Thursday, July 28, 2011

True Leadership

Leadership has been a hot topic in the church in the modern era.

And certainly the world needs visionary leadership these days. Case in point: the "debt crisis" that has begun sweeping through Europe and the United States.

There are no easy solutions. And, unfortunately, the first person who puts a proposal out there is the first one to get shot at. Therefore, the safest thing is to lie low and wait for someone else to take a risk.

Jesus was the greatest leader to ever walk the earth. He set a pattern for leadership that Christians are supposed to emulate. "Everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40).

Jesus specifically told us not to learn about leadership from the world whose pattern is to "lord it over them" (Mark 10: 42). "Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all" (Mark 10: 43-44).

And of course, Jesus was the one to talk. He practiced what He preached. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10: 45).

In Philippians 2, Paul tells us to take on the attitude of Jesus. Although He was God Himself, He did not use His "God-ness" as an opportunity to acquire more, but instead, to pour Himself out for us, actually becoming our servant, doing for us what only He could do--giving Himself up to death on the cross. (see Php. 2: 5-11).

That's someone I can follow. That's true leadership.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Receiving Appreciation

I had the shock of my life this last Saturday night. My church planned a surprise party for me which they were able to keep a complete secret from me. When I walked into the church sanctuary to check out why the doors were wide open, a large group of people shouted "Surprise!" and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

My initial thought was, "But it's not my birthday. What is the surprise for?"

It turns out that, on the weekend of the church's 11th Anniversary, they simply wanted to hold an "Appreciation Service" for me.

Now, if I had known that this idea had been floated, I would have nixed it. My reaction would have been something like: "I don't need to be appreciated, the ministry is reward in and of itself."

And as I sat up front in a place of honor, I felt extremely uncomfortable at first.

But I decided to simply accept the outpouring of affection for me and bask in the warmth of sincere expressions of gratitude and love. Besides, I really didn't have much choice. (Is this what it might feel like to get to listen in on your own funeral?)

As the evening wore on, I kept watching the looping photo-album being projected on the screen. I realized just how many weddings I had performed for people in that room. And how many times I had visited people in hospitals, or did a funeral for a loved one, or listened to their struggles and prayed with them. In fact, the biggest part of my life has been poured into the lives of others.

It is true that pastoral ministry has rewards of its own. So, when people want to thank me, my reaction has been to say, "I am only an unworthy servant; I have only done my duty" (Luke 17: 10).

Yet, Paul also says: "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching" (1 Tim. 5: 17).

Rather than feeling puffed up, I actually feel rather humbled. And I feel a renewed understanding of my role as "Pastor Mark" in the lives of my flock.

Have you shown your appreciation to your pastor lately? Gratitude is good for both of you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Deep Cries Out To Deep

I love singing the worship song, "All Who Are Thirsty." It pulls out of me a desire for more of God in my life.

Many worship leaders will repeat the bridge over and over: "As deep cries out to deep; As deep cries out to deep..."

This is a phrase from Psalm 42: 7. I used to think that it meant my deepest heart cries out to God's deepest heart. But what does it really mean?

In the context of the Psalm, the idea is that of being overwhelmed by the circumstances of life, which God allows to come crashing over me from every side. The breaking waves on one side and the crashing waterfall on the other.

Recently I had the opportunity on my vacation to sit still next to several thundering, roaring waterfalls. I could feel the vibrations of the crashing water through the souls of my feet. I imagined how powerless it would feel to be swept away in their relentless and powerful current.

Life can feel that way sometimes. Yet, the Psalm seems to indicate that it is God Himself who is the source of the roaring, crashing waves and breakers.

Despite the roar of life's seemingly overwhelming circumstances, God's still, small voice speaks to our hearts. "Then God promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night! My life is God's prayer" (Ps. 42: 8, The Message).

And so the repeated chorus in both Psalm 42 and 43: "Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will (still continue) to praise him, my Savior and my God" (Ps. 42: 11).