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Leadership Lessons from Jesus’ Feeding the 5000

For any of you who have been involved in church ministry of some sort – either as a leader or as a participant involved in planning an event or service, let me describe a typical scenario and see if you resonate with it:

The people planning the event/ministry get together, and begin the meeting with a quick prayer asking Jesus to guide them and bless their meeting. Then, an hour is spent discussing ideas, issues, logistics, and maybe even desired results or purpose. Then, at the very end of the meeting another quick prayer, maybe 30 seconds long, thanking God for being there.

Does that sound about right? Have you had different experiences?

Unfortunately, this is all too common, even among pastors and elders. But, is saying a quick prayer at the beginning and end of a meeting really honouring to God? Does it say that we really want to hear or know His ideas and plans? No, it sounds more like we’re asking Him to rubber-stamp our plans instead. And I, for one, am tired of it. I believe it’s one of the great sins in the North American Church today. Sure, we might have good ideas, and even excellent ones, but what if they’re not what God wants for us? What about the scriptures that say “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God” (1 Cor. 3:19), and “The foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans” (1 Cor. 1:25)?

My desire is that when we gather to plan, God will take a central role in those meetings, which means taking time to actually listen to Him, setting aside our ideas and ways. And I believe that this account in John’s Gospel is a model for what we should do – and what will happen – as we do allow Him to be Lord of our meetings and events.

The account of Jesus multiplying the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish is an unlikely source for leadership lessons, at first glance, but from the disciples’ point of view I believe we can learn a lot about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in a leadership position (especially a position in the Church).

If you don’t remember the details that much, give the passage a read here.

There are five principles we can take from this passage that teach us what doing God-honouring work looks like.

1. Jesus initiates the work.

Jesus, seeing the crowds following Him, turns to His disciple Philip and asks where bread can be bought to feed them all. Philip heard the work Jesus wanted to do and was incredulous that Jesus wanted to do it – it seemed humanly impossible (and for them, it was). The disciples didn’t tell Jesus that they wanted to feed the people, rather Jesus initiated the work.

For many of us, we tell Jesus what we want to do (and sometimes how we want Him to do it), but instead we should be listening for what Jesus wants us to do. Often, we’ll find that our own ideas and plans were too small anyway! That means that we need to take time and make space to listen to what He is saying to us, and discern together in the Spirit the work He has for us – which in our busyness and self-competence can be difficult to do, but oh so worth it.

2. He tests our faith in order to increase it.

Philip, as I mentioned, was incredulous at the enormity of what Jesus was asking – the amount of money it would require to buy that much bread was unrealistic (assuming a nearby town even had that much on hand to sell, which is doubtful). But Jesus already knew what He was going to do and was testing Philip, John’s Gospel tells us. Jesus wasn’t being mean or cruel, but rather testing Philip to grow His faith – Philip saw the (human) impossibility of what Jesus wanted to do, but Jesus did it! As we see Jesus do the work through us that He wants us to do, He will expand our faith in greater and greater ways.

3. He includes us in the work.

Jesus didn’t do it all alone, however. He took the bread and fish offered by the boy Andrew brought forward and multiplied those after He blessed God for them. Jesus takes the abilities, talents, skills, and resources that we have (and which are all gifts from Him anyway), and as we offer them to Him uses them to accomplish the work that He wants to do. He includes us in the work. After everyone has eaten their fill, Jesus tells the disciples to gather the leftovers, which they do. The great grace of God is that – while He could work on His own, He instead chooses to work through and with us humans, if we will obey Him.

4. We need to obey, even when we don’t have all the details.

Pay attention to the order of events in the passage: Jesus asks Philip where to get bread to feed the crowd. Andrew brings forward a boy offering his lunch (but scoffs at it’s adequacy too), Jesus tells the disciples to get the crowd to sit down, and everyone sits down.

This is important to notice, that while the disciples have no idea what Jesus is going to do in order to feed the crowd, they still obey Him when He tells them to have everyone sit down. Often God will not give us the full picture of the work that He wants to accomplish, but will give us just the next step. Our job is to be obedient to that next step, trusting that He is working everything out according to how He wants it. Again, in our self-competent pride we want to know how everything will work before we take the first step in obedience. But the Bible is full of examples of men and women who obeyed God without knowing the full picture (Abraham leaving Ur, and Mary and Martha at their brother’s tomb come immediately to mind).

5. He will blow our minds.

The Scriptures say “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, emphasis added).

A reminder: It’s not our work, but we join Jesus in the work He is already doing.  If it’s our work that we’re asking Him to approve, then while we may be doing good, were ultimately being disobedient to and limiting the better work He has for us.

God is not looking for people who will do their own work in His name, but who will instead do the work He gives them. I am determined to be one of those people – are you?

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41 Ways the Holy Spirit Works For, In, and Through Us.

Jesus promised that, even though he was leaving earth, he would send the Holy Spirit to be with us and comfort and guide all those who love him (John 14:15-17). For many Christians, however, an understanding of what the Spirit does or why we should depend on him is missing from daily life. So below are 41 ways the Holy Spirit works for, in, and through followers of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit:
1. Speaks for us in times of trial (Matthew 10:20)
2. Fills us with power (Luke 24:49)
3. Gives eternal life (John 6:63)
4. Leads into all truth (John 14:17; 16:13)
5. Lives within us (John 14:17)
6. Testifies about Jesus (John 15:26)
7. Will tell us about the future (John 16:13; Acts 11:28)
8. Will tell us whatever He receives from Jesus (John 16:15)
9. Speaks through the Scriptures (Acts 1:16)
10. Gives prophecies, dreams, and visions (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:17)
11. Empowers to preach/evangelize with boldness (Acts 4:31)
12. Directs us (Matthew 4:1; Acts 8:29; Galatians 5:16-18)
13. Encourages the Church (Acts 9:31)
14. Speaks to us (Acts 10:19; 11:15; Hebrews 3:7; 1 Peter 1:11; Revelation 2)
15. Changes our hearts (Romans 2:29)
16. Fills our hearts with God’s love (Romans 5:5)
17. Frees us from the power of sin (Romans 8:2)
18. Gives life (Romans 8:10)
19. Empowers us to put to death our sin (Romans 8:13)
20. Affirms that we are God’s children (Romans 8:16)
21. Helps us in our weakness, especially re: prayer (Romans 8:26)
22. Pleads for us in harmony with God’s will (Romans 8:27)
23. Gives us confident hope (Romans 15:13)
24. Makes us holy (Romans 15:16; 1 Peter 1:2)
25. Gives us love for others (Romans 15:30; Colossians 1:8)
26. Shows us “God’s deep secrets” (1 Corinthians 2:10)
27. Gives us spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14)
28. Guarantees everything Christ promised (2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14)
29. Changes us to look more and more like Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18)
30. Prompts us to call God “Abba [Daddy], Father” (Galatians 4:6)
31. Gives us holy desires (Galatians 5:17)
32. Produces virtuous qualities (“fruit”) in our lives (Galatians 5:22)
33. Leads us (Galatians 5:25)
34. Gives us access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18)
35. Empowers us with inner strength (Ephesians 3:16)
36. Renews our thoughts and attitudes (Ephesians 4:23)
37. Confirms the truth of God’s word (1 Thessalonians 1:5)
38. Gives us a new birth and a new life (Titus 3:5)
39. Teaches us everything we need to know (1 John 2:27)
40. Empowers our prayer (Jude 1:20)
41. Invites us to drink from the water of life (Rev. 22:17)

Which resonated with you? Which will you depend on the Holy Spirit more for?

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Christ Must become Greater, I Must Become Less

In the Gospel of John, chapter 3, John the Baptist makes a stunning statement regarding Jesus, to the chagrin of his own disciples: “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). This is the attitude that all Christ-followers have, but the question of how we let Jesus become greater and us less in our lives is not always easily answered. And as we do that, does it mean we will lose our own unique identities?

We need three things in order to live lives in which Christ will become greater, and we will become less: The first is humility. The second is obedience to Jesus. And the third is gratitude.

1. Humility

As someone else has said “Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.”

Humility is seeing and appraising ourselves accurately – our worth, our abilities, our strengths and weaknesses, our moral, social, and spiritual states, our sins – as much as we can, to both see and have neither an inflated or deflated of the different aspects of our lives. This of course takes work, times of hard self-reflection, and often the help of trusted friends to help us see our blind spots.

For some, this can be a painful process; we are not as gifted as we thought we were, or as strong, or as upright. For others, it can be a difficult process for the opposite reason: we are more loved than we are comfortable with, more capable than we give ourselves credit for.

As the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:3, humility is also “valuing others above yourselves.” He doesn’t mean it in an objective sense, or in a comparative sense, but rather to think about the ways we can help, encourage, strengthen, or better others. Paul says this is what Jesus did when He gave up the riches of Heaven, the glory of divinity, and came to earth as a human, and died on the cross – Jesus did it out of His great love for us (Philippians 2:6-8). Ideally, as we follow Christ, we are all doing this for each other, so even though I am ‘valuing others as above myself,’ others are doing that for me. However, we know that in this broken world that won’t always be the case, and we will be hurt, but in that hurt we will be identifying with and connecting with Jesus in a deeper way than we could otherwise.

2. Obedience to Jesus

This is the call to all who would follow Jesus, to all who would find new life and forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God the Father. Obedience to Jesus is not optional: throughout Scripture we see a link between loving Jesus and obeying Him, as He loves and obeys His Father (see John 15:10). And the commands of Jesus overwhelmingly have to do with how we view, treat, and love others – even including our enemies. That’s why when Jesus is asked what the greatest command is, He doesn’t just give it, but connects it to another command, which He says is the second greatest: Love God with all your heart, strength, soul, and mind, and “the second is like it: ‘love your neighbour as yourself'” (Matthew 22:39).

By obeying Jesus, we come to look more and more like Him ourselves, doing the things He did but in our own contexts, our own workplaces and homes and churches and schools. It is “living as if Jesus were living His life through our own.”

 3. Gratitude

Gratitude is the magic ingredient of this recipe. If we value others as better than ourselves but don’t have gratitude, we will quickly become bitter and resentful towards them. If we are obedient to Jesus but don’t have gratitude we will become self-righteous and legalistic. Gratitude – especially for the salvation and work of Jesus in our lives – will prevent both of those from happening.

Gratitude may actually be the hardest of these three, however, as we tend to want to take credit for all the goodness in our lives, and for everything we have (both tangible and non-tangible). It can also be hard to have gratitude when things don’t go the way we want, or when life is a struggle (This has been the case for me in my life). We easily forget, or don’t see at all, the great amount of things to be grateful for. But when we have humility, seeing ourselves accurately, we will see that all of what we have is gift from God – the good things as from Him, and the evil as those things which God will work out for our good (Romans 8:28).

Paul tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18),” and elsewhere tells us to present our requests to God, by prayer and petition, and with thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6).

What happens to our Identity?

But if Jesus becomes greater and we become less, does that mean we lose our identities and become robot-clones of Jesus?

No. Paul affirms this when he uses the imagery the Church being the body of Christ. He says each one of us is a part of it, and talks about how each part are not the same, and how each part need each other (1 Corinthians 12). This is the same chapter in which Paul talks about the different gifts the Holy Spirit gives to the Church: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4-7).

God created you with a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, personality traits, and temperament. And He gave you a unique set of spiritual gifts with which to build up the church and use for His Kingdom and glory.

Conclusion

When we are growing in the three qualities of humility, obedience, and gratitude, we will find that Jesus will become greater in our lives, both in our esteem and love for Him, and in the glory He receives through us. We’ll find that we actually become more ourselves as we become more like Christ; The part of our identity that is formed and molded by sinful brokenness will be healed.

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People are not our Enemies

This is a friendly reminder: People are not our real enemies.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12, emphasis added).

People will, however, appear to be our enemies. They will have different values and morals than us. They will exclude us, will be against us, will wish us evil, will work for our downfall or demotion, will demand our surrender. But Jesus told us how to respond to them:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you… Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-28, 35b-36).

 

 

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Worship is War

“Worship is War.” That’s the tagline I saw on an ad in my Twitter feed for a new TV show coming out, about the Greek, Norse, etc. gods living in modern day U.S.

When I saw it, my first thought was “how little do they know exactly how right they are.”

Worship is powerful. Not in itself, and not because of who we are, but because of who God is. When we worship we admit that on our own we are weak, we are powerless to change much in this world, and we are dependent on Him.

Worship doesn’t make God more powerful, as some video games and shows/movies portray other gods – He is already omnipotent, perfect, omniscient, omnipresent; what could we possibly add to Him? And worship isn’t like putting a coin in a vending machine – it doesn’t “activate” God or obligate Him to do something for us; but when we worship rightly (with humility, and in Spirit and truth) we put ourselves in a place where we will see God working in and through and around us.

An interesting, literal, example of worship as war is found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30.  I wonder if we would see this happening in similar ways, if we were to march through our neighbourhoods and streets worshiping, similar to prayer walks?

When we worship, we proclaim who God is – and that’s a powerful reminder to us, and to the spiritual forces of darkness around us. Because scripture is clear our enemy is never people, it’s Satan, and the world, and our sinful natures (Eph. 6:12). When people appear to be our enemies, we can be sure it’s one of those three things behind them.

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

By our worship we submit to God, draw near to Him, and simultaneously we resist the devil (James 4:7-8).

Of course, worship doesn’t just occur on Sunday mornings at a church service.

Worship happens when we pray prayers of thanksgiving. It happens when we pray prayers of supplication (because He is God and we are not).

Worship happens when we sacrifice our time, resources, or talents for Him, in service to others (thereby living out the command to love God with all our heart/soul/strength and love our neighbour as ourselves).

Worship happens when we say “Not my will, but Yours be done” even when we don’t feel like it, see the logic behind it, or have to go it alone.

If prayer is necessary like the air we breathe, and the Bible necessary like the food we eat, then worship is like the water we drink – it blesses God but it also refreshes our soul.

Worship orients our hearts away from this world and the things of it, to the only One who truly matters, and to His agenda and work on the earth, and that must royally tick off the (temporary) rulers of this world.

Worship is war.

Make time to worship Jesus daily. You’ll see the difference it makes.

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7 Signs to See When Our Serving is Sanctified

In my last post, I looked at 12 ways we actually be serving sinfully. This time I want to look at seven ways we can know when our serving is God-glorifying (I used “sanctified” in the title to keep it alliterative, but that might be a bit of a stretch).

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.


All Christians are called to serve, for the good of each other and for glory of God. And when we serve, God uses it to both form us more and more into His likeness (the sanctifying part of service), and to draw others to Him (see Matthew 5:16).

Here are seven signs that indicate we are doing the works that Christ has prepared for us:

1. We are energized by it.

2. We are fulfilled by it.

3. We have joy because of it.

4. We can see the good coming from it.

5. We are drawn closer to Jesus through it.

6. Our family is supportive of it.

7. When it’s part of a balanced life, including ample rest.

Having said all that, it doesn’t mean we won’t ever get frustrated, or tired, or daunted by our serving, but those feelings won’t be the norm. And in the end, even when our serving is God-glorying we still need to be depending on His strength to be doing it.

As you serve, may you know the goodness and love of Christ more and more through it!

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12 Ways to Know When Our Serving is Sinful

One of my favourite passages from Paul is Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

As humans, we were created to serve one another in love, and as followers of Christ we are new creations in Christ, and both commissioned and gifted to serve.  However, sometimes our serving can be sinful. The following are 12 ways we can tell:

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1. When we’re doing it for purely selfish motives (although we can’t ever be completely unselfish in our motives).

2. When we become irritable or frustrated when our plans are interrupted or changed.

3. When we haven’t left enough of a margin in our schedule to allow for unexpected interruptions (often God is working in these interruptions if we have eyes to see it).

4. When we complain (or boast) about being so busy that our family life suffers.

5. When our family life suffers, even when we don’t complain or boast about it.

6. When our health suffers, from stress or not getting enough sleep because of it.

7. When we take on jobs or projects not because we genuinely want to or feel God leading us to (or our boss tells us to!), but because no one else will do it or we think no one else is as qualified.

8. When we take on jobs or projects but feel resentful about it or like a martyr doing it.

9. When we take on jobs or projects because we think God will be more pleased by us or will love us more if we do.

10. When we take on jobs or projects because we want to impress or please people.

11. When we’ve bought into the lie that we need to be always doing or producing (or consuming!) to be considered valuable or worthy of love or acceptance.

12. Finally, when we’re doing it in our own strength instead of in God’s strength. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:13).

Sometimes we make ourselves overly busy because we don’t want to face deeper issues in our lives, and busyness, like other forms of distraction, postpone us from having to deal with them. Or sometimes it’s because we don’t want face God Himself – being alone with Him with nothing else to get in the way.

But God never intended that we extend ourselves so much that it becomes detrimental to our emotional, spiritual, or physical health. And He has gifted us for some jobs, but not all of them.

Are you over-committed at church or at work or in the community? You might actually be displeasing God, and it’s worth not taking this consideration too lightly. Spend some time alone and in silence, and before God see if any of reasons describe you.

Did I miss any reasons? What would you say are the reasons when serving is pleasing to God?

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