Viva Las Vegas? What Jesus Says in the Midst of Tragedy, Chaos and Pain

Viva Las Vegas? What Jesus Says in the Midst of Tragedy, Chaos and Pain

This morning in my Bible time, I feel that God spoke to me… (and I was moved to blog about it… naturally).

This morning I was in Matthew 14, which is a chapter most noted for 3 pretty sizeable events: the death of John the Baptist, Jesus Feeding the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water.

At first, I caught myself thinking: man this is a weighty chapter for Jesus and very clearly you see him-every other paragraph-trying to steal away… to be alone, still and quiet. When you read the Gospels carefully, you’ll see this remarkable trait of Jesus’ and it’s our first marker for what I want to talk about today.

You see Jesus was in anguish… I mean just generally speaking he was-think about it: the weight of the world on your shoulders-literally to carry the burden of every human being’s brokenness all around you… painful, unimaginable. This is, perhaps, one reason why he was in constant pursuit of alone time with the Father.

But then when we find him in chapter 14 he’s also in a degree of specific anguish I imagine. In the preceding chapter he’s coming home and I’m just amazed how quickly the scene changes here in verse 57…

54 He returned to Nazareth, his hometown. When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” 55 Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. 56 All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” 57 And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.

And even though he goes on in the rest of that last verse saying, ‘yeah well typical… a prophet is never well-received in his home town’ as if he had already anticipated their response (duh, he’s Jesus), but still: these are his people, his hometown, his neighborhood, his original community. And please don’t underrate the community ties of 1st century Palestine… they did not have the same universally accepted norms of individuality.

So he’s coming off of that slap in the face and goes right into hearing the news of the mortifying death of his dear friend, cousin and, in his words, (Matthew 11:11) the most enviable man who ever lived.

That happens, he tries once again to get some solace and yet people find him, track him down, follow him and even here (in feeding the 5,000) he’s very moved (in anguish) for these people-and no, not just because they’re hungry, but I would venture that he was ‘moved with compassion’ for their spiritual hunger… they were ‘sheep without a shepherd.’

It’s what happens next that interests me the most as a teachable moment for what we are going through in our country and our world RIGHT NOW…

The disciples are caught in a storm and here’s what happens…

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!”

28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.

And here’s the radical perplexity of a life oriented toward Jesus and Kingdom-living:

Yes, even in tragedy, even in tremendous loss and sorrow, even in unimaginable pain-these may all be used as an invitation to experience the real and living God.

So when it may seem callous and untimely to suggest, ‘yes all things do happen for a reason’ it is nonetheless the truth of what we believe, the hope of what we live for:

that all things may be redeemed
that all things can be used for good
that all things are a means for showing us and growing us in something

So here is what I want to say:

For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding in depression and anxiety…
For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding in your marriage or parenting…
For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding feeling isolation, lonliness or rejection…
For you out there where it’s 3 am and the waves are pounding in sickness and death…

For any of these, Jesus is very present, very real and he bids you come…

To the person who says, ‘keep your prayers’ HE says YES COME
To the person who says, ‘why does God let this happen’ HE says YES COME
To the person who says, ‘why God, how God, Where’s God’ HE says YES COME

I’ll leave you with one more proof for this as God’s operation in the world.

There’s a wonderful passage from Jeremiah 29. Jeremiah-God’s messenger-brings a word from the Lord to his chosen people-the Jews-who are in captivity (again, 3 a.m., darkest hour) and while there’s a hugely popular part of the passage in verse 11 (for I know the plans I have for you says the Lord…), what I love is what comes next in verse 13: “if you search for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”

Do me a favor and repost/share this with anyone in you life who may be struggling in this way and if someone reaches out-good, bad or otherwise-send them a direct message, setup a phone call or coffee date and really lean into it with them… it’s worth it and it might just change a life.

Speak Like Your Voice is Gone Tomorrow 

Speak Like Your Voice is Gone Tomorrow 

Words that have been used to describe my speaking style: “enthusiastic… high energy… contagious… passionate.”

If you want to see if this is true, see for yourself…

What I want people to know is two things:

1, This comes from a place down deep in my heart that longs to be an agent of change in the lives of others and;

2, I act like every time that I’m given an audience, it will be my last.

(3, You can make passionate pleas in your own way too.)

With so much going on in the world today-hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, famine, disease and destruction-I can’t imagine another way of thinking.

I take the realities of our world coupled with the hope that I live for (that there is a Sovereign God that is orchestrating all of history and will send his son again one day AND that he will come “like a thief in the night” Matthew 24:42-44) and I think:

I had better get busy living, spreading life by speaking life.

So when you see my passion, don’t be mistaken-it ain’t mindless hype, it ain’t noise and it certainly ain’t because I think too highly of myself.

It IS however how highly I view our message.

How many of us miss opportunities to speak the word we really feel motivated to bring… every day, hour over hour, text, phone call and face to face meeting with family, friends and coworkers everyday?

One of my greatest irrational fears is that I’ll suffer a traumatic brain injury that will result in lack of speech; inability to formulate and communicate ideas.

I know… irrational. But at the same time, accidents do happen… look no further than the motor vehicle we climb into every day. I don’t live by this fear; this fear is not the motivation; real and present danger isn’t either.

My aim is not to drive fear. That’s not our message. Far from it…

The message is this:

With tomorrow not guaranteed, what are we doing with the voices that God has given us?

Fabulous orator or not, we each have a voice and our time is limited (by eternal standards). You don’t have to be a pastor, prophet or boss either, but I urge you:

  • Today, don’t have regrets about holding back
  • Today, share the word (encouragement, life, hope, truth) you have for another
  • Today, use your voice to be a voice for the voiceless
  • Today, leverage your influence by giving voice to life change

No Use Crying Over Spilled Milk

No Use Crying Over Spilled Milk

So this week’s post was supposed to be about all my tremendous learnings from a leadership conference from the first week of the month, but we are going to have to call a major audible.

After getting just “owned” by the kids these last of weeks and feeling lighter on patience than we have in a long time, my wife and I agreed that this week’s post was about the age-old idiom:

There’s no use crying over spilled milk…

Defined as: getting upset over something that already happened, that cannot be changed

Couldn’t actually find the origin of the phrase but it seems hundreds of years old, because some guy names James Howell was talking about it as early as 1659.

So it is that since the 1600s and probably before that, people were still fussing over that which they cannot control, still fretting over something that cannot be undone… only now responded to.

I have a feeling that when it comes to control in the chaos (seeming anyway), we have permission to go much further back than that!

But before going back in time, let us begin in the year of our Lord 2017, the summer of which has been filled with much “fun and excitement”…

Sometimes the kids get into things… here’s a wrap sheet from 1.5 days this past week, Let us count the blessings:

  • The toddlers dip into the BBQ grease pan and trounce the patio with it. For those who are unfamiliar, this grease it is an incredibly intense sludge that leaves permanent stains to all wood and concrete that it comes into contact with…
  • One of the toddlers, who will remain nameless… SHEPHERD decides to sprint for the white sofa covered nearly head to toe in fresh mud (yes, after being told to stop and wait at the door)
  • This same, said toddler, was found atop the refrigerator digging into a bottle of kids probiotics and a bag of chocolate chips (both hidden and tucked to the back of the fridge) at approximately 6:10 am while I was sitting on the toilet. Note to parents and prospective parents: always remember just not to go to the bathroom by yourself anymore after your kids have reached a certain age… turns out they are very curious, very precocious… in the case of this kid-downright mischievous.
  • And yes of course there has been untold numbers of rice bowl flip flops left and right on the kitchen floor, juices, waters and milks

All of this on top of our garden variety stuff….

We get called in twice a month now to visit our foster baby’s birth mom-always a bit of a harrowing experience-she is a raw and broken woman and yet we are called to pray for her and love her.
We got 5 kids, two of which are, what we call, twin toddlers, one 7-month old that still hasn’t figured out how to put themselves to sleep- go figure?! And to top it all, Rylee has just been just exhausted… you’d think she was pregnant or something…

But all of those things up there are just a prime example of… say it with me people…

SPILT MILK!

So seriously what is the freaking fuss about?!

Rice can be picked up or swept up (sticky by painful stickiness as it may be), we have all the paper towels in the world from Costco for the other messes, we have a washer machine (for now) that gets to work on the couch cushions and, well, a backyard that is precisely that-an outdoor space for wreaking havoc on!

But I guess it’s just fun to fuss, isn’t it…?

It’s necessary to vent and piss and moan, isn’t it…?

I don’t know, but I honestly must feel that way for how much crankiness and drama I put out in response to each one of their “spills.”


Here’s the best I can figure and here’s your leadership lesson (leading in love, leading in work or leading in life):

1, is learning to call it what it is (spilt milk)

It’s just a circumstantial (momentary) reality that hasn’t taken a life or crippled or maimed you in any serious way.

If it’s spilt milk, it means that its small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Be willing to put those “small potatoes” in context and proper proportion of how much they are allowed to impact you.

2, accepting that you cannot control

This is 12-steps classic right here, but anyone in recovery will tell you that this is step 1. Why? Because it’s just that important and it’s the proper starting place!

Stop trying to skip steps and definitely stop trying to control something that ALREADY HAPPENED! The best and sweetest (and most peaceful!) place we can all submit ourselves to be is in relinquishing control.

3, control what you can… your response

My wife’s best prescription? Laughter.

And I’m inclined to agree with her… I just take myself too darn seriously sometimes! So lets agree to CUT IT OUT! And just laugh at that ridiculous blouse-ending grease stain… what’s our favorite article of clothing anyway, but TOTALLY REPLACEABLE!?

So whether you laugh or take 3 big breaths or have a quick walk or say a prayer, your response matters a lot.

It matters for your own personal compounding stress; it matters for collateral damage (in those around you) and it matters in terms of your faith. And that brings me to the final thing I’ll say…

As much as these are the “small potatoes” and “spilt milk” incidents of life, they are not incidental.

Our lives are built on the small moments.

After all, that is what our lives are composed of, in the end, aren’t they? An incredible tapestry of all the small moments.

And take hope, because I’ve also been reminded on more than one occasion that our God is the God of small moments. That’s where he’s doing his work, building our faith, establishing our legacy and building those who are following us.

 

 

10 Questions From one of My Favorite Former Blind Persons

10 Questions From one of My Favorite Former Blind Persons

Just in the last 48 hours alone, odds are you’ve had loss of story, loss of identity, loss of point, purpose, direction or destiny.

We all have these momentary lapses of direction and belief. What I read in John chapter 9 about the blind man who stood up and spoke truth to power gives me hope and encouragement for each new day of crisis.

John 9: 1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered.

6 Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. 7 He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing!

13 Then they took the man who had been blind to the Pharisees, 14 because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud and healed him. 15 The Pharisees asked the man all about it. So he told them, “He put the mud over my eyes, and when I washed it away, I could see!”

A big back and forth between the man and the pharisees (Jewish church elitists); they even bring his parents in to testify. Then it gets REALLY interesting…

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”

26 “But what did he do?” they asked. “How did he heal you?”

27 “Look!” the man exclaimed. “I told you once. Didn’t you listen? Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

28 Then they cursed him and said, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses! 29 We know God spoke to Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes from.”

30 “Why, that’s very strange!” the man replied. “He healed my eyes, and yet you don’t know where he comes from? 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he is ready to hear those who worship him and do his will. 32 Ever since the world began, no one has been able to open the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.”

Here are some considerations for you that I think are power applicable (PA) to your life…

The rest of v. 3 says, “This happened so that the power of God could be seen”… where in your life is God trying to show the world how real he is, what evidence can you find of his work in your life?

Wash yourself in the pool of Siloam (the sending pool)… the thing, the material, the vehicle that corrects and heals, also sends… What is it in your life that God is trying to use to show, teach, reveal, correct in you but you possibly can’t even see that it’s a means of catapulting you into what’s next? v. 7

Recount how people just didn’t believe that this healed man was the same person… it’s a reminder that there will be people who mistake your identity but you declare it still. v. 8, 9

Your identity is closely tied to your story… stick to the facts and know your story, the truth of God’s work in your life is plain as day… how have you attempted to alter the narrative? v. 25

In the end do not give up hope, it is just a fact that some people will remain blind-never to catch the vision, your vision, God’s vision v. 27

How do you know if a thing is genuine and true? Test where it comes from. Jesus is from the Father, he does the Father’s work, that’s how you know he’s from the Father. Can you say the same thing about your so-called Christianity? The actual, tangible material of your life-does it reflect the One who saved and sent you? v. 32

Notice something and just let it mess you up a bit… this man comes to faith AFTER having been healed, AFTER being sent on mission  THEN Jesus has the conversation with him. What might this suggest about God’s grace, about his allowing people to be in process, about how his ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55) v. 38

Jesus ends by telling you the point of the story: some are blind and are blind to their blindness, and I want to make a point out of them. What are your blind spots… can you even admit that you have them? v. 39


But what is it that I love most about this story? Two things:

It is upside down kingdom at its finest.

If you look closely you can see that Jesus took a seemingly worthless side-of-the-road bum and turned him into a fire-breathing prophet right before the eyes of the religious elite. It’s just whether we view the world this way or not, whether we are intentionally pushing forth and multiplying the upside down in our daily lives…?

AND

It is the extraordinary use of the ordinary person at its finest.

This is how Jesus has made his name famous-through the names, faces, stories and sentness of each and every one of his billion-strong followers. It’s just whether we believe it or not, whether we believe we might be used in this way or not…?

Maybe, just maybe, these are the twin themes of Jesus’ entire coming…?

 

 

1 Thing You Never Knew About The 12 Disciples

1 Thing You Never Knew About The 12 Disciples

If you’ve ever struggled with doubt, insecurity or the feeling of inadequacy as a leader, this one is for you.

If you’ve ever wondered why the disciples of Jesus seemed like such a hot mess sometimes, this one is for you.

If you’ve lost sight of who you are and what you’re capable of as a person and leader, then this one is for you.

I’ve been reading this book bit by bit at night (as I’m sitting in the hall keeping a straying eye on my toddlers infinitely trying to finagle their way out of bedtime) on the topic of Discipleship.

First 5 chapters in and it’s not what I expected at all.

For starters, the author Robby Gallaty doesn’t go into the 5 or 7 step plan or program for discipleship. Instead he spends the first several chapters laying the ground work through topics like 1st century Judaism, church history/church fathers and this idea of Keshers-which are New Testament allusions to Old Testament references.

All of it very fascinating-making for a much more general educational experience too, by the way, which is a win for me (a pastor who is not “Seminary trained” whatever that means!)

But none so fascinating as this one chapter titled “Disciples are Made, Not Born” where Gallaty is having the broader discussion around just how normal these 12 men really were.

He lays out a profile of the disciples concerning 3 main categories: how they were blue-collar workers, how they possessed no formal religious training and how they were young men.

It’s this last profile item that has made an absolute proselyte out of me for this book.

Gallaty goes on to lay out a highly convincing 7-fold argument for why the disciples may have very well been… TEENAGERS.

Consider the following few as a sample:

When you look at the title Jesus often used for them; the original greek words Mikronos and Teknion they mean “little ones” or “little children”…

You think about their formal Jewish training which would have ended at 15 (these 12, Jesus’ 12 were not selected to progress onto the next elite stage)…

You take this reality and combine it with the normative age for getting married at the time-18 (it was frowned upon in this time and place to be a bachelor after 18; none but Peter was thought to be married), and you begin to see the power of the argument.

These facts along with 2 other major defenses: their tenure of ministry long after Jesus’ death along with their seemingly constant and petty quibbling-ridden immaturity… this really starts to make sense.

So my first thing is this…

Why have I never heard this before?!

I’ve been a Christian for over 30 years, I’ve gone to Christian College, I’ve worked in vocational ministry for over half a decade, read several books, listened to hundreds of sermons and not once did I hear someone allude to the disciples being teenagers.

I can only surmise that this is because the same scorn for youth and young people that exists today was alive and well  in the time and place of Jesus.

You see I think we, in the marketplace as well as church organizations, need to strongly reconsider the worth, value and investment ascribed to young volunteers and young staff.

And the key word is investment… worthy investment. We need to trade our scorn for open-minded and intentional investment.

Here’s a good question to consider in giving young people more opportunities:

Why are you still recruiting and hiring to skills and competencies?

The chapter title reminds me of something Craig Groeschel says in his leadership podcast:

Leaders are not found, they’re developed. 

The point is this: we need to start looking for the intangibles when it comes to our team members… character, attitude, heart, mindset and emotional intelligence.

With these as the baseline all else can be trained and equipped.

After all, if you’re a boss, hiring manager, CEO or lead pastor and you’ve ever been frustrated with the expense (material and immaterial) of letting someone go after they failed to meet the needs of the organization then you understand that 9/10 of those departures were based off of organizational culture and DNA fit.

In other words they were based off of the above baselines. Which, without these, excellence and proficiency in skills, tasks and competencies don’t matter because there’s never enough chemistry and unity to forge through to that level of productivity anyway!

Look back and consider Jesus’ selection of these young men; he believed they had the right stuff, the stuff that could be built on.

One final question when considering the 12 disciples as teenagers:

Who do you think it is that is charged with changing the world?

There was 1 and then there was 12 and then there was 70 (Luke 10) and then there was 120 (Acts 1) and then there was 3000 (Acts 2-Pentecost) and then there was 6 million (end of 3rd Century) and then there was nearly a billion (today).

A movement that began with 12 young men… quite possibly teenagers.

Was Jesus, in fact, trying to tell us something… was he trying to send us a message by selecting these ordinary, common-even juvenile-mere teenagers?

These boys were just on their official summer job. School was out, except school was out for good and they did not get the acceptance letter for higher learning.

They’re taking back up that trade that paid their way last summer and except this time it’s for life.

Who would even have the gall to imagine something greater, something bigger, something more profound?

We know now looking back at history that  it was not “if” it was “when” for this group of leaders.

And so if a rag-tag bunch of teenagers could be grown up and trained in the way that they ought to walk in order that they might partner with the actual author of history to affect the trajectory of the human story… maybe, just maybe it’s possible that we could play a hand too…

Men, women, boys and girls, mom’s, dad’s, students, workers, blue-collar, white-collar, black, white, brown and yellow… all have a name and a place… all have a call that’s grander than the task at hand… all have the ability to multiply the way like those who went before them.

Asymmetrical Warfare (The Power Of The Cross)

Asymmetrical Warfare (The Power Of The Cross)

Sometimes I consider the hilarity of how long it takes me to remember that power grabs are never the way to real transformation.

The only real path is to lay power down.

Have you ever felt in the midst of a power struggle? Ever felt like your influence, control or very leadership call was at stake because it was being threatened by other power brokers?

Well let me ask it a different way: have you stormed out of a meeting (internally of course, no one physically storms out of meetings anymore) feeling ill-at ease because you didn’t have voice?

In my mind that’s still a power issue… because your voice is tied to influence and influence is tied to what kind of power you are allowed.

Don’t you just love being fed your own words sometimes? Well it was nearly 6 years ago-my 1st real year in church ministry work-that I began to realize the truth about laying down power.

I can remember even coaching another member of our staff on what appears to be an everlasting principle of ministry leadership and it is this:

The lowest man wins.

The first person who can lay prostrate on the ground, in the face of someone who is grabbing for power, wins.

And I mean this naturally and spiritually.

Naturally… think about your favorite people to work with or be led by… are they pompous, prideful and power-hungry or are they humble and meek?

The lowest man wins.

Spiritually… think about almost every word Jesus said to the very last that bound him to that instrument of torture and death: if you want to be first, you must be last, if you want to gain your life you must forsake your life.

The lowest man wins.

Mike Erre has this incredible podcast about “power over VS power under.” It’s a lovely reminder for us all.


In last week’s post I wrote essentially about humble leadership. That, ostensibly, was not the title or purpose of the post, but that is the precise example put on display by John the Baptist in John 3:30.

Well it turns out that last weeks post, along with that scripture passage, was written and directed for me, to me, about me for the following week (this week).

Somewhere in there I think I even prayed for humility… I’m telling you it’s so stinking true what they say “be careful what you wish (pray) for… cause you might just get it.” Well, done and done… I was put in my place this week.

And honestly, I can say it was good; it was very good.

In Patrick Lencioni’s great book, The Ideal Team Player, he outlines this concept of hungry, humble and smart-that’s the ideal staff, team member, person.

When I heard him speak at a conference exactly a year ago next month, I knew instantly which area I needed the development in: humility. And then this week it seemed that God was doling it out in kind.

First I was put in my place organizationally.

Then I realized the scripture, that I thought was meant for someone else (the one from John 3:30-I must become less and he must become more), was actually meant precisely for me.

Then I’m reading in a book about how really leadership is all about adding value to other people’s lives, not how smart I look or sound OR advancing my ends.

Leadership, at it’s best, is literally just about seeing other people win.

So it was left and right-healthy portions of humble pie. And it was cool; because I need it.


You ever been in a fight with a friend? But you realized that it was ridiculous at some point… like how did we get here and what are we even talking about right now?

I got into a little spat with one of my closest friends about a week ago over something that we both care deeply about and have potentially different views about how to approach it.

After we texted back and forth (to no avail in my mind at least), we finally spoke on the phone it was settled in moments. He texted me after and said, I think half jokingly, ‘I’m glad we’re not fighting anymore.’

And it’s so funny because my thought instantly in that moment was this:

I wasn’t fighting you… in fact, I ain’t never fought a man a day in my life.

And here’s the scripture passage behind what I meant:

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

As hard as it is to imagine the spiritual realm in today’s postmodern age of ‘trust only what is proven and palpable,’ in an instant I knew this was what was happening; as simple as daylight.


Now an appropriate question would be: what do these 3 stories have to do with each other?

Well whether you’re asking that or not, I’d like to know the answer…

Here are some common denominators:

  • they are my personal learnings from just the past 7 days
  • they are what God is showing me, speaking to me, teaching me
  • they are, I think, all rooted in 1 major point…

And it’s that point that I want to land today.

Here it is: asymmetrical warfare.

Asymmetrical warfare is defined simply this way:

warfare involving surprise attacks by small, simply armed groups on a nation armed with modern high-tech weaponry.

Here’s how I would paraphrase: a war being fought where the seemingly smaller and seemingly insignificant and seemingly easy to overcome and seemingly disproportionate side actually keeps winning.

One of the greatest ploys of the ‘evil rulers’ is power… AND one of the greatest, and most asymmetrical, responses to that ploy is the transcendent power of the cross (through a humble dying to oneself).

If power is the spearhead tactic of the enemy then humility is the power of the cross.

The fact is: there is a war waging all around us and I’d say if you’d like to stop forfeiting more battles, then join me as I learn to take up the asymmetrical power of the cross.

Leadership Lessons From John The Baptist (Know Your Lane)

Leadership Lessons From John The Baptist (Know Your Lane)

So much of confusion and frustration in leadership comes from not having clearly defined roles or expectations.

And one of the great things that role confusion and frustration leads to is serious identity crisis, which leads to purpose crisis, which I’ve even seen lead to a bout of depression and anxiety in some.

It’s actually a very interesting concept that our church leadership has been investing ourselves in recently.

It’s this John Piper idea of Be. Do. Have. (VS the way of the world which is Do. Have. Be.).

One of the problems with the above scenario is that the order is all out of whack…

What typically happens at work or life is:
First, you have problems in your role or expectation and;
Second, you develop a potential identity crisis.

When you know your identity (and hence the shape your leadership calling should take), the doing will always be secondary and thus less crippling when it doesn’t go your way.

I was reading about John the Baptist recently and I saw something which I think is powerful for keeping an accurate and fundamental understanding of our leadership lane. (Lane: defined as the straight and narrow path of which you are uniquely called.)

There are at least 7 amazing leadership principles from John chapter 3 and it starts off with one of the most amazing proclamational statements about identity I have ever heard of.

It comes from John 1.

Basically John is doing his thing (the whole wilderness stream-side baptism deal).

People are coming to him from literally every walk of life. Soldiers, tax collectors, your everyday Jew, which is an impressive sight unto itself. (Because it makes an early statement of how the Church is composed of people who are welcome… from every possible walk.)

But apparently there are some other, more “hardcore,” Jews who come up on John with a line of questioning (from their higher-ups) about who John is proclaiming to be…

Like ‘we’ve heard about you… there’s rumors… what’s up… who are you… are you someone special that was foretold about in the scriptures of old?’

To which John does something amazing… he says:

23 …in the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“I am a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Clear the way for the Lord’s coming!’”

ONE: Leaders stake a claim.

Unreal.

The way he stakes a claim in his founded and true God-breathed identity is just remarkable.

The boldness and confidence to stake an Old Testament prophecy for yourself, that was all yours… I just can’t even imagine what that must have been like…

Today, staking a claim could look like all sorts of things, mostly though it has to do with the all-out stubborn resistance to compromise your commissioning. It could mean:

  • refusal to make unethical decisions or go along with unethical practice
  • refusal to settle for a job that is not your lane
  • refusal to water down what you were called to produce

But we have to start there, because it shows you just how much of a direct and crystal clear understanding he had about himself, his namesake and his life’s work.

But he goes on in chapter 3 and says some things that should give every leader pause about their identity, calling and lane.

23 At this time John the Baptist was baptizing at Aenon, near Salim, because there was plenty of water there; and people kept coming to him for baptism. 24 (This was before John was thrown into prison.)

TWO: Leaders go for broke

It’s kind of sad actually but I fear for most of us “career christians,” this whole ‘getting carted off to prison’ thing becomes quite unsurprising to us…

Partly, I presume, because we have read the other instances in the Gospels where this was frequently taking place but also for a much more profound reason:

We have virtually no frame of reference for what it would mean or look like: having a willingness to go to these depths for our faith, our Jesus, for the saving of this world.

Something that John reminds us about leadership is the absolute comfort and familiarity around death and dying…

death and dying to oneself,
death and dying to ones resources,
death and dying to all the things we may hold dear for the greatest cause there ever was.

25 A debate broke out between John’s disciples and a certain Jew over ceremonial cleansing. 26 So John’s disciples came to him and said, “Rabbi, the man you met on the other side of the Jordan River, the one you identified as the Messiah, is also baptizing people. And everybody is going to him instead of coming to us.”

THREE: Focus on the real target (which is never you)

Another temptation, as someone who was raised in the church, is to succumb to the notion that some Apostles and Prophets spoken about in the Bible are untouchable.

Untouchable meaning: we fail to take into consideration their humanity in light of their authority, their inerrancy, their word or deed.

I think we do a disservice to ourselves (and others!) if we neglect one of the most contextual pieces for interpreting scripture: the fact that every Biblical icon, besides Jesus, was still a human being full of sin and general shortcomings!

I think we see that here in the way that John’s disciples were fiercely loyal to him even to the point of becoming envious and spiteful of Jesus attracting away their crowds!

To their credit, Jesus was still a new figure and the fact of him being the one and true Messiah was far from widely accepted at this point, but maybe, just maybe we see here a glimpse of how John could have done a better job pointing his fiercest companions toward the ultimate target and not his charismatic self.

Also, it’s a powerful reminder that it’s never about the crowds. It’s always about people. Good leaders know the difference.

27 John replied, “No one can receive anything unless God gives it from heaven.

FOUR: Understand that YOU ultimately don’t produce results.

There is one source and giver of all things and that’s God. As leaders we need this pride check:  Every. Single. Day.

28 You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.’

FIVE: All the work we do here is just about preparing the way

We are given a limited time here on earth, truly in the scope of eternity… so what does preparing the way look like for you.

As leaders we really must get busy living or get busy dying and SETTLING on devotion to your lane is a form of slow death.

29 It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success.

SIX: part 1, descend into obscurity

Notice that it says bridegroom’s FRIEND… it doesn’t even say ‘best man’ or ‘first mate’ or ‘fellow priest;’ it says “friend!”

I was taught one invaluable principle for officiating weddings and it was this: become invisible. This day is not about you so do your best to prop up the bride and groom and then fade into obscurity.

This is our call in leadership, it is a lane of assuming humility.

30 He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.

SEVEN: part 2, descend into obscurity

This last verse is one of my favorite throughout the whole of the Bible. I think it is because I am so aware of how prideful and selfish I truly am.

I need this verse as a daily mantra.

I need this verse before and after every meeting with a leader.
I need this verse before and after I step on stage to preach.
I need this verse before I walk in the door at home and before I step out in the morning.
I need this verse when I rise and when I lay my head.

This is it. It’s everything… He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. He must become enlarged in my life and the life of others around me and I must be reduced to insignificance.