Don’t Putrefy Your Leadership

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King Solomon nailed it pretty succinctly with this verse: Dead flies putrefy the perfumer’s ointment, and cause it to give off a foul odor; so does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor. (Ecclesiastes 10:1) 

As a Christian leader, I always have mixed emotions when I hear of another prominent Christian leader who has stumbled. Part of me is angry because I know that all Christian leaders will get painted with the same brush. Another part of me is incredibly sad to hear of a brother or sister who has squandered the trust that was placed in them. Finally, part of me becomes quite self-reflective, because I don’t want to repeat their mistakes. 

Tom Peters said, “There are no minor lapses of integrity.” King Solomon would agree. And so do I. 

Godly leadership can be such a beautiful thing, but just a couple of dead flies can putrefy the whole thing! 

Here are four things that I have seen in the lives of those leaders who haven’t finished well. These are the things all of us need to watch carefully in our own lives.

(1) They compromised in “the little things.” None of them started off by saying, “I’m going to completely ruin my reputation as a godly leader.” But they allowed themselves to indulge in things that were just “little things” in their minds. Perhaps they thought, “It won’t hurt if I indulge in this one little thing.” The apostle Paul warns us, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Corinthians 10:12). 

(2) Pride crept in. They thought they were better than others. Peter said it this way: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). I addressed this topic in my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter like this—

     Did you catch that? God stands back from the proud person who will not admit his error nor ask for help, let alone ask for forgiveness. On the other hand, God lavishes His grace on the humble one who admits both his error and his need for help. Admission of an inappropriate action or reaction brings God’s help! 

     Friends, the mark of a maturing shepherd is not one who never misspeaks or never makes a mistake. No, the mark of a maturing shepherd is the one who is closing the gap between his mess up and his confession.

Pride will keep us from confessing the “little sins” and keep us from God’s help. But humility quickly admits the smallest of slip-ups and therefore receives God’s grace and help. 

(3) They lowered their standards. If anything, leaders should raise their standards as they become more successful. Think of it this way: when I was young and immature, I didn’t give much thought to my diet or my exercise routine. As I became older (and hopefully more mature), I became much more tuned-in to these things. Physically, the older I get, the more I need to pay attention to my health. The same thing is true in our leadership: maturity should lead to higher standards and higher levels of scrutiny. 

(4) They stopped listening to others. The combination of little compromises, pride, and lowered standards doesn’t easily invite accountability nor transparency. The track record is pretty consistent among those who have fallen short: they stopped listening to people who tried to correct them.

I want to finish well. I don’t want a leadership stumble in my life to rob God of glory, nor to cause others to stumble in their Christian walk. I am committed to living my life in a way that will allow Jesus to say to me at the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

I pray that all Christian leaders will join me in this.

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Lifelong Preparation

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I had a great time on the Thriving In Ministry podcast with Kyle Willis and Dace Clifton. 

Dace asked me what I wished I had learned earlier on in my pastoral career. The answer that sprang quickly to my mind is this: God takes me through things on purpose. 

At the time we may not be able to see what God is teaching us, but He wastes no opportunities. Everything we have gone through has a purpose.

How true it is: God doesn’t prepare the path for me, but He prepares me for the path. 

The same is true for you, my friend! You may not know why during the time of your difficult trial, and you may not even know why on this side of Heaven. But God’s Word assures us that He is using every single thing to prepare us and to bring Him glory. 

My book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is proof of this! I never thought God would call me to pastor a church—let alone write a book about pastoral leadership—but as I wrote the book, the Holy Spirit brought back to my remembrance so many lessons that I learned along the way. 

I’ve already shared several clips from this Thriving In Ministry interview which you can find by clicking here, and I’ll be sharing more clips soon, so please stay tuned. 

Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple. 

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The Divine Jesus

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I was teaching a class for my team members, and at one of the breaks a new employee came up to me to say how much he was enjoying the day, and to tell me that he would like to do what I was doing. I asked him, “But do you want to do what I did in order to do what I’m doing?” When I explained that I read about 10-12 books for this training time, and that it took me about 40 hours to prepare for our 4-hour class, he didn’t seem as interested. 

Most people don’t want to put in the work, but they just want the results. As Christians we need to remember these words from William Penn: “No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.” 

The human Jesus understands and empathizes with our painful struggles, and the divine Jesus helps us endure through these painful struggles to get the rewards on the other side. 

What do we mean by divine? The dictionary simply defines it as things relating to God or gods, so we need to use some context to help us understand who this divine Jesus is. After all, the New Testament refers to both Jesus and Artemis as divine (Romans 1:20; Hebrews 1:1-3; Acts 19:27). 

One way we can distinguish is by doing what the writer of Hebrews advised: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7). We see that the so-called worshippers of Artemis were more interested in their own financial gain than they were her divinity (Acts 19:23-27). In contrast, the apostle Paul demonstrated a totally Jesus-focused lifestyle: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24). 

Paul was following Jesus, and called all Christians to do the same. He noted that Jesus gave up all of His divine privileges to become our human Jesus, but because of this obedience, God made the divinity of Jesus shine more gloriously than anything else in creation! Then Paul transitioned to a word specifically for Christians: 

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose. (Philippians 2:12-13) 

In essence this is like Jesus saying, “I want you to have what I have, but you will have to do what I did to get it: That is, go through the painful struggles of life. But I will be right here with you every single step of the way!” 

The writer of Hebrews echoes this idea by reminding us that Jesus was made perfect through suffering, and so are we. So he calls us to “not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.” He also reminds us that although the times of suffering are not pleasant, there is an unimaginable reward on the other side (Hebrews 2:9-11; 10:35-39; 12:1-11).

I especially like this conclusion: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

The divine Jesus has made it possible for us to be rewarded as He was rewarded! His divine power leads to our divine nature. And His divine power helps us defeat the world’s weapons (2 Peter 1:3-4; 2 Corinthians 10:4) 

Jesus asks, “Do you want to do what I did in order to do what I’m doing?” The power of the divine Jesus can help us be perfected, but we only get to this perfected place by suffering as He suffered. That’s why we need to know our human Jesus understands, empathizes, and helps. 

Most people don’t want to put in the work, but they just want the rewards. Our divine Savior helps us work out what God has worked in us. He helps us get the rewards! 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series on prayer called Awesome: Learning to pray in the awesome name of Jesus, you can find all of the messages by clicking here. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Standing Firm

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

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Standing Firm 

     Superficial brilliance is always afraid of fire, but gold is not. The paste gem dreads to be touched by the diamond, but the true diamond fears no test. People who have a kind of confectionery godliness will wish to be preserved from temptations, for they cannot endure them. But the Christian counts it all joy when he falls into different trials, knowing that ‘tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us’ (Romans 5:3-5). My dear friends, if your faith is only a sunshiny faith, get rid of it! … 

     So our gracious God, beloved, glorifies Himself by permitting His people to be subjected to trials and by enabling them to endure the strain. We would never know the music of the harp if the strings were left untouched. We would never enjoy the juice of the grape if it were never trod in the winepress. We would never discover the sweet perfume of cinnamon if it were not pressed and beaten. And we would never know the warmth of fire if the coals were not utterly consumed. The excellence of the Christian is brought out by the fire of trouble. The wisdom of the great Workman and the glory of His skill and power are discovered by the trials through which His vessels of mercy are permitted to pass. … 

     Depend upon it, beloved, those who suffer as I have described are the children of God, for they show it. They show it by the way in which they bear their trials. In the worst times there is always a clear distinction that marks them as separate from other men. If they cannot shout, ‘Victory!’ they bear patiently. If they cannot sing to God with their mouth, yet their hearts bless Him. There is a degree of light even in their worst darkness…. If they get into the mire, they do not perish there. They cry for help when their woes surround them, and in the very nick of time, when everything appears to be lost, their heavenly Father hastens to their aid.

From The Believer Sinking In The Mire

I shared a series of messages called Thankful In The Night. Another psalmist wrote, “Yet the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me” (Psalm 42:8). 

Notice that this psalmist was praising God IN the night, not praising Him FOR the night. Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I don’t think anyone has ever given thanks because of being in a dark time, but certainly they have given thanks afterward because of the lessons learned in that dark time. 

Quite simply put, there are some things God wants to teach us that we can learn in no other way than to go through a dark night. So we can learn to be thankful even IN those nights. IN those nights, we can learn to say, as Spurgeon did, “I believe in my Lord because He is a God who cannot lie. He is faithful and true to His every word and, therefore, let the whole creation go to rack and ruin, my faith will not waver or give up its confidence.” 

Amen! Let us stand firm in that confidence.

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Poetry Saturday—Before

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Before you speak, listen.
Before you write, think.
Before you spend, earn.
Before you invest, investigate.
Before you criticize, wait.
Before you pray, forgive.
Before you quit, try.
Before you retire, save.
Before you die, give. —William Arthur Ward

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Forgiven And Forgiving

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

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Forgiven And Forgiving  

Forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32) 

     Now observe how the apostle puts it. Does he say, ‘forgiving another’? No, that is not the text. If you look at it, it is ‘forgiving one another.’ One another! Ah, then that means that if you have to forgive today, it is very likely that you will, yourself, need to be forgiven tomorrow, for it is ‘forgiving one another.’ … Let us begin our Christian career with the full assurance that we will have a great deal to forgive in other people, but that there will be a great deal more to be forgiven in ourselves! … 

     Note again: When we forgive, it is a poor and humble business compared with God’s forgiving us, because we are only forgiving one another—that is, forgiving fellow servants. But when God forgives us, the Judge of all the earth is forgiving, not His fellows, but His rebel subjects, guilty of treason against His majesty! For God to forgive is something great—for us to forgive, though some think it great—should be regarded as a very small matter. … What we owe to God is infinite, but what our fellow creature owes to us is a very small sum. …  

     If anyone here who is a Christian finds a difficulty in forgiveness, I am going to give him three words that will help him wonderfully… Here they are again: ‘For Christ’s sake.’ … 

     I do not know how to put this next word I am going to say. It is a paradox. You must forgive or you cannot be saved. But at the same time, you must not do it from compulsion, you must do it freely. … Remember, it is of no use for you to put your money into that offering box as you go out unless you remember, first, to forgive your brother. God will not accept the gifts, prayers, or praises of an unrelenting heart. … The very prayer that teaches you to ask for mercy bids you say, ‘And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors’ (Matthew 6:12). Unless you have forgiven others, you read your own death warrant when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer!

From Forgiveness Made Easy 

We honor the forgiveness that God has extended to us by liberally forgiving others. And our forgiveness of others shows them just how loving and forgiving our God is too! 

Make no mistake, it’s hard work to forgive. As C.S. Lewis said, “We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offenses but for one offense.” But that hard work develops our maturity as Christians. In fact, a mark of a maturing saint is one who is closing the gap between being injured and forgiving the offender. 

I add my prayer to Charles Spurgeon’s that you would grasp the truth that we can forgive one another for Christ’s sake because God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake. Let’s all grow in this Christian maturity!

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Keep Moving Forward

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

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.

Keep Moving Forward  

For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7) 

     God does not say to us, ‘This is the way,’ and then stop. He says, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’ We are always to be making advances. We are to be going from faith in its beginnings to faith in its perfections, from faith to assurance, from assurance to full assurance. And from there, we are to go to the full assurance of hope to the full assurance of understanding, always forward, waxing stronger and stronger. …  

     The Christian’s motto is ‘Upward and onward.’ Not as though he has already obtained, either is already perfect, he presses forward to the mark for the prize of his high calling in Christ Jesus. …  

     Can you perform the common activities of the household and the daily duties that fall to your lot in the spirit of faith? This is what the apostle means. He does not speak about running or jumping or fighting, but about walking—and he means to tell you that the ordinary life of a Christian is different from the life of another man—that he has learned to introduce faith into everything he does. 

From Faith Versus Sight

I have a t-shirt that says on the front, “Keep moving forward.” But the back of the t-shirt has the real-life challenge: “Crawling is acceptable. Falling is acceptable. Puking is acceptable. Crying is acceptable. Pain is acceptable. Quitting is not!” 

How true! 

I think the problem for many Christians is that they have an unrealistic expectation of growth. Somehow we’ve come to believe that our Christian growth is a constant upward trajectory to maturity, and that if there are ever any stumbles along the way, that means we’ve blown it. (By the way, Oswald Chambers has some helpful thoughts on our stair-step growth.)

But Paul tells us, “We walk”: We keep moving forward. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times of stumbling, or a plateau, or even a pause to catch our breath. Paul tells us that an important aspect of our walk is that we forget what’s behind us and we keep moving forward—keep walking—keep going. 

Every single day, let us say along with Paul, “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14 NLT). 

My friend, keep moving forward in faith, believing that the Holy Spirit is with you—maturing you, strengthening you—on every single step on your Christian walk.

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The Heart Is The Heart Of The Matter

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A heart that devises wicked schemes… (Proverbs 6:18). 

This is the item listed in the exact middle of the list “there are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him.” Check out the whole passage: 

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: [1] haughty eyes, [2] a lying tongue, [3] hands that shed innocent blood, [4] a heart that devises wicked schemes, [5] feet that are quick to rush into evil, [6] a false witness who pours out lies and [7] a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. (vv. 16-18) 

Now let’s follow this progression from the middle item outward: 

  • …it begins in a devious heart—[4] 
  • …it moves to the actions of the hands and feet—[3] and [5] 
  • …it is excused or justified by lies—[2] and [6] 
  • …it hardens into unrepentant pride that divides a community—[1] and [7]

The heart is the heart of the matter!

 Verse 18 is also the middle verse of this whole 6th chapter of Proverbs—

  • it is a heart issue that leads to making rash vows (vv. 1-5) 
  • it is a heart issue that causes a poor work ethic (vv. 6-11) 
  • it is a heart issue that prompts double-talk, equivocation, and a lack of integrity (vv. 12-15) 
  • it is a heart issue that takes a person spiraling down into adultery (vv. 20-35)

Let me repeat this principle: The heart is the heart of the matter! This is why Solomon told us in an earlier chapter, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23). 

But a wise person, who allows the Holy Spirit to correct sinful thoughts, can see a different outcome. With the Spirit’s help, it could look like this:

  • …it begins in a heart sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting—[4] 
  • …it moves to the actions of the hands and feet—[3] and [5] 
  • …it is demonstrated in truthful, loving words—[2] and [6] 
  • …it promotes the humility that unites a community—[1] and [7]

Let’s make this our prayer: Holy Spirit, help me to guard my heart today. No compromising, no justifying, but just a quick obedience to Your prompts to repent and soften my heart. 

Let it start in your heart and just watch what happens. The heart IS the heart of the matter! 

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Poetry Saturday—In The Crucible

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Out from the mine and the darkness,
Out from the damp and the mold,
Out from the fiery furnace,
Cometh each grain of gold.
Crushed into atoms and leveled
Down to the humblest dust
With never a heart to pity,
With never a hand to trust.
Molten and hammered and beaten
Seemeth it ne’er to be done.
Oh, for such fiery trial,
What hath the poor gold done?
Oh, ‘twere a mercy to leave it
Down in the damp and the mold.
If this is the glory of living,
Then better to be dross than gold.
Under the press and the roller,
Into the jaws of the mint,
Stamped with the emblem of freedom,
With never a flaw or a dint.
Oh, what a joy, the refining,
Out of the damp and the mold.
And stamped with the glorious image,
Oh beautiful coin of gold! —Anonymous

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Poetry Saturday—Three Friends

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Of all the blessings which my life has known,
I value most, and most praise God for three:
Want, Loneliness, and Pain, those comrades true,

Who masqueraded in the garb of foes
For many a year, and filled my heart with dread.
Yet fickle joys, like false, pretentious friends,
Have proved less worthy than this trio. First,

Want taught me labour, led me up the steep
And toilsome paths to hills of pure delight,
Tried only by the feet that know fatigue,
And yet press on until the heights appear.

Then loneliness and hunger of the heart
Sent me upreaching to the realms of space,
Till all the silences grew eloquent,
And all their loving forces hailed me friend.

Last, pain taught prayer! placed in my hand the staff
Of close communion with the over-soul,
That I might lean upon it to the end,
And find myself made strong for any strife.

And then these three who had pursued my steps
Like stern, relentless foes, year after year,
Unmasked, and turned their faces full on me,
And lo! they were divinely beautiful,
For through them shown the lustrous eyes of Love. —Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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