I Hear You...

They went across the lake to…the Gerasenes..
Jesus again crossed over to the other side… Mark 5:1,21

Sandwiched between verse 1 and 21 is the familiar story about Jesus casting demons out of a crazy guy in a cemetery. But in reading about tombstones and bacon-over-a-cliff, we nearly miss the “Oh wow!” point. In verse 1, Jesus traveled clear across a lake and was met by a demon-possessed man. Jesus healed the guy, sent the demons into the pigs, but then in verse 21 He got back in the boat. Wait! Why did He go there at all? A stormy boat ride for nothing? No sermon. No seminars. No banquet from a Happy Meal. The Bible lets us figure this one out ourselves. (Hint: one desperate guy needed Him). 

At that point in His life, Jesus was the Leader of the pack. Everybody wanted a piece of Him. Most leaders understand that feeling, because it’s always something with the people they lead: Jane’s feelings are hurt, Ben lost his job, and Rex is mad at the men’s group. One way some leaders cope is to tune out the individual needs to better serve the group. But Jesus never did that. His heart was fine-tuned to the ones nobody else heard. People in Gerasenes had stopped hearing the nasty guy in the cemetery. But from miles away, his Maker heard him. While the disciples were arguing over the last thing He said, and the crowds were demanding more miracles, Jesus heard something else. He stood, looked across the water and answered, “I hear you. I’m coming for you.” Who would leave the crowds to go after one guy? A Leader you can trust. And He still does that.

First Things First

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, 
but also to the interests of others. Philippians 3:4  

“It’s my way or the highway!” “Now that I’m in charge, we’re doing things my way.” “Because I’m the boss, that’s why.” Powerful statements, right? Not according to God’s Rule Book. Leaders in God’s kingdom are to do things the way Jesus did them, not the way the world trains us. Have you noticed how God likes to flip things upside down and backward? He does things opposite from the way we think they should be done. He uses foolish things to stump smarties. He exalts the humble and brings down the prideful. So leadership in His family is backward from the way we think it should be. God says leaders are those who consider the interests of everyone else before their own. That lifts a few eyebrows in our me-first world.

So what does it look like when a leader considers everyone else first? Anytime we have “how” questions, we should look first at Jesus. How did He do it? He was a leader and He got tired—but He didn’t get grumpy. He was misunderstood—but He didn’t blame. He had to repeat Himself to the clueless disciples—so He said it again, in a different way. He didn’t panic when He was expected to produce supper for a stadium full of people or embarrass His mom when His host ran out of wine. He didn’t snap when that ONE MORE PERSON needed His healing touch or refuse to serve because they didn’t appreciate it.

When we have questions about the best way to lead, we should first ask, 
“How did Jesus do it?”

How to Choose a Disciple

And as he passed by, he saw Levi…sitting at the tax booth, 
and he said to him, “Follow me.” Mark 2:14

What if yesterday’s headline announced that Jesus had arrived and would hold auditions for America’s Next Top Disciple? Before dawn, the limos of TV preachers clog the streets, convents and monasteries empty, and every kid with a semester of Bible college slept on the sidewalk last night so he could be first in line. But the doors to the theater stay closed until a manager pokes his head out and says, “Sorry, folks. We got ahead of ourselves. Turns out Jesus isn’t following standard protocol. Oh, and just so you all know, disciples don’t get paid anything and they must be prepared to die in the line of duty. But if you’re still interested, I heard that Jesus was spotted under an overpass choosing disciples from among the homeless.”

The inner recoil we might feel is exactly the way the religious people felt when Jesus did the same thing 2000 years ago. He didn’t wait for people to come to Him; He went after them. But He bypassed the temple in favor of the docks and the tax collector booths. He knew liars and thieves would never seek Him, they would assume He had come for the righteous people. So He sought them. He paid no attention to the LOSER medallions around their necks. Instead, He saw them for what they would be once they knew Him. And He offered to journey with them in becoming who they were created to be.

Great leaders are those who show others what they can become 
once they meet Jesus.


Path to Leadership

“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant.”  Mark 10:43

Pastor Ray cleared his throat and the room quieted. “I appreciate you all coming to our first leadership class. I know each of you desires to lead here at Red Mountain Church, but I have some bad news for you.” The class members gave each other puzzled looks. “What you don’t know,” Pastor Ray went on, “is that I’ve already given you a leadership test…and none of you passed.” Eager smiles turned into worried frowns. “For the past two weeks, I’ve let it be known that we need bathroom janitors, nursery workers, and help with painting. A few people showed up…but not one of you.” The members darted worried looks at each other, but the pastor smiled kindly at them. “Keep that in mind as we begin Lesson One: Leadership Through Serving.”

We’ve all had moments when we thought, “If I was in charge…” Armchair quarterbacking goes on in churches too. But when we imagine our greatness as leaders, we rarely start where great leaders have to begin: humble service. That feels wrong to us. After all, anybody can sweep a floor, but talent like ours should be noticed. Jesus knows that about us, so He made it clear that those who desire important roles must start with serving, without praise or glory, because that’s where He builds leaders.

Fishers of Men

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”  Mark 1:17

The fishy smell was such a part of Peter’s life that he scarcely noticed it anymore. It was the smell of money. Of survival. He straightened his aching back and looked down the shoreline where James and John were cleaning their nets. Fishing was all they knew, and all they expected to know. They took orders, sold fish, and paid the bills. What else was there? But then that Rabbi in the white robe set a sandaled foot on the edge of Peter’s boat and said the strangest thing: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Rabbis didn’t fish and they didn’t talk to fishermen. They lived in a sanitary world of ideas, theology, and discussion. What kind of a rabbi would choose some smelly fishermen to be His protégés? The One who really knew them.  

Jesus saw leadership potential in rough dock workers, shady IRS agents, and women with a past because He really knew them. From earth’s rabble, Jesus created world-changers and He did it with two simple words: “Follow me.” When we obey those words, we learn from the best how to live this life and how to help others live theirs. Jesus did not begin His disciple-making by pointing out all their flaws. He simply modeled godliness and taught them in ways they understood. 

He reminded them that when they fished with nets they caught a lot of junk—but they didn’t stop fishing. They picked out the trash and cast the nets again. As fishers of men, they would also catch a lot of junk: hate, rejection, and disinterest. But they should never stop fishing. That made sense to them. They didn’t have to be somebody else to follow Jesus, they could be fishermen for Him.

Leaders motivate people to follow Jesus by connecting with them right where they are. 

You Need a Plan

He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

“What is it?” Del touched the wooden pole and then pointed to a pile of unpainted boards. “And those?” Layne sighed and ran his hands through his hair. “Yeah…that was gonna be a coat rack, and this one…maybe a bookcase. I never got around to finishing them.” He swept his arm to indicate what had once been a three-car garage, but now resembled the after effects of an explosion at Hobby Lobby. “Yeah, I start out great, but lose steam halfway through and never finish. I’ve got thousands of dollars’ worth of parts in here—mechanical, carpentry, technology—but they’re worth nothing unless I do something with them. He kicked a two-legged table. “Guess I should throw some of it away, but it’s good stuff. I really need a plan.”

Do you ever feel like one of those unfinished projects? God saved you, delivered you, and cleaned you up, but every time you turn around, you’re messing up. You don’t want to. You’re trying to follow Jesus, but all you see is a big mess. This verse is for you! It was God who began that good work in you and it is God who will finish it. He doesn’t give up on His projects halfway through because, unlike Layne, He does have a plan. Jesus doesn’t toss anyone on the scrap pile, because He’s an excellent carpenter. His sandpaper is rough and His knife is sharp as he whittles away ugly parts of our character. Being God’s project can be painful, but He’s the only One who sees the message inside our mess. He knows how to bring out the beauty hidden behind our stubbornness, pride, and selfishness. When we cooperate with Him, He continually refines, perfects, and molds us into works of art. Our Carpenter never gives up until our lives become masterpieces, fit for the house of a King.

When discouraged with yourself, remember that your Carpenter is still at work.
 Don’t criticize His masterpiece. 

Thank God for You

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Philippians 1:3

Every time I think of you, I …what? Depending upon our relationship with the “you” in this question, the answer often sounds like this: “Every time I think of you, I get nauseous…I want to scream…I have deep regret…I feel anxious.” Can we honestly say that we give thanks to God for everyone in our church? Some people make us question God’s judgment rather than motivate us toward thanksgiving. Paul had the same issues we have. Not every person who read his letter was Best Friend material. The church at Philippi had a few jerks in it too. Their church also included baby Christians, whiners, and trouble-makers. But, instead of reminding them of how far they had to go, Paul praised them for how far they had come.

Gratefulness is the secret to contentment. When we express continual thanks for our possessions, we stopped craving what other people have. When we thank God for our physical features—eyes that see, hears that hear, hands that move—we realize that bad-mouthing the way we look is simply ungratefulness. And when we learn to thank God for the good qualities we see in others, we can more easily extend to them grace and forgiveness. Our natural attitude says: “That guy is so-o-o slow, it drives me crazy!” Paul’s attitude says: “That guy is so careful that he rarely makes a mistake.”

Try this experiment: When you want to complain about someone, find something about them to thank God for.