A Wesleyan Hymn For The Season

images-1Charles Wesley (1707-1788) was a prolific English poet and hymn writer. He wrote nearly 9000 hymns. Charles and his brother John are considered the founders of Methodism. Both men were necessary in establishing this well known branch of the Church. As one historian put it, “The early Methodists were taught and led as much through [Charles’s] hymns as through sermons and [John] Wesley’s pamphlets.” Both Charles and John also served as missionaries to the new world colony of Georgia. Charles preached extensively throughout Great Britain before the end of his life. But he will always be remembered for his hymns. His lyrical writing was deeply theological. His brother John once remarked that Charles lyrics produced a “distinct and full account of Scriptural Christianity.” During this Advent season, in anticipation of Christmas, I thought it would be more than appropriate to read carefully and thoughtfully the words of one of Wesley’s Christmas hymns. His most famous is probably “Hark The Herald, Angels Sing.” But I chose “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Take some time to read and reflect on this magnificent hymn. Allow the rich theology of these words draw you to the Savior, who became flesh on our behalf.

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus 

  1. Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
    Born to set Thy people free;
    From our fears and sins release us,
    Let us find our rest in Thee.
    Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
    Hope of all the earth Thou art;
    Dear Desire of every nation,
    Joy of every longing heart.
  2. Born Thy people to deliver,
    Born a child and yet a King,
    Born to reign in us forever,
    Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
    By Thine own eternal Spirit
    Rule in all our hearts alone;
    By Thine all sufficient merit,
    Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Between Two Emotions-The Lord Reigns

images-1I spent some time pouring over the newspaper during the past few days. War continues to rage in Syria, Gaza, and Afghanistan. The protests are getting more heated in Cairo. The economic crisis in Europe is deepening. We are worried in the U.S. about the “fiscal cliff.” Most Americans are not more hopeful that the next generation will have it better than the current one. Fear and anxiety seem to rule the day.

There are two Psalms in the Bible that begin in identical ways, but with different proposed responses. They both begin with a stated fact. They both command a certain response that is both troubling and encouraging. Psalm 97:1 says, “The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad.” The Hebrew word for “reign” signifies that God is acting as a king. The psalmist is telling us that God rules, He acts as sovereign king over creation. The “earth”and “coastlands” serve as symbols for the inhabitants of those geographical descriptors. The proper response that is commanded as a consequence of this ruling is joy and gladness. This can be true because of what we learn in v.2, that God is a perfectly righteous and just ruler. The notion of joy here is to be an intense joy, experienced both individually and corporately as a community of believers. This joy is not simply emotion, but a quality grounded in God Himself and extended to us. To be “glad” is very similar to the idea of joy. This word serves to intensify this quality of what is to be experienced and expressed. We can experience and express joy exactly because God perfectly rules over all of creation. The knowledge of His righteous and just kingship should provide us with a sure foundation for walking through whatever we encounter.

Psalm 99:1 says, “The Lord reigns, let the peoples tremble!” Again, we have the same statement of fact that God rules as King from a righteous and just foundation. But this time the commanded response is to tremble. To “tremble” can mean to be shaken, to be disturbed, to be in dread. It can also have the connotation of being excited. If we were to read down in verse 3 we would see this time that the response is rooted in God’s holiness. The picture here is of a high, exalted, and lofty God that is over any mere man. Therefore, we are to tremble at His kingship. This kind of dread is not out of fear because of a tyrannical ruler. This reverence is because He is perfectly holy and we are not. Whenever you see a human being who comes in contact with the living God in the Bible they immediately fall prostrate before Him. That is a natural response of sinfulness and brokeness before holiness.

I believe both responses are proper. As we see chaos all around us on the world stage and in our personal lives, we must focus on the sure knowledge that God reigns. That knowledge, based upon God’s righteousness, justice, and holiness, should elicit both great joy and great fear. We can be confident that nothing surprises God. Nothing catches Him off guard. He is not wringing His hands over the state of the world. He reigns! He is in control! Therefore, you and I can exhibit intense joy and intense reverence simultaneously. We would be wise and right to do so.

With that understanding I can read the newspaper of the world and the newspaper of my life differently.

A Psalm for Thanksgiving

images-1Psalm 111 is a great tribute to the majesty of the Lord. Most likely, Psalm 111 and Psalm 112 belong together. Psalm 111 follows the Hebrew alphabet and stands as an alphabetical hymn of praise. It only seems fitting on this Thanksgiving Day that we render thanks unto Him for all that He is and all that He has done.  Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
    in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord,
    studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
    the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
    in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy;
they are established forever and ever,
    to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people;
    he has commanded his covenant forever.
    Holy and awesome is his name!
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all those who practice it have a good understanding.
    His praise endures forever!

My Top Posts For October

UnknownHere are my five most popular posts for the month of October.

Experiential Leadership Development Here are four observations from a leadership development exercise that our organization recently sponsored. The critical aspects are to challenge a leader’s imagination, intuition, honesty and integrity. Experiential development will do just that.

Delegation vs Empowerment Every month this is one of my top posts. This crucial aspect of leading involves both the art and science of leadership. If we want to see a legacy of leadership behind us, then this topic is a must.

3 Leadership Observations From Starbucks This has become one of the most well know companies in the world. Why? I suggest three aspects of the Starbucks leadership culture that are evident every time a customer walks in.

A Leader’s Prayer: Psalm 25 King David expresses his longing to be led by the Lord. As a leader, do you and I express the same desire in our leadership? We must be leaders who can be led.

Ministering To Millennials In this post I share three important principles of ministering to the Millennial generation. These were gleaned from my experience at Movement Day in New York. Take a look and see how you are or could be employing these principles toward this generation.

There are the most popular for October. I hope you enjoy them again–or for the first time.

A Psalm for the Faint of Heart

imagesAs I have written before, I think fear is a great crippler to us all. It can certainly cripple the leader who lives and leads from fear. Yesterday, my pastor taught on the subject of fear and made these statements, “Fear reveals our values and what is essential in our lives” and “Fear can turn us all into false prophets.” The effects of a fear based, fear driven life will alter our perspective and response to the world. It typically causes us to either double down on control or flee as fast as we can. I would suggest that both are an unbiblical response. Yet, I find both of these responses very familiar to my daily reality.

Today, I was reading and reflecting on Psalm 49 during my devotional time with God.  In the ESV the title of this psalm is Why Should I Fear In Times Of Trouble and is attributed to the sons of Korah.  This psalm is laid out in five stanzas: v.1-4; v.5-9; v.10-12; v.13-15 and v.16-20. The first stanza is largely introductory and proclaims the intent of the psalmist. In v.5-6 the psalmist states his thesis and reason for writing, “Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches.” We can all feel oppressed at times by those who seem to have an advantage over us and do take advantage of us to their own gain. We can believe that we are one down to the wealthy, the 1% if you will. Certainly this is a mentality that is being propagated today. For whatever reason the psalmist felt this inequity. In some way the psalmist was being oppressed by the wealthy and powerful. And it caused him to fear. Fear always involves a sense of loss. It could be not getting what we want. It could be losing what we have. It could be getting what we want and then fearing we will lose it. The psalmist provides us with some critical principles of perspective to correct our fear based living and leading.

1. No person, no matter how wealthy, can ransom his own life or the life of another. Wealth always looks like a great advantage on the earth. But when it comes to heavenly things, when it comes to the salvation of your soul, wealth matters not. The psalmist begins with the end in mind. No one can ransom their own soul or the soul of another. And that is what really matters at the end of the day. To fear the wealthy and the powerful is to miss the bigger picture. God creates and God requires. Eternity is lived out within his parameters. And a ransom is required.

2. All people perish, even the pompous. “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” This famous phrase is attributed to Daniel Defoe and Benjamin Franklin. Many people fear death. Some try to cheat death. Those with money often try everything in their power to cheat death or the aging effects of death. But everyone will die. This is the great equalizer. This takes the edge off of fear towards those with great resources because they face the same fate as everyone else. In that regard they are no different.

3. There is a God who has ransomed the souls of all who believe. The fourth stanza is the center piece to the psalm. The psalmist lays out his strongest reason for not fearing the wealthy and the powerful who oppress. There will always be people who have foolish confidence and their entourage who adds their boast. Their path leads to Sheol. Sheol in the Bible is a place reserved for the dead apart from Christ and is a place of eternal punishment. The psalmist declares, “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” The psalmist’s ultimate confidence is in God alone who has the power and authority to ransom a life. The broader storyline of the Bible points us to the person of Jesus Christ as our perfect ransom payment for the penalty of sin. The greatest reason not to live and lead in fear is that for all who follow Christ we have been ransomed from the snares of death and the power of sin. We are free from death thinking, from fear itself.

4. The wealthy and powerful who oppress are no better than the beasts. In verse 20 the psalmist returns to a theme he has stated earlier in verse 12. All men perish from life on this earth. Those with pomp and without understanding are no better than the beasts. So while we may tend to elevate the wealthy, the famous, the powerful, they are simply like every animal of the earth if they only live and lead from a worldly point of view and oppress those around them. This vantage point necessitates the ransom payment of Christ to be otherwise. Fear of the powerful who oppress is vanquished.

The Ransomed Leader calls us to live and lead the ransomed life. Lead well!

A Leader’s Prayer: Psalm 25

David-Leader-Prayer-Psalm 25

Glen Scarborough on Flickr

King David penned Psalm 25.  We are not sure when he wrote this psalm.  Therefore, we are uncertain about the circumstances of Psalm 25.  David speaks of his enemies in verse 2 and verse 19.  But David had many enemies and they were a consistent part of his life and leadership.  What most intrigues me about this psalm or this prayer from David lies in verses 4 and 5.  David the leader asks to be led.  There is something profound about that notion.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all the day long.

The driving points within these two stanzas are “Make me know your ways” and “Lead me in your truth and teach me.”  David, the King of Israel, prays to Yahweh to be led.  King David longs to know the ways and paths of the Lord.  Our ways are regularly out of step with God’s ways.  Our ways long for our own glory and control.  David asks to know God’s ways and how to walk in them.

David asks to be led by God’s truth.  He desires to be taught.  David then expresses two reasons for this request.  Only God can save David and David is demonstrating his complete dependence upon God.  David declares his humble reliance upon God for that which only God can provide.  That fuels David’s request for truth–God’s truth.

Humble leaders who rightly feel the burden of their stewardship should echo David’s prayer.  We need to be leaders who long to be led.  We need to know God’s ways, paths, and truths.  Because, as leaders, he is our salvation and we are desperate for him.

Lead well.

Hymnal Perspective: Heavier The Cross

images-1Yesterday, I spent most of my time in devotion, prayer, and reading.  I try to take these kind of days on a pretty regular basis because I see my need for reflection and refreshment.  As I read, I came across an old hymn whose words ministered to me.  For today’s post I thought I would share them with you.  It speaks to our need for perspective as we encounter various trials.  It speaks to our need for the cross of Christ, the gospel, as we live out this life.  Once you have read the entire hymn and thought through the implications, re-read just the first line of every stanza.  These salient points form a good reminder of the charge behind this thoughtful hymn.

Heavier The Cross, The Nearer God

Heavier the cross, the nearer heaven;
No cross without, no God within;
Death, judgment from the heart, are driven
Amid the world’s false glare and din.
O happy he with all his loss,
Whom God has set beneath the cross!

Heavier the cross, the better Christian;
This is the touchstone God applies.
How many a garden would be wasting,
Unwet by showers from weeping eyes!
The gold by fire is purified;
The Christian is by trouble tried.

Heavier the cross, the stronger faith;
The loaded palm strikes deeper root;
The vine juice sweetly issues
When men have pressed the clustered fruit;
And courage grows where dangers come,
Like pearls beneath the salt sea foam.

Heavier the, cross, the heartier prayer;
The bruised herbs most fragrant are.
If sky and wind were always fair,
The sailor would not watch the star;
And David’s Psalms had never been sung
If grief his heart had never wrung.

Heavier the cross, the more aspiring;
From valleys we climb to mountain crest;
The pilgrim of the desert tiring,
Longs for the Canaan of his rest.
The dove has here no rest in sight,
And to the ark she wings her flight.

Heavier the cross, the easier dying;
Death is a friendlier face to see;
To life’s decay one bids defying,
From life’s distress one then is free.
The cross sublimely lifts our faith,
To Him who triumphed over death.

Crucified One! the cross I carry,
The longer, may it dearer be;
And lest I faint while here I tarry,
Implant such a heart in me,
That faith, hope, love, may flourish there,
Until for the cross, my crown I wear.

Generous Leadership

small__10344483104I have been thinking lately about what generosity looks like in the life of a leader. To the point, I am wondering what this should look like in my life. What does it really mean to be a leader characterized by generosity? What does a generous leader do?

To be generous means “to be liberal in giving or marked by a forbearing spirit.”

The opposite attitude is marked by cheapness, meanness, and stinginess–although these traits could be demonstrative or quiet attitudes of the heart.

The Bible talks much about generosity as an attitude for all who follow Christ. In Acts 2 we find the word “generous” as a trait being manifested by the early followers of Christ as they shared physical blessings in common with one another. These new believers were making sure that there were no unattended needs among them in the distribution of food. In 2 Corinthians 9 Paul exhorts the Christians in Corinth that they will be enriched as they prove themselves generous, which will lead to many forms of thanksgiving to God as others receive what the Corinthians give. In 1 Timothy 6 Paul urges the rich in this world to be ready to share and to do so generously. If they do so, Paul stresses that they will be storing up treasure in heaven. In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul notes the great generosity of the Macedonian church in giving, but makes clear that their generous giving was not reflected in an overall amount. Rather it will be reflected in the attitude of their hearts to give beyond what they were able.

These teachings and principles apply to every follower of Christ. But what could these principles uniquely look like in the life of a leader?

1. A generous leader looks toward the needs of others.  It is difficult to be generous with any resources if you are unaware of the needs around you.  Are you attentive to the needs of your audience?  Are you attentive to the needs of your followers? This requires that a leader is not self absorbed. This kind of leader must have his or her eyes on the horizon, always looking for the needs he or she may be led to meet. You can only display generosity to the needs that come to your attention. Be attentive.

2. A generous leader is enriched by making available all of the resources at his disposal.  A leader has many resources available to them. Money or funding is not the only object of a generous spirit. A leader’s most precious resource may be their time. Are you open to the divine appointments in your leadership life–the ones you did not plan for? Can you make room for divine interruptions that come your way everyday so that someone else may be benefited and blessed? God may call on a leader to be generous with people. A sign of great generosity is the ability to give away authority, power, and future leaders. Are you able to release leaders to someone else so that they might have what they need to make an impact? You have to have a kingdom mindset to pull that off.  It may be that as a leader you simply show more forbearance toward those who are difficult to lead.

3. A generous leader is marked not so much by how much he gives, but by how much more he or she gives.  It is clear in God’s economy that it is not the size of the gift that is important. It is the attitude of the giver and the willingness to go beyond normal means that pleases God. Again, this could relate to money, time, people, technology, tools, strategies–anything at the disposal of a leader. Are you willing to give until it hurts, and still be joyful in the giving? Scripture says that this kind of giving will reap an eternal reward.

I am challenged by this. I like to give of myself only as it is convenient or noteworthy. I can be generous in one commodity, but not in another. I don’t mind sharing with you an idea or innovation. But don’t ask me for an emerging leader or more time. Sometimes I can appear generous, but my attitude stinks. You wont know it, but I will–and so will God.

It seems that generosity is most profoundly expressed in the cross. The grace of the gospel allows me to receive that which I had no right to and could never earn. Why do I hold back in the shadow of the cross? Why do I hoard? Why am I ever stingy? Why am I unwilling to sacrifice?

May you and I grow as generous leaders!

(photo credit)

The Beauty & Necessity of Reading the Bible

UnknownOne of my passions is helping leaders lead well. Another passion is helping people better understand the Bible and apply it to their lives. The Bible is actually like no other book on the planet. It claims to be alive (Hebrews 4:12). It claims to have inherent power (Hebrews 4:12). It claims to be always profitable, meaning that you will always get more out of it than you put into it–for that is the nature of something being profitable (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is our doorway to discovering God. It is our invitation to pursue and develop an intimate relationship with Christ. It will transform us. It deserves a reading by all, those who claim to be followers of Christ, and those who don’t. But I recognize that it is not always seen as an easy book to read and understand. After all, it is a compilation of 66 different books by some 40 different authors penned over a span of 1500 years. Yet, in its unity and diversity it contains one overarching theme from beginning to end. I propose that there are two primary obstacles to reading the Bible well. First, you need some sense of the whole. What is the Bible primarily about?  What is its overarching theme? How I am suppose to read it in its diversity of genre and context? Second, you need a reading plan. Where do I begin?  How much should I read? How often should I read?

The best book I know to provide you with a simple oversight of the Bible is Reading The Bible For All Its Worth, by Gordon Fee. Fee does an excellent job of providing a grand view of the Bible and in understanding the different genres that are there. It is not a long read, nor a difficult one. It was not written with graduate studies in mind, but with every person in mind. This is a very helpful tool in giving you a good foundation for regular reading.

The value of a reading plan is several fold. It provides structure to take out the guess work of where to read within the Bible. Most plans aim to take you through the whole Bible within a calendar year, though there are plans geared for less rigor. A plan provides a measure of accountability and encouragement as you make progress toward the overall goal. A plan will typically expose you to different parts of the Bible so that you gain a feel for the overall storyline and the richness of the different genres. I was once challenged by a mentor to read the entire Bible every year for seven years in a row. This mentor went on to explain that I would be amazed at the way the storyline would come alive and all of the beautiful themes that would emerge.  He was right. And now I try to read through the whole Bible every other year as a way to keep the parts in context of the whole.  It never gets old.  Below, I have provided several links to some of the most helpful reading plans I know. With today’s digital Bibles able to be read on phones, tablets, and laptops it has become easier than ever to follow through with consistent reading. There are now many apps as well for digital reading plans.  And may I suggest that you aim for consistency over quantity, especially when you are at the beginning of habit like this. Ten minutes a day for five out of seven days is better than an hour once a week. Remember, this is not just about information. This is about relationship. I do recommend that you get your hands on an accurate translation that can be easily read. My suggestions would include the English Standard Version, the New American Standard Version, or the New International Version.

The Discipleship Journal One Year Reading Plan (Navigators)

The Discipleship Journal 5x5x5 Plan (Navigators) This is designed to read through the New Testament be spending 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week.

The Discipleship Journal Book At A Time Plan (Navigators) This is a one year plan that provides reading in both the Old and New Testament each day.

The You Version Reading Plan This is a completely online reading plan.  You can choose a book of the Bible or a topic within the Bible.

A Chronological Reading Plan (Biblestudytools.com) This is a one year plan that allows you to read the Bible in the order of events.

The M’Cheyne Reading Plan This is a classic reading plan by Robert Murray M’Cheyne who was a Scottish minister in the 19th century (my favorite).

The 31 Day Experiment (Dick Purnell) This is a tool I have used often with people to help them develop the habit of Bible reading-it requires the purchase of another book-but it is a great tool.

Be sure to check out your app store for various reading plans too.

A word to spiritual leaders: We dare not take our regular Bible reading for granted. We are always desperate servants in need of the food and water the Bible brings. Don’t let your regular reading become preparation. Don’t let it become legalistic. Allow it to take you daily to the face of Christ and be renewed in the gospel. Lead well.

 

The Danger of Disappointment

dead-flower-dissappointment-leadership

Rebecca Murphey on Flickr

Leaders will experience disappointment. Disappointment happens when expectations or hopes go unmet. There may be an unreached goal. There may be an employee or team member who lets you down. You may not get the plumb assignment or role you had hoped for. Unforeseen road blocks or obstacles arise to threaten your plans. The real danger of disappointment is that it can lead to dismay. And that emotion can be paralyzing. There is no way to avoid disappointment. What is important is how we deal with this impostor and not lose courage. It’s only Tuesday and I have already experienced some disappointment, and likely you have too. Here is what I observed from my own dealings with disappointment.

1. Disappointment can sap us of our emotional energy.  When I am first confronted with disappointment, I immediately lose some energy. It is natural. You give yourself to something or someone and your expectations are not met. You have invested your time and talent towards this endeavor and now hope of a good result has been stolen. That is an easy occasion for disappointment and the loss of your emotional edge. Sometimes it is hard to recover that depletion.  It is difficult to lead well out of a depletion of emotional energy.

2. Disappointment can cause us to lose perspective.  If I allow disappointment to linger, to lean towards dismay, then I also begin to lose perspective on the situation at hand. It becomes all bad. It no longer becomes a problem to confront or an obstacle to be overcome, it becomes the impossible monster that will surely win. Fear replaces courage.  Fear replaces faith. Often, associates or team members can become the enemy.  At that moment, I have lost perspective. Perspective is the lens we look through to assess a person or situation correctly. It is our mental picture of what is real and what can be. If we lose that lens it is difficult to lead well.

3. Disappointment can mean we miss the opportunity.  Ultimately, this negative emotion can lead us toward missed opportunities. The opportunity may be how we are able to overcome the unmet expectation or lost hope. The opportunity may be a whole new alternative that is better than what we lost. Little good comes from leadership paralysis. And that is where unchecked disappointment will take us. As leaders, we have to see the opportunities in the midst of unmet expectations or lost hope so that we can lead people beyond their current circumstances and move toward the vision.

So, how do we do this? How do we move past regular disappointments? First, I think it takes honesty. We have to name our disappointment and see it for what it truly is. Usually, this will bring the cause of disappointment down to size. Our tendency it to feed our disappointments and let them grow beyond their true identity. Second, we need community. We need others around us who will act as hope-giving sounding boards to keep us from our downward spirals. This may be a group of peer leaders. This may be one good friend who is committed to speaking truth to you. Third, we need a sure character foundation that does not take success or disappointment personally and which allows us to re-imagine a different future. For me, this character foundation is found in my relationship with Jesus Christ. I know no other solution for my selfishness, emotional blindness, and fragile soul. Even today, I was reading the Bible in the book of John, chapter 14, verse one, these words, “Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me.” These are the words of Jesus who experienced every emotion but fulfilled his mission of going to the cross to overcome our sin and brokenness. He is the one who can rescue me from the danger of disappointment.