8 Myths That Eclipse God’s Love & Purpose

While studying the origins of the church at Philippi, I was startled to discover how the story contradicts many of our common misconceptions about the nature of the Christian life. The narrative in Acts 16 debunks at least 8 myths—and I bet you’ve believed some of these misconceptions yourself.

Myth #1: As long as you’re well-intentioned in pursuing spiritual activities, any direction is okay.

The apostle Paul never intended to plant a church in Philippi. In fact, he had other plans. Plan A was to minister in Asia, but he was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (v. 6). Plan B was to preach in Bithynia, but God closed that door too. Finally, the Lord spoke to Paul through a dream that he should go to Macedonia, where Philippi is located.

This story shows that God has a specific plan for our lives, even when it comes to “good” activities like evangelizing and planting churches. Yet it’s bewildering in Acts 16 to see God actually forbidding Paul to preach the gospel if that means going in the wrong direction. While the Great Commission tells us to go into “ALL the world” and “to the ends of the earth” (Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8), God wants to direct us on how to proceed.

Myth #2: If you’re a very spiritual person, you’ll always get it right the first time.   

It would be hard to be any more spiritual than Paul, yet it wasn’t until the third try that he found God’s optimal direction for his life (vs. 6-8). That’s good news for you and me! We shouldn’t despair if we don’t hit the bulls-eye at our first attempt to find the Lord’s perfect will.

Myth #3: The most important ingredient in church planting is good preaching.

Hey, I’m a preacher, and I certainly put a high value on good preaching. But if you read Acts 16, you’ll see that the secret to Paul’s success clearly was PRAYER, not preaching. He met Lydia (his first convert) at a place of prayer  (vs. 13-15), and he was on his way to pray  when he cast a demon out of the fortune-telling slave girl (his second convert, vs. 16-18). Then the Philippian jailer (his third convert) was saved after Paul and Silas caused an earthquake through their prayers and worship (vs. 25-34).

I surely hope your church or evangelistic ministry has great preaching, but these illustrations demonstrate that prayer must be the foundation of everything else we do in God’s kingdom. Without that, our impact on people will be superficial at best.

Myth #4: If people are saying the right things, that automatically means they have the right spirit.

Oh, how I wish I would have understood this misconception earlier in my ministry! Many preachers, politicians, or church members say all the right things, but they are being motivated by something other than the Holy Spirit.

Look at what this demon-possessed girl was saying while following Paul and Silas day after day: “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation”  (v. 17). What’s wrong with that? Most pastors would have put her on the front row so everyone could hear her words of affirmation! But Paul discerned that her right-sounding message had originated with the devil rather than the Holy Spirit. Can you tell the difference?

Myth #5: If you’re in God’s perfect will, everything will always go great for you.

Believing this myth will bring tragic consequences, because it means you’ll also believe the corollary: If things AREN’T going well for you, you must not be in God’s will.  What a horrible, yet incredibly common, misconception. Even though Paul and Silas were following the direct leading of the Holy Spirit to minister in Philippi, the result seemed catastrophic. Their clothes were torn off, they were brutally beaten with rods, and they were thrown into prison, with their feet in shackles (vs. 22-24). All this happened because they were following God’s will!

Myth #6: Nothing good ever happens after dark.

Verse 25 says Paul and Silas received their breakthrough “at midnight.”  I love that. Some of God’s greatest miracles seem to happen at our midnight hour—when things look the bleakest and all hope is gone. We may not be shackled in a jail cell, but perhaps we’re imprisoned to an addiction, a health problem, a mound of debt, or a toxic relationship. No matter what the situation may be, the Lord can break off our chains “suddenly”  (v. 26).

Myth #7: God’s salvation is a fragile thing, easily lost.   

Paul later described his complete confidence that the One who had BEGUN a good work in the Philippians would also COMPLETE it (Philippians 1:6). Exactly how confident was Paul in God’s ability to care for these new converts in Philippi? In one of the most stunning plot twists in all of Scripture, verse 40 says that after meeting with “the brethren”  gathered in Lydia’s house, Paul “encouraged them and departed.”

The “brethren”  numbered just a handful of folks at this point, all of them new converts. But instead of staying to care for these baby Christians, Paul and Silas left town!  He entrusted them to their Heavenly Father’s care, believing that nothing would be able to separated them from His love (Romans 8:31-39).

Myth #8: Everything in God’s kingdom rises and falls on leadership.

I’ll admit, there’s a lot of truth contained in this statement, and I’m sure I’ve quoted it myself at times. However, there’s also a misconception here, because we’re often wrong about who is supposed to provide that leadership.

For example…

  • The Israelites could have panicked after Moses died and his unproven understudy Joshua was suddenly in charge (Joshua 1).
  • David’s family never considered him a worthy candidate to be the next king (1 Samuel 16).
  • All of Jesus’ disciples except John denied and deserted Him, and they certainly seemed to be a bad bet to lead the church and reach the world.

But the church in Philippi is one of the most remarkable examples of God raising up unlikely leaders. In Paul’s opening greeting to the Philippians (1:1), he refers to the “overseers and deacons.”  Isn’t that amazing? When Paul left Philippi, the church consisted of Lydia’s household, the slave girl, and the jailer’s family.

So where did the overseers and deacons come from? Did they get imported from some Bible college or seminary? Were they transplanted from the thriving churches in Jerusalem or Antioch? Certainly not. These were homegrown leaders.

My friend, what are you trusting in for your personal fruitfulness or the success of your church? Are you relying on the grace and power of God, or in your own spirituality and the charisma of the human leaders around you?

Thankfully, Jesus is both the Author and the Finisher of every success story in His kingdom (Hebrews 12:2). Let’s fix our eyes on Him, allowing nothing to eclipse His love and purpose for our lives.

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Hurney and Gettleman, Grace & Truth

I’m always looking for current events that display Biblical principles for successful leadership. The decision by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson last week to fire Dave Gettleman as the team’s general manager provides some excellent fodder for a discussion of good and bad leadership traits. After being fired in 2012, Marty Hurney was appointed as the interim general manager.

Here are just a few observations:

  1. Timing is everything. As King Solomon pointed out, “A wise heart knows the proper time and procedure” (Ecclesiastes 8:5 NASB). One of the unusual things about Richardson’s decision is that it came just eight days before the start of the Panthers’ training camp. Even Richardson had to admit that the timing was “not ideal.” An organization’s major decisions ordinarily should be planned with enough time to allow for a smooth rollout and careful communications to all the stakeholders. In this case, even Panther’s head coach Ron Rivera was apparently caught off guard by Richardson’s decision.
  2. Instead of evaluating a person’s overall track record and the long-term picture for an organization’s success, leadership often comes down to “what have you done for me lately.” By almost any measure, Gettleman’s tenure with the Panthers was extremely successful—except for last season. But despite an amazing Super Bowl run in 2015, Richardson apparently felt that the trajectory was going in the wrong direction. And, no doubt, trajectory is more important than past successes. I’ve seen numerous situations where pastors face similar scrutiny. Past success is deemed irrelevant if church attendance and finances are on a downward slide.
  3. We must resist the urge to jerk between extremes. From my perspective, Marty Hurney’s decisions as general manager tended to err on the side of GRACE—giving players big contracts and sometimes keeping them past their prime. In contrast, Dave Gettleman was a man of TRUTH—looking at a player’s current productivity and being unwilling to break the bank when a player’s performance didn’t merit a huge contract. In switching back to Hurney, I think Richardson was siding with grace and loyalty. He wanted to take care of players like Greg Olsen and Thomas Davis, who were in negotiations for new contracts. And it seems he may have been unhappy with how Gettleman parted ways with Panthers stars like Steve Smith and Josh Norman.

I would argue that both Hurney and Gettleman were successful, but partly because the Panthers benefited from the combination of grace and truth that these two general managers provided. Hurney was credited with a harmonious locker room, full of players who felt honored and appreciated. Gettleman was applauded for clearing out players who were past their prime, which greatly improved the salary cap situation.

Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, was full of BOTH grace and truth (John 1:14). He didn’t have to jerk from one extreme to another, for He perfected embodied these two qualities every successful leader must demonstrate.

In Jim Collin’s best-selling book, Good to Great, he notes that organizations thrive when they have “the right people on the bus and have them on the right seats on the bus.” That pretty much describes what a successful general manager must do in the NFL.

When it comes to the future of the Panthers, my hometown team, I hope Marty Hurney will have learned the lessons from the past—both from his own decisions and from those of Dave Gettleman. May he bring back the grace needed to recreate a harmonious team culture, where past performance is honored. But may he also have the guts to make hard decisions when a player is overpaid or should no longer be “on the bus.”

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Elijah’s Unanswered Prayer

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Although the prophet Elijah is famous for his mighty prayers, I’ve always been more intrigued by the prayer God ignored.

James 5:17-18 recounts Elijah’s amazing feat in praying for Israel’s rain to stop for three and a half years, then praying for the rain to suddenly be restored. In-between those two monumental events, Elijah found time to supernaturally multiply a widow’s food, raise her son from the dead, and call down fire from the sky on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 17 & 18).

Pretty impressive stuff. The Bible says nothing is impossible for God, and it seemed as if nothing was impossible for Elijah either.

But there was one prayer that didn’t get answered. Elijah prayed this just as earnestly as any of his other prayers, if not more so. Yet the Lord ignored him.

The surprising scene occurred when Queen Jezebel threatened his life and Elijah escaped into the wilderness: “He prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life’” (1 Kings 19:4).

The prophet prayed that he would die.

Perhaps you’ve never prayed a prayer like this—or won’t admit that you have. But at times some of the rest of us have prayed this, and we can learn some important lessons from Elijah’s story.

Based on Elijah’s track record of answered prayer, we might have assumed God would simply say okay and grant his request. If his other requests were so easily granted, why wouldn’t the Lord give him what he wanted this time?

The answer is this: As we see later in the chapter, God still had plans for Elijah. Yet those plans were hard to see while Elijah was hiding out in the cave and feeling sorry for himself.

It’s interesting that before giving the prophet his new commission, the Lord made sure he got some rest and nourishment (1 Kings 19:5-8). The story shows how our state of mind can be negatively influenced not just by difficult circumstances, but also by things like fatigue and poor nutrition.

Next, God whispered to Elijah with a “still small voice,” cutting through all the noise and hoopla that had been surrounding him (1 Kings 19:11-12). If you’re feeling depressed and hopeless today, nothing will help you more than to tune out the noisy distractions and hear God speak to you again.

One of the other causes of Elijah’s hopelessness was his sense of loneliness, feeling that there was no one left but him to follow in the ways of the Lord. Twice he told God about his woeful aloneness:

I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life (1 Kings 19:10, 19:14).

Have you ever felt disconnected from family, friends, or the community of believers? Or perhaps you’ve felt all alone in some of the battles you’ve been facing. This is a depressing place to be.

But God pointed out that Elijah’s perspective was all wrong! While the prophet felt like he was the only one left to stand for righteousness, the Lord told him, I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18).

How could Elijah feel so alone at a time when the Lord still had 7,000 faithful followers? Maybe you’ve felt this way in a megachurch or at a conference or concert. Sometimes the loneliest feeling of all is to be surrounded by thousands, yet not truly connected to anyone.

Elijah clearly tended to be a loner in his personality type, but even loners need to be connected. God took care of this with the final step in the prophet’s restoration, giving him a new relationship that was central to his new commission and purpose.

When the prophet felt as if his life’s purpose was over, the Lord gave him a new mission and vision. Elijah first was told to anoint some new kings, but then the pivotal moment came when God said he must anoint Elisha “as prophet in your place” (1 Kings 19:16).

The prophet’s new commission was to train his replacement! How would you respond to a mandate like that?

Elijah didn’t initially seem too happy about training someone to replace him. But isn’t this what true ministry is all about? Isn’t the primary task of every leader to equip others for their role in God’s kingdom? (See Ephesians 4:11-12.)

To sum up this story, God ignored Elijah’s request to die. Instead, He showed him a new purpose—one that ultimately had more significance than anything he had done before.

Fortunately, Elijah’s story didn’t end until a “double portion” of his spirit rested upon his successor, Elisha (2 Kings 2:1-15).

Think about that for a moment. What if the Lord said to you, “I don’t want your life to end until there’s a double portion of blessings resting upon your kids and those you mentor in the next generation”? Nothing is as important as that.

So it’s okay if you take some time to rest and get nourished, even if you have to hang out in a cave for a while. But then listen for God’s voice and His new commission in your life. And don’t be surprised if it has something to do with training your replacement and equipping the next generation.

As long as you still have breath, God still has plans.

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Wayne Gretzky’s #1 Success Secret

Today is the birthday of former Canadian hockey star Wayne Gretzky, nicknamed “The Great One.” After 20 seasons in the National Hockey League, Gretzky became regarded as the greatest hockey player of all time.

I’ll be honest, I know very little about hockey. But I’ve always been impressed by a brilliant key Gretzky used to become so successful.

“I go to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been,” Gretzky explained.

That sounds obvious, I suppose. But during my 40+ years serving in various leadership roles in businesses and churches, I’ve been astounded at how seldom the Gretzky Principle is implemented.

Consider this…

– Too often, new businesses just try to imitate the success of Amazon, Google, Apple, or some other notable company. That seldom works! A better approach would be to anticipate “where the puck is going” and come up with a whole new paradigm and business model.

– Too often, new churches mimic some other church that has been successful—but seldom with the same results. Why do so few churches break new ground with a unique, cutting-edge vision from God?

My concern is that many leaders are simply going where the “puck” has already been. And, sadly, many of my fellow Christians are especially guilty of this. We claim a desire to be culturally relevant, but our understanding of the culture is typically 5, 10, or 15 years behind the times. By the time we get around to implementing our new initiatives, the “puck” has long since moved on.

So what about you? Are you continually frustrated because you’re always a few steps too late in chasing the puck?

The reality is this: Very few people are gifted to be visionary leaders, able to anticipate the future. In the past 100 years or so, we can name innovators like the Wright brothers, Einstein, Steve Jobs, and some others. But the list isn’t very long. There’s clearly a shortage of people who are able to accurately foretell where the puck is going.

However, I’m convinced that God has already been to the future, so He knows all about it. And the closer we get to Him, the more we’ll be in sync with what’s ahead, not just with what’s behind.

The Bible describes a number of people who changed the world in innovative ways, and I aspire to be like them. For example…

  • David impacted the world by serving the purpose of God in his generation (Acts 13:36).
  • The sons of Issachar “understood the times” and had a strategy for what God’s people should do (1 Chronicles 12:32).
  • Queen Esther was a model of someone perfectly prepared “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

I encourage you to take a few minutes today to ask yourself, “Where is the puck going, and how can I best position myself and prepare?” You’ll be surprised by how this new approach will change your outlook and your life.

 

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Obama, Jesus, and the Law of Proportionality

One of the most important—but often overlooked—principles in the Bible is the Law of Proportionality. But before I share what the Bible says about this, let me give you an illustration from today’s news.

Although I’ve recently tried very hard to stay away from “political” issues in my blogs, I can’t resist addressing a very strange situation in our country in recent weeks. And even if you don’t care much about politics or world events, the principle I’m going to share will have profound implications for your personal life as well.

Here’s the situation…

This week President Obama announced executive action to limit people’s possession of guns. This apparently was a very emotional issue for him, even bringing tears to his eyes.

I frankly haven’t studied the details of his proposals, and it’s really not my intention to weigh in on the gun control debate one way or another. I think most Americans are willing to allow law-abiding citizens to own guns, but we want to keep them away from criminals and crazy people. Hopefully, everyone can agree on those objectives. And the President should be able to find some common ground with Congress without having to resort to executive orders that are probably beyond his constitutional authority.

Here’s where the Law of Proportionality comes in…

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Obama is totally correct on his position regarding guns. (This is certainly debatable though, when most observers conclude that NONE of the tragic shootings the past few years would have been prevented by the new regulations he announced).

But things start getting really strange when you consider the backdrop provided by other events in the news. Around the same time as the President was passionately addressing the problem of guns, the North Koreans were testing a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Iran recently launched a missile that came within a mile of a U.S. aircraft carrier. And as we all know, the Middle East is exploding, and ISIS is causing havoc in ever-expanding circles of influence. Does anyone really think Paris will be the final episode of terrorism on the world stage?

And what about the thousands of Christians who’ve been beheaded by ISIS? Where are the tears and outreach over that?

So, while we all hate gun violence, the Law of Proportionality says we need to do risk assessments and prioritize our time and resources. We must address “first things first” and focus on the BIG threats before worrying so much about the SMALL ones.

This is pretty much a no-brainer: Gun violence normally kills no more than a few people at a time, while nuclear bombs can kill millions and destroy entire cities. And a crazy person with a gun or rifle cannot do even a fraction of the damage ISIS can do.

Here’s what the Bible says…

The Scriptures describe the Law of Proportionality in various passages. For example, Proverbs 11:1 says, A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” We’ve all had times when our priorities got out of balance, of course, but this is a serious problem when it happens on a national or international level.

Likewise, Jesus scoffed at people who strained a gnat out of their soup but “swallowed a camel” (Matthew 23:24). If we apply this to today, even if we concede that President Obama may be correct in straining out the “gnat” (trying to remove guns from the wrong hands), he seems to be overlooking the “camel”—much more dangerous threats.

One final passage should be a challenge to all of us, where Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for their violation of the Law of Proportionality (Matthew 23:23). These self-righteous people were so diligent in tithing that they took pains to offer even the tiniest of herbs, but they “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”

Let that statement sink in for a minute. If you look at your daily schedule or how you spend your money, you probably could make a case that you’re putting your resources to “good” use. But what about the “weightier matters”? Can you really say that your priorities are the same as God’s priorities? Even if you are doing the “right” things, are they being done in proportion to their true importance?

These questions are hard for me, because God is also encouraging me to learn how to have FUN from time to time. But I don’t want my life to be a game of Trivial Pursuits. I want it to count, to matter, to make an impact.

It’s not easy to get the proportions right. From time to time, we need to reassess our priorities and readjust our balance. It’s all too easy to criticize Obama for getting things out of proportion, when we need to examine our own priorities as well.

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Success Secrets of History’s Greatest CEO

By any measure, his accomplishments were astounding and unparalleled:

  • With virtually no start-up funds and only a handful of staff, he established an organization that has seen annual growth for 2,000 years.
  • He led the organization for just three years before leaving it in the hands of his handpicked successors.
  • Without any of the benefits of modern technology, his product was marketed in every known nation on earth in less than a century.
  • From its humble beginnings, the organization founded by this leader has grown to billions of adherents around the world, some of whom are willing to die rather than give up the life-changing product he introduced.

The “CEO” I’m referring to, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve recently been thinking about 5 of his success secrets we all can profit from:

  1. Put as much emphasis on preparation as on implementation. Jesus spent 30 years in preparation for a 3-year ministry. In contrast, many pastors today spend 3 years at seminary in hopes of having 30 years or so of fruitful service. In our impatient, microwave society, we nearly always undervalue the importance of careful preparation.

Jesus urged his disciples to take time to lay a firm foundation before trying to build anything. On a sunny day, it may be tempting to build a house on sand, but storms will surely come to every life (Matthew 7:24-27). Instead of being overeager to start the building process, Jesus said we should first “count the cost” and see if we have what it takes to finish the job (Luke 14:28-29).

Every successful sports team understands this principle. The key to victory is in painstaking preparation, not just showing up for the game.

  1. Carefully select your inner circle. Few things will impact your life more than the entourage of friends you choose to live your life with. On the positive side, the Bible says if you walk with wise people, you will become wise (Proverbs 13:20). But it also warns, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Jesus was very deliberate and purposeful in selecting his inner circle. In addition to spending time getting to know each of the men who ultimately would become his disciples, he spent an entire night in prayer before the final selection was made (Luke 6:12-16). How much time, attention, and prayer do YOU give toward selecting the main people you spend time with?

Notice that Jesus’ selection process wasn’t based on people’s resume or their outward qualifications. If you were going to choose a team to take your message and product to the ends of the earth, would you pick theologically inept fishermen and tax collectors?  However, guided by prayer and discernment, Jesus saw the great potential of these men, even though they seemed to be unlikely candidates for success.

Despite his careful vetting process, Jesus frequently had to confront those in his inner circle when they got off track. For example, Peter wanted to block Jesus’ pathway to the cross and was sternly told, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Matthew 16:21-23). Are you willing to stand against your friends when they try to hinder God’s will for your life?

  1. Remain focused on the mission instead of the numbers. Those of us in ministry can be especially prone to place an undue importance on statistics. How many people attend our services…the size of the budget and staff…how many seats in our sanctuary…etc.

And often the numbers are truly a significant indicator of God’s blessing on our endeavors. For example, I work at Inspiration Ministries, and in 2015 more than 125,000 people will have clicked the “I prayed the prayer” button on our salvation website. Every four minutes or less, someone is indicating a decision to make Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior! I thank God for this tangible fruit from our outreaches.

Throughout the Bible, we’re frequently told about the number of people involved in one story or another, so it’s fair to conclude that numbers matter to God. However, Jesus also realized how fickle and misleading numbers can be. His ministry rapidly grew to more than 5,000 people, only to fall back to the original 12 disciples when he preached an unpopular message one day (John 6). On another occasion, he experienced a crowd cheering “Hosanna,” followed just days later by some of the same people shouting, “Crucify Him.”  And then all of his disciples scattered at the cross except John. So much for “numbers” as a sign of success.

These illustrations in the life of Jesus also are a reminder that our mission is to make DISCIPLES, not just CONVERTS or fair-weather followers (Matthew 28:19-20). The next time a friend boasts of the Sunday attendance at his church, ask him how many of those people are truly becoming dedicated disciples of Jesus instead of spectators in the crowd.

  1. Have a clear succession plan. Even if you build a very successful organization, the real test will come when you die, retire, or leave. Will your successors have the skills they need to continue and even expand the mission?

Entire books could be written on this, but let me just quote two mind-blowing statements by Jesus about his succession plan. In John 16:7, he assured his disciples that it was actually to their advantage for him to leave them, because then they could be empowered by the Spirit. And he was so confident in the outcome of this empowerment that he promised they would be able to do even greater works then he had done (John 14:12).

So, who are you empowering in the next generation to follow in your footsteps and expand the mission you’ve started?

  1. Understand who you must please in order to be successful. Modern-day CEOs have lots of “bosses” that they must keep happy. For example, they must have the support of the board, the stockholders, and their management team, and it’s incredibly hard to please all of these people. You may not be a CEO today, but there’s a good chance you have many bosses you’re trying to keep happy: spouse, kids, friends, boss at work, pastor, etc.

In contrast, Jesus only had one person he was trying to please. And even before Jesus’s ministry had begun, his Heavenly Father had declared his great pleasure: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

When you recognize that you ultimately have just one Boss (2 Corinthians 5:9), all of life becomes simpler and more peaceful (Psalm 46:10).

My friend, whether you have any aspirations to be a CEO or not, I encourage you to put these 5 success secrets into practice. Your life will surely change for the better.

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Why You May Need Holy Testosterone

Years ago, I was the editor of a major Christian leadership magazine and had a brainstorm for my upcoming column. I wanted to call my article “Crushed Testicles,” based on Leviticus 21:20.

I wasn’t really surprised when my boss said he liked the article but thought the title was a bit too graphic. We ended up calling the article “Holy Testosterone” instead.

Although I was fine with toning down the title, in retrospect I wonder if we did the right thing. The Bible never shies away from graphic language in fear we might be offended. It doesn’t include any disclaimers or apologies when Leviticus 21:20 (NASB) lists “crushed testicles” as one of the characteristic that would disqualify someone from the priesthood. Now, as then, courage and “holy testosterone” are indispensable qualities of successful leaders.

This is not an argument against women in leadership, for the New Testament makes it clear that all believers are now called upon to enter the church’s “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). And, like Joshua, we’re all called to be “strong and courageous,” whether male or female (Joshua 1:7).

In contrast, though, we as Christian leaders in America have too often become polite, respectable, noncontroversial and steeped in religiosity—very different from the Lord Jesus we profess to emulate. As if Caspar Milquetoast were our role model instead of Jesus Christ, we’ve often chosen “getting along” over being true leaders…pleasing people over pleasing God.

The implication of the phrase “crushed testicles” is not that someone was born (or “born again”) with this condition. Rather, such a condition is nearly always the result of some injury on the way to becoming a leader or in the midst of serving. Whether this is applied to those who leave seminary with less “testosterone” than when they went in, or to those emasculated and crushed by church conflicts or satanic onslaughts while in the ministry, it’s a debilitating condition that God wants to remedy.

If you have been in ministry any length of time, you’ve no doubt been injured or bruised. It goes with the territory. To put it bluntly, our testicles get crushed by the pressures, rejections, and betrayals we encounter along the way.

Our tendency when injured is to lose our boldness and shrink back from further battle. But this is the very reaction we are warned against: “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward…My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:35-39).

Many of those who went into the ministry with a vision to change the world are now staying in ministry only with a vision of retirement. Testicles crushed along the way, testosterone depleted, they set their sights only on surviving, not thriving.

Let’s face it: The ministry is not for the faint of heart. In order to be successful, we need holy boldness…courage. It does no good to have vision if we’ve lost our nerve and our will to fight.

The stress on Christian leaders in America is seldom the result of overt persecution. Sadly, most of us have not been enough of a threat to anyone to be persecuted.

Instead, the stress comes primarily from the daily wear and tear of babysitting self-absorbed believers who are more concerned about their own needs than about the gospel. Having chosen to babysit rather than confront, emasculated leaders find themselves increasingly frustrated with a ministry typified by spinning of wheels instead of changing of lives.

Those with crushed testicles not only are crippled from leading, they also are disabled from reproducing. Like eunuchs, their castration prevents them from having normal “intercourse” and raising up a new generation of leaders. Amazingly, this lack of spiritual reproduction has become accepted as normal by many who are in leadership today. Losing sight of the clear biblical mandate to equip new leaders, many leaders have become content to have no spiritual offspring.

Be clear on this: It is not a sin to have been crushed. But it is a sin to wallow in an impotent condition, not letting God heal us and restore our courage to lead and reproduce.

After listing the traits that would disqualify a person from the priesthood, God concludes Leviticus 21 with this word of encouragement: “I am the Lord who sanctifies them” (v. 23). This means that no matter what condition you find yourself in today, God is committed to help and heal you if you let Him.

Take heart! Today there can be a whole new beginning for your journey of faith.

 

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Moses or Aaron — Which Kind of Leader Are YOU?

I would much rather be a leader like Aaron than like his younger brother, Moses. Aaron was clearly the more popular of the two, and for good reason. While Moses often seemed aloof—a loner and introvert—Aaron was a man of the people, far more comfortable in social settings.

We see the style of these two leaders in stark contrast in Exodus 32. Moses shunned the people in order to climb Mount Sinai and spend 40 days with God. Aaron stayed down at the bottom of the mountain, where he could hang out with the people.

Which of these leaders would you like to be? Isolated for 40 days—just you and God—or partying with the people in joyous revelry?

When the people got impatient waiting for Moses to return, they “gathered around Aaron” (v. 1), the leader they knew would give them what they wanted. Their request was remarkably straightforward: “Make us some gods who can lead us.”

How would you have responded to such a request? Would you rebuke the people or “go along to get along”?

Incredibly, Aaron complied with their plan and asked them to bring him their “gold rings” that he could melt and shape into a calf they could worship (vs. 2-4).

Notice that bad decisions typically end up being about the gold—the money. How many politicians, preachers, and CEOs have gotten themselves in trouble by telling people, “Bring me the money!”

Of course, Aaron rationalized that all of this was done so the people could have “a festival to the Lord!” (v. 5). Isn’t that astounding reasoning? Yet it has happened again and again throughout history: practicing paganism “in the name of the Lord.”

And you have to admit, Aaron really knew how to throw a party. After going through a few religious rituals to relieve their conscience, the people “celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry” (v. 6).

All the while, Aaron was the chaperone—the “adult” on duty during an episode of “Israelites gone wild.”

Both God and Moses were livid about the situation. After smashing the stone tablets containing the 10 Commandments, Moses angrily demanded from Aaron, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?” (v. 21)

Moses apparently thought Aaron must have been tortured or threatened with his life in order to permit such an idolatrous orgy. But no, it was all too easy for the people to persuade Aaron to do their bidding. He was a man of the people, after all.

Aaron seems to have been completely tone deaf to how serious this offense was. First, he blamed the people. Then he acted as if the calf had just miraculously appeared when gold was thrown into the fire.

But his brother had been with God, and he wouldn’t buy any of these lame explanations: “Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies” (v. 25).

Are you a leader, or parent, who allows people to “get completely out of control” in order to have them like you? Do you choose to look the other way instead of take a stand?

When God’s people compromise with sin or idolatry, the result is always the same, as Moses points out: We become a laughingstock to the Lord’s enemies. Instead of being respected or liked, our credibility is undercut.

So I ask you again: Would you rather be a leader like Moses or like Aaron? Let’s be honest: It would be no fun at all to be in Moses’ position in this story. Who wants to be the “bad guy,” calling for repentance and spoiling people’s “fun”?

There always are consequences to Aaron’s kind of people-pleasing leadership. “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made” (v. 35). At the end of the day, the pleasures of sin were replaced by a plague of judgment.

Last year a prominent Christian humanitarian organization displayed the Aaron kind of leadership. After announcing that it was changing a longstanding policy on a moral issue, the ministry reversed itself just two days later because of the public outcry.

With Exodus 32 as a backdrop, I can’t help but wonder if both of their decisions were based on fear rather than faithcompromise rather than conviction…and popularity rather than passion or prophecy.

And if my suspicions are true, both of the decisions were more motivated by “gold” (money) than by God. Why? Because the Aaron kind of leader always looks to money rather than God’s anointing to grease the wheels of ministry.

I guess I would rather be a Moses kind of leader after all.

 

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Politicians, Preachers & the Art of Persuasion

Whether you’re a preacher, a politician, an entrepreneur, or simply a haggard employee in hopes of getting a promotion, you need to understand the fine art of persuasion. We can learn a lot about this from the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 – 322 BC), who prescribed three fundamental components for effective communication and persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos.

Aristotle’s analysis will give us insights into why many sermons fall on deaf ears, many political campaigns end in disappointment, many business proposals are rejected, and many people never land the new job they’re after. And we’ll even understand why the 2012 Presidential election turned out the way it did.

Ethos

Ethos is the root of our modern English words “ethics” and “ethical,” so it is closely associated with matters of character and conduct. But Aristotle also used this term to describe the image of a person who seeks to persuade others. Do they seem credible? Are they the kind of person we would want to be like? Are they truly an expert on the subject they are promoting?

This means that if you’re a preacher, the impact of your sermons will be undercut if people don’t believe your life is a good example of what you teach. In order to embrace your message, they first must embrace you.

This is also why many political campaigns are based largely on ad hominem (“against the man”) arguments. Instead of a providing a true response to the other candidate’s positions on the issues, an attempt is made to discredit them as a person.

In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney was painted as a rich, insensitive “fat cat,” who had absolutely no understanding or concern for how 98% of the country lived. Instead of discussing inconvenient issues like the nation’s budget deficits, the Obama campaign constantly voiced the mantra that Romney just wanted to further the excessive lifestyle of his extremely wealthy friends. And the strategy worked, persuading enough people to vote for Obama or simply stay home and not vote at all.

Logos

Logos, of course, is the root of our modern words “logic” and “logical.” Although Aristotle was a big fan of using logic as a basis for persuasion, he also understood its limitations.

Logic only provides the right conclusion if the right assumptions are made. For example, if we assume the federal government has an unlimited pot of money, it may be logical to propose ever-expanding programs to care for people from cradle to grave. However, if we assume it is unsustainable to continue borrowing 40 cents of every dollar the government spends, we will arrive at an entirely different conclusion.

The other problem with logos is simply that many people don’t really care about logic. They may not admit this, but their underlying approach to decisions is “Don’t confuse me with the facts!”

This observation has profound implications:

  • If you are a preacher… you shouldn’t be surprised when many people remain unconvinced by the well-reasoned case you make for your theological positions.
  • If you are a politician…don’t assume that simple logic will convince a majority of voters to support your candidacy.
  • If you are an entrepreneur…you need to learn from Steve Jobs’ marketing technique—not just selling your product’s features, but also its “coolness” and “sex appeal.”

Pathos

If you’ve always depended on logic to persuade people, it’s crucial to add Aristotle’s third vital key: pathos. This indispensable ingredient focuses on the emotions of the person you are trying to persuade. Whether in preaching, politics, or marketing, this element must not be overlooked.

Successful influencers speak to a person’s heart as well as to their head. So the next time you hear a sermon, a political speech, or a TV ad, ask yourself this: How did the message make you FEEL? Even though the “logic” of the message may be entirely deceptive or convoluted, if it successfully engenders an emotional response, it’s likely to influence your behavior.

Pathos is often manipulative. Although marketers may appeal to altruism and self-sacrifice, they more frequently target our lower nature, seeking to influence us through fear, anger, greed, or pride. As communicators, we may not like this fact, but we can’t ignore it. Emotion is an important part of effective persuasion.

People almost never make their decisions based solely on logic. They are influenced much more by the likeability of the messenger and by the emotional reaction the message sparks. In 2008 the prevailing emotions were “hope and change” (positive feelings), but by 2012 the emotions primarily had become fear and anger (negative emotions).

So why did the 2012 Presidential campaign turn out the way it did? I would argue that logic was on Romney’s side regarding the economy and many other issues. But the Obama campaign did a masterful job in shaping Romney’s public image (ethos) and stirring the emotions (pathos) of the Democratic base.

Republicans may bemoan the fact that emotion seems to have won over logic, yet they shouldn’t be too surprised. That’s how things ordinarily work.

What about you today? How do Aristotle’s principles of persuasion apply to the kinds of issues you face? Take some time to ponder how you can use them to influence the people you are seeking to lead.

 

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When a Preacher Doesn’t Feel Like Preaching

I love preaching even more than I like breathing, eating, or taking a walk on the beach. So it was very strange recently when I found myself having absolutely no desire to preach.

What could the problem be?

Of course, some pastors preach every Sunday and are simply burnt out. I could never keep that kind of schedule again. But since I haven’t preached in several months, burnout clearly isn’t my problem.

Another part of my melancholy over the issue is the fact that things didn’t go well the last time I preached. Every pastor has faced this at one time or another. Your sermon is a dud on Sunday, and by Monday you’re thinking of switching careers.

At other times, a preacher may simply be experiencing spiritual dryness. It’s horrible trying to preach a message to others when you yourself feel empty and disconnected with God.

And a similar phenomenon occurs when there’s some kind of emotional trauma going on in your personal life—such as a trial in your health, finances, family, or relationship with church members. It’s no wonder you don’t feel much like preaching when you’re bleeding inside.

Whatever the cause may be, it sure helps if you have a friend or two to share your angst with. With some prayer, wise counsel, and encouragement, your perspective usually can be restored much quicker than you think.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on Jeremiah’s decision to quit preaching and prophesying. It’s hard to blame him, really. He was delivering lots of bad news to the people of Judah, and all he got in return was ridicule and rejection.

Finally, Jeremiah decided he couldn’t take it anymore. Why waste his words on people who responded with such contempt?

However, when he considered taking a preaching vow of silence, that didn’t go well for him either:

If I say I’ll never mention the Lord
    or speak in his name,
his word burns in my heart like a fire.
    It’s like a fire in my bones!
I am worn out trying to hold it in!
    I can’t do it! (Jeremiah 20:9 NLT)

What a dilemma this mighty prophet faced. When he boldly declared God’s message, no one responded in a positive way. Instead, he became a laughingstock.

But when he determined to simply shut up, he found himself in even more agony. God’s Word inside him was like FIRE in his bones! After becoming utterly worn out when he tried to hold it in, he finally said in exasperation, “I can’t do it!”

I don’t know what you are going through today. Perhaps you are tired of speaking out. Maybe you’ve given up making any real difference in people’s lives.

Yet my prayer is for God to ignite such fire in your bones that you won’t be able to remain silent. No longer will you hold back. No longer will you just go through the motions.

If you are dealing with burnout, I pray you will get the rest and renewal you need. If you’ve been wounded, I pray you will discover God’s healing balm. And whatever it takes, may the Lord restore the joy of your salvation and passion for your calling (Psalm 51:10-13).

May you feel the FIRE again, my friend. We need to hear God’s Word from your lips.

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