We who preach and write, do so in a manner different from which the Scriptures have been written. We write while we make progress. We learn something new every day. We speak as we still knock for understanding...If anyone criticizes me when I have said what is right, he does me an injustice. But I would be more angry with the one who praises me and takes what I have written for Gospel truth than I would be with the one who criticizes me unfairly. -Augustine

Visionary Leadership

Visionary Leadership

Recently I ate dinner at a restaurant overlooking one of our nation’s cities. The cityscape at dusk was beautiful, particularly as the setting sun created a kaleidoscope of designs that reflected off the glass into the water. But there was something wrong. The reflection of the colors in the water was beautiful but the architecture of the buildings was drab at the very best. There was no uniqueness nor substance. All was metal and glass. The city planners had failed to provide a vision for their city, leaving little or no aesthetic appreciation for the beholder.

In his excellent book, Visionary Leadership, Robert Dilts asks what has happened to visionary leadership today. He gives examples of situations in which “visionary leadership is missing,” questioning whether such leadership is a thing of the past:

“Where are the leaders who could dream great dreams–of national railways to link a nation, of national parks to preserve nature for posterity . . . of a life of prosperity for all willing to work for it? In the place of visions that inspire hope, there is only the quick fix: a tax cut here, a corporate bailout there . . . most often nothing but empty words . . . that make a mockery of the very real need for visionary leadership” (p. 6-7).

As Christians, we recognize that “visions that inspire hope” often come after trial and hardship. Romans 5 promises that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3b-4a). If you want a vision of hope, be prepared for a rough journey–but rest assured that the end will not disappoint.

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 5:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Influence or Control, Part 2

Most men are able to identify with the difficulty of maintaining balance in their responsibilities to protect, connect, communicate, and love. I find it interesting that there is more said in the Bible about a man loving than about protecting. Men who overreact in the area of protection may really be protecting themselves. Men who are jealous because of insecurity will become overprotective, overbearing, and display a distrusting attitude toward their wives. Men who are insecure will also try to dominate their children. Again, this tendency for control is the result of insecurity that is overcompensated by thoughtless authority.

Being a man, I know that there is an innate awareness and “calling” to protect my wife and children. No one had to teach me this. However, if I love myself more than I love my wife or children, my motives will lead to actions that are controlling, accusatory, and demanding. When a man’s control is greater than his influence, you can be sure that he loves himself more than others.

We do not follow our Lord Jesus because of His control but because of His sacrifice and love. That is why He washed the disciples’ feet just prior to His crucifixion. He was teaching about true leadership–servanthood and sacrifice, not authority and control.

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it . . . In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church . . .” (Ephesians 5: 25, 28-29).

Published in: on December 30, 2010 at 4:56 am  Leave a Comment  

Influence or Control

The responsibilities of a father can be difficult to balance, especially when children start spreading their independent wings. Even when his children are young, a father must balance his role of authority with love, gentleness, and mercy.

Men who were raised in authoritative homes are more likely to carry over-balanced authority into their relationships with their children and their wives. Too often, men who are authoritative are blind to their faults, justifying their aggressive behavior in the name of protection and authority.

Though there is a fine line between protection and control, there is a test that will help determine one’s motives. It is the test of love. Perfect love not only casts out all fear, but can eventually change one’s temperament. For a man’s temperament to be changed, he must first desire to be changed and be willing to accept constructive criticism from those he loves.

In the book, Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart, Stu Weber captures the essence of why men become so out of balance as they exercise authority. He sees man as a King, a Warrior, a Mentor, and a Friend. I would like to add one more to the list–a Priest. Weber goes on to describe that as a King, a man cares deeply; as a Warrior he contends courageously; as a Mentor, he communicates transparently; as a Friend, he connects deliberately, and as a Priest, he commits sacrificially. When these core characteristics are out of balance, they can irreparably destroy relationships. When in balance, they give a man the admirable and attractive qualities that make him worthy of following.

Published in: on December 29, 2010 at 4:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Hay Wired

When I think of the modern phenomenon of ADD and ADHD, I picture in my mind a pile of hay. If you think of each strand as an electrical circuit in the brain, you can get a of the ADD phenomenon. There are trillions of electrical circuits firing in a child’s brain, which are then hard wired as the child develops into adulthood.

What a child hears and sees repeatedly will determine what he retains, gains, or loses. It is no wonder that one of the dominant career choices for junior high and high school students is to work in connection with some form of video game development. What children see and hear daily is influencing their motivations and their futures.

Furthermore, a child who is sedated with the media will have a greater propensity to think in illogical and disconnected thought patterns. On the other hand, children who read, or are read to, develop a greater ability to think in logically connected thought patterns. Moreover, watching TV generally shifts brain activity from the left side, which is generally responsible for logical thought and critical analysis, to the right side. The right side does not critically analyze incoming messages, but instead triggers a release of feel-good addictive endorphins, influencing a purely emotional response.

Thirty years ago, logical thought and critical analysis was foreign to me. But during the summer of 1980, my life would be radically altered and my mind renewed through the influence of one man and his life-changing words:

“You will be the same today as you will be five years from now, except for the people you meet, and the books you read!” (Find out more here.)

Published in: on December 28, 2010 at 4:54 am  Leave a Comment  

Away in a Manger

It’s amazing the assumptions we make through the years–so much so that, in our minds, fiction becomes fact. Here are a few mythbusters that will surprise you:

Myth #1: Mary rode to Bethlehem on a donkey. Nowhere to be found in the Scriptures.

Myth #2: The innkeeper sent Mary and Joseph out to the stable because there was no room in the inn. Nowhere in the Scriptures is an innkeeper mentioned!

Myth #3 Mary and Joseph tried to check in at an inn. The word INN is better translated guest room. Most family’s had a guest room attached to their homes.

Considering that generous hospitality was part of the culture, and that a few hundred people that would have comprised this Bethlehem village, it would have been most unlikely that Mary and Joseph would have been turned away.

Not sold yet? Picture this. A typical home back then consisted of one large living room, a separate but attached guest room (the inn), and one additional room, open to the living area, situated about three feet below the living quarters, like a split level. The peasants used this room to house their animals at night in order to avoid theft. A trough or manger was dug into the living room floor, which allowed the larger animals to stick their heads over the partial wall to drink and eat. Can you picture this? Jesus was born in the living room!

To turn away a pregnant woman would have been unthinkable in Middle Eastern culture. The baby Jesus was not turned away–He was welcomed into someone’s home because there was no room in the guest room where Joseph had originally planned on staying!

What really happened? May we become like the Bereans of Acts 17 who received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

Published in: on December 26, 2010 at 4:50 am  Comments (2)  

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

The other day, a friend asked me to explain the meaning behind the Christmas hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I have always loved this beautiful song, with its haunting melodies and deep sense of longing. May a look at the meaning behind the first verse of this hymn bless you this Christmas season.

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

The opening lines of this hymn plead for the coming of the Emmanuel, the “God with us.” Scripture’s promise of the Emmanuel is first recorded in Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The prophecy is explained in Matthew 1, as Joseph is informed in a dream that Mary’s child, this Jesus who shall save His people from their sins, shall be the Emmanuel.

But there’s a problem with this prophecy, which states that the child’s name shall be Emmanuel. They named him Jesus, not Emmanuel! Why the discrepancy? If you read the text closely, you will notice that “they shall call his name Emmanuel,” but “he,” meaning Joseph, called his nameJesus. “They,” the people, did not name him “Jesus,” but truly recognized him as “God with us”–the Emmanuel. When we recognize who Jesus really is and why he came, then the song makes perfect sense, as you will read in the refrain.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Published in: on December 24, 2010 at 4:49 am  Leave a Comment  

Reading Aloud

Did you ever see a movie based on a 19th century setting where the host has one of the daughters read a chapter from a book? What has happened to this family and social activity of reading aloud?

Children who have many opportunities to listen and read tend to become skilled thinkers, speakers and writers. The New York Times published an article by Verlyn Klinkenborg (May 16, 2009), on the lost art of reading aloud, saying, “… listening aloud, valuable as it is, isn’t the same as reading aloud. Both require a great deal of attention. But one of the most basic tests of comprehension is to ask someone to read aloud from a book. It reveals far more than whether the reader understands the words. It reveals how far into the words–and the pattern of the words–the reader really sees.

Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost a sensational quality, in those 18th- and 19th-century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company. The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading.”

As I ponder this connection between reading aloud and a child’s intellectual development, I am convinced that reading and hearing the Word of God is the foundation for one’s spiritual development.

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). I think I can now see the connection when Jesus read the words of Isaiah aloud when he visited the temple. Perhaps reading the Scriptures and other great books aloud in our homes and churches should have a rebirth–it may lead to a rebirth and awakening of our souls.

Published in: on December 23, 2010 at 4:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Lending to The Lord

One of my spiritual mentors, Dr. John MacArthur, once told the story of a churchyard in England where a tombstone stands with this inscription: “Here lies a miser who lived for himself, and cared for nothing but gathering wealth; now where he is or how he fares, nobody knows and nobody cares.”

In contrast, Dr. MacArthur shares, there is a plain tombstone at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London with an inscription that reads, “Sacred to the memory of General Charles George Gordon, who at all times and everywhere gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God.”

What a contrast! If you think about those who have changed the world for the better, you will find their story similar to the latter–they gave for the good of others. They understood the principle that Jesus taught: “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall men put into your bosom. For with the same measure you mete, it will be measured to you again” (Luke 6:38).

Solomon understood this truth well when he wrote, in Proverbs 19, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.”

Did you catch that? When we give to the poor, we actually are lending to the Lord! Now that’s a truth worth banking on.

Published in: on December 22, 2010 at 4:47 am  Leave a Comment  

Unfairness Doctrine

Would you believe it if I told you that a woman’s amputated hand and a muzzled ox are important clues to one of the most obscure chapters in the Bible? The text is found in Deuteronomy 25. At first glance it appears that there are six unrelated stories.

The first is a legal dispute where the guilty party is to be punished, but within protected limits, lest he be humiliated.

Next we have the protection of an ox while it is treading out the grain.

Then there is the humiliation of an unfair brother-in-law. By law, if a brother refused to marry his widowed sister-in-law, then he had to face public humiliation. She was to meet him before the elders of the city, take his shoe off, and spit in his face. This legal procedure was a protection for women and a strong communal pressure to influence men to fulfill their responsibilities at home.

Next, we encounter the humiliation of a woman who fights unfairly. As she sees her husband losing a fight with another man, she steps in and aids her husband unethically. Her penalty is a severed hand and public humiliation for life.

Then there is promised long life for honest business owners who use fair weights and measures.

In the last account, we have the harshest judgment–that of annihilation–which serves as a reminder that God will judge those who take advantage of the weak.

Although these six stories appear unrelated, they are all connected by a common theme. Fairness, especially toward those who are weak and unprotected, is important to God. As such, we need to place a premium on fairness in our businesses, relationships, judgments, and dealings toward the weak and unprotected. Unfairness, on the other hand (no pun intended), needs to be dealt with swiftly and firmly.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Published in: on December 20, 2010 at 4:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Hide and Seek

I loved playing Hide and Seek as a child. I used to think that I hid in the most undiscoverable nooks and crannies. My younger sister didn’t enjoy Hide and Seek but she played anyway. As I would sit in darkness and silence, waiting to hear her footsteps, I would soon pop my head out- only to find that she was sitting in front of the TV watching cartoons. She had given up. But when it was her turn to hide, I was unstoppable in my quest to find the hidden reward!

Fifty years later, I am still on that quest. The Word of God is in many ways a hidden treasure, waiting to be found. But I have to admit that there are times when that treasure is more difficult to find. In fact, just this morning I was reading in Joshua chapters 20 and 21 and found, for the first time in decades, no eternal truth that I could take with me through the day. That is, until I arrived at the end of the chapter!

Picture this: you are reading through an endless list of city names, the morning is slipping by, and you are wondering if there will be a blessing from what you are reading. While picking up speed through the monotonous list of names, you resign yourself to the fact that there may not be a blessing today. But as you arrive at the end and read the very last verse, a smile starts to form on your face. You didn’t give up, and the unexpected blessing that you begin to read confirms the truth that those who seek diligently will find. Tucked away at the end of a monotonous list of names in Joshua 21, the following blessing can be found: “Not one word of all the good promises that the LORD had made . . . not one had failed; all came to pass.” Now, that is a truth worth searching for!

Published in: on December 19, 2010 at 4:43 am  Leave a Comment