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. 

How do you get what you want?

We have two dogs at home and they are pretty good at getting what they want. They get food, pats, play, fresh bones and walks. They never are aggressive and always loving. It does not matter what happens, they are happy to see you. They gently use love, cuteness and persuasion to get their way.…

Keep learning to follow. 

Thanks for reading these posts from Hosea 4. If you’ve missed any of them, please refer to previous posts. As we continue in this passage in Hosea, God is still speaking to the spiritual leaders of his people and reveals he’s rejecting those leaders because they stopped following God.

“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

Having the high title of a leader doesn’t exclude us from being a follower. In fact, every leader must first be a follower. If we’re not following God and other successful leaders, we won’t grow. If we aren’t growing we can’t lead our people to higher heights.

More specifically, God reveals his priests forgot the law and therefore failed to follow his law. This is significant because God’s law was a guide for every portion of society, including leadership. His law was like guard rails that kept their business dealings, societal norms, and treatment of people in line. It provided a vital source of best practices.

Fast forward to today. If you’re a leader, pastor, or business owner, you will have greater success if you follow the principles that serve as guard rails for your industry or vocation. Whenever a leader fails or makes a mistake, it can be traced back to violated principles. Violations of ethics and moral standards, lack of financial accountability, or simply neglecting tried and true principles have ruined careers and caused the demise of ministries and businesses. Failure to follow sound plans and wise counsel is devastating also.

But that’s not all. After failing to follow God and his law, the priests decided instead to follow the crowd.

“They eat up the sin of My people; They set their heart on their iniquity. And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways, And reward them for their deeds.”
‭‭Hosea‬ ‭4:8-9‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Eventually the priests and leaders began to follow and play to the crowd. When the people brought their sin offerings, the priests were happy because they could eat well. They set their hearts on reaping benefits from the crowd. The end result of following the crowd is that God said you couldn’t tell the difference between the priests and the people. At that point, the leaders were no longer spokesmen for God, but rather, acting in their own regard.

When we play to the influence of the crowd, popular opinions, trends and fads, we are no longer operating in our leadership capacity. When we chase the crowd we are no more a leader than a surfer riding a wave. The surfer can’t claim to lead the wave just because he’s out front. He can’t stop the wave. He can only ride it. We’ve all seen people who rode the waves of popularity to gain high positions, but faltered when it was time to step up and lead in earnest.

Let me close by saying, leaders should be followers of leadership, followers of God, and followers of principles, instead of following the crowd. If you have ideas to share about this subject I’d love to hear from you. Please consider leaving a comment and sharing this post with others.

Keep learning about the community. 

“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

None of us want to be the leader that God rejects because we rejected knowledge. Here is a critical piece of knowledge we tend to neglect; knowledge about the community. Our leadership impact will be measured by how well we reach those around us. If we do not investigate the needs of our communities, we will limit our effectiveness.

One of the reasons we reject knowledge about the community is we think we already know. But the truth is, we only know the part that’s in front of us. Let me explain. Before I became pastor of our church, I served for ten years as an associate, youth minister, and assistant pastor. After ten years of doing ministry in Tuskegee, Alabama, you’d think I would have an accurate picture of the makeup of the community. However, I was completely clueless.

Once I became pastor, I decided to learn more about the city and county. So I looked up the census data online. Here’s what I learned:

1. The population was on the decline. 

2. More than half the households were single parent or single grandparent. 

3. More than half the county lived below the poverty level. 

4. Those 45 and younger made up the majority. 

5. The median income is around $40,000. 

I couldn’t see these truths from within the confines of our church and the circles with which I associated. Gaining this knowledge helped me shape our church ministry. Here is the strategy we used to increase our effectiveness as a result of this data. 

1. Since the population was on the decline ( losing nearly 5000 people between the year 2000 and 2010 ) we began to focus on outreach. When I became pastor we had roughly 170 members. In the next two years we lost approximately 30 members. We’ve created an inviting culture at church and are now a 200 member church. The community is still on the decline but we’re still seeing steady growth. 

2. To address the single family households we began to preach more about healthy families. This means we focus on helping families grow from where they are, rather than making them feel guilty about not being an ideal family (father, mother, and kids). Single parents in our church feel supported and encouraged because they know their past is behind them and God can shape the future for them and their children. 

3. Our outreaches are more effective now because we focus on real needs, not perceived needs in the community. Because of the poverty statistics and single parent household statistics, we have partnered with the local food pantry to provide groceries for families, and we have school supply and Christmas toy drives to help the parents. 

4. Knowing the majority of the community is 45 and below, we began to change our worship services to appeal to that demographic. Which means, my sermons are always less than 45 minutes ( between 25 and 35 minutes) because the attention span in this age group is short. We’re also using social media and our website to engage them and be more accessible. 

5. Knowing the median income level we have realistic ideas about our church contributions. We stopped preaching about tithes and offerings. Don’t get me wrong, we teach the concept, but instead, we preach more about generosity. Oh, and any salaries we provide are based on real knowledge and reasonable expectations. 

This is just a small sample of the things I’ve considered about our community. Your community may be vastly different from ours. You may have a large Hispanic population and benefit from hosting Spanish to English classes at your church. You may have a large retiree group that needs certain services your church can provide. Your church may need to adopt a nearby school to help positively influence students, parents, and teachers. 

I encourage you to do the homework. Look up your community data. Have conversations with community leaders. Meet your city councilman. Visit your chamber of commerce. Then apply what you learn to help grow your influence. 

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

Planning, planning, planning. 

For last few weeks I’ve been wanting a standing desk. What is that, you ask? It’s literally a desk tall enough for a person to stand and work rather than sitting all day. So, last week I visited a few furniture stores and office furniture stores looking to price a standing desk. I found two of them at IKEA priced at $630 and $450. I was really hoping to get one in the $250 to $300 range. So I decided to build my own. Along the way, I learned a few things about planning I’d like to share. 

Get a plan. 

Look, I’m not a carpenter but I happen to own a circular saw and a drill. All I needed was materials and a plan. After examining the desks at the store closer, I at least got an idea of how to construct the desk. I was thinking maybe some 2 X 4’s and a wooden board would do it. The last thing I wanted to do was reinvent the wheel. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing but the manufacturer of the desk at the store did. So I followed their pattern just as Moses followed the pattern God gave him for the tabernacle. 

“who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, “See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”” Hebrews‬ ‭8:5‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

When you’re the leader, people often look to you for direction and answers. In some cases, they expect you to be the subject matter expert on everything concerning your ministry or business. But let’s be honest, just because you know about something doesn’t mean you know it intimately. There are plenty of people around us doing what we want to do on a high level. Admit what you don’t know, look at their pattern, go ask them questions, and develop a plan. Eat the meat, spit out the bones you don’t need, take the ideas, tweak them, and use them. 

Be prepared to plan again. 

“We can make our own plans, but the LORD gives the right answer.” Proverbs‬ ‭16:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬

My plan for acquiring the materials was to get some scraps of culled wood from Home Depot. Each day, imperfect or warped building materials are marked and set aside on a cart at the back of the store. Those pieces are sold at 70% off. When I reached the cart, I found several pieces of wood that didn’t exactly fit my plan, but had the potential to help me reach my goal. 

For example, I was able to acquire 1 and a half 2 X 4’s instead of 4. After measuring the wood, I was able to adjust my plan to make the desk with 3 legs, instead of 4. I also had to do some interesting math calculations to make angular cuts so the frame of the desk would fit together. Things don’t always turn out the way we plan. That’s why leaders need to be flexible enough to revisit their plan at each new challenge. 

Plan with people in mind. 

It took two days for me to complete the desk. I was tired, sore, and covered in saw dust but I wasn’t alone. My plan affected everyone in the house. My wife, Melissa, was my support team. She helped me make initial decisions, made sure I was resources with food, water, and back rubs. My daughter, Faith, helped keep my work space clean and organized, while reminding me to put safety first. My cat, Robin, ran from the sound of the saw which encouraged me to plan well enough to reduce cuts. I measured twice and cut once. 

Leaders lead people not programs. If you’re not making your team better, if you’re not developing the people around you, then you’re not a real leader. You’re no different than a line leader in a grade school classroom. You’re just at the front because it was your turn. The teacher is the true leader while you’re just holding a spot. 

At the end of the day, our plans are not successful unless everyone involved is made better. Every step of the way was an opportunity to teach important concepts, build relationships, and make memories with my family. For example, Faith learned how to use the saw and drill, and ended up with enough scraps to make a project of her own. 

So here it is. My homemade, three legged, scrap constructed, standing desk! It cost me a whopping $12 but the blessings I received in the process were priceless. 


The Heart to Lead

Recently, our church held a Clergy Appreciation Service and personally, it marked eight years for me as a pastor. Eight years! That got me thinking. So, I’ve “Googled” average pastor tenure and several sites say the average is three to four years. Think about that. On average, in less than five years, the pastor and church will part ways.

I’d like to share some thoughts about this from a leadership perspective for pastors. I know it’s not always the pastor’s fault but maybe this post can help those who are stepping into new positions. Let’s look at King Solomon.

“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?””
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NIV

When God offered the young King Solomon anything he desired, Solomon asked for a discerning heart to govern God’s people. He didn’t ask for fortune, fame, or any of the perks of being king. He was personally secure in his position. This is important because insecure leaders expend more energy and bravado trying to secure their positions instead of leading the people. I’ve heard many seasoned pastors say “the moment you have to say ‘I’m the pastor’ you’re not the pastor”. Solomon wasn’t like that. He was already royalty by birth. We can learn from Solomon’s example. As believers, we are born again, joint heirs with Christ, which makes us royalty. The riches of the kingdom of God are ours to enjoy. We don’t need the church to validate us or feed our ego.

Additionally, Solomon was already anointed king of Israel, meaning he was chosen by God to lead the people. In our case, pastors are anointed and chosen as well. You see “pastor” is a gift from the Holy Spirit, not a job or title. Those who are gifted by the Holy Spirit to pastor are already anointed to do the job. However, if you’re a preacher / minister who isn’t gifted to pastor, but you’ve been given that title, you will always struggle because you’re not in your gifted role. Pastors have the royal pedigree and the spiritual anointing to lead God’s people. What more could we need? We need the heart to lead.

Solomon asked God to perform a spiritual transplant by giving him a heart to lead the people under his care. When I talk to pastors who have served one congregation for 10, 20, or 30 years, they all exhibit a genuine love and concern for the needs of their congregations. Today, as pastors, we need to care enough about our congregations to want what’s best for them. Some of our church members have been hurt by previous pastors and are bitter toward us. Some of them have been bruised by everyday life and bring those scars into the church, pointing their pain at everyone, including the pastor.

My pastor told me on many occasions “hurt people will hurt you”. That’s why it’s so important for new pastors to ask God for a discerning heart. Without it, we could mistake aggression for hatred. We could take every outburst personally rather than looking past the hostility to see the church’s true needs. So God, please give our pastors a discerning heart to lead your people, and bring stability to our churches.

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)