Articles written by PurposeCity answering Scriptural Theological questions.

Young Leader

How to be a Young Leader

Much has been said in recent years about the decline of potential young leaders in various organizational and ministerial bodies.  Current executives bemoan the seeming lack of maturity among young up-and-comers, while the up-and-comers argue that they aren’t getting a chance to prove themselves.  Having talked with people on both sides of that conversation in organizations big and small, I have heard the long-time higher-level managers claim that young people don’t respect them, while at the same time I hear the young people say that their managers just don’t listen.

It is no secret that we are facing a significant generational divide; the Baby Boomers running the show are at odds with the Millennials who, at some point, will have to take over.  As a younger person myself, only having worked in my field for seven years, I have faced the harsh reality that there is a generational barrier between where I am today and where I want to be several years from now.  How can the two sides break down the walls of bad communication in order that organizations (and especially churches, which aren’t immune to this leadership gap by any means) can thrive for generations to come?

In leadership, there is a principle young leaders must adopt, called “leading up.” Personally, it is something I have practiced from the time I began my ministry and it has served me well.  Leading up is the skill of guiding those above you, either in age or position, without being overly insistent or rude. And while it was outside of the context of Christianity that I first heard of this principle, I have come to find that leading up is a very Biblical practice.

Paul’s letters to Timothy in the New Testament are basically textbooks on how to lead up, so if you’re a young leader looking for some fresh insight into how to drive change in your organization or church, look no further.  Many of us are familiar with 1 Timothy 4:12, which states, “Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young.  Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity.”  That verse remains for me, to this day, a terrific encouragement to keep on pushing forward in leadership, especially when I feel discouraged about my age. But, stopping with this verse misses out on how the author Paul expected his young leader Timothy to put this idea into practice. Let me explain:

1 Timothy 4:15 goes on to say “Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress.”  As young leaders we must work harder than anyone else if we are to be taken seriously.

1 Timothy 4:16 says “Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching.  Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.”  As young leaders, how we live speaks louder than whatever words we say, so we must endeavor to live lives above reproach so that those we lead can trust our judgment.

1 Timothy 5:1 tells us “Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would your own father.”  Regardless of the situations we face, in order to lead up, we must maintain respect for those older than us.  Respect is mentioned in two ways: never speak harshly, and appeal, or ask the opinion and advice, of those older and wiser than yourself.

1 Timothy 5:2 says “Treat older women as you would your mother, and treat younger women with all purity as you would your own sisters.”  As young leaders, especially young male leaders, respecting the women we lead is abundantly important.  Nothing will dissolve your credibility faster than inappropriate relationships with people of the opposite sex.

One of the most important things I have learned from leading up is that while I cannot control the actions and behaviors of other people, especially those older than me or higher up the organizational flow chart, I can control my actions and my behavior.  If it is your desire to develop as a leader so that the gifts God has given you might affect more and more people around you, don’t concern yourself with the behavior of others, work diligently on your own leadership abilities, and ask God to help and guide you.

Prayer Beads

Prayer Beads

In talking with many Christians regarding their spiritual disciplines, the issue I find that comes up the most is prayer.  Contemporary Evangelical Christianity, a stream to which many belong today, seems to have pushed so far away from orthodox Christian practices concerning prayer that many find it difficult knowing how and/or what to pray.

I, myself, am no stranger to this.  Having been a Christian most of my life, brought up in non-denominational expressions of following Jesus, I had great difficulty with the discipline of prayer.  In my younger days the best I could come up with for prayer times seemed little more than talking to myself about various things in no certain pattern or structure.  It was only after college when I decided to do something about this. In my times spent conversing with God I found prayer beads could be a helpful tool, especially in times when I find it difficult to talk with God regarding a certain matter.

My first encounter with prayer beads was not Christian, but Muslim.  The college where my wife and I attended had a considerable international student contingent and I made intentional efforts to build as many cross-cultural relationships as I could.  One year on my birthday, friends of mine from Saudi Arabia gave me a simple Misbaha, the Muslim version of prayer beads.  I asked them to explain their usefulness and what they mean.  Though I couldn’t affirm their use, myself being a Christian, I became curious about the background, and even if they could be of possible help to Evangelical Christianity.

Etymologically, our English word “bead”can be traced back to its Old English root bede which actually meant “prayer” (for some, the spelling of bede may look familiar as it is also the name of the 7th century English monk who was known for his works on early English Christian history).  As a tool for prayer, beads have been used almost since the beginning of the Christian Church itself.  Desert Fathers would pray using knotted ropes as a way of repeating the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”). The tradition continued through the centuries, most notably today in Roman Catholicism with their use of the rosary is meant to call to mind 59 prayers, creeds, and events in Jesus’s life through which they pray regularly. This does not mean however that simple beads are solely a Catholic practice and are thereby a tool Christians are prohibited from using. If we applied this logic, which often happens, our spiritual lives would be deeply impacted as there are many things we use as tools that cross religious boundaries and do not inherit the other’s religion in and of themselves.

Some outside of liturgical expressions of the Christian faith argue that this practice is too formulaic and inauthentic for the life of a follower of Jesus, preferring more extemporaneous forms of conversational prayer times. I certainly do enjoy talking with God in unstructured ways as well, but often I need something to get the ball rolling and the simple set of prayer beads I made for myself help me to do that.

My prayer beads (pictured) consist only of 17 beads, each representing unique sets of prayer concerns.  The largest bead reminds me to pray the Lord’s Prayer (found in Matthew 6:9-13). The nine round beads remind me to pray that God would cultivate in my life the Prayer Beadsnine fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (found in Galatians 5:22-23). You will notice that one of the nine beads is a different color – this calls to mind the statement in 1 Corinthians 13:13 that “the greatest of these is love.” The seven remaining beads lead me to pray that God would keep me from, and forgive me of, the seven deadly sins: hate, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony (see Proverbs 6:16-19 and Galatians 5:19-21).

Looking to scripture, after Jonah refused to do as God had commanded and was swallowed by a giant fish, Jonah prayed from inside the fish, and you can find his prayer in Jonah chapter 2.  What’s interesting is that even in this seemingly helpless situation, one of extreme crisis, Jonah’s prayer consisted not of improvised “words from the heart,” but of direct quotations from the Psalms, ancient Israel’s prayer book. In our darkest moments when words don’t flow as easily as we would like, we need to be able to cry out to God for His help and guidance, and having a tool like prayer beads certainly can assist us.

What helps you with your prayer life?  Please comment below.  If this idea appeals to you, please feel free to use it and even copy the design if you wish.  Blessings on your increased conversations with God.

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

“I am not religious, but I am spiritual.” If only I had a dollar for every time I have heard that phrase. It has become the new mantra. People who have, or want, no affiliation with any organized religious group or tradition but still want to be identified as having some commitment to religious/spiritual beliefs and practices. Being spiritual is worn as a something of a badge of honor. Being religious is seen as archaic, cold, legalistic, and often arrogant. Being spiritual is seen as being free, enlightened, on a path to something higher and more noble. Oddly enough I am convinced that the statement of being spiritual is at its heart a prideful thing.

In the first of Jesus’ famous statements that we now call The Beatitudes, Jesus did not say, “Blessed are the spiritual.” In fact, He said the exact opposite. He literally said, “Blessed are those who recognize that they are spiritually bankrupt.” That is what is at heart of what Jesus is saying. It is extremely significant that Jesus says this as the first of the “blessed are you” statements. Before you can ever really experience blessing from God, you absolutely must recognize how spiritually bankrupt you are. If you are ever going to recognize that you need God, you have to recognize at the core of your being that you are bankrupt without Him.

Going all the way back in the history of human beings our biggest problem is that we have been trying to live as if we did not need God. Saying “I am spiritual” is more about me than it is about God. In fact, it is one more step in the process of trying to be our own gods in charge of our own lives. We have tried to deny our own need for God. Being “spiritual” is about my effort to get in touch with and become something other than what I am. It is about be being good enough to reach a higher spiritual plane. All of that sounds wonderful but it is dependent on me, my effort, my storehouse of personal resources and ability to become something more, something good, or holy, or enlightened.

The problem is we are spiritually bankrupt without Jesus Christ. We just don’t want to admit it. It is said that the first step of recovery is admitting your need. Our first step in spiritual recovery is admitting that we have nothing in ourselves that has any spiritual value. We are totally and utterly dependent on God for our spiritual existence. Paul makes it clear in Colossians 2:13-14 that before we come to faith in Christ, we are spiritually dead. That is just another way of saying spiritually bankrupt. We will never be able to get close to God until we can admit how far from Him we really are and how dependent we are on Him for any spiritual life we might have.

The hurdle that we need to overcome is our pride. We are afraid that if we admit that we have nothing to offer spiritually then we are somehow admitting we are losers and we will be stuck there. What Jesus says is that we are spiritually empty, but that He values us far more than we could ever imagine. In spite of the fact that we are spiritually bankrupt, actually because we are spiritually bankrupt and can do nothing for ourselves, Jesus came and died on a cross to open a treasure-house of spiritual life. We will not tap into that storehouse unless we are willing to admit that we are in desperate need of what Jesus offers. When you come to that place in your life you will be blessed beyond measure. Don’t be afraid to admit on a daily basis that you are a sinner saved by grace and totally bankrupt in yourself. Yet, because of what Jesus has done, you are filled spiritually everyday by one who loves you more than you can imagine.

Gospel

What is the Gospel?

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, His first recorded words are a command to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The gospel, when translated from the Greek, literally means “good news” and is obviously an important and central teaching of the Christian faith. But do you know what it is?

For most of my life, I would have answered that question the same way almost anyone else who grew up in the modern Church would have answered it. The gospel is about the offer of salvation and forgiveness of sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Right?

Let’s examine the scriptures to see what the Bible has to say on the subject.

Many Gospels?

Throughout Scripture, there are many instances where you will see the word “gospel” accompanied by a descriptor. Some of the examples we see are “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1), “the gospel of God” (Mark 1:14), “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23), “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), “the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13), and “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). Does this mean there are many different gospels? And if there is no descriptor included, how can we know which gospel is being referenced?

In general, our culture has done a good job of proclaiming a gospel of salvation. The problem is that the Bible depicts the gospel as something more than just our own personal salvation, as evidenced above. Yet, we often miss the full gospel because we tend to focus on just one aspect of it. While there is certainly only one gospel, it manifests itself in many different ways.

Perhaps the best question we should ask is, “Which gospel did Jesus preach?”

The Gospel of the Kingdom of God

If we go back again to the first recorded words of Jesus, we see Him speaking about the coming “kingdom of God” (Mark 1:15). In Matthew 9:35, we also see that “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” In Luke 4:43, Jesus even goes so far as to say, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for I was sent for this purpose.”

Have you ever truly noticed that before? Jesus is saying the very purpose He was sent to Earth was to preach the gospel, or the “good news,” of the kingdom of God. But did the focus of the gospel change after Jesus’ death and resurrection? According to Acts 1:3, “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” So even after his resurrection, Jesus continued to speak about the kingdom of God.

The Apostle Paul preached the very same gospel. While living for two years in Rome, Acts 28:23 tells us that “from morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.”

Paul wasn’t the only apostle preaching this message either. In Acts 8, we’re told that the Apostle Philip “preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”

What’s interesting is that both the good news (the “gospel”) of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus were preached. This indicates that the message of the gospel and the message of the person of Jesus are not the same message. The gospel of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the kingdom, the gospel of the grace of God, the gospel of your salvation, the gospel of peace – these are all the same gospel, because they all point to the same thing: the coming kingdom of God. When Christ comes again, ushering in his Kingdom to begin his millennial reign here on Earth, the good news is that those of us counted among the righteous will be there with him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

You can’t remove Jesus from the gospel. Without Him, there is no gospel. But if we only preach a gospel of salvation, then we reduce the gospel to merely a benefit. We may currently understand the gospel in relation to how it affects our lives today, but Jesus wants us to know how the gospel impacts us after we die. Salvation is our entry point into the Kingdom of God, but salvation is only a one time event. The Kingdom of God is forever.

Introverted Extroverted

Is It Better To Be Spiritually Introverted or Extroverted?

For those of you who have taken the Myers Briggs Test online, you may discovered what makes you, uniquely you. Everyone has a certain God-given wiring that makes them special and this wiring is necessary for reaching and loving others to whom they will be one day be sent to serve. As for me, I am an ENFP (Extraversion, Sensing, Feeling, and Perceiving) which means that I am people oriented with a deep emotional drive. The interesting thing for me personally is that some versions of the test will give you percentages and the last time I took it my test the results came back one hundred percent extraverted. This means that if given the choice to do any activity alone or with another person, I would always choose to be with someone else. The test was not lying as this is very true about my nature. You may be thinking – how cool is that? Or wow, that’s certainly not me. You see, this can be a doubled edged sword – especially when it comes to finding time alone with God. Now, for those of you who lean more to the introverted side of things, don’t worry, this isn’t all about extraversion. Instead, keep reading as you will learn that we all need to find a balance – we all need to become both introverted and extraverted at different moments throughout our days.

After expressing to a close friend my frequent feelings of loneliness, due to my need to be around people, she made a unique comment. You see, she could have easily agreed with me and said that this is just who I am and this would have served as an adequate response. Instead, she urged and challenged me to spend some time truly enjoying being alone. My initial reaction was simply, “easy for her to say, she tends to be much more of an introvert by nature than I am.” However, after giving it some thought, and some further discussion with this dear friend, I decided to look at Jesus’ life on earth for some inspiration on how to conduct our lives and govern our natural tendencies – be it extraverted or introverted.

So the question begs to be asked, was Jesus an introvert or extravert? What about when He ministered to others? Sure, we can argue that much of His story depicts time around his best buddies, the twelve disciples, and, therefore, this must mean He was a people person. Additionally, He clearly had no problem around the multitudes, speaking and sharing time with thousands of people, making any environment His home. Yet, we cannot write off that He also always made time to spend hours alone in solitude, praying to and worshiping His Father. Clearly, Jesus understood the value of both types of personalities: spending time around many people and rejuvenating through alone time. Here are two examples:

 “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” (Luke 6:12)

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said…” (Luke 14:25)

Perhaps you know exactly where you fall on this spectrum and you are not sure what it means for your spiritual life. I, personally, have come to find that every personality trait is fair game for God to use. So if you find that you, like myself, desperately need people, don’t be afraid to be alone. God needs you to spend some time hearing His voice and being still. It is through the stillness that He ministers to you, so that, you can go back out and bless others. However, if you find what I am saying peculiar and your tendencies would be to stay inside  and read a good book as opposed to socializing, you are probably are more of an introvert and the idea of constantly entertaining seems exhausting. You probably find meditating on God’s Word and solitude much easier than being a social butterfly. And, sure, it may be easy to say that the extraverts can handle the crowds, but the reality is, God needs introverts just as much as He needs the person comfortable holding the megaphone.

We are all called to be missional and that means that we all must go out and serve others. Likewise, we are reminded through Jesus’ life, and those who faithfully followed Him, that nothing can replace time alone in His presence. It is through these encounters with His holiness that we receive strength to fight the good fight that He has called us to.  So discover who you are because God didn’t make a mistake when He made you – challenge yourself to grow by both taking in who He is through solitude and releasing His presence through the accompaniment of many.

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

In the first Beatitude, Jesus tells us we are spiritually bankrupt. So what do you do with that? Simple: You mourn.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Jesus said that those who recognize that they are “poor in Spirit”, what I called spiritually bankrupt, will in fact possess heaven. The first step in a relationship with God is recognizing that we have nothing to bring to the table. But there is a crucial second step and it comes in the form of mourning that spiritual bankruptcy.

Blessed are those who mourn is not about the mourning that we all do when faced with the trials and hardships of life. Jesus said those who mourn will be comforted and clearly not every mourning in life has an accompanying time of comfort as promised by Jesus. But there is a mourning that will be comforted, the mourning over our spiritual condition and separation from God.

The fact of our sin is not a pleasant thing to have to deal with. We want to hide it, deny it, laugh it off, or even proudly boast of it. But deep inside we are still in need of the love and forgiveness that God offers through Christ. The only way to truly overcome our bankruptcy is to admit it and mourn over it. With that comes the comfort of the loving arms of Jesus welcoming us into His grace.

If that is true, then why don’t we mourn our sin? Why try to deal with it in so many other ineffective and even destructive ways? At the heart of it all is pride and fear. We don’t want to admit that we are not perfect, that we have flaws and faults. So we try to deny and cover up. And with good reason. We have all seen enough examples of people who have failed and the feeding frenzy of ridicule and loathing that quickly surrounds them. Who wants to risk that kind of reaction by admitting their sin? No one! So instead we go on living our lives in silent sin, as we slowly die inside. In that way we are like the sick person who has a nagging suspicion that something is seriously wrong inside but they refuse to go to the doctor for fear of what they will learn.

The only way to truly be comforted is to deal with the sin in our hearts in an honest and forthright way. We need not be ashamed. God wants to remove our shame and guilt. The only way to do that is admit our need, mourn our sin, and ask for Him to forgive and restore us.

There is one additional thing that is crucial. If you are able to mourn your own sinfulness then you should also be willing and able to give grace and forgiveness to fellow sinners. One of the main reasons we don’t confess our sin, and find the freedom that brings, is that we have too often experienced the rejection that comes from others who will not admit their own sin. If we had a lot more honesty and transparency about our weakness, we would be a great deal healthier when it came to our relationship with God.

Mourn your sin, seek God’s forgiveness and then experience not only the comfort, but the joy and freedom that is found only in Christ.