodus story is told, they remember the faithfulness and power of the God who delivered them from slavery and lead them into freedom.

Now, what about your defining story? What was it you were enslaved to before you met Jesus Christ and lead into freedom and salvation (the presence of God). Or, what is holding you back from entering into the freedom God gives? What are you enslaved to? Addiction? Porn? Alcohol? Money? Fame? Pride? News? Self?

There are many things that can and do enslave us, especially when we allow ourselves to stay in that state of being. It can get so bad that we can lose hope that everything will not get better.

God constantly showed His people his faithfulness and His power throughout the Exodus redemption story. He does so today to. My friends, God has placed the right people in our lives to help us hear and experience His grace and His presence. He has been right there with you your whole life.

Because of the grace of God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit we have the opportunity to fully experience and embrace love, mercy, grace, God himself. We are different after an encounter with God.

This week, as you take time to reflect on who you were before you met Jesus Christ personally, thank Him for changing your life and bringing your freedom. If you have not yet experienced grace, why not? Why would we allow ourselves, or other people in a state of life that is not joyful?

The story of God is written all through your life. How will you remember it? How will you tell it?

NOTE: This is based upon a sermon series concept posted on www.seedbed.com called “Redemption.”

Image of God

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NIV)

From the very beginning, human beings have been a unique creation and have had a unique role in caring for the earth. The sun, moon, land, fish, birds, animals, vegetation, all fill the earth; but humans were the only part of creation said, by God, were created in the image of God. Man and woman, as stated in Genesis 2, were created out of the same substances of the earth as the plants and other animals and living creatures; but something was different. God breathed the breath of life into him (Genesis 2:7)
What is the image of God? This is a question that has been discussed for many centuries. John Wesley described the imago Dei (image of God) using three dimensions: the natural image, the political image, and the moral image. It was the moral and natural images that Wesley discussed more often. “The natural Image of God in humanity referred to those characteristics or faculties definitive of being human, while the moral Image of God referred to the ‘character’ of holiness and love that God intended for humanity.” (Maddox 68) Humanity has been given the Image of God through the characteristics of God, such as love. The Image of God shows people how we are supposed to be in relationship to God, to other people, and to creation itself.

The idea that part of our identity is for us to be in relationship with God is important to understand why the Image of God is vital to our being. People were designed from the beginning to be in relationship. We are to be careful stewards of creation and to help build people up so they can experience a life with Christ. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

The benefit of understanding what it means to be created in the Image of God gives more clarity and purpose for people. If we can understand our purpose, we understand why we were created. Many people do not have this kind of mindset, that they are made in the Image of God. 

Holiness is the main quality of God, so it is easy to think that we have to have everything perfect because God is perfect. This can create a skewed way of thinking and cause people to step off the path God designed for them or to create a false sense of who God is and how God works in the world. Throughout the scriptures, especially the Gospels when Jesus speaks of God, the Father, and the letters of John in the New Testament, God is defined as love. people are created to love God and love people. The Image of God imprinted in our souls shows us we are made to be in relationship with God. It is out of God’s love for us that we exist. It is out of God’s love for us that we can experience the feeling and lifestyle of ones who love others.

One of the fun ways to teach and talk about the Image of God with children is by asking them to use their imagination. It is fascinating to watch children begin to create new and interesting objects, or by watching them bring objects to life while they are playing. God has a great imagination and we can see this through everything that has been created. God is constantly up to something and is creating something new everyday. When the children have the opportunity to use their imagination, something new is created. 

God, in Genesis 1, had a grand imagination when the words, “let there be light” came forth and light happened. Then, carefully, planning and designing the rest of creation from the sky to the land to the plants, fish, and land animals, we can see God causing the plans and designs come to life. 

Teenagers begin to develop complexes about their appearance. The important thing we should always remember is to meet people where they are, so God can work in and through them in a new way. So, mirrors would be a good object to use. The reflection in the mirror is not the same as the actual person, but rather the likeness of the person looking into the mirror. Because of sin, there is a distortion (look through a broken mirror). We don’t always see the original image, but we do see pieces of the original image. 

As we look at ourselves in the mirror, do we always love what we see? No. We see the imperfections. We see our flaws. We see the places that “need” to be fixed or improved. Adults are very similar to teenagers in this fashion. Each one of us needs to understand that we are designed to be in relationship with God and this is the foundation of the Image of God within us. 

Since God is love (1 John 4:18), this is who we are as well. One of the best descriptions of love is found in the 1 Corinthians 13 passage. A challenge that has been used for teenagers and adults shows how we can misunderstand love. If we take the time to replace the word “love” or “it” in this passage with God we can see more of God and more of the character of God. We are all made in the image of God, so this means this is who we are supposed to be as well. The challenge comes in to play when we replace “love” or “it” with our name.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV)

Sin has caused us to fail in many of these areas. But God, has done something greater than we could have ever imagined. God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth. He lived a life in perfect communion with His Heavenly Father so we can see first hand what God’s original intent for us was when humanity came into existence. It is through the lens of Jesus Christ that we can experience and see anew the Image of God imprinted on our hearts and lives: to be in relationship with God, with other people, and with creation.
Bibliography

Campbell, Ted. Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials. Nashville: Abingdon, 2011. Print.

González, Justo L., and Zaida Maldonado Pérez. An Introduction to Christian Theology. Nashville: Abingdon, 2002. Print. 

Maddox, Randy L. Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology. Nashville, TN: Kingswood, 1994. Print.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Beneath the Surface

James 2:5-7 CEB “My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Don’t the wealthy make life difficult for you? Aren’t they the ones who drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who insult the good name spoken over you at your baptism?”

We all want to be around “rich” people, right? Why is this? Is it for their benefit? for our benefit? Do we place people on a pedestal simply because they have money or wealth?

Here, James is giving an unfavorable viewpoint on rich people. There are wonderful people who are wealthy. There are people who are wealthy that are not worth our time because of their character. It is not wise to simply look more favorably on a person simply because of their financial position.

James reminds us of the special concern that God has for those people who do not have many material possessions, those who are poor. All throughout scripture, God is telling the people to take care, and how to take care of the poor in their community. God was making sure the community did not turn a blind eye to those in need. Our verse focus today reminds us “God has chosen those who are poor by world standards to be rich in terms of faith.”

This is giving us another example of God looking to the person’s heart instead of appearance. Also, this is how we should be living our lives: caring for those who are in need. James is writing to make sure the community of faith is living out their faith in all they do. James is connecting the beatitudes in Matthew chapter five to practical living.

Feel blessed by God even if you do not have an abundance of material possessions. God has given the gift of faith and this makes you and I rich. This is true wealth we can give each and everyday that never runs out.

Lord, you have given us so much. Thank you for the gift of faith. Help us look beneath the surface and look to the person’s heart instead of material possessions. Amen.