Success doesn’t equal identity 

“Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”‭‭Matthew‬ ‭4:8-11‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

How much are you worth? We may not ever ask ourselves that exact question but thoughts and feelings of worth trickle through our minds from time to time. We subconsciously compare our material possessions with those of others. We may assign values to our businesses or ministries.

Honestly, we can’t help it. In our culture, we’re considered successful if we have accumulated money and things. In our capitalist society, virtually everything has a price and value. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The problem comes when we put prices and values on ourselves and make those values part of our identity. 

That’s what the devil did to Jesus. The devil showed Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He showed him the might, wealth, and riches of kingdoms and offered it to Jesus. 

This attack was really tricky. Instead of referring to Jesus as the Son of God as he did in the first two attacks, Satan appealed to Jesus’ humanity. He wasn’t talking to the “Son of God”. He was talking to the son of a middle class, blue collar carpenter who was never wealthy. His goal was to get Jesus to chase wealth and success instead of following God. 

Satan approaches us the same way. He shows us a never ending stream of new and better things to acquire. He distracts us with images of promotions and greater success. We don’t always realize it but the longer we look at the kingdoms and glory, the less we may think of ourselves. 

Don’t tie your identity to your success or material worth. You’re no less important to God if you don’t have a bigger church, nicer car, or better business. Your fame fortune or popularity are inadequate definitions for your identity. When we are secure in our identity toward God, we can put Satan in his place. 

Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ”

Jesus was offended by Satan’s petty offer. When you’re the Son of God whose Father owns the world, the kingdoms in the world are a drop in the bucket. Literally. 

“Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, And are counted as the small dust on the scales; Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing.”
‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭40:15‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Only God can tell us what we’re worth because only God was able to pay the price for our salvation. Only God can determine our success because only he has the plan for our lives. 

Your title isn’t your identity. 

“Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ””‭‭Matthew‬ ‭4:5-7‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Ok, in the second scenario between Jesus and the devil in the wilderness, the devil attacks Jesus’ identity again. He says “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ”

Let’s unpack this statement. If you’re the Son of God, if you have that title, if you have that position, if you have that status, then throw yourself down from he top of the temple. If you’re really the Son of God then there’s no problem because you’re important. In fact you’re so important, God will dispatch angels to catch you. 

This tactic employed by the devil is still in use today. It’s easy for the devil to tempt us to believe our titles make us entitled. Sometimes leaders become intoxicated with positional power. They allow their titles to excuse reckless behavior and uncalculated decisions. Some resort to “title-mongering” where they justify their decisions by saying “I’m the leader, I’m the boss, I’m the pastor, or I’m the president.”

Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ”

Allowing your title to become your identity is dangerous. It can lead to pride which could cause you to fall. It can lead to stagnation if you refuse to give up the title. It can lead to depression if you lose the title. Worst of all, it could lead us to “tempt” or test God because we believe our titles make us so important. 

We’re not that important. We should never tie our identity to our positions. Any of us can be replaced. As my friend Abraham Snell once said “One monkey won’t stop God’s show. If he can’t find a monkey, he’ll use an orangutan.” 

Ability doesn’t equal identity

Last week, my friend Jeff Centers, pastor of Riverland Church, shared a thought with me. He said one of the primary ways the enemy attacks ministry leaders is in the area of identity. As we discussed this concept I began to believe Jeff was right. Immediately my mind went to the interaction between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness. There it was, as plain as day. So I’d like to explore this concept with you for a few posts. 

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ””
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭4:1-4‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

In this first interaction, Satan challenged Jesus to turn stones to bread. He just challenged Jesus to do an impossible, miraculous task to produce an ordinary result. What’s so dangerous about this challenge is, the enemy ties ability to Jesus’ identity. 

If you are the Son of God, do the impossible. If you are who you say you are, then do the miraculous. Surely someone with your skills, talents, and gifts should be able to dazzle everyone with your power. Does that sound familiar to you? It does to me. 

I hear this; “if you’re the pastor, you have to go above and beyond to impress others.” “If you’re the ministry leader you have to be so talented as a leader that you grow the ministry to worldwide status.” “If you’re the preacher or speaker then wow us with your powerful words and compelling messages.”

If we listen to these ideas, we may begin to believe our identity and worth are measured by our abilities. We may even begin to compare our abilities to the abilities of others. We may find ourselves fixed on performance instead of faithfulness. Worst of all, we may become discouraged when we fail to work miracles for the pleasure of spectators. When these things happen, Satan keeps us bound and causes us to discredit ourselves. 

Don’t tie your identity to your abilities. You are not your skill set. You are not your voice. You are not your leadership ability. You are a Son or Daughter of God. Jesus reveals a truth we must all grasp in order to survive the enemy’s attack:

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Sons and Daughters of God live by God’s word. Our true identity is whatever God says about us. Our source of life is his word. The only one who can command us and empower us to do the impossible is God. Whether we perform miracles or not, we’re still his children. 

Keep learning about culture. 

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”
‭‭Hosea‬ ‭4:6‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

This verse makes me shudder. As a minister and leader, I would be horrified to hear God say he would reject me from being his servant. The thing that’s most telling though is his reason why; because the priests in Hosea’s day had rejected knowledge. I believe the rejection of knowledge today, by leaders, is causing us to lose true effectiveness in reaching our target market. So for a few weeks, I’d like to encourage you to keep learning.

Learning about the evolution of culture is one of the key areas where we falter. For some reason as adults, we reach a point where we no longer desire to keep up with changes in culture. Some of us actually get stuck in a particular decade. We loved the 70’s or 80’s so we dress like that time period and we wish everything could go back the way they use to be. We end up viewing our leadership through the lenses of our preferred culture rather than the prevailing culture.

Why is that significant? Because we limit our effectiveness when we limit our understanding of cultural relevance. For example, the smartphone market was dominated by Blackberry, who made phones that catered to businesses. Apple didn’t have a phone at all. But when they produced the iPhone, that catered to the prevailing culture, Apple grew to dominate the market and is now one of the top 5 brands in the world. Just last year Apple was offering to buy parts of Blackberry in anticipation of their demise. As culture shifts, we must shift in our leadership and methods. Otherwise our businesses and churches will end up like Blackberry.

We can’t lead millennials (born between 1982 and 2000) the way we lead baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964). This is important because the millennials are now the single largest generation in America. Their culture is totally different from older groups and extremely diverse. Their attitudes about lifestyles, finances, personal fulfillment, entertainment, brand loyalty, leadership, and spirituality are more opened than previous generations. Which means, our methods for reaching them will need to change.

So what should we do? We should learn about the culture. Instead of putting it down, rejecting it, or dismissing it, we should try our best to understand it from their point of view. Learn why certain issues are important to them. Learn what elements of your existing culture are foreign to them (and not be offended). Listen to and value their opinions without judging them. Be willing to make reasonable changes to become culturally relevant. Allow them to participate in a meaningful way. Let them help you reach their peers. Be willing to explain your own culture only after you’ve listened, and only if your current culture will help them.

I leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul.

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.”
‭‭I Corinthians‬ ‭9:19-23‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Good Morning Baltimore

Image from Hello World Media via Flickr

Image from Hello World Media via Flickr

The movie “Hairspray” opens with the song “Good Morning Baltimore”. It’s a happy song about the finer points of the city. But as the movie progresses, the very serious issues of body image discrimination and racial segregation take front stage. In the end, it takes a galvanizing leader and a courageous teenager to open the eyes of the public and bring about reconciliation. 

Currently, there is a great need for reconciliation in Baltimore since there have been protests and riots involving physical violence and destruction of property. All of which are prevalent in the wake of the brutal beating and subsequent death of Freddie Gray. The images I’ve seen on the news and social media have been both disturbing and disappointing. My heart and prayers go out to the community that has been hurt on both sides of the police brutality and injustice issues. 

I know that I’m an outsider looking into the current state of affairs in Baltimore, Maryland. I realize at the end of the day, the people in that city must find a way to bring lasting peace and hope. However, I feel the need to add one more observation to the myriad of blogs, tweets, and posts on this subject. In my opinion, Baltimore needs clear social leadership. 

So far, in this circumstance I’ve noticed each media source has tried to get statements from various leaders. We’ve seen church leaders, city councilmen, gang leaders, student leaders, police leaders, mayors, the governor, national minority leaders, and more. But there doesn’t seem to be one clearly identifiable leader who has the influence to speak on behalf of the masses. 

During the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was that leader. He was the key figure whose leadership gave the plight of minorities a voice. Historically, every major movement that affected change had a leader who courageously represented the weak in the face of the establishment. From Moses to Ghandi to Dr. King, dynamic leaders have played a vital role in the success of freedom movements. That said, I believe Baltimore could benefit from having a leader who unifies all of the splintered pieces of social injustice into a comprehensive and focused agenda. 

I pray that God will raise up a leader who has the integrity to command the listening ear of the public. I’m praying for a leader who will endeavor to do what’s right for right’s sake. This leader must have the complete trust of the people and the selfless disposition to serve the greater good of the city as a whole, without expecting anything in return. 

I’m praying for a leader whose passion for this cause will not flicker out after the news reporters move on to the next hot topic. A leader who is willing to do the hard work of deep, lasting, transformational change is needed to insure future generations can shake off the curse of racism and discrimination in the city. I pray that God causes a leader to emerge who has the miraculous ability to grasp anger, fear, chaos, and rage, wrestle them into submission with divine authority and make peace. 

Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. (‭Matthew‬ ‭5‬:‭9‬ NKJV)

Correcting with Grace


When those around Him saw what was going to happen, they said to Him, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, “Permit even this.” And He touched his ear and healed him. (‭Luke‬ ‭22‬:‭49-51‬ NKJV)

Every good leader wants team members who are competent, trustworthy, self-starters that don’t require a lot prodding to get things done. But sometimes those team members can go too far and the leader must take corrective action. How do you handle it? 

Jesus dealt with a similar situation involving his disciples. One of them, Peter, cut off the ear of a servant of the high priest when a group came to arrest Jesus. Instead of embarrassing or berating his disciples, Jesus corrected the action without harming them and healed the servant. From his example we can learn a few tips for correcting our teams. 

Know the Situation
Jesus was fully aware of the situation that led to his disciples’ actions. This knowledge was crucial to determining the appropriate response. Leaders should never make disciplinary decisions based on assumptions. Assuming in correction makes the leader look self-centered, incompetent, and uncaring in the eyes of the team. Gather as many facts as possible to help you make an objective decision. 

Correct the Action
When Jesus spoke after the man’s ear was cut off, he didn’t try to punish his disciple. Instead, he corrected their actions. When we set out to “fix” a problem we’re often tempted to project our frustrations toward a person. When we give in to this temptation we end up bruising the person which could slowly deteriorate the working relationship in the future. Instead, we should give grace with correction. We should use the correction as a teachable moment. We should speak the truth but do it in love so our team members won’t lose their confidence and we won’t lose their trust. 

Leverage Your Power
In this case a man’s ear was cut off and only Jesus had the power to heal him. For leaders, there will be times when our team members will create problems they are not qualified or equipped to handle. For these times, it’s important for us to step up and exercise our authority for the good of everyone involved. It may cost us initially but we gain in the long run. By stepping into the situation we can appease and retain disgruntled clients or members, mend broken relationships, and avoid future damages. 

No matter how bad the mistake or the problem, at the end of the day leaders must still value and honor their team members. We must do our best to separate the person from the actions by extending love and grace. 

Leading Ways


He who walks with integrity walks securely, But he who perverts his ways will become known. (Proverbs 10:9 NKJV)

Honesty lives confident and carefree, but Shifty is sure to be exposed. (Proverbs 10:9 MSG)

As a leader, how would your followers describe you? Proverbs 10:9 describes two extremes of what of person or leader can be. Would your followers say you’re a leader of integrity and honesty, or would they say you have corrupt ways (perverse) or that you’re shifty? 

Don’t be mistaken, your followers have an opinion about you as a leader. It all depends on how you walk. What I mean is, every leader has a way of processing information, making decisions, delegating, and managing their teams. The way you do these things and your motives behind them reveal your true nature. 

If you’re chronically late, ill prepared, unengaged, self-centered, greedy, resentful, or hateful, they know it. If you only delegate things you hate to do, or you needlessly take all the credit for team success, they know it. 

All leaders are exposed no matter how hard we may try to cover our flaws. Ultimately, we will either become leaders people are forced to follow or leaders they want to follow. What can we do about it? 

Start by leading yourself well. Read leadership content, attend leadership events, and surround yourself with great leaders. Evaluate yourself regularly. Then allow your peers and team members to evaluate you as well. Honest feedback will help you identify the places where you need to focus and grow. 

As your teams see you growing, they will give you more grace concerning your flaws and be more willing to follow you. Growing leaders are worth following. 

Sweep the Path


So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight.” (Acts 9:11, 12 NKJV)

Jesus was sending Ananias to meet with Saul who had a reputation for persecuting Christians. The Lord told Ananias he had already shown Saul a vision, revealing he was coming to restore his sight. By doing this, Jesus swept a clear path for Ananias to interact with Saul. 

Leaders today must also be sure to sweep the path for those in their organization. You see, sometimes we delegate tasks for our team members to interact with people in other departments. People from other departments may not respect or be as helpful to our team members as they would be for us as leaders. 

When this happens our team members may have a tough time fulfilling their delegated tasks. They may be frustrated and get a negative impression of the department or individuals who made things difficult for them. In the worst case, they may be denied and have to explain to their leader why they failed to complete their assignment. 

To ensure a smooth transaction, we leaders need to make a quick phone call or send an email informing the other department that our team member is on the way. This simple act can remove barriers, neutralize gate keepers, and lend our credibility to our team members.