Seek to Understand First

The basic principle here is that we need to seek to understand others before we try to make ourselves understood. This is often difficult for believers because we are convinced (rightly so) that we have something everybody should want. To us, it doesn’t matter what someone else believes because we already know that Jesus is the answer.

The problem is that we build walls between ourselves and others by not seeking to understand them prior to sharing the gospel. We’re already convinced they’re wrong and need to accept our truth. However, the lack of empathy we display prevents us from having a voice in the lives of others. Unfiltered and on the corporate level, this can quickly become the local church remaining entirely unaware of the felt needs or struggles of the community we are trying to reach.

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This struck home to me recently while visiting with a wealthy philanthropist. Because of his business acumen and financial success, he had it in his mind that he already knew what the community he was trying to impact needed. The problem was that he was dumping money (lots of money) into programs that didn’t work and weren’t having the impact he wanted because he had not taken the time to ask people living in the community what they felt their needs were.

Now, I know it isn’t always this simple. There’s a famous quote of Henry Ford saying, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said faster horses.” There are in fact times when we do know better what someone needs than they do. It still doesn’t negate the problems that arise when we don’t take the time to listen and package our solutions in a way that makes sense to the people in our lives.

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Ford still needed to tell people that he could get them from point A to point B more quickly than they could imagine. He was solving the problem in a way they couldn’t possibly anticipate. In the same way we need to be diligent to offer faith in Christ as a solution to the felt needs of others; something that demands also taking the time to understand before seeking to make Christ understood.

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PROVEN WAYS TO KILL CREATIVITY

Every ministry needs intellectual capital to thrive. By intellectual capital, I mean the know-how, innovation, brains, talent, and imagination required to find and solve problems. The leaders I admire have an ability to design the workplace in a manner that liberates intellectual capital.

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When designing, here are some things to avoid.

1. Bureaucracy

Policies serve people, not the other way around. The value of a policy is that it prevents the need to make the same decision over and over again. However, over time — especially with the on-boarding of new employees — it’s easy to forget the context of the creation of the policy and begin to apply the policy to situations it was never intended to address. This is why an annual review of policies is important.

2. Command and Control Leadership

This seems so self-evident to me I hardly know how to address it. There’s simply no way your people are going to feel the space for creativity and effective problem solving if all they’re worried about is doing exactly what the boss wants.

3. Constant Restructuring

Every time a person’s role changes, even slightly, there’s a learning curve that delays production. That’s not to say shifts in job descriptions are bad, it’s simply to say that loss of productivity has to be accounted for as the person adjusts to the new or modified role. The danger for me is that I enjoy constantly tweaking the environment. If I’m not careful to pace changes I run the risk of frustrating the people I work with.

4. Fear of Failure

How do you respond to the failure of others? Do you chastise them? Do you tell them the last person who had their job wouldn’t make that mistake? Do you tell them it’s okay while allowing your body language to communicate it’s actually not? One of the joys of working in a start-up is that failure is assumed. Every failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn. Not that we want to be irresponsible with it, but there is a sense of “Ready…FIRE…Aim.” As we would say in the Army, “Adjust fire and drive on.”

Cain & Lamech: Two Murders, One Appeal

 

You’re probably familiar with Cain’s story, Lamech maybe not as much. These two men from the Old Testament both demonstrate an approach to confront and deal with our sin, though the outcomes are very different. Cain, though an unlikely example, offers an excellent paradigm for what it looks like to have an ongoing relationship with God.

Unexpected Grace

Cain is remembered for committing the first murder when he killed his brother in a jealous rage. Genesis 4:10 records that God confronts Cain with his sin and tells him that he’s banished from God’s presence, destined to live as a fugitive and wanderer on the earth. Cain cries out to God for mercy, which may seem like an incredibly cheeky thing to do, for someone with blood on his hands, but Cain clearly knew enough about God’s character to appeal for mercy.

Even in his righteous judgment, the Lord responds to Cain’s plea with a gesture of grace. He places a mark of protection on him and says, “If anyone kills Cain, he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” (Genesis 4:15) Note that Cain is still banished, but because he called on the Lord, even in his punishment God demonstrates mercy.

A Dangerous Assumption

Later in Genesis, we read about Lamech, who commits the second murder. Like Cain, Lamech speaks about his guilt, but instead of crying out to Yahweh, he assumes the same mercy extended to Cain will be extended to him. But there is no indication in the text that his words are sanctioned by God, and thus I don’t think God is bound by Lamech’s insistence that God avenge him.

We are given these parallel stories to show us something about the Lord’s character and how he invites us to deal with our sin. Lamech takes matters into his own hands and declares that anyone who touches him will be in big trouble. When Cain is confronted with his sin, he calls out to God and is met with grace. This theme is echoed at the end of the chapter, “At that time, people began to call on the name of Yahweh.” (Genesis 4:26)

We don’t have to wait until we get to the New Testament to see a God who meets us with grace and mercy.

The Law is About Works (and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves)

 

As I talk with people who read the Bible and in general believe what it has to say, I often hear three common misconceptions about Old Testament law.

God Didn’t Really Mean It, Or Did He?

The first common misconception is that God never really intended for anyone to keep the law. Now the problem with this view is that God explicitly states, “No, I’m intending for you to keep these laws.” Look at Deuteronomy 30:11.

“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14, TNIV)

So we can’t go around claiming that God just never even expected anyone to keep the law.

No One Can Do That, Or Can We?

The second misconception is the idea that no one ever actually managed to keep the law. But look at this Scripture from Luke:

“In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.” (Luke 1:5-6, TNIV)

Or what about what Paul said in Philippians?

“…though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If others think they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Philippians 3:4-6)

So we can’t just say that no one ever managed to keep the law.

Grace Replaced Law, Or Did It?

The third common misconception is that law is all about works but the New Testament is all about grace. In regards to this one, I would just take you back to Exodus 19 where God shows up and says, “Hey guys, you’re saved. It’s done. It’s delivered. But if you want to be my representatives to the world, then here are some regulations of how you can represent me well.” When viewed from this perspective, you realize that grace is tied into everything that’s going with the law from beginning to end.

So that leaves us with viewing the law as what it is; part of God’s revelation of himself.

The Unexpected Commission to Harden Hearts: Isaiah

 

How many of us have ever interviewed for a leadership/pastor/ministry position and when asked to describe our calling answered, “I believe that God has called me to preach the word in such a way that it will harden people’s hearts and they will reject God”?

I’m guessing none.

An answer like that is sure to stop an interview right in its tracks. “Thank you for your time. We’ll be in touch.” And yet two people explicitly said this was their intention in the Bible—Jesus and Isaiah.

God Gives Isaiah a Tough Assignment

This isn’t new information but it’s important to keep in mind that Isaiah’s role as a prophet was not just to predict the future but to call people to action in the present. Isaiah appears on the scene hundreds of years after the Israelites earned their exile from the Promised Land; generations have rebelled against God, worshipped idols, and finally completely rejected God. God waited hundreds of years for the Israelites to repent, return to him, and dwell in the land. He withheld the exile and sent judges and prophets to help free them from their oppressors and plead with them to return to him.

 We already know this didn’t work. Isaiah was commissioned to preach in such a way that it would force the Israelites to make a choice. No more waffling. Isaiah’s prophecies were delivered with such decisiveness that the people were forced to commit one way or another. The Lord already knew they would choose rejection.

Healing and Grace for Self-inflicted Wounds

As promised, Babylon invaded and carried the Israelites into exile. It was long overdue and yet God still extended his grace. The exile was ridiculously short and it cured the Israelites of their idolatry. So you see, God knew his people would self-destruct and he knew what it would take to heal them of their self-inflicted wounds. God used Isaiah to bring this to fruition—to give the people one last chance to repent and then to set the stage for judgment.

Isolated Events Distort Our View of God

We tend to think of the Old Testament God as harsh and full of wrath and the New Testament God as patient and full of grace. He hasn’t changed. This is the difference that context makes; when we look at isolated events in the Bible and use those to build our understanding of God, we build a deeply flawed and confusing picture of God. When we look at the entire picture—the flow of historical events—we see that the God of patience, mercy, and grace we read about in the New Testament was there all along. What changed was how he drew us into relationship with him. It’s time we re-evaluate our understanding of the Old Testament God and gain a greater understanding of his love for us.

That’s where Jesus comes in and we’ll get to that Thursday.

What Makes a Good Leader (and does it really matter?)

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We’re all looking for good leaders, even those of us that might be considered leaders are looking for someone to lead us. But what are we looking for? What marks a leader as good or bad? Does it really matter?

Oh it matters. It so matters.

The Old Testament is riddled with examples of why the quality of your leader matters and it all comes down to this:

As the leader goes, so goes the nation.

Let that sink in for minute, because it’s still true today.

Two Qualities of Good Leaders

Good leaders possess two major qualifications: character and competence. One without the other is no good. We see this when we look at Moses in his early days, full of character but lacking the competence to keep up with the demands of the job. Thankfully Mt. Sinai happened, Moses learned to delegate, and went on to be a great leader.

Was Wisdom Really What Solomon Needed?

When Solomon took the throne God gave him permission to ask for anything. Whoa. Not sure about you, but I could come up with a few things. Solomon—he asked for wisdom. Well played. God responded favorably and granted Solomon the discerning heart he asked for and wealth and honor. Throughout 1 Kings, we see Solomon acquire riches beyond his wildest imagination. Chariots, shields of hammered gold, a personal zoo—these were crazy riches in the Ancient Near East. Did I mention his 700 wives and 300 concubines? It would be easy to think, “Wow, God really blessed Solomon!”

Are We Missing the Real Message for Leaders?

See, in Deuteronomy 17 God gave some pretty specific guidelines for the king who would rule over the nation. Those guidelines warned a king not to take a great number of horses, not to take many wives, and not to accumulate large amounts of gold and silver. Oops. Solomon just happened to do all of those. While we thought we were reading about Solomon’s blessings, what we were really reading was Solomon’s descent off the deep end. Solomon had competence but his character couldn’t contain his success. He allowed his heart to be dragged in different directions and to other gods. As a result, his nation was split. As the leader goes, so goes the nation.

Let’s be on the lookout for leaders with both competence and character, leaders who will stay true to God’s directions and who will guard their hearts from the many gods that compete for a piece of it. Better yet; let’s be those leaders. Let’s hold fast to God’s promises for his people, fine tune our craft, and ask for God’s wisdom and discernment.

Character and competence—go find it. Go live it.