Servant Leader

17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

21 “What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:17-28 (NIV)

Many years ago, Robert Greenleaf wrote a book on the subject of servant leadership. In his book, Greenleaf indicated that service should be an identifying characteristic of leadership. Over the next thirty years, corporations, schools, government bodies and nonprofits began to examine and implement some of the concepts which Greenleaf presented. The idea of allowing company employees to volunteer during some of their work time grew out of the servant leadership theories. Higher education began to include a section on student applications where students were expected to share how they had served others through volunteering. This section was included in the decision process for admitting students into the institution. Servant leadership became a common buzz phrase.

Looking at the passage for today, we can quickly see that Greenleaf was not the first person to introduce servant leadership. Jesus demanded it of his disciples. The passage begins with Jesus telling the twelve what is about to happen when all of them enter Jerusalem. Clearly Jesus will be taking on the role of a servant in the greatest way possible. Throughout the three years of ministry, there had been endless examples of Jesus serving others. Now that service will result in his death and resurrection. In the midst of this comes the request for two of the twelve to receive the highest seats of honor beside Jesus. Jesus has a conversation with the two, in which he questions how far they are willing to go in service. This then sets up a leadership dispute. Here is  an opportunity for Jesus to explain a reversal in God’s kingdom. He tells the twelve that with God the leader must become a servant and the last will become first. For Jesus, service brings honor and the right to lead.

We tend to struggle with God’s reversal of what we have determined is the right order of things. Even in the United States where our ancestors have thrown off the robe of royalty, we still believe that leaders are to be given certain honors and privileges, especially when we are in leadership. However, Jesus would disagree at some level. Leadership is seen in service. Honor is given based upon how the person has assisted others. Servant leadership is the only type of leadership found as important in God’s order of the world.

Scarcity Versus Abundance

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21 (NIV)

During my professional career, I have attended many conferences and even helped plan a few. One of the challenges for conference planners is making sure there is the correct amount of space for the number of people who attend. This requires making projections and estimations. A colleague of mine used to always comment when we were in a room too small that the planners did not properly plan for success. Another way to look at situations like this is an attitude of scarcity versus an attitude of abundance.

The attitudes of scarcity and abundance are visible in the passage from Matthew today. Confronted with a resource supply issue, the disciples recommend that Jesus send away the crowd. They tell him that having only five loaves of bread and two fishes is not enough to meet the needs of the people. The disciples are focused on what they are lacking, an attitude of scarcity.

Jesus has a completely opposite analysis of the situation. When addressed by the disciples, he responds that they should take care of the people’s needs. In Jesus’s view, the disciples have everything necessary. When the disciples are unable to see the abundance of their resources, Jesus steps in and demonstrates this reality.

Like the conference planners and the disciples, we can easily fall into the trap of adopting a scarcity viewpoint. As we attempt to evaluate needs and then balance those against our perceived resources, we can tend to identify why something will not work instead of why it can work. We must be practical yet that does not mean we have to limit possibilities.

Another key factor which is present in Jesus’s example of an abundance attitude is the God factor. The God factor is the certainty that God is able to take what we have available and use it to meet the needs which are before us. Initiating this factor is possible through prayer and trust. Prayer is our communication of the need of which we are aware. Trust is belief that God is able to provide for the need. When the God factor is put in play, we discover we have abundance.

Everywhere But Home

53 When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. 54 Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. 55 “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? 56 Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” 57 And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”

58 And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Matthew 53-58 (NIV)

Growing up in a small town has advantages and disadvantages. Small towns provide a sense of safety and familiarity. While common sense in regards to caring for your personal property still is important, crime is not a major feature of a small town. The familiarity is a double-edged sword. You are easily recognized and trusted. At the same time, people tend to know more about you and your activities than you may like. When you leave the small town, people who remain always identify you with the characteristics and behaviors you exhibited when you lived there.

Our reading today comes at the point when Jesus has ended his most recent session of teaching and returns to his hometown. After he arrives, he starts going to the synagogue which is his custom in any town he enters. It only seems natural for him to teach the people while in the synagogue. They are amazed with his teaching. This is the general response he receives everywhere but here is a little different. When the people saw and heard Jesus in this synagogue, they saw and heard him filtered through the memories of the boy who had grown up there. They knew his parents and siblings well. They knew he had wisdom and power which he did not obtain in Nazareth. So they began to see him as someone trying to be something he did not have the background to be. As it states in the passage they were offended. You can almost hear someone ask, “Who do you think you are?” Jesus is aware of their disbelief so decides he will discontinue his work in Nazareth because they have failed to see who he really is.

How often do you fall into the same category as the people of Nazareth? Jesus seems to indicate with what he says that this is common with others, not just himself. It can be very easy to have preconceived notions of who a person is, especially if we have witnessed them growing up. Sometimes a person can also revert to their characteristics and behaviors from childhood when returning to their hometown. A message which seems to come from this passage is that we must realize that people change, discover new gifts and skills, and can offer more than we think they are capable. Trying to keep a person in the mold we saw created when we knew them before does a disservice to them and us.

Citizenship

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

Philippians 3:12-21

Election Day has arrived in the United States. Many voters have cast their votes prior to today through absentee, mail-in, or early voting. Today is when those votes, along with the ones from people who go to the polls today, are added together to determine who has been elected. This year we vote not only for senators, representatives, county officials, judges, and city officials but also for the President of the United States. There is uncertainty this year if we will know the winner of the election or not tonight. No matter what, it is the duty and responsibility of every citizen to participate in the election by voting. If you are reading this when the polls are still open in your area and you have not cast your ballot, stop reading and go do so right now. If you have already voted, thank you.

In the passage today from Philippians, Paul speaks of being citizens of heaven. He tells us that this citizenship has been obtained through Christ.  Paul reminds us that we should turn our heads from what is behind us. Our faces should be toward what lies ahead. We should set the goal of striving after Christ’s example. Some will focus on what they can obtain now, on earth. Paul encourages us to reach for what is obtainable with our heavenly citizenship.

On this day when our citizenship in the United States is front and center, Paul’s words speak important ideas to us. Being reminded that we have citizenship in heaven puts our earthly one in proper perspective. With citizenship comes responsibility. Our citizenship in the United States carries a core responsibility as well, exercising our right to vote. Our heavenly citizenship gives us the responsibility to follow the example of Christ.  As we complete the election cycle, Paul’s reminder to look ahead is important. We cannot change the past nor can we change the results of the election so we need to move forward. In our moving forward we can work on changing opinions as God guides us, this may result in changing our own opinions at times. No matter if the election goes the way you desire or not, never forget that we are all citizens of the United States and more importantly, citizens of heaven.

Time to Rebuild

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah:

In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.

They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. Then I said:

“Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’

10 “They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. 11 Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”

I was cupbearer to the king.

Nehemiah 1:1-11 (NIV)

Having grown up in and spending a majority of my adult life thus far in the Midwest, I have seen many tornadoes and the destruction which they leave behind. Standing in front of a home which has suffered the impact of a tornado creates a sense of awe, amazement, and grief at the same time. The apparent randomness of what remains standing and what is reduced to rubble seems to defy logic. A wall with a china cabinet against it and all its contents unmoved right next to a wall which is now laying on the ground in pieces causes one to scratch the head in disbelief. There are countless stories which emerge following a storm containing a tornado which seem too bizarre to be real. A person stands there, cries, and then moves into action to clean up and begin again.

Nehemiah stands in shock as someone might stand before a tornado-damaged home. Grief overwhelms him when he receives the report of Jerusalem’s destroyed city walls and burned out city gates. He sits and begins to weep. Then in the midst of his grief, he begins to fast and pray. His prayer was one requesting that God restore the people and the place which they had called home prior to the exile, one which their sin had brought upon them.

Reading about Nehemiah and his reaction to the news, I see a pattern to follow when we are faced with devastation in our lives. The physical destruction of a tornado, or in the case of the Israelites, an invading army, is not the only possible devastation which one may encounter. The loss of a job, a divorce, or the death of someone very close to us may have an equal impact on us. Nehemiah gives us an example of how to respond. Take some time to allow yourself to grieve. Life necessity may dictate how much time of inactivity is possible but there is no time limit on the grief. Whatever the case, make sure you allow at least some time to be inactive and cry. Then after this pause, engage in a period of spiritual discipline and prayer. Seek restoration from the Lord. Request the necessary resources to rebuild. Now, you are ready to determine next steps and take action.

My Neighbor

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37 (NIV)

Like many in my age group, I grew up watching Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood on PBS. Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian pastor who became a television icon with a show which he began in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. The show featured puppets along with actors portraying various public servants you would encounter in your neighborhood. He even had famous guest celebrities who made occasional visits. Through this show, Rogers explored feelings children may have, difficult experiences a child may encounter and how to respond, and of course, who is our neighbor.

Jesus encounters a teacher of the Law who asks a question that leads to a second question Mr. Rogers could easily have answered. The man first seeks to find out how to obtain eternal life. Loving God and loving neighbor is the answer which Jesus coaxes out of this teacher of Law and Jesus affirms this answer. But then the man wants to know who this neighbor he is to love might be. Jesus responds by telling the story of a man who is beaten, robbed, and left beside a road. Two Jewish leaders, a priest and a Levite, see the man but refuse to offer help. A Samaritan man, whose ethnicity  makes him an enemy of Jews, stops and provides care for the man to the point of taking him to an inn. He even pays all costs related to his recovery. A definition of neighbor is provided followed by Jesus saying the teacher should live according to the Samaritan’s example.

For many reasons, our understanding of “neighbor” has been altered. I grew up in a small, Midwestern town. Our neighbors were the ones whore houses surrounded my own but also the approximately 850 other inhabitants of the town.  Everyone knew everyone and in times of need the whole town and surrounding farm families jumped into action. My definition of neighbor was broad even though my community was pretty homogeneous.

Today, we live in a global society. Modern transportation and the internet has greatly reduced the perceived size of our world. Yet, there seems to be a shrinking definition of the word neighbor. There are people who do not even know the names of the individuals living in the houses adjacent to their own. We have isolated ourselves for a couple of reasons. First, we isolate for safety since fear is continuously reinforced by frightening crime reports. The second reason is we perceive we do not have time to get to know our neighbor. Yet if we cannot even get to know the people living next to us and love them, how can we ever love our neighbor in the broader sense which Jesus parable implies.

We need to follow the wisdom which Mr. Rogers shared with us. A wisdom which is surely based on the lesson taught to the teacher of the Law and us by Jesus. We need to take the time to get to know others and show love by taking care of them when needed.

Persuasion

And in the days of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabeel and the rest of his associates wrote a letter to Artaxerxes. The letter was written in Aramaic script and in the Aramaic language.

11 (This is a copy of the letter they sent him.)

To King Artaxerxes,

From your servants in Trans-Euphrates:

12 The king should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.

13 Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer.[a] 14 Now since we are under obligation to the palace and it is not proper for us to see the king dishonored, we are sending this message to inform the king, 15 so that a search may be made in the archives of your predecessors. In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place with a long history of sedition. That is why this city was destroyed. 16 We inform the king that if this city is built and its walls are restored, you will be left with nothing in Trans-Euphrates.

17 The king sent this reply:

To Rehum the commanding officer, Shimshai the secretary and the rest of their associates living in Samaria and elsewhere in Trans-Euphrates:

Greetings.

18 The letter you sent us has been read and translated in my presence. 19 I issued an order and a search was made, and it was found that this city has a long history of revolt against kings and has been a place of rebellion and sedition. 20 Jerusalem has had powerful kings ruling over the whole of Trans-Euphrates, and taxes, tribute and duty were paid to them. 21 Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order. 22 Be careful not to neglect this matter. Why let this threat grow, to the detriment of the royal interests?

23 As soon as the copy of the letter of King Artaxerxes was read to Rehum and Shimshai the secretary and their associates, they went immediately to the Jews in Jerusalem and compelled them by force to stop.

24 Thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.

Ezra 4:7, 11-24 (NIV)

While in college, I participated in a debate club for a few years. The goal of our form of debate was to persuade those listening that your stance on the assigned topic was the correct stance. As the debater, you used collected evidence and persuasive speaking to prevail in the debate. Sometimes the persuasive speaking was more important than the evidence. Persuasion can be used in positive and negative ways depending on one’s point of view.

The act of persuasion is used in the situation recorded here in the Book of Ezra. The Jews had been allowed to return to Judah from their captivity in Babylon, now known as Persia. King Cyrus had directed them to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. However, not all the Persian leaders felt this was a good idea. When Artaxerxes became king, three of these leaders convinced him to search the archives to discover what rebellious people the Jews had been. Their persuasive argument that if he allowed the Jews to finish rebuilding Jerusalem  it would lead to them rebelling and no longer paying him taxes won out. He found the evidence of previous Jewish rebellions and listened to the leaders. The king ordered them to stop the Jews from rebuilding Jerusalem. The persuasion to protect his treasury was convincing for the king even if it was not the bet for the Jews.

In life we are faced with having to make many choices. Television, social media, and flyers in our mailboxes all contain persuasive arguments attempting to sway our choices. Everything from which aging cream is best for us to which dentist is the best for us can be covered. The key is to look at the source of these persuasive arguments. We need to examine what evidence exists, if any, that supports the words. Take time to determine the motives of the one making the claims. Then determine the potential impact of the choice you make.  From this you can hopefully make the right choice.  Prayer during this process is always helpful. 

No Division

22 Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”

24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

29 “Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.

30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Matthew 12:22-32

On June 16, 1838 after accepting the nomination to be the Republican candidate for the United States Senator from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech addressing slavery. Lincoln said in the speech, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.” The speech became known as the “House Divided” speech which would later be published and quoted often. Lincoln lost that particular election.

It is clear that Abraham Lincoln knew his Bible. The words he used as part of his speech were the exact words Jesus used in his response to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were accusing Jesus of using the power of Beelzebul to cast out demons. Jesus points out the absurdity of that claim because if true, Satan’s house would be divided against itself. He even goes on to imply that the Pharisees words could be seen as blasphemy against the Spirit which is the only unforgivable sin.

Today we live in a world of great division, especially in the United States. We are in the process of electing the leadership of our nation. I think that all current and potential leaders in the government and in our churches would benefit from examining Jesus’s and Lincoln’s words once again, or maybe for the first time. A divided house, country, or church cannot stand long. Division breeds hate and hate leads to destruction. As absurd as the claim of the Pharisees which would mean division in evil’s house, division in our homes, nation and churches is equally absurd. Division breeds all things contrary to the love of God. We need to commit to healing the divide and demand it of our leaders.

Out of the Boat

Some years ago I led a discussion group who explored the book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat, written by John Ortberg. Ortberg used the passage from Matthew 14 in which Jesus comes to the disciples who are caught on the water during a storm on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus challenges Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water to him. Peter begins the journey but becomes afraid and starts to sink. When Peter calls out for Jesus to save him, Jesus lifts him out of the water, and they safely return to the boat and the other frightened disciples. Ortberg presents the understanding that in order to achieve something great, we have to be willing to take the risk of getting out of our “boat” and following Jesus’ voice.

I have always found the passage from Matthew to be somewhat intimidating. I can easily relate to Peter who wants to be bold enough to step out but then becomes frightened and seems to be sinking. Generally in life, I have been an individual who tries to play it safe. I weigh all my options and attempt to calculate the possible outcomes of my decisions before making an attempt. There have been a few rare occasions when I have stepped out quickly but soon rush towards safety once again. Yet, the passage Matthew and the words of John Ortberg challenges us to take risks if we want to achieve some type of success.

A person doing a Google search for motivating quotes involving risk will run across a significant number of quotes. Just search, “without risk there is no reward,” and you will find that quote attributed to a number of individuals. The search will also provide a long list of similar quotes with generally the same message. Yet for so many to promote this concept, there seems to be a limited number of people willing to step out of their boat. There are far fewer churches willing to take the same type of actions.

The reason that I chose this book with its focus on the passage from Matthew for my discussion group was because I felt a need to challenge myself, the members of the group, and the congregation which I was serving to step out of our boats. In this imagery, the boat represents the safe, the familiar, the comfort zone of our lives. As I continued to watch the changes taking place in the world around us, I came to realize that if the church was going to have a meaningful impact on these changes, we would be required to get out of our boats and “walk on water.” In essence, do what we did not think was possible, or we could even understand at the time.

Even though the book was written almost twenty years ago, I still sense there is a need for individual believers and communities of faith to get out of the boats. I realize that we might be frightened. The world is not the world when Christendom reigned. The perception of the church and of Christians have been damaged in the eyes of those who are not engaged at this time. There may even be the feeling for many within the church that this is a hostile time. Historically, when the Church has experienced hostile times (perceived or real), the Church retreats. This is one of the human instincts associated with fight or flight. We hide behind the familiar and in our sanctuaries.

However, I think it is exactly during these times that Jesus stands and calls to us. Jesus invites us to come out onto the stormy waters and meet him. He tries to draw us out of our boats. Why? It is only by getting out of our boats that we are able to achieve something of significance. Jesus wants us to be significant in the world. Not wielding power or exacting our will upon the world but being in the midst of the world’s storm, so we can provide assurance and presence. During our personal life storms, Jesus is present with us and assuring us we are not alone. He calls us to do the same during the storms which the world is experiencing. By being present, we can demonstrate what it means to love as Jesus has shown us love.

The challenge remains… are you going to get out of the boat? Are our churches willing to get out of the boat? Remember — If you want to walk on water (do something significant), you have to be willing to get out of the boat (take the risk).

Big Picture

Sometimes it can be so easy to get wrapped up in details that you lose track of the big picture. Another way of saying this is the frequently used cliche, “can’t see the forest for the trees.” A person gets so focused on the little details that remembering the initiating goal is forgotten. This often happens in the church. People begin focusing on every detail of a project or how to accomplish a mission that they lose track of why the project or mission came to be important.

In April of this year, I wrote a series of blog posts about the purpose of the Church (see Purpose of the Church, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3). I discussed specific aspects of what it means to be the Church. A one sentence definition which I place before you now is this: “The Church exists to demonstrate the love of God to the world and show what it means to be in relationship with God.” This is the forest which often gets lost in the everyday life of a congregation.

Within the church, we spend too much time arguing about the details of fulfilling the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:16-20). We discuss endlessly in committee and board meetings how much money to spend, who is going to be managing the mission, and how we are going to hold everyone accountable for the mission. We wordsmith everything to make sure that we clearly define boundaries and expectations so that no loopholes or confusion exist. Requirements are established; techniques are evaluated; and limitations are set. Our skills in exhausting the details often exhaust us and in the end any enthusiasm for doing the mission is diminished or destroyed.

The leaders of the congregation cannot be fully blamed for this problem. Part of the blame comes from outside of the church completely. We have become a society that spends a lot of time haggling over the details. If someone does not like the results of work done by a group or an individual, complaints escalate and may even result in litigation. Mistakes are not tolerated or acceptable in our lives anymore. All of this creeps into the church because too often we try to imitate corporations and our human behaviors become the norm inside the church just as they are outside the church.

Another problem that leads to being too wrapped up in the details stems from fear. As mentioned above, we have become intolerable toward mistakes. This creates a fear on each person’s part that she/he will make a mistake which will lead to ridicule and personal attacks. Each detail is hashed out over and over to prevent a mistake from occurring and negative consequences resulting. Our fear of failure rules our actions and choices.

What suffers because of this is the big picture. We are unable to focus on demonstrating the love of God and the meaning of being in relationship with God because we have to get all the details correct. On those rare occasions when we do successfully demonstrate these things, it is often because something has forced us to move away from the details and just do. Thank goodness for the Holy Spirit who encourages these times of being forced away from the details.

If you are a leader in the church, or more importantly a member of a congregation, I encourage you to constantly remind yourself and others of the big picture. Look for those times when the focus on details need to be thwarted. Create an atmosphere which allows mistakes and offers forgiveness. Remind each other that failure is only when action is not taken.