Pursuing Excellence

I’ve read that leaders pursue excellence. They lead their organizations, their families, their businesses, and their lives striving for their best. No one wants to settle for second best. Check out what was said about Jesus…

They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything He does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.” — Mark 7:37

I sense that Jesus was committed to excellence. We read in John 3:16 that God gave his very best–his Son. Likewise, as Mark reminds us, God’s Son gave his very best–his life (Mark 10:45). He prepared the best food (Matthew 13:19-20), made the best wine (John 2:9, 10), and the arms He healed were completely restored (see Mark 3:1, 5). Since we are to be in the image of Christ (Romans 8:29) we should do no less. Less than our best is inadequate, considering the fact that God gave us His very best.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” Whatever our role, our position, our organization, or our lot in life, we must strive for our best. The measure of our success is not attached to our career or what we earn but to our character and what we give back.

From my days as a basketball player in school, excellence does not mean you’ll always win, or being the best, but it means being your best. Just as sanctification is becoming more like Jesus every day, excellence is being better today than you were yesterday.

I’ve heard it said that some people have fame thrust upon them. Think about it, very few men have excellence thrust upon them. Excellence is achieved and earned. So, what changes do you need to make so that people may say of you, “Everything He does is wonderful” (Mark 7:37)?

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When You Lose Your Way

Life can be hard, no denying that fact. We work all day, try to be a faithful and loving husband and good and nurturing father, a good employee or boss, a good neighbor and friend, a man of integrity… you try to catch a break every once in a while but then life still falls apart. We eventually ask a similar question as the disciples regarding the blind man, “Who sinned, him or his parents, that caused him to be born blind?” (John 9:2). What did I do to deserve this?

At times we feel as if God is out to get us. Why is that? Why do we not recognize that God is actually the one holding our lives together and the outright assault on our lives is really from our adversary and enemy (who is like a roaring lion ready to devour – 1 Peter 5:8)?

I listen to K-Love radio (when Bethany is in the car, 90.7 fm in Va Beach) and Toby Mac has a recent song with great lyrics (as usual):

You turned away when I looked you in the eye,
And hesitated when I asked if you were alright,
Seems like you’re fighting for your life, but why? Oh why?

Have we been there? Don’t turn away when someone reaches out to you. Remember that no man is an island. How often do we get asked the question, “How are you?” and we casually reply, “Fine” or “Good” or some other meaningless phrase that intends to dodge our hurting or the burning issues in our lives? The church is a community of believers who gather together not because we have it all together, but because we don’t. We gather to bleed together, and share each other’s burdens and pain (Galatians 6:2).

Wide awake in the middle of your nightmare,
You saw it comin’ but it hit you outta no where,
And there’s always scars, when you fall that far.

I love that phrase, there are “always scars when you fall that far.” Each of us has a past we are not proud of, and what I get from this song is just when you think you’re ready to stand, life comes out of nowhere to dash your hopes, dreams and plans. When it happens often enough, scars form, but scars are not always bad. They can remind us of where we have been, keep us from going there again, and help us to be thankful for the intervention that Jesus did in our lives (Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20).

We lose our way, we get back up again
It’s never too late to get back up again,
One day you gonna shine again,
You may be knocked down, but not out forever.

We all can get sidetracked and lose our way. We start each day with the greatest of intentions, like living pure lives, showing kindness to our wife, demonstrating more joy as we spend time with our kids, but then (as the Nationwide commercial tells us) life comes at you fast. Remember it is never too late to get back up and do the right and godly thing (1 Corinthians 10:12, Ephesians 6:11, Colossians 1:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, James 4:6). The call of Christ is to stand firm!

You rolled out at the dawning of the day.
Heart racin’ as you made your little get away,
It feels like you been runnin’ all your life but, why? Oh why?

You pulled away from the love that would’ve been there,
You start believin’ that your situation’s unfair
But there’s always scars, when you fall that far.

To love is to risk (John 3:16, 15:13, 1 John 3:16, Romans 5:8). We become vulnerable whenever we open up to another person or even to our wife. Perhaps we choose not to hurt today and we close up to those around us. We “pull away from the love that would have been there.” But if we never risk, we will never feel the joy of solid friendships and a rewarding marriage. Don’t pull away or feel that life is unfair or regret past decisions. Risk, open up, and become vulnerable, because it really is worth it.

Sometimes we lose our way due to a conscious decision. James tells us that we will give in to sin due to being tempted by our own lust, which gives birth to sin, which then brings death (James 1:14, 15). We know the darkness that dwells deep within. Don’t be tempted. Flee immorality. Seek to live a life of integrity at all times.

Sometimes we do all the right things and life still may get the best of us, but continue to stand firm. Remain strong, and steadfast, under submission to God, allow the Spirit to guide you in the way you should go (Proverbs 3:5-6). As always, when you lose your way… get back up again.

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A Classic Leadership Mistake

I have come to realize that we are the sum total of our decisions. Each of us can look back at the critical decisions we have made and see how they directed the course of our lives. Flash forward to the path we see before us. For better or for worse, our destiny is determined by decisions. Many times big decisions might seem like little decisions, but destiny can turn on a dime when we make a poor decision.

A great example in the Bible is found in 1 Kings 12:8. Solomon has died and is asleep with his fathers (1 Kings 11:43). His son, Rehoboam, was all set to be crowned the king over Israel (1 Kings 12:1). The people request an audience with the young king and they plead that they will serve the king if he will lighten the heavy load his father put on them (1 Kings 12:4). Rehoboam wisely delays his decision and seeks counsel from the elders (1 Kings 12:5).

The wise and experienced elders recommend that Rehoboam back off the hard labor on the people in order to gain their loyalty (1 Kings 12:7). Here is the decision that determined the destiny of the nation, Rehoboam abandoned the counsel of his parents’ generation and took counsel with the young men who had grown up with him (1 Kings 12:8, 13). “If you thought my father was hard, you ain’t seen nothing yet” (1 Kings 12:14). These young men inherited something for which they did not work for or earn.

In politics today, how often do we read about our young national leaders forsaking the wise counsel of history in order to embrace failed socialistic policies of the past? Once the “new generation” is in power (Generation We) they will set the new course for America. As Solomon’s situation predicted, the Builders and Boomers who created a strong America will soon die off and leave it all to fools who did not earn it… all vanity and futility (Ecclesiastes 2:17, 18, 19, Psalm 39:6, 49:10). They will eventually learn that promoting and endorsing a utopian society will not make it so just because they claim to have the larger voting block.

But I digress, what about your situation? Who are you listening to?

I think Rehoboam made the classic mistake many young leaders make. He surrounded himself with “yes men.” By surrounding himself with the good-old-boys from his youth he limited his counsel and experience. It’s so important to have some people who can speak into our lives from a different vantage point. It’s so important to have counselors who have been there, done that and can speak from experience. It’s so important to respect those who have made more trips around the block and around the sun.

I believe that we only make a few major decisions in our lives and we spend the rest of our lives managing those major decisions. In context, this little decision by Rehoboam (to listen to the wrong crowd) split the kingdom in two! It led to civil war between the Israel and Judah (1 Kings 12:16, 19, 20). All of this sprang from a young leader’s arrogance. He even foolishly sent Adoram (the leader over the forced labor) to share the news, and the people killed him (1 Kings 12:18).

I think it’s important that we listen to the voice of innovation but we also need to listen to the voice of wisdom and experience.

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Leaders and Bosses

Men, some of you guys are the boss, and I suppose the rest of you have a boss, but have you ever considered what the Bible teaches about the two. It appears that Scripture addresses the issue of leadership more than just being a boss. I guess the contemporary application of slaves and masters (Ephesians 6:5, 9, Colossians 4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Titus 2:9, 1 Peter 2:18) may resemble the employee/employer relationship, but I sense that Jesus would rather have leaders more than bosses. Many who think they are leading are really just lording over other people (Mark 10:42).

I think that many people confuse leadership with power and control. We tend to believe that a person in a position of authority or someone with a title has their position or title due to their leadership qualities. But, in many cases there is no connection between a position and that person’s leadership ability. Just having a title does not make someone a leader.

Years ago I taught a pastoral ministries course on leadership at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zambia and emphasized that leadership is all about influence. Everyone has the ability to influence others, no matter where you are in the organization. There is a huge difference between being a boss and being a leader. I recently read the following:

  1. The boss drives group members; the leader coaches them.
  2. The boss depends upon authority; the leader on good will.
  3. The boss inspires fear; the leader inspires enthusiasm.
  4. The boss says “I;” the leader says “we.”
  5. The boss assigns the task, the leader sets the pace.
  6. The boss says, “Get there on time;” the leader gets there ahead of time.
  7. The boss fixes the blame for the breakdown; the leader fixes the breakdown.
  8. The boss knows how it is done; the leader shows how.
  9. The boss makes work a drudgery; the leader makes it a game.
  10. The boss says, “Go;” the leader says, “Let’s go.”

– Author unknown

So, as you consider those over whom you have influence, how can you be a better leader?

Strangers in This World

All of us have experienced times when we did not fit in: arriving overdressed (or underdressed) for a social occasion, not knowing the language spoken around us, being in a setting as a minority race or minority, gender, holding a single dissenting opinion in a hotly debated topic. But underneath these embarrassing and painful moments sometimes lurks a pervasive sense that maybe we don’t fit anywhere.

  1. Think about a time when you felt out of place, like a stranger who did not belong.
  2. If you knew you were about to enter a difficult time in your life that would test your faith, how would you prepare yourself?

Early Christians were subject to many kinds of isolation. Although their faith originated in Judaism, the Jews rejected them because Christians saw Jesus as Messiah. Romans would eventually use Christians as scapegoats, blaming them for all sorts of political problems. Pagan Greeks saw Christians as atheists because they insisted on worshiping only one God rather than their pantheon of deities. Here comes Peter offering first-century Christians (and us) a different kind of belonging.

Read 1 Peter 1:1-12

1. Imagine you are one of the early Christians receiving Peter’s letter. After studying this opening section, what would motivate you to keep reading?

2. Study Peter’s description of the people who were about to receive his letter (1 Peter 1:1-2). How does his description of them help explain why they were “strangers in the world?”

Notice the source of our salvation (1 Peter 1:2).
The Father elected us – we still have responsibility (John 3:16, Romans 10:13, Revelation 22:17).
The Spirit sanctified us – he convicts of sin (John 16:8) and points to Christ (John 16:13, 14).
The Son redeemed us – blood sprinkled signifies cleansing (Leviticus 14:1-7), ratification of a covenant (Exodus 24:3-8) and set apart holy items (Exodus 29:20-22)

3. How does the introduction to Peter’s letter help you appreciate the three persons of God? The word blessing is the same root word for eulogize.

4. Peter says that God has given his people “new birth.” What does he say grows out of that new birth (1 Peter 1:3-5)?

Notice the blessings of our salvation
A living hope (1 Peter 1:3) living word (1 Peter 1:23) living stone (1 Peter 2:4)
A lasting home (1 Peter 1:4) which is perfect (incorruptible), pure (undefiled) and permanent (does not fade away)

5. Peter says in verse 6, “Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” If you were to hear that kind of message, what information in this paragraph might help you through the suffering (1 Peter 1:3-9)?

Notice the trials of our salvation
Attitude – greatly rejoice (1 Peter 1:6)
Duration – for a little while (1 Peter 1:6)
Evidence – proof of authentic faith (1 Peter 1:7)
Blessing – belief in the unseen (1 Peter 1:8)
Effect – bringing salvation (1 Peter 1:9)

6. How does the future as Peter describes it here offer you hope in your own setting?

7. What did Peter believe to be true of genuine faith (1 Peter 1:7-9)? Proof of faith rests in the fact of the ability to give God praise, glory and honor in the midst of suffering.

Notice what Peter describes as precious:
Precious trials of faith (1 Peter 1:7)
Precious blood (1 Peter 1:19)
Precious cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4)
Precious spirit (1 Peter 3:4)
Precious promises (2 Peter 1:4)

8. Peter complimented his readers because they believed in Jesus and loved him, even though they had not seen him (1 Peter 1:8). What questions do you think people today have to cope because they have not personally seen Jesus?

9. When have you seen Jesus (through a person or event) in a way that increased your faith?

10. By what different routes did news of salvation come to the readers of Peter’s letter (1 Peter 1:10-12)? Old Testament prophets did not always understand their messages. Prediction would be understood at a later time (Matthew 13:17).

Notice suffering compared to glory (1 Peter 1:11)
Clothing (Luke 2:12 – Psalm 93:1)
Possessions (Luke 9:58 – Hebrews 1:2)
Rejection (John 1:11 – Isaiah 9:6)
Grief (Isaiah 53:3 – Hebrews 1:9)
Crown (John 19:5 – Revelation 14:14)
Appearance (Isaiah 53:2 – Psalm 27:4)

12. In what ways are Christians special, even when compared to Old Testament prophets and angels (1 Peter 1:12)? Angels don’t understand salvation!

13. Peter refers to new birth, or salvation, throughout this passage as a central difference between Christians and the world. What tensions have you experienced because of this difference?

14. How does God’s gift of salvation help you cope with these tensions?

Right now, thank God that you belong to him and that you have an eternal home with him and his people. If you have not yet come into God’s family, ask that he continue to guide you on your spiritual journey.

For Further Thought

Review some of the people who came to mind as you considered question 9, people who have increased your faith. Write a letter of appreciation to one of them. If this is not possible, write a prayer of thanks to God for that person’s influence in your life.

Suffering and joy are mixed in this section of Peter’s letter (a lot like right life). Consider the people and events that have brought you pain; consider sources that have brought you joy. Are some perhaps the same sources? In prayer, share all of this with your loving God, who understands the mixture far better than we do.

Read again 1 Peter 1:8-9. Meditate on love and joy as Peter describes them. Thank God for offering a joy that cannot be diminished by earthly events. Then, as much as possible, enjoy!

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