So Blessed

BlessedTo think this is my “job” …

On Friday I had the privilege of sharing the message at our combined Good Friday service, where all the churches in Cedar Springs came together. I talked about the contrast Jesus presents to us from John 16:33. Quite simple it goes like this:

  • In the world = trouble
  • In Jesus = peace

This morning our Easter breakfast drama confronted (sometimes comically) the various conspiracy theories about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Then I shared how the biblical account of Jesus’ resurrection is not only the most plausible, reasonable and logical of accounts, but it is also the only option which gives us lasting hope.

It’s amazing to think that my “job” allows me to speak the words of life, the hope of freedom, the promise of eternal life, the beauty of a relationship with Christ. I am truly blessed and humbled to do what God has called me to do.

Five Quotes From “Love To The Uttermost”

Love To The UttermostI suggested last week that John Piper’s book Love To The Uttermost is an excellent resource to help guide you through the Holy Week with some fresh insights (you can read my review of this book by clicking here). Here are a few of the fresh insights that stood out to me.

“Luke 12:32 is a verse about the nature of God. It’s a verse about what kind of heart God has. It’s a verse about what makes God glad—not merely about what God will do or what He has to do, but what He delights to do, what He loves to do, and what He takes pleasure in doing. ‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ …This is what the word means: God’s joy, His desire, His want and wish and hope and pleasure and gladness and delight, is to give the kingdom to His flock.”

“Jesus was not accidentally entangled in a web of injustice. The saving benefits of His death for sinners were not an afterthought. God planned it all out of infinite love to sinners like us, and He appointed a time. Jesus, who was the very embodiment of His Father’s love for sinners, saw that the time had come and set His face to fulfill His mission: to die in Jerusalem for our sake. ‘No one takes my life from Me,’ Jesus said, ‘I lay it down of my own accord’ (John 10:18).”

“First, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by what it costs him. Second, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by how little we deserve it. Third, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by the greatness of the benefits we receive in being loved. Fourth, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by the freedom with which they love us.”

“[God] does not need us. If we stay away He is not impoverished. He does not need us in order to be happy in the fellowship of the Trinity. But He magnifies His mercy by giving us free access through His Son, in spite of our sin, to the one Reality that can satisfy us completely and forever, namely, Himself.”

“The resurrection of Jesus is given to us as the confirmation or evidence that He was indeed free in laying down His life. And so the resurrection is Christ’s testimony to the freedom of His love. …Of all the great things that Easter means, it also means this: it is a mighty ‘I meant it!’ behind Christ’s death. I meant it! I was free. You see how free I am? You see how much power and authority I have? I was able to avoid it. I have power to take up My life out of the grave. And could I not, then, have devastated My enemies and escaped the Cross? My resurrection is a shout over My love for My sheep: It was free! It was free! I chose it. I embraced it. I was not caught. I was not cornered. Nothing can constrain Me to do what I do not choose to do. I had power to take My life from death. And I have taken My life from death. How much more, then, could I have kept My life from death! I am alive to show you that I really loved you. I freely loved you. Nobody forced Me to it. And I am now alive to spend eternity loving you with omnipotent resurrection love forever and ever. Come to Me, all you sinners who need a Savior. And I will forgive you and accept you and love you with all My heart forevermore.”

23 Quotes From “The 5 Levels Of Leadership”

5 Levels of LeadershipThere is always so much rich content in a John Maxwell book, and The 5 Levels Of Leadership is no exception. You can read my full book review by clicking here. These are a few of the quotes that especially caught my attention. Unless otherwise noted, these quotes are from John Maxwell.

“At any level, a leader doesn’t automatically stay at that level. You must earn your level of leadership with each person, and that level can go up or down at any time.” 

“You have no control over how much talent you possess. You control only what you do with it.”

“Leadership is accepting people where they are, then taking them somewhere.” —C.W. Perry 

“Often to make themselves look better or to keep people from rising up and threatening them, positional leaders make other people feel small. How?

  • By not having a genuine belief in them.
  • By assuming people can’t instead of assuming they can.
  • By assuming people won’t rather than believing they will.
  • By seeing their problems more readily than their potential.
  • By viewing them as liabilities instead of assets.”

“Anytime you think you’ve arrived—whether your position is the lowest or the highest in the organization—you’ve lowered your expectations for yourself, sold your leadership short, and fallen into a no-growth mind-set.”  

“Above all else, good leaders are open. They go up, down, and around their organizations to reach people. They don’t stick to established channels. They’re informal. They’re straight with people. They make a religion out of being accessible.” —JackWelch

“You see, when there is danger, a good leader takes the front line. But when there is celebration, a good leader stays in the back room. If you want the cooperation of human beings around you, make them feel that they are important. And you do that by being humble.” —Nelson Mandela 

“People will not get ahead with others unless they are willing to work behind others.”

“[Good leaders] have more than an open-door policy—they know the door swings both ways. They go through it and get out among their people to connect.” 

“If you want to be successful on Level 2, you must think less in terms of systems and more in terms of people’s emotions. You must think more in terms of human capacity and less in terms of regulations. You must think more in terms of buy-in and less in terms of procedures. In other words, you must think of people before you try to achieve progress.”

“Care without candor creates dysfunctional relationships. Candor without care creates distant relationships. But care balanced with candor creates developing relationships. …Caring values the person while candor values the person’s potential. …Caring establishes the relationship while candor expands the relationship. … Caring defines the relationship while candor directs the relationship.” 

“Before having a candid conversation, make sure you can answer yes to the following questions:

  • Have I invested enough in the relationship to be candid with them?
  • Do I truly value them as people?
  • Am I sure this is their issue and not mine?
  • Am I sure I’m not speaking up because I feel threatened?
  • Is the issue more important than the relationships?
  • Does this conversation clearly serve their interests and not just mine?
  • Am I willing to invest time and energy to help them change?
  • Am I willing to show them how to do something, not just say what’s wrong?
  • Am I willing and able to set clear, specific expectations?”

“If achieving the vision is worth building the team, it is also worth risking the relationship. Building relationships and then risking them to advance the team creates tension for the leader. That tension will force you to make a choice: to shrink the vision or to stretch the people to reach it. If you want to do big things, you need to take people out of their comfort zones. They might fail. They might implode. They might relieve their own tension by fighting you or quitting. Risk always changes relationships. If you risk and win, then your people gain confidence. You have shared history that makes the relationship stronger. Trust increases. And the team is ready to take on even more difficult challenges. However, if you risk and fail, you lose relational credibility with your people and you will have to rebuild the relationships. Risk is always present in leadership. Anytime you try to move forward, there is risk. Even if you’re doing the right things, your risk isn’t reduced. But there is no progress without risk, so you need to get used to it.” 

“You can issue all the memos and give all the motivational speeches you want, but if the rest of the people in your organization don’t see you putting forth your very best effort every single day, they won’t either.” —Colin Powell

“The job of a leader is to build a complementary team, where every strength is made effective and each weakness is made irrelevant.” —Stephen Covey

“If you want to be an effective leader, you must move from perfectionist to pragmatist.”

“Since you can’t prevent mistakes, why not adopt and attitude in which you and your team learn from them?” 

“The individual leads in order that those who are led can develop their potential as human beings and thereby prosper.” —Socrates

“The highest goal of leadership is to develop leaders, not gain followers or do work.”

“Leadership is an opportunity to serve.” —J. Donald Walters

“No matter where you are in your leadership journey, never forget that what got you to where you are won’t get you to the next level.” 

“The reality is that no one is indispensable. Worse, allowing others to become dependent does little more that satisfy a leader’s ego. It is a very limiting leadership style that has a very short life span. The first step in developing leaders is to have a desire to develop people so that they can succeed without you. …If you want to develop people, you must help them discover and build upon their strengths. That’s where people have the most potential to grow. Helping to develop their strengths is the only way to help leaders become world-class.”

“What you do daily, over time, becomes your legacy.”

Thursdays With Oswald—Redemption

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Oswald ChambersRedemption

Redemption is easy to experience because it cost God everything, and if I am going to be regenerated it is going to cost me something. I have to give up my right to myself. I have deliberately to accept into myself something that will fight for all it is worth, something that will war against the desires of the flesh, and that will ask me to go into identification with the death of Jesus Christ, and these things produce a struggle in me.

…The result of the Redemption in my life must be that I justify God in forgiving me. …In what way are you different in your life? does the reality of the Redemption at work in you justify God in having forgiven you?

From Baffled To Fight Better and Biblical Ethics

I like to think of the death and resurrection of Jesus this way: It cost Him so much, and He wants everything He paid for.

Jesus didn’t coast through, He wasn’t wishy-washy about His decision to go to the Cross, neither was He forced into such a horrific death by crucifixion.

Jesus willingly and lovingly went “all in” to pay the redemption price for our sins. So I’m challenged by Oswald Chambers’ question: does the reality of the Redemption at work in you justify God in having forgiven you? does my life show how grateful I am for the price Jesus paid?

The Five Levels Of Leadership (book review)

5 Levels of LeadershipI was introduced to the wisdom and leadership genius of John C. Maxwell when I stepped into my first real leadership position. In some of the earliest Maxwell books I devoured, he talk briefly about the five levels of leadership. Now in The Five Levels Of Leadership Dr. Maxwell has given us the in-depth training to these invaluable lessons in growing as a leader.

Leadership is an upward climb. But it’s not just about gaining skills, adding accomplishments to a resume, or even getting a bigger office. True leadership is about investing in more people more deeply. That’s what this book helps leaders do.

People who are content with merely a title, or a new bullet point on their resume, will hate this book because right from the outset Dr. Maxwell bluntly points out the short-sightedness of that pursuit. Instead, the title is just the invitation to Level 1, and the start of a journey that focuses on doing the best good for the most people possible.

For those who have read other Maxwell leadership books, you will hear the echoes of those books woven through these pages. In reality, all of the leadership principles Maxwell has written about—from developing yourself, to building a team, to planning for the future, to communicating with greater clarity—are all built into Levels 1 through 5 of this book.

I appreciated the assessment at the beginning of the book to give me an idea of which Level was going to require my greatest attention. Likewise, the list of needed qualities at the end of each Level’s teaching gave me a handy “To Do” list for my leadership growth plans.

For anyone in any type of leadership position, this book deserves your full attention.

Such Wondrous Love

CrossAs I am preparing both a Good Friday message and an Easter message, I am immersed in the details of Christ’s passion for us. There are so many thoughts swirling through my head about the amazing, unequaled, undeserved, overflowing love that Jesus has for us.

See from His head, His hands, His feet / Sorrow and love flow mingled down! / Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, / Or thorns compose so rich a crown? (Isaac Watts, When I Survey The Wondrous Cross)

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)

That Christ should join so freely in the scheme / Although it meant His death on Calvary / Did ever human tongue find nobler theme / Than love divine that ransomed me?

Such love, such wondrous love / Such love, such wondrous love / That God should love a sinner such as I / How wonderful is love like this!

That for a willful outcast such as I / The Father planned, the Savior bled and died / Redemption for a worthless slave to buy / Who long had law and grace defied (C.Bishop, Such Love)

Because of the joy awaiting Him, Jesus endured the Cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:2)

I hope this week you will reflect on God’s amazing grace, Christ’s great love, and the Holy Spirit’s persistent drawing of your heart. Jesus died for us so that we could be brought into a loving relationship with our Heavenly Father!

If you are in the Cedar Springs area, please join me in celebrating with our churches our combined Good Friday service, or our Easter morning breakfast drama called Conspiracy!

10 Quotes From “Habitudes”

HabitudesHonestly there were amazing things to digest each day that I read a new Habitude (you can read my full book review by clicking here), but here are 10 passages from this book that especially stood out to me.

Unless otherwise noted, all of these quotes are from the author, Dr. Tim Elmore—

“The best leaders almost without exception and at every level, are master users of stories and symbols.” —Tom Peters

“The goal of a leader is to focus, not expand. Growth is a product of focus. Clarify the vision. Focus your people, time, energy and resources. Remember this: just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Intensify, don’t diversify.”

“Leaders need people in their lives who don’t take from them, but who replenish them. If they don’t have this network of people in place, they will use their followers to meet this need. This almost always leads to unhealthy situations.”

“Without question, the greatest emotional need of people today is the need to be understood. And to understand we must listen. Leaders have to get this.”

“Bad listening habits:

  • Judgmental listening—jumping to conclusions about the speaker.
  • Selective listening—only hearing what you want to hear.
  • Impatient listening—finishing other people’s sentences.
  • Egocentric listening—thinking about what you will say as others are talking.
  • Patronizing listening—pretending to listen, but really off in your own world.
  • Stubborn listening—listening, but not open, because your mind is already made up.”

“Winning in this game [chess] is all a matter of understanding how to capitalize on the strengths of each piece and timing their moves just right.” —Bobby Fischer

“Great managing is not about control, but about connection and release. It’s not about your power but your empowerment of others.”

“Think about it: a mediocre leader believes values must be taught. An excellent leader believes that the best is already inside of people—they just need to find it. So, while a mediocre leader’s goal is to overcome weaknesses, the excellent leader’s goal is to identify strengths and focus on them.

“Choir directors are a good picture of leadership and team building. They recruit, audition, assign parts, rehearse and direct music. But at the end of the performance, the applause goes to the choir.”

“Look at a man the way he is, and he only becomes worse. But look at a man as if he were what he could be, and he becomes what he should be.” —Goethe

Read More And Read Better

Just part of my current reading list

Just part of my current reading list

It’s no secret that I like to read. I read a little for pleasure, but mostly I read because it make me a better Christian, a better husband, a better dad, a better preacher. It expands my horizons. It gives me new ideas. It teaches me life lessons. It gives me insights to share with others.

My first priority is to read my Bible every day, and then all of my other reading is filtered through that prism of Scripture. I don’t read only “Christian” books, but I do read good books.

It’s true: Leaders are readers. If you want to lead more and lead better, read more and read better.

“When a very young minister, I asked the famous holiness preacher, Joseph H. Smith, whether he would recommend that I read widely in the secular field. He replied, ‘Young man, a bee can find nectar in the weed as well as in the flower.’ I took his advice (or, to be frank, I sought confirmation of my own instincts rather than advice) and I am not sorry that I did. John Wesley told the young ministers of the Wesleyan Societies to read or get out of the ministry, and he himself read science and history with a book propped against his saddle pommel as he rode from one engagement to another.” —A.W. Tozer

“Keep yourself full with reading. Reading gives you a vocabulary. Don’t read to remember; read to realize.” —Oswald Chambers

“It is a dreadful deception that learning and mental growing are strictly associated with school. Good reading should be the vocation of a lifetime.” —John Piper

“Paul says to Timothy, so he says to everyone, ‘Give yourself to reading.’ He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritans and expositions of the Bible. The best way for you to spend your leisure is to be either reading or praying.” —C.H. Spurgeon

“The reading of all good books is like conversation with the finest men of past centuries.” —Rene Descartes 

“After all that professors may do for us, the real University is a collection of good books.” —Thomas Carlyle

“Ignoring good books enfeebles vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency; the belief that the here and now is all there is.” —Allan Bloom

Habitudes (book review)

HabitudesWhen you combine a memorable visual image with the challenge of a new leadership habit you create something power: a habitude. That’s exactly what Dr. Tim Elmore does in his series of exceptional books called Habitudes.

Our minds store information in picture format. For example, when you read “elephant,” you don’t think of the letters e-l-e-p-h-a-n-t, but you think of a huge, floppy-eared, tusk-bearing, mammal on the African savannah. So combining visual images (a right-brained exercise) with life-changing data (a left-brained activity) creates a concept that really sticks with us.

For each one of the 13 habitudes in this book, an image is first presented (for instance, a flood-ravaged home, with the brown swirling water flowing through the front door). Then add to this image some powerful insights from Dr. Elmore about a leader’s responsibility to keep everyone’s energies inside the banks for maximum effectiveness. If a leader doesn’t keep the river’s flow within the banks where it can do some good, the flood of misguided energies can lead to devastation.

Each habitude includes some workspace to help you work through the concepts presented with each image. The pictures create a great “hook” for the concepts to hang in your mind, and the follow-up exercises in each chapter help make the concepts applicable to your unique circumstances.

Each chapter is fairly short, but as the cliche goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” so expect each habitude to teach you a lot without using a lot of written words.

This is a great resource for anyone wanting to improve his or her leadership capabilities. But it would be especially useful for young leaders-in-training in a mentoring/protege role.

At Last!

Jesus is our atonementThe Day of Atonement was a very special day for the Jewish people. It was called by some the Sabbath’s Sabbath, as it was the most holy day of the year. It was the day everyone looked forward to, because finally they could have forgiveness for their sins.

The word atonement in the Hebrew meant that a payment was made that was equivalent to the offense that was committed. The offense was huge: Sin was open rebellion against Almighty God, it was to spit in the face of our Heavenly Father, it was to slap away His hands that were reaching out to embrace us. Nothing short of a death could atone for that sort of offense!

So the high priest would go through an elaborate ceremony of washing himself and putting on special garments that were only to be worn on this Day of Atonement. Because the high priest was also a sinner himself, his first sacrifice was a bull. The blood from this sacrifice was taken by the high priest into the Most Holy Place of the temple to cover his own sins, before he could even approach God to ask for the forgiveness of the sins of anyone else.

After having completed this step, the high priest could then proceed. He would sacrifice a goat as a sin offering for the people. As he did with the bull’s blood, he would take the goat’s blood back into the Most Holy Place to ask God to show mercy toward people who had sinned, to turn away His holy wrath against their rebellion. Then the priest would lay his hands on a second goat, one that was still alive, and confess all of the sins of the people. This goat (called the scapegoat) was then taken out into the desert. This symbolized the removal of the people’s guilt, making it possible for them to be in relationship with God once again.

This was repeated year after year after year. It was repeated because the people continued to sin. It was repeated because these rituals were only a shadow of what God really wanted to accomplish. David wrote about the futility of these sacrifices—

Sacrifice and offering You did not desire—but a body You have given me—burnt offerings and sin offerings You did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do Your will, my God; Your law is within my heart.” (Psalm 40:6-8)

A beautiful thing happened through the ministry of Jesus on earth. Jesus came to be both the perfect high priest (one without sin, who did not need to purify Himself), and the perfect sacrifice. Jesus is called the once for all sacrifice of atonement for us, as He embodied the cry David made nearly 1000 years earlier. Hebrews 10:5-7 says that the words uttered by David prophetically were repeated by Jesus: “Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do Your will, my God; Your law is within my heart. I will be the once for all sacrifice.”

When Jesus told us the the new covenant was in His shed blood on Calvary’s Cross, He was saying that no longer would we have to wait until the Day of Atonement to find forgiveness; no longer would we have to wait upon an imperfect earthly priest to offer a sacrifice for us; no longer would we have to carry around the guilt of our sin and feel separated from God’s presence while waiting for a special ceremony. AT LAST! We can have immediate forgiveness, eternal redemption, and an everlasting relationship with God because of what Jesus did for us once for all!

As you celebrate Holy Week, be thrilled with the truth that Jesus’ death on the Cross makes it possible for you to have complete atonement. Our Savior has redeemed us AT LAST!

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