Friday, April 27, 2012

Strength for Leaders

"Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." So says Henry in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 2.

And at the beginning of the musical, Camelot, King Arthur complains to the audience: his people do not understand how it is that, just because he is the king, he is not resting easily on the eve of his wedding. Like any other groom, he is scared to death. But he has no one to share it with.

Perhaps another, more modern way of putting it is, "It's lonely at the top."

There is no shortage of books and seminars on the subject of leadership. But one thing I have found is that, no matter how much we study the topic, there remains a kind of romantic notion of leadership that only gets corrected when one is thrust into the actual position of leadership. Until you experience the reality of leading, it remains theoretical. And the truth is--reality bites.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul shares about all the suffering and pain he had gone through as apostle to the Gentiles. As he also had mentioned in 1 Cor. 15: 31, referring to the dangers and cares he endured for the gospel, "I die daily."

I think that the life of David is a great study in all aspects of leadership--full of examples of both success and failure. In 1 Sam. 30, he returns to his temporary home in Ziklag to find that the Amalekites had raided his town, burning it to the ground and carrying off all the women and children, including his two wives, Ahinoam and Abigail.

David's men began to grumble and complain against their leader. "David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters" (1 Sam. 30: 6a). Realistically, David was not responsible for the raid and, in fact, was just as much a victim as everyone else. Yet, because he was their leader, the bitterness and anger that they felt became focused on David. So much so, that they could have executed him. No wonder David was "greatly distressed."

But it is the end of verse 6 that is incredibly instructive for all leaders. "But David found strength in the LORD his God" (1 Sam. 30: 6b).

As a leader, I can expect to be the focus of people's anger when they perceive that a mistake has been made and they are affected. I can expect the anger to be intense and to cause distress, depending on the severity of the blunder.

For this reason, it is vital that I already be deeply connected to my Lord. HE is the primary place of refuge and strength for leaders. Are you spending the time to get rooted deeply in your source of strength? Do it now before the storm hits. It will make all the difference.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Labyrinth and Pilgrimage

The labyrinth has an interesting history. It was first mentioned in Greek mythology as the elaborate maze built by Daedalus for King Minos of Crete to keep the Minotaur imprisoned.

But since the middle ages, the labyrinth has been used in Christian formation, not as a puzzle to be solved, but as a substitute for going on a pilgrimage.

The Christian labyrinth is constructed as a single path that winds inevitably to the center and then must be retraced to exit. The disciple who follows the path, uses it as a way to quiet the mind so that he or she can focus on God.

I don't know about you, but I often use walking as a way of focusing my mind so that I can pray without being distracted. When I am sitting still, I find my mind wandering because of noises and my active thought life. But when I walk, I find the distractions focused into simply taking one step after another. And if I walk with my hands clasped behind my back, it naturally slows my pace so that, rather than going for a hike, I am going for a stroll. Now I begin to take in my surroundings--flowers, birds and the gentle breeze--in a way that makes me feel more connected to God and myself.

Pilgrimages have been used for ages to help us focus on our journey with God. I highly recommend the recent film, The Way, starring Martin Sheen and produced, written and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez. In the film, Sheen's character decides to complete his deceased son's pilgrimage on "El Camino de Santiago", also known as "The Way of St. James"--an ancient pilgrimage trail across the Pyrenees Mountains and the northern part of Spain, about 500 miles long, ending at the Cathedral de Santiago.

The New Testament is full of exhortations to walk in the Spirit, to walk in the light, to stop walking in the old ways, etc.

We are all on a journey--of faith, of discipleship and of mission. Why not spend a little time on a deliberate stroll with God as a way of focusing on your life's journey with Him?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Greatest Generation

I grew up during the "hippie" era of the 60's and 70's. It was a time when we rejected the values of what has been called "The Greatest Generation." My parents, who were part of that generation, persevered through the Great Depression, fought and defeated fascism and imperialism and then rebuilt a prosperous world on the ashes. They handed us a much more stable and prosperous world than they had inherited.

But, unfortunately, the one thing that the Greatest Generation seemed incapable of handing over to us was the solid Judeo-Christian morality that inspired their work-ethic and self-sacrifice.

And so, the hippies thumbed their noses at their parents. "Don't trust anyone over 30," was their mantra. And as a result, we became the narcissistic generation. Prospering materially, but dying spiritually. We believed we knew better. Instead, we have proved what it looks like when the immature get to run the world.

Of course, our children and grand-children look at us and thumb their noses as well. They have rejected the materialism and preoccupation with "self." But what to replace it with? With so many children of divorce, no one seems to be able to deal with their own insecurities and general sense of abandonment.

This is where the church needs to step in. To a disconnected and fatherless generation, can we build a healthy model of family? Can we baby-boomer leaders set aside the building of our own empires so that we can spend our energy fathering and grand-fathering the next generation?

The "Jesus People" (often called "Jesus Freaks") were birthed during the hippie movement. One of our favorite words at the time was "koinonia" which is the Greek word for "common life" or "fellowship."

In Acts 2: 42-47, Luke describes the first spontaneous expressions of the new believers. That impulse was to gather together continually, to share meals, to pray together, to learn and grow together--and even to share financially during a time of great distress.

"All the believers were together and had everything in common" (Acts. 2: 44).

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating that we all live in communes. But what I am saying is that one of the signs of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, besides signs and wonders, is the spontaneous and joyous spiritual koinonia--shared life--that springs up.

And the rest of the Jewish community knew there was something special going on. "...enjoying favor with all the people...the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." (vs. 47).

I don't know about you, but I think it is time to give myself away to the next generation. He's calling me to put it all in--everything He as given me--throw it all into the pot so that the community life is benefitted. Perhaps the greatest generation is yet to come.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Death of Death

During the days of the Soviet Union, there were constant lines in Moscow to view the remains of their founder, Lenin. After the fall of communism, the lines were longer for a Big Mac at the MacDonald's in Red Square.

If you were so inclined, you could find the 8 sufas (temples) where the cremated remains (relics) of the Buddha are enshrined.

If you were a good Muslim, you might travel to Medina and visit the Prophet's Mosque and the tomb of Mohammad, the second holiest place in Islam.

One of the most incredible things about Christianity, and the thing that differentiates us from the world's great religions, is that you cannot visit any site that holds the remains of our founder. Why? Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. He ascended into heaven. He is alive. And we celebrate the fact that all we have left is an empty tomb and the expectation of his return.

This week we contemplate the story of Jesus' determined self-sacrifice; his resolute journey through opposition and suffering, finally walking the Via Dolorosa to Calvary and death.

But the pain and suffering of Good Friday is not the end of the story. We all look forward to Sunday and the celebration of Jesus' triumph over suffering and death--because he rose from the dead.

Paul tells us in his long discussion about resurrection: "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain" (1 Cor. 15: 14). That is why the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is "of first importance" (vs. 3).

And so we have something called hope. "Death has been swallowed up in victory" (vs. 54). "Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (vs. 57).

So join with the Church worldwide in celebrating the death of death and the promise of eternal life this Sunday! He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!