Humble leadership

Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Great Britain who led his country to victory over Hitler and Nazi Germany in World War 2, was maybe the greatest leader of the 20th century. In World War 1, however, he suffered a failure that looked like it would doom any chance for greatness.

Churchill was a 40-year-old rising star in British politics and in a position of leadership in the Royal Navy. He proposed a bold invasion during World War 1 that became a tragic disaster. Others contributed to the failure, but Churchill became the scapegoat. He lamented to a friend, “I am finished!” The debacle haunted him for decades. But when he became prime minister 25 years later he noted that, “All my past life has been a preparation for this hour and for this trial.” That included his humiliating failure.

The greatest leader of the 19th century was probably Abraham Lincoln. He recognized the evil of slavery and the importance of maintaining the Union. His words and vision of “a new birth of freedom” and a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” inspired people then and ever since.

Before being elected president Lincoln suffered a number of humbling defeats in politics as well as in business and his personal life. He also endured humiliating comments about many aspects of his life, including his looks. Nathaniel Hawthorne called him, “The ugliest man I ever put my eyes on.” When somebody accused Lincoln of being “two-faced” his reply was, “If I had another face, do you think I’d wear this one?”

Lincoln’s humility and strength of character was shown in his ability to take a joke and make fun of himself. We maybe should be suspicious of any leader who can’t laugh at himself.

The greatest leader in the Bible, other than Jesus, is most likely Moses, who led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. For the first 40 years of his life he was raised as a son of the Pharaoh. For the next 40 years, however, he was a murderer on the run and an obscure shepherd in the wilderness. But God called him to go back to Egypt and lead his people. Moses thought he was totally inadequate for the job. “Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? … O Lord, please send someone else to do it'” (Exodus 3:11, 4:13).

The main character trait we are told about Moses, that contributed to him being a great leader, is his humility. “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). When his own brother and sister questioned his leadership, we’re not told of him firing back at them. He let God handle it, which He did by humiliating Miriam and Aaron as recorded in Numbers 12.

At times people elevate to leadership those who speak the loudest, give an appearance of confidence, stand up for themselves and knock others down. It’s tempting to get impressed by ones who boast of having impressive abilities and accomplishments. The lesson of history and Scripture encourages us to look for and pray for leaders in our congregations, communities, business and politics, who are humble. We seek after leaders who have endured trials and failures that have shaped them and taught them lessons in humility and compassion. Humility might not be the first thing we look for in a leader, but it might be one of the first things God looks for.

The greatest leader of all – Jesus – amazingly described Himself as “gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29). Our world does not value gentleness and humility, but those who follow Jesus should. While the world often is enamored with people who brag and boast, we give thanks we get to follow Jesus who points to different values and a different way of doing things. We follow the One who promises, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

Advertisements

Great expectations

I was visiting another church to attend a concert. I got to the front door five minutes before the scheduled start and found a sign saying the concert had been moved to a different part of the building. I went around the building and found an open door. The concert was already going. They had decided to start 30 minutes earlier than the publicized schedule. They let everybody they thought would come know about the change. They didn’t expect visitors like me to show up.

Most churches say they want visitors, but often their actions indicate they don’t really expect any visitors will come. When songs are sung but the words are not in a hymnal or not handed out or not put on a screen, it shows they don’t expect any visitors will be in the crowd. When the speaker says a Bible verse or story is “familiar to all of us” it shows he assumes only regular church-goers are there. He has probably made anybody who is unfamiliar with the verse or story feel unwelcomed.

Sadly, at times, people will invite others to church because they know they should, but they don’t think the ones they invite will come. They share the good news of Jesus with others, but they don’t think it will be received. They pray for God to work in lives, but they don’t think it will make a difference.

David wrote, “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation” (Psalm 5:3). This is the same David who ran confidently into battle against Goliath. Even though Goliath was strong and intimidating, and David was armed with only stones and a slingshot, David expected God to give him the victory. “This day the Lord will hand you over to me … and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel” (I Samuel 17:46). We pray and wait in expectation that God will do good and gracious work and reign victorious.

In the late 1700s hardly anyone in the churches in England was interested in doing mission work in faraway lands. “Too hard. Too dangerous. Too expensive.” William Carey was frustrated with that attitude and so he founded a missionary society in 1792. At the first meeting of the society he preached a sermon that included the call, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” Within a year he and his family and partner headed to India. It was hard. It was seven years until the first convert was baptized. He spent 41 years in India without coming home on a furlough. But he was used by God to translate the entire Bible into six of India’s major languages. He attempted to do great things like work for the abolishment of infanticide and widow burning.

The order in Carey’s phrase is important. First we expect great things from God. Motivation and strength comes when we see the great things Jesus has done for us. In response to those great things, we attempt great things for Him. Because of His goodness, grace and love, we pray, we invite, we serve and we live with great expectations of changed lives and good work God will do.

Seek true treasure

Last month I traveled from Seattle to Alaska. In the 1890s around 100,000 people also set out from Seattle to Alaska. They used different transportation means than I did, and they were going for a different purpose. Gold had been found in Alaska. Prospectors set out from Seattle, hoping to make a fortune. Of the approximately 100,000 who started out, only around 30,000 actually reached the Klondike. Of that number no more than 4,000 struck any gold, and only a few hundred became rich. Far more people became rich by providing transportation and selling supplies to those who had become infected with gold rush fever.

People went to great lengths, seeking after something very few found. Those who did find gold maybe thought all their desires were going to be met. No matter how much gold they found it could not satisfy the deepest needs of their soul.

Isaiah 55 asks, “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (v. 2). In a way, the prophet is asking the fortune seekers of the gold rush and fortune seekers of the present, “Why are you going to so much trouble, seeking after things that won’t satisfy?”

Isaiah also gives a gracious invitation: “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. … Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (v. 2, 6). True riches can be found. All who seek the Lord can enjoy the greatest treasure.

The people of the gold rush took great risks and endured terrible hardships, trying to find gold in the cold, remote regions of the Klondike. Jesus endured greater hardships and went on the far more difficult journey of going to the Cross so that we could find the treasure of being in His kingdom.

A steamship carrying gold from Alaska docked in Seattle in 1897. People saw the gold nuggets and set out to get some of their own. In a similar way, people who know Jesus ought to live lives that let people know what a treasure it is to have your sins forgiven and be in a right relationship with the Lord. It is great when people see the riches of love, joy and peace in us and then ask where they can find some of that for themselves.

We find the greatest treasure in Jesus, and we continually long for more by seeking to get closer to Him. Those who headed to Alaska in the 1890s thought the pursuit of gold was worth a great sacrifice. The pursuit of Jesus is far more worthy of sacrifice. It’s worth giving up time, comfort and material things in order to get closer to Jesus.

Seek the Lord with the determination of the most dedicated person on the gold rush. Trust the promise that “he who seeks finds” (Matthew 7:8). What we find is that faith in the Lord is “of greater worth than gold” (I Peter 1:7). Finding Jesus is worth an all-out search.

Fearful people need good news

Recently motorcycles backfired near New York City’s Times Square. People thought it was gunfire and panic quickly ensued. Some people got trampled as crowds tried to run for safety. Fortunately no one suffered life-threatening injuries.

The same evening at a mall in Utah a sign fell and made a sound that people thought was gunfire. They also started fearfully running in panic.

People throughout our country are in bondage to fear. The tragic mass shootings that keep happening have caused many to fear any loud noise they hear. Other fears grip people as well. Some fear anybody who looks different than they do or speaks a different language. Some are scared of what will happen if this law gets passed or that candidate gets elected.

Fear can cause people to run in panic and trample others in the process. It can also cause people to trample others with harmful words. Fear of those who are different can result in looking at them as threats that need to be avoided and enemies that need to be defeated, rather than seeing them as creations of God and souls that are loved by the Lord.

This terrified world desperately needs the good news of Jesus. Sadly, however, some Christians are joining the crowd that is running and hiding in fear. Jesus did not save us so that we might cower in fear until He returns. To His disciples, who also lived in a violent, scary world, “Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’” (John 20:21).

When the motorcycles made the backfiring noise in Times Square, most ran from the noise. Police officers, however, ran to the noise to find out what was going on and how they could serve. Those who follow Jesus are to respond in a similar manner to the problems of this world. We do not throw up our hands and say, “It’s too hard. It’s a scary world. I’m just going to look out for me and mine.” Followers of Christ are to courageously go to the world with God’s promise of hope. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46:1-2).

The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk asked some of the same questions we ask. “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds” (Habakkuk 1:2-3). It sounds like our day and the Babylonians of Habakkuk’s day sound like the people of our day: “… they all come bent on violence” (Habakkuk 1:9).

We wonder why God doesn’t stop the shooters before they pull the trigger. Habakkuk wondered why God let the violent, evil Babylonians harm so many people. But he still trusted God was in control and eventually His justice would prevail. He waited patiently and trusted that, though all kinds of tough things might happen, “… yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength” (Habakkuk 3:18-19).

We mourn with those who mourn. We weep over the violence that is so prevalent in our land. We call for each human life, no matter the color of their skin or the nature of their opinions, to be valued as a priceless treasure. We plead for people to use gentle words, “to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men” (Titus 3:2). And we share the good news that we can be set free from fear and find peace in Jesus.

Name that building

Nick Saban is the very successful football coach at the University of Alabama. He is also a devoted Catholic and regularly attends Mass at the St. Francis of Assisi University Parish. Three years ago the parish built a new building to be used in reaching out to and serving University of Alabama students. The new building was named the Saban Catholic Student Center. On the church’s website it says the Sabans’ “financial support and fundraising made the $2 million project possible.”

Saban’s Catholic faith appears to be quite sincere. It’s great that he cares about the spiritual life of students. There is something ironic, however, that a church named after St. Francis of Assisi names a building after somebody because of how much money they gave and raised.

Francis lived in Italy in the 1200s. His father was a wealthy businessman. It was an era when pursuing money was becoming a primary goal of many people. People were buying costly things, especially clothes to show off their status and wealth.

Francis lived with that materialistic mindset, until he was converted to Christ and felt Jesus calling him to rebuild His church. Francis thought at first the call was simply to rebuild the sanctuary of the local church, which had fallen into disrepair and neglect. He used some of his father’s money to pay for the repairs. When his father found out he was quite upset and thought Francis was crazy to waste money like that. He had his son put in prison, hoping that might straighten out his thinking.

Francis realized he shouldn’t have taken his father’s money without asking. He resolved to forsake all claims to his father’s wealth and his inheritance. In a dramatic courtroom scene, Francis took off all his clothes – the sign of wealth in that society – and returned them and all the money he had to his father. For the rest of his life Francis pursued Christ and service rather than wealth.

It wasn’t only his father who thought Francis was crazy. Throughout the centuries many people have looked at him as being eccentric. Somebody who said life wasn’t found in how much you have, and who lived that out, seemed strange then and seems strange now. We name buildings after ones who can raise $2 million. We get confused by ones who have little interest in acquiring wealth, but choose to be poor, humble servants.

The most confusing one is Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:9). Jesus willingly became poor, so that we can find the true riches of His love. That kind of grace is confusing because it is so different from our selfish old nature and such a contrast from the materialistic world around us. But that grace is amazing, freeing, enriching and life-giving to those who receive it.

God is always taking care of us

We were expecting the shuttle bus to be there any minute. There were 15 of us who had been in Estes Park, Colorado, for the Free Lutheran Youth convention. The bus was suppose to come and take us to the Denver airport, which was about two hours away. It was 15 minutes after the scheduled time for picking us up, so I gave the driver a call. “I’m here at the Denver airport. Are you ready to be picked up?” “We’re in Estes Park, needing a ride to the airport.” The cell service up there in the mountains wasn’t good, but I did hear enough to know we had a problem.

The driver apologized for the mix-up and said he’d leave for Estes Park right away. I had allowed extra time in the schedule, but I knew there wasn’t much chance he could pick us up and get us to the airport in time for our flight. But God was already at work, taking care of us. I went into the building next to where we were waiting and they had a landline phone we could use. We got the number of a local shuttle company. They said they would see if there was some way they could help us out. In about 10 minutes, in one of the rare times I had cell service, I got a call back saying they had two vans and drivers available. I found out later one of the drivers had just finished taking people to the airport and was on his way out the door for home, when he was asked if he could do another trip. God provided and his schedule was free to help us out.

Our new ride to the airport picked us up in about 15 minutes and we were on our way. Part way into the trip people in the van I was in started getting texts from the other van. The latch on the back door of the other van came undone. A wall between the luggage area and the seats caused it to not be noticed right away. One of our students thought something sounded strange and said something to the driver. They stopped and found three suitcases had fallen out. Amazingly more hadn’t fallen out. They turned around and went back for the missing suitcases. They found them a ways back up the mountain, but still in good shape. The trip to go back for the suitcases also resulted in the thankful retrieval of a cherished blanket.

The second van got to the airport less than 30 minutes after we did. The check-in and security lines were quite a bit shorter and quicker than some of my previous times in Denver. We even had enough time to grab some lunch on the way to the gate. There were some storms on the horizon but our flight was able to take off on time. The rest of the trip went fine and we got home to Astoria 15 minutes earlier than the estimated time of arrival we had told the parents.

It all ended up being a teachable moment as we saw evidence of God’s grace and God demonstrating He is in control. It was a little miraculous we found vans and drivers in Estes Park who were able to go right away and take 15 people to the airport. That’s grace. Only three of the many bags that were in the back of the van fell out the open door. They were found, undamaged. Even the blanket was found. That’s grace. The lines at the airport were shorter than usual and the storms held off till after we left. The God who controls the thunder and lightning is also gracious and looks after us.

“The Lord watches over us” (Psalm 121:5). If our main focus is on bus drivers that misunderstand directions and doors that don’t get latched properly, we’re going to be frustrated and angry a lot. People often go to the wrong place and things break down. But the Lord is always good. He is always watching over us. He is always graciously blessing us beyond what we deserve. We don’t need to get upset and worried. We can rest in God’s loving care.

A calming presence

A calming presence: That’s the phrase that came to mind as I thought about my dad on Father’s Day. He was a commercial fisherman and he would be out in the ocean fishing for a few days at a time. Sometimes when he was gone, there would be tension in our home for a variety of reasons. All stress did not magically disappear when he returned. But life was always more peaceful and calm when Dad was home.

Our world could certainly use more people who are a calming presence. Sadly, some people cause the stress level to rise as soon as they enter a room. Their critical words create tension. People worry about making them mad. There is anxious anticipation that anger and conflict will soon rear its head.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Trying to make peace between people is hard work that is often discouraging. But Jesus promises those who desire to make peace and who work toward that end are blessed. When our heart’s desire is to bring peace and calm to relationships we show we belong to God. We are children who look like our Father in heaven when our priority is not getting our own way but creating peace.

To those who have faith in Christ, God is the ultimate calming presence. Jesus, by sacrificing His life on the cross for our sins, brings peace between us and God. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1). The separation because of sin is no more because of the cross.

The payment for our sin has been paid for by Jesus, so we no longer fear judgment. We don’t worry that one day God may get angry with us and decide He doesn’t want us anymore. Instead, we calmly rest in God’s love and grace.

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Calm down. Relax. Know that God is on the throne, now and forever. He is in charge and He has everything under control. “Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you” (Psalm 116:7). Your soul is invited to take a deep breath and rest in the goodness and grace of God. The Almighty God has been good to you and He will continue to do what is good and right. Don’t fear. Be still.

My dad was a calming presence because I knew he loved me. I trusted he would keep me safe and handle whatever came along. Because of his calm nature I didn’t worry about him getting mad. Instead I expected an invitation to get ice cream and watch a ball game. In a similar but much greater way, when we know Christ we peacefully live with the confidence we are loved and cared for by God. We can calmly live with the expectation that God will be gracious. “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul … put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore” (Psalm 131:1-3).