What makes a great leader?

What makes a great leader?

There's a question that I started asking when I was a young man, that I continue to ask today. I wanted to know, "What makes a great leader?" When I was a child, my aunt had an almanac that contained a lot of interesting information, including profiles of every U.S. President. Every time I visited, I used to sit down and read that thing. Eventually, after years of pouring through it, she gave it to me and I still have it. I was fascinated by reading the stories of the leaders it spoke about.

Growing up, I worked in our family grocery store. As a child, I observed the leadership of my grandfather, father, and uncle as they ran the business. I watched them hire, fire, and interact with employees. I observed and participated in the strict and sometimes severe ways they treated shoplifters. It was a very helpful context in which to learn leadership principles.

In the years that followed, I worked in various contexts alongside different bosses. Some were excellent leaders and some were terrible. Some I admired and copied and others I appreciated in a different way because they helped me learn what it felt like to serve under a bad, unethical, or ineffective leader.

You may or may not consider yourself a leader, but if you have any form of influence in the life of someone else, you are, at least to them, a leader. And if the Lord has given you the privilege to influence others at home, in society, at work, online, or in the church, it's worth asking the question, "What makes a great leader?" Thankfully, we find some answers to that question in God's word.

Don't let your trials surprise or discourage you

Don't let your trials surprise or discourage you

The other day I heard someone tell the story of what his friend once told him was his ideal life. His friend said he hoped to be living on a beach somewhere in Hawaii, with a simple hut that had a satellite dish so he could watch a lot of TV. He didn't want to experience any stress. He didn't want to be bothered with long conversations. In general, he didn't want to have to interact with very many people. This was his picture of stress-free life.

If you were given the ability to carve out the ideal version of your earthly life, what would you want it to look like? Would you be by yourself or are other people included in your vision? What are some of the stresses that bother you now that you would make certain to not include?

As fun or interesting as it may be to try to imagine what an easy life might look like, the reality is that isn't something we've been promised on this earth. In fact, when you look at what Scripture tells us, we're encouraged not to be surprised or discouraged by our trials. These things will come and the Lord has a purpose for them.

What else does His word tell us about the trials and difficulties we might experience as those who trust in Jesus Christ?

Living an others-centered life in a self-centered world

Living an others-centered life in a self-centered world

The other day, out of the blue, I received a brief note of encouragement from someone who used to attend our church, but moved away. I appreciated it and I made sure to tell her that. I also told her that in my opinion, she seems to be one of those unique people that has a gift for encouraging others. In fact, after mentioning that, she confirmed that encouraging others is something she takes great delight in doing.

Isn't it nice to have a few people like that in your life? Why do their actions tend to stand out as special to us? I think one of the reasons they stand out to us is because they're so different from what we experience in many other areas of life. In many contexts, we're forced to deal with people who care more about themselves than they care about others.

Driving can be one area where this becomes apparent. We're in the process of helping my daughter, a new driver, practice the skill of driving. Recently, I told her that the way people drive tends to be an extension of their personality. Gracious drivers tend to be gracious people. Aggressive and dangerous drivers tend to be selfish people that can't even be bothered to think about the safety of others when they're on the road.

Jesus isn't selfish, and His desire for the body of Christ is that we reflect His heart in the ways in which we interact with and treat each other. He invites us to look after each others' needs. He invites us to make sacrifices for the benefit of those we care about. His word teaches us what it looks like to live an others-centered life in the midst of a self-centered world.

Take a look at some of the principles the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to share about this subject with the church.

Giving up your old passions to live for God's will

Giving up your old passions to live for God's will

Think back to when you were twelve years old. What was life like for you then? Was that an easy time of life for you, or was that season of life more on the awkward side? I know for me personally, that was a challenging year of my life. I was in a new school. I was trying to figure out who I was and how I wanted to carry myself when I interacted with others. I was easily impressionable and many of my personal influences were not very good. The things I valued were, for the most part, unhealthy.

Over the next few years, things changed. The context that I lived in didn't change, but the people and the values that I allowed to influence me did. By God's grace, He put people in my life that had the desire to honor Him. Some of my greatest influences during the second half of my teen years were people who were just a few years older than me and they blessed me with a highly visible picture of what it meant to trust in and follow Christ.

During that season, I remember drawing a line in my life. I had an extremely strong desire to no longer live according to the faithless, worldly mindset I had welcomed into my life for far too long. I wanted to move beyond that manner of living and experience what it meant to be a fully devoted follower of Christ because I became convinced that that's exactly what God wanted for me.

And when we look at the content of 1 Peter 4:1-6, we can see that that's exactly what the Lord desires for all of us. He invites us to draw a line in our lives and to move forward as His family, instead of drifting backward into the mess He rescued us out of. So how can that be done?

What did Jesus actually do for us?

What did Jesus actually do for us?

Imagine attending a church worship service and never hearing the message of the gospel taught or proclaimed. Sadly, there are many contexts where that has been an issue historically, and it's also a concern in some contexts during present day. It can be a little too easy for us to lose sight of who Jesus really is and what He has chosen to accomplish on our behalf.

When we read the Scriptures, sometimes we have the benefit of learning something new. Other times, we have the benefit of being reminded of something we already know that we haven't necessarily thought about in a while. The portion of Scripture that we're about to look at probably incorporates both benefits. As we think about its content, some Christians will learn something new while others will be reminded of things they haven't thought about in a while.

What would our lives be like without Jesus? What kind of future would we be currently looking forward to if He hadn't intervened on our behalf? Sometimes, it can be far too easy for us to become complacent in our understanding of what He has accomplished on our behalf. We're so used to the benefits He brings to our lives that we don't consider the kind of mess we'd be in without Him.

This portion of Scripture helps us gain a better glimpse of some of the obvious and some of the behind-the-scenes things Jesus accomplished for us. The work He has done on our behalf is of far greater significance and far greater effect than we often realize.

How can I overcome my fear of other people?

How can I overcome my fear of other people?

Do you consider yourself easy to intimidate or not easy to intimidate? Are there certain personality types that produce a certain level of fear within you when you encounter them? Are there people in your life that you care a little too much about their opinion than you really should?

One of the most common fears we face on a regular basis is the "fear of man." Sometimes, we're afraid of what people might say about us, think about us, or do to us. I have also learned that those who try their best to convince me that this isn't something they struggle with, are also wrestling with this kind of battle (often on a deeper level than they're willing to admit).

Truthfully, it isn't hard to see why people become fearful of other people. In this world, who has hurt you the most... rabid dogs, great white sharks, poisonous snakes, or other people? We all have the same answer to that question. Other people may have slandered us, caused us physical or emotional pain, and may have intentionally conveyed a stand-off attitude toward us that keeps us at a distance.

Because of what we've experienced in the past, it's reasonable to be concerned about what people might have the potential to do to us in the future. That's certainly something the early church that Peter wrote his letters to would have been wrestling with as they experienced persecution, suffering, and disdain in their culture. But becoming overly fearful of other people isn't Christ's desire for His church.

So, if we've been wrestling with the fear of other people, what kind of counsel do we find in God's word to help us overcome that struggle?

What does spiritual maturity really look like?

What does spiritual maturity really look like?

We have been designed by God to grow mature. Just a quick glance around creation illustrates that. We see that in His design for humanity. We see that in His design for plant life. We see that in His design for animals. In the natural realm, the Lord has designed us to progress from infancy to maturity.

In the spiritual sense, this is also true. When we first come to Christ, we operate like infants. Everything is new to us. We begin the process of learning the Scriptures. We practice the process of walking by faith in Christ. We are strengthened by Him in the midst of trials and adversity. And by His grace, we have the privilege to grow spiritually mature.

One of the shocking realities that occurred to me when I was a new believer was the fact that many professing Christians don't place a high value on their spiritual maturity. It isn't one of their major priorities, nor is it a priority they attempt to model to their children. As a result, it feels like something is missing. Young believers aren't benefiting from the example of older believers and older believers aren't experiencing the joy of helping younger believers learn how to walk with Christ.

Thankfully, God's word gives us a picture of what spiritual maturity really looks like. Whether you feel like you've been blessed with great examples in your life to copy or not, we can all look to this section of 1 Peter 3 to find the picture and the pattern we're being invited to adopt as our own.

How should we honor and respect our spouse?

How should we honor and respect our spouse?

Few things in this world are as joyful, dangerous, unpredictable, and emotionally challenging as getting married. Biblically speaking, marriage isn't a contract, it's a covenant. It's a permanent pledge before God. When you make the choice to marry someone, you take the risk to entrust many aspects of your well-being to their care or provision. You also make the pledge to love them unconditionally and care for them in every high and low moment that comes your way over the course of your life, for decades and decades.

Marriage isn't easy, but few things of lasting value ever are.  What does Scripture tell us about how God has called us to honor and respect our spouses?

Do I have the heart of a servant?

Do I have the heart of a servant?

There are certain aspects of the Christian faith that are quite different from some of the more common cultural expectations. One of the big differences is the attitude or the heart that we're encouraged in Scripture to convey. Some aspects of our culture seem to value dominance and control, but God's word encourages us to value cultivating the heart of a servant.

Servanthood is easier to value in theory than it is in practice. Many times I have heard it said that, "Servanthood sounds great, right up to the point when someone actually treats you like a servant." I know for me, this has been a lesson that the Lord has chosen to drive home to my heart quite a few times. When I was directing the Pocono Mountain Bible Conference, this was a lesson I had to re-learn every week when I took off my director's hat and helped wash dishes for retreats and mop cabins after they were used.

Is this a lesson you can sense the Lord trying to teach you as well? What has He been teaching you about the value of servanthood? Has Christ given you the heart of a servant? If so, how is a servant called to live, even in the midst of a world that doesn't always esteem servanthood?

Who have I been built to be?

Who have I been built to be?

As a Dad, it has been fascinating to me to watch my children grow up. I probably annoy them a little because I tend to take a lot of pictures, but it amazes me to watch how quickly they have changed and how drastically different they seem when I look at pictures or videos I took just a few short years ago. They're growing bigger, stronger, and more mature.

Regardless of our age, every one of us is a work in progress. As God's children, there are things that the Lord has already done for us, as well as things that He continues to do for us. He is building us and strengthening us. He is facilitating maturity in our lives. What do you suppose He wants His finished product to look like? Who is the Lord building us to be?

Draw a line with your past

Draw a line with your past

Everyone has a past. Each of us can recall aspects of our life experiences that have taught us lessons, brought us pain, or caused us to feel embarrassed. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were given the opportunity to go back in time and live your life over?

The good news is that in Christ, we have been made a new creation and a line has been drawn with our past. Through Him, we aren't who we used to be. We have been granted a new name and an identity that isn't anchored in our mistakes, failures, embarrassments, or old nature. Still, sometimes we struggle with issues from our past that resurface again in our present. What kind of line is Christ inviting us to draw with our past? How is the Holy Spirit empowering us to live, no longer for ourselves, but for Christ in the present?

Does God's activity arouse our curiosity?

Does God's activity arouse our curiosity?

How good is your memory? Sometimes my family teases me because of the random information or dates that stick in my mind, (so I try to use that information against them when we're playing Jeopardy.) But does it ever amaze you to consider the depth of the information God is capable of retaining? He knows every detail about everything that has ever happened. And in addition to that, He knows every detail about everything that ever will happen in the future. It's impossible for me to wrap my mind around that.

At the same time, He's been gradually working out the details of His plan to bring His gift of salvation to all who will trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. He has the seasons under His control, does everything He does on purpose, and is working all things together for good, for those who love Him.

At present, He knows every single detail about your life. He knows the exact number of breaths you'll take on this earth. He knows how many molecules are in your body. He knows the people you'll be meeting, the trials you'll be enduring, the joy you'll be experiencing, and the ways in which He will make great use of your life. Nothing escapes His sight.

He's up to all of this, and more, right now. Does His activity arouse our curiosity? Do we want to know more about what He's doing? Are we interested in looking into what He plans to do next?

Scripture tells us about people who were intensely curious about what God is doing. What do you suppose He might want us to learn from their example and experience?

Looking forward instead of staring downward

Looking forward instead of staring downward

One of the biggest mistakes we can make during the course of our earthly lives is to allow ourselves to become convinced that our lives are meant to be free from adversity or trials. When we mistakenly allow ourselves to believe that, we can become bitter and disillusioned. That perspective influences us to forget about the joy we're invited to enjoy in Christ, regardless of our circumstances. It also has the effect of making us critical, unhappy, and generally unpleasant to be around.

Years ago I attempted to befriend a man who had experienced some major trials in his life. We would grab lunch once a month, or so, and inevitably we would chat. Unfortunately, it became clear to me that the only thing he ever seemed to think about or talk about was an unexpected trial he had endured. Sadly, he was also unwilling to move beyond it. He was mad at God, mad at people, and couldn't see any potential benefit that could ever possibly come from his trial.

What about us? What is the dominant perspective that governs our lives? Do we trust in Christ and believe that He is ultimately in control? In the midst of our adversity are we able to look forward or are our eyes stuck looking downward? What counsel does God's word give us as we seek to navigate these things?

If we minimize Christ, we'll idolize ourselves

If we minimize Christ, we'll idolize ourselves

One of our greatest desires as people is to be valued. We want our opinions to be considered, our ideas to be applauded, and our presence to be noticed. Certainly that's not all bad, but when those desires become extreme in nature, they can quickly find themselves in conflict with the greater purpose Christ has outlined for our lives.

The danger of taking this to an extreme can result in us over-valuing ourselves and under-valuing Christ. That certainly seems to be an issue that was at play in Christ's interaction with the scribes and other prominent local leaders.

Jesus was being tested by people who thought rather highly of themselves and rather poorly of Him. They questioned His motives. They questioned His teaching. At the same time, they elevated their ideas, thoughts, and preferences as if their mental capacity was of a higher order than the God who created them.

When a person minimizes Christ, they forsake His wisdom, and they begin to idolize themselves. How can we avoid doing that? What does Scripture reveal to help keep us from drifting in that direction?

Does life abruptly end, or is there more in store?

Does life abruptly end, or is there more in store?

What's your perspective on life? That would probably be an interesting question to ask a large group of people. I'm certain that you would get many different answers, and if you listened closely, you'd most likely be able to discern quite a few world views present in those answers.

Some people think of life as being brief. Some consider life to be more about the pursuit of comfort than anything else. Others look at their lives and would probably say that the running theme of their life has been one of suffering.

Many people look at earthly life through the lens of believing it is all we're really given. Their world view contributes to the belief that there is nothing beyond the few short decades our bodies successfully function on this earth. But what do you think? Is life something that comes to an abrupt end, or is there more in store? And how does our answer to this question impact the quality of our lives in the present?

Are you convinced God is against you?

Are you convinced God is against you?

Is God for us or against us? Have you ever wrestled with that question? Have you ever walked through a season of your life when it felt to you like you weren't really on God's radar? Maybe you felt overlooked, or possibly even worked against.

As a whole, the message of Scripture clearly reveals that God is for us. We're reminded that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. We're shown that He continually pursues people and invites us to have restored fellowship with Him. Scripture explains to us that the debt of our sin was so deep and offensive it could only be paid for by God Himself, so Jesus came to this earth and bore our sin so our debt could ultimately be cancelled.

But we're also told multiple times in Scripture that God opposes the proud and that He gives grace to the humble. Pride is a form of self-worship and self-glory. Pride reflects the heart and the intent of Satan, not the heart of Christ. Pride leads to stumbling and ultimately destruction.

Jesus frequently encountered proud people who thought more of themselves than they thought of Him. How did He deal with them? What can we learn from His encounters with them? Is Jesus for us or is He against us?

Don't kill the messenger

Don't kill the messenger

Several months ago, a good friend sent me a message that was meant to be helpful. He offered me an unsolicited suggestion related to a hobby of mine that I wasn't really looking for outside input on. I politely thanked him, but also felt a little annoyed with his suggestion. A few hours later, after I had time to digest his message and research his suggestion, I realized he was right. I sent him a second message with a more genuine thank you than the first.

Why is it so difficult for us to receive outside help and recommendations? Could it be that once we make up our mind about something we find the task of remaining teachable too tiresome? Could it be that we sometimes idolize our own opinions and preferences? Could it be that we've developed a hardened heart?

What do we do when we receive instruction, opinion, or correction? Do we hear the messenger or do we "kill" the messenger? What does Scripture teach about this dilemma?

Who am I really calling Lord?

Who am I really calling Lord?

We all have people that are speaking into our lives and influencing us. We all have voices that we're willingly listening to and voices we're intentionally filtering out. Who are those voices for you? Who do you allow to play key roles in your decision making?

For the believer in Jesus Christ, His voice is supposed to be the dominant influence in our lives. The direction He points us in is to be the direction our lives take. But, because of our independent streak or because we might rather listen to our own voice, at times, His voice can be the one we start filtering out instead of being the one we allow to call the shots.

There are multiple places in Scripture where this is demonstrated, but one particular chapter is Luke 20. As we look at this chapter, it might be healthy to ask the question, "Who am I really calling Lord?"

Your maturity isn't limited by your age

Your maturity isn't limited by your age

Right when I reached age 13, I started to develop a concern that I carried with me for quite a while. I didn't want to live and think like a child anymore. I wanted to be considered mature, and I started to wrestle with what maturity really looked like for someone at my particular season of life.

Following college, I began pastoring a church, full-time, at the very old age of 21. I kept my age a secret from as many people as I could because I was concerned that if people knew how old I was, they may be less inclined to cooperate with my attempts to lead in the context of the local church.

During my early years of pastoral ministry, I started to notice something fascinating about human nature. As I continued to lead, I was forced to work with all kinds of people, from all different age brackets. Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that "age" and "maturity" were not synonyms. I observed that, over time, some people grow old, but not every person becomes mature. I also observed that some people who were rather young displayed a maturity that most would say was beyond their years.

1 Timothy 4 speaks to issues like that. It reveals to us that our social, relational, and spiritual maturity aren't limited by our age. Jesus delights to foster true maturity in His followers regardless of the particular season of life they may currently be in. What are some of the marks of maturity that are demonstrated for us in this passage?

How can we make the most of the advantages we've been given?

How can we make the most of the advantages we've been given?

Depending on your personality, you may see your life in this world from a generally positive perspective or possibly a perspective that's somewhat negative or fatalistic. If you tend to buy into the narrative that many voices in our culture have been crafting, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that some of us hold to a view that teaches that we're being intentionally held back, disadvantaged, and prevented from reaching our full potential. But from what I see in God's word, that is not the case when it comes to what matters most.

In our walk with Christ, we have been blessed with great advantages. There are blessings we have been granted that testify to God's desire to intervene in our lives. We have been intentionally created, placed where we're located, and granted the privilege of living during this specific era of history. There are people we have been blessed to know and learn from. There are ways in which God has made us strong. And we have been granted access to His throne through faith in Jesus Christ.

What else does His word tell us about the advantages we've been given and how we can make the most of them?