The Portrait of a Spiritual Leader (V)

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Focus 

When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it– though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates–Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. Nehemiah 6:1-4 (NIV)

One of the qualities any leader must have is focus—not being distracted from one’s calling, vision and mission. Nehemiah is an example of a leader who was focused and intentional about his assignment. He refused to be distracted by his enemies. Every day we are faced with a challenge to stay focused on what God has called us to do. Let me share some of the distractions we can encounter.

Good things/programs

This is the easiest to distract us from our mission. Life sometimes offers us  many good things. Some of these things or programs may be even more attractive and appealing than our primary commitments. They may offer better positions, opportunities, or remuneration than the ministry God has called us for. It takes immense discipline and intentionality to keep focused when such situations arise.

The enemy

Satan is diabolically opposed to God’s purposes. He distracts us by making us focus on the challenges at hand than the big picture of our mission. The enemy can use diverse strategies to make us fail in our mission. In 1 Thessalonians 2:18, Apostle Paul clearly says that several times Satan hindered him from going to certain places to preach the Gospel. The encouragement we have is that with Lord’s help we can overcome Satan.

Life challenges

Life is a journey, and so it has its ups and downs. There are times when every leader has to deal with a crisis—whether it is a loss of a loved one, an illness, financial challenge, or a divorce. These challenges can threaten our commitment to our mission. What keeps us going is the assurance that God is with us even in the fire that we might be going through.

Past victories or failures

The hangover of yesterday’s victory or the guilt of past failures can derail us from our calling. The Lord Jesus taught us to pray that “Give us today our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11). Yesterday’s victories cannot guarantee today’s success. Similarly, you might have failed yesterday but that’s not a reason for you to give up. Every leader needs fresh spiritual nourishment and strength for the tasks and commitments of each day. God’s mercies are new every morning. Like Apostle Paul says we need to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead (Philippians 3:13).

Keep your Focused on the Goal.
Like an athlete, leaders need to be stubbornly focused on their mission. Our lives must be wholly committed to the mission God has given us. Like Apostle Paul, we need to say “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Like Nehemiah, when we encounter the challenges that would distract us, we should be able to say: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down” (Neh. 6:3).

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What are You Chasing?

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1 Timothy 6:11-12 (NIV) But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

Many of us would agree that life is busy. We spend most of it chasing after so many things. Someone will tell you that “I am chasing this deal”, “this job”, or even “this person.”  People chase after money or material things (which the Bible calls greed). Others chase after pleasure (sex, orgies), otherwise called lust. Others are busy chasing after power and fame is all its forms.

Paul’s charge to Timothy is, therefore, a wakeup call for all of us. The passage uses a couple of strong verbs that are worth noting. Let’s have a look at them:

Flee

To “flee” means to run away.  It is more than simply saying “avoid, turn way, or walk away from.” What are we supposed to flee from? Verses 3-10 give us an idea of what Timothy is being warned against.  We are to flee from false spirituality. And here are some of the features of false spirituality:

  • It is inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ and it does not promote godliness (righteousness) (verse 3)
  • It promotes controversies (verse 4).
  • It focuses on the material/worldly things. They make you want more of this world. False spirituality makes us feel comfortable living in this world (verses 4-10).

But Christian discipleship and formation is radical. It calls for serious discipline, especially in this generation that does not take sin seriously. The modern spiritualties give Christian disciplines lip service. They promote religious experiences that are void of Godliness. But whole hearted followers of Jesus Christ are to free from what the rest of the world is pursuing.

Pursue

This is another strong verb. To “pursue” means to chase, follow, or persistently seek. We are called to pursue Christian virtues of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. One of the spiritual pitfalls of today is that we do not take spiritual disciplines seriously. Authentic Christian experience is a dynamic cooperation with God. God is fully involved in your formation. But you are also fully responsible for your Christian formation. We “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” (1 Timothy 6:2:12-13 – NIV).

Fight

The Christian experience is warfare, only that the fight is “a good fight.” It is a fight of faith. It is a spiritual fight. We fight against whatever would hinder us from being what God wants us to be. We have to fight to pray, we have to fight in order to live by the truth, and we have to fight to act kindly in a cruel world. The good news is that it is a fight we are sure of winning because we are not fighting in our own power but by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Take Hold

Lastly, the last verb is “take hold.” It means to grasp; to seize; to capture. We are to “Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” Our salvation is eternally secure but that is not a license for reckless living. Having a comprehensive motor insurance cover for your vehicle is not a license for reckless driving. We guard our salvation, not because we fear losing it but because it is precious.

A Solemn Charge

1 Timothy 6:13-16. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

These are not just nice word that Paul is saying to Timothy; this is a solemn charge to Timothy and all of us. How seriously do you take your life, calling and ministry? God takes you and your calling seriously. Is what you are chasing worth your life? As someone put it, “Is what you are living for worth dying for?”

Dealing with Life-Disruptions

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Psalm 46:2-3 (NIV)  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah

Yesterday I was greeted with some not-so-good news. Although it was not life threatening, it disrupts a fairly major course of action of a department I supervise. It affects our timelines and I am trying to figure out what good might be in it. As I was trying to deal with it, I was also handed a bill that was totally out of my budget—and yet it was for an important and urgent emergency need.

Life does not always loyally follow our plans and expectations and along the journey we encounter disruptions. Some may be minor, like the one I encountered yesterday, but others are major and devastating like the news one receives from the doctor when you had simply visited for a routine medical checkup. How should we respond when life does not deliver according to our plans? The natural (human) thing to do is to freeze, feel bad about ourselves and other people, or give up. But we know that not only is this kind of response unhelpful, it can also be destructive.

The better way is to look Up, beyond ourselves and circumstances, to God our Father and ask for wisdom and direction. God’s wisdom will ensure that we take the right course of action in any circumstances. The Bible says that God’s wisdom is way different from worldly wisdom.  But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17).

Food for Thought

  1. What life-disruptions are you dealing with right now?
  2. How can you glorify God in your circumstances?

 

Being Caring Christ-Like Community

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Mark 10:13-16  (NIV) People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

In the last couple of weeks I have been sharing on the implications of our identity and purpose as followers of Jesus Christ. We have been called by God to live for Him—to make Him look great. How we express our purpose, of living for God, largely depends on our different contexts.

For starters, let’s ponder on these questions?

  1. If you were a pastor of a local church, what kind of people would you pray that they come to your church? What motivates that desire?
  2. Which kind of people do like to you associate with? What motivates your choice of friends?

In the story of Jesus blessings little children we see in the disciples’ response a reflection of many of us when it comes to living out our faith. As we know, Jesus’ actions almost always shocked everyone, even those closest to Him. His actions were unconventional and counter-culture. But there was also something predictable about Him in whatever He did; He wanted to please the Father. He touched and cleansed lepers, ate and drank with sinners, was anointed by former prostitutes. He reached out to those regarded as the dregs of the society. He loved those who rejected Him. He died for those who crucified Him.

In the Bible passage above, Jesus’ disciples felt that He should spend His time doing better things—meeting the important and influential people. But Jesus had a different idea. He chose to spend time (and bless) the children. Children were: vulnerable, often ignored by adults, powerless and had no social, political or religious influence. Therefore, according to the disciples, time spent with children was considered wasted. We demonstrate Christ-like character when we act the way Jesus acted—by choosing not to live by the dictates of our societal values but His.

The community in which our local church is located has very many children. We minister to hundreds of them every month by sharing with them the word of God, dancing with them, offering them a cup of hot porridge and bread. As church, Children’s Ministry is one of our local expressions of what it means to be a Caring, Christ-Like Community.

Reflection:

  1. Who are “the least of these” (cf. Matthew 25:40) in your community?
  2. What is an appropriate expression of what it means to be a Caring, Christ-Like Community in your context?
  3. What is God calling you (as an individual or body of believers in Jesus Christ) to do in your community?

 

The Hallmark of a Christ-like Community (II)

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Living for God’s Glory

1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Last week we looked at our identity as a Christ-like community. It is this identity (who we are) that defines our purpose (what we are here for). This week, we will focus on what we are here for? As someone put it we would like to examine whether what we are living for worth dying for. How do we, as people of God, measure our success? Do we go by the world’s parameters of money, status, titles? As a church is our purpose to have big congregations, a plethora of programs, big and state of the art buildings and technology? Although none of the above is in and of itself bad,  we cannot make it the heart of our existence–our purpose.

 

The Audience of ONE

The Word of God is clear about the purpose of the church (the people of God): “that you may declare the praises of him who called you out…”  This seems a pretty straight forward statement–and it is. But some of you might be asking, “yes, but how?” How do we declare God’s praises? How do we live for God’s glory? How do we make God look great in our lives and ministries? How do we live for the audience of ONE? This is a very difficult thing to do in our present generation that exalts “self” (or is it selfie) above everything else. How do we direct praises (fame) to God and not ourselves?

Your Context is Your Platform

Every single person and church community has a unique context which is a potential platform for living for God’s glory. Whether it is in an upscale urban setting, inner city slum, or rural setting you can live for God’s glory. You can make God look great whether you are working with professionals, single mothers, sex workers or orphaned children. The key thing is to discern where God has placed you and the opportunities (often disguised as challenges, or problems) your context offers you to shine for God’s glory.

Is it a Big Deal?

One might ask whether orienting our mission around the glory of God is such a big deal. Yes, it is. God is passionate about his glory. He declares in Isaiah 42:8 that “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” God forbade Moses from entering the Promised Land because Moses “you disobeyed my command to honor me as holy” before the people of Israel (Numbers 27:14). God takes His glory serious. The reason He created us, the reason he saved us, the reason the church exists is to live for His glory. That is our purpose.

 

Your Attitude in Trials

Texts: James 1:2-182 Corinthians 1:1-11

Our attitudes, especially during tough times, are very important. They determine whether you soar above your challenges or sink under them. So how should we respond when we go through tough times?

  • Count it all joy

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds (James 1:2)

  • Be hopeful. Even in the hardest, gravest moments of your life; God is with you. He is for you and not against you. He will work out something good out of your troubles.
  • We can be joyful in trials because of the promise of the reward (a crown of life) for those who endure. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).
  • LET YOUR TRIALS BE AN OPPORTUNITY FOR GOD TO DISPLAY HIS POWER. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
  • Ask God for wisdom

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him (James 1:5).

  • Ask the Lord what He would want you to do in your situation
  • Believe that when you ask, God will answer you
  • Make decisions based on the wisdom you received from the Lord

This takes us to the next attitude…

  • Make the most out of your tough times

  • Apostle Paul’s example:

    • Paul wrote letters to churches
    • He preached the Gospel to the guards and those who met him
    • He maintained a positive outlook about his situation: “I am chained but the gospel is not chained” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:9)
  • King David’s Example

    • When he was a fugitive, running from King Saul, he provided leadership to those who sought for him.

David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him (1 Samuel 22:1-2).

    • One more example:

You might be out of work (meaning that you have more time on you). There are a number of things you could do:

      • Pray
      • Read
      • Write
      • Dream of the future that you envision (yes, never stop dreaming)
      • Visit and encourage others
      • Volunteer in a local community-based charity
  • Ask the Lord to deliver you from the trial.

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray (James 5:13).

    • The Bible is full of examples of people who cried out to the Lord to deliver them out of their troubles—and He did. God has promised that when we call on His name, He will answer and rescue us from our troubles. And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15)

 

  • Walk in faith.

    To walk in faith is to rely on God’s love, power and wisdom

    • The devil always wants to use trials to tempt us

What’s the difference between a trial and a temptation?

Using the example of Jesus Christ:

At the end of fasting for 40 days and nights, he was hungry and thirsty. The need (or desire) for food and water can be likened to a trial. But the enemy wanted Jesus to misuse His divine powers (in ways that were inconsistent with God’s word) to turn stones into food -this was a temptation

One of the tragedies of today’s Christianity is pragmatism, which basically goes like this: “If it works, then it’s OK.” We are told that the end justifies the means. But God is interested in both the means and the end. What we do and how we do it, equally matter to God.

The Lord’s purpose in trials is to make you mature—to become more like Jesus. However, Satan’s goal is to take advantage of your trials to tempt you to deny God. Faith makes you keep your focus on Jesus.

 

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GOD’S PURPOSE IN TRIALS

James 1:2 (NIV) Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds

  1. Trials are inevitable

I don’t like pain and I want to mute it at first as I can. Just like pain, tough times are a reality that is an equalizer. Everyone faces them.  It’s not something that one can wish away. We live in a generation that overemphasizes positive confession as if it’s a magic wand to attract what we want and shoo away what we do not desire. But no amount of positive confession will shield you from trials. To say that ”tough times are not my portion” is like a student confessing that “exams are not my portion.” To never want trials is like desiring to be promoted without undergoing training. The Bible says that “WHENEVER”, not “IF” “you face trials of many kinds.” Before He went to heaven, Jesus promised us that in this world we will have trials (John 16:33). Trials, like any training, are undesirable but necessary.

  1. Trials are diverse

The Bible says that they are of many kinds. Not only will you encounter tough times, you will do so in many areas and seasons of your live. For as long as we are alive and growing we will encounter challenges.  They could be related to your health, finances, relationships, ministry, profession, or anything else.

  1. You CAN benefit  from your trials – (James 1:3-4)

Trials are real; don’t pretend that they are not there. Many of them are painful, so we shouldn’t pretend to be happy when you are in pain. BUT you can be hopeful (and find peace in Jesus) – Phil. 4: 6-7 (more about attitudes next week). You can be hopeful and joyful because you know that the end will be greater. Any training worth its name is rigorous and tough (Heb. 12:7, 8)

Trials, like any training, are undesirable but necessary.

When people spend sleepless nights during times of examinations, it’s not because they enjoy sleepless nights but because you are looking forward to good grades at the end of the exam and a great career in the future. So, we are encouraged to joyfully endure trials because of the results they bring about in the end.

Trials are a like training institute. But we all know that training, even the best one, doesn’t guarantee success (otherwise only that who graduate from top notch schools would be successful). It is only when someone trains according to the instructions that they can succeed. So, don’t waste your pain; God is up to something.

What trials are you going through now? Trials are the pressure that tests the quality of your character.

Hebrews 12:11-13 (NIV) 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. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

Are you feeling like trials are pushing you to the limit, that you are being stretched beyond what you can bear? Are your arms becoming “feeble” and your knees “weak?”  Do you feel like throwing in the towel? Ask the Lord for strength.

Instead let your response to trials encourage others to trust the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him. But you can’t do this on your own, God has to help you. Tough times won’t last because God’s grace will sustain you

GOD’S PURPOSE IN TRIALS IS TO MAKE YOU MATURE – TO BECOME MORE LIKE JESUS CHRIST

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