Leading on Empty

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What do you do when you’re a leader and you have nothing left to give?

What happens when you are the pastor, the parent, or the friend who has hit a season where you are frustrated, burnt out, and ready to give up? Because of the reality of the Christian life, as we serve others we break ourselves open and pour ourselves out day after day, week after week, and month after month.  And while we might certainly understand that in order to pour ourselves out to others we need to be poured into… some days it seems like everything gets drained out a lot quicker than it gets poured back in.

When we lead within our homes, we pour ourselves out for our spouses and our kids and when that happens day in and day out, we often find ourselves empty.  When we lead in our congregation, at times we will inevitably find ourselves empty. Life has a way of emptying us rather quickly.

A sudden death of a child.

A close friend gets served with divorce papers.

A coworker betrays you.

The job you love becomes more work than passion.

What happens then? The reality of serving, whether it be as someone who is paid or a volunteer, is that it is hard. Because relationships take work. Working on a team is difficult. Serving others is difficult. Belonging to a family is difficult. So when you’ve hit empty, exhausted by your inability to have anything to offer to the people around, what do you do?

In Matthew 14:13-21, there’s an incredible account of Jesus using the disciples:

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

What did the disciples have that equipped them for their mission of feeding over 5,000? What qualified the disciples to be the ones to help Jesus in this miracle? It wasn’t their devotion to Jesus, the qualifications, or the amount of bread they filled their baskets with.

The disciples had nothing.  And that’s exactly what Jesus needed.  One bible-teacher suggests, “Nothing is God’s favorite material to work with.”  The disciples are qualified to serve the people around them because they have nothing to offer to them. Some kid has bread and fish, not the disciples.  It’s only when the disciples have nothing to offer that Jesus can use them to do his work.

The disciples have nothing. They have empty baskets and Jesus starts handing out the goods and they simply take what Jesus gives to them and passes it around. They get a bite for themselves and share the goods.

In the moments when you have nothing left to give, God is ready to get to work. The God who created the world from nothing and created life from nothing, creates a missionary and a servant when you have nothing left to give.  When you find yourself exhausted by the work of ministry, Jesus puts the bread in your basket. The very thing that qualifies you to give and serve your neighbor is not the amount of time you’ve spent on yourself, it’s magnitude of the grace that’s been given to you when you had nothing to give.

Public Shaming, Monica Lewinsky, and the Gospel

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Referencing the great presidential scandal of 1998, Monica Lewinsky said, “I was Patient Zero of losing a personal reputation on a global scale almost instantaneously.”  It has taken her over a decade to speak publicly about what has happened and what she experienced. Before we really understood stories going viral on the Internet and before social media had really taken its root, public shaming ripped apart Monica Lewinsky given her a new identity.

Now, with the growth of social media, the Internet is possibly best known for the spread of these shaming stories. Almost weekly we hear news of another story that I cannot imagine does anything but rip apart the identity of the person. And one shaming gets replaced with the next one. One moment it’s the story of a pastor caught in the scandal, the next week a political figure, the next moment the latest hollywood divorce… shame, shame, shame. [Read more…]

Decorations Don’t Matter

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Over the past month or so my family has been in the midst of a transition. About a month ago we got keys to our house and for the past several weeks, we have been doing project after project trying to prepare the house for us to live in.  Now, for those of you who don’t know me – I have very limited skills in construction projects.

Nonetheless, we have done project after project, painting and tearing down walls and putting new ones up, removing carpet, and moving boxes.  And moving more boxes.  One of the things that’s interesting in the midst of these never-ending house projects is that none of the work is actually determining whether or not our house is going to stand throughout the night. None of our projects are actually determining whether or not our house is a safe place to live.

In the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus concludes his sermon he uses a construction metaphor to describe the Christian faith. And Jesus speaks of the foundation. He speaks of the part of the house that we rarely see, yet is so incredibly important.

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Our Worst and His Best.

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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has a loaded, profound statement when he says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

In the Scriptures, the Pharisees often get a bad rep. But that’s not what’s happening here. Jesus often condemns the Pharisees and teachers of the law, highlighting their hypocrisy. In this Scripture, Jesus is holding them up as an example of good Christian behavior. Because when it comes to good behavior, the Pharisees do it right. They are always on their best behavior; they are the pinnacle of holiness. The Apostle Paul at one point refers to his own life as a Pharisee and suggests, “Based on my righteousness according to the law, I was faultless.”

How good of a Christian do you have to be to be able to call yourself faultless?

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The Original Formula

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In 1985 the Coca-Cola Company introduced a new formula for their flagship soda. Perhaps this may not seem like a big deal, but keep in mind I’m not talking about adding a new product like Cherry Coke, Diet Coke, or Vanilla Coke. Coca-Cola did the unthinkable and decided that the original Coca-Cola needed a new formula.

Obviously, we can guess how America would react to such a decision.

I’m not old enough to remember such a suggestion, but based on my reaction when my soda at McDonalds doesn’t have the right carbonation, I have a feeling that I wouldn’t have been too fond of the changed formula.

In 1985 the problem that Coca-Cola was experiencing was that they suffered from a severe case of corporate amnesia. Coca-Cola forget what makes Coke, Coke.  The same thing happens in the Church all the time.

Read the rest of this post at ChristHoldFast.org.

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What’s In it For Me?

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There is one question that has the potential to bring more harm to our relationships than any other.

“What’s in it for me?”  Without even thinking, our natural bent is so often apt to ask this question. We are constantly looking out for our own benefit.  Perhaps you’ve experienced a conflict in your home or with a coworker or classmate; how would that conflict be different if nobody asked, “What’s in it for me?”

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The Worst Sinner of All Time

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Who was the worst sinner of all time?

If we create a list of historically significant sinners, I have a feeling our list would be filled with people like Stalin and Hitler. We’d fill our list with the figures behind mass murders, bombings, terrorism, or serial killing. And rightfully so, when it comes to the atrocities of the evil that these people committed, it is unparalleled.

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Work, Mondays, and the Theology of the Cross

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Monday often means stress, deadlines, burdens, and anxiety.  It becomes the day when we dread the overly cheerful coworker who makes our day worse by suggesting, “Sounds like somebody has a cased of the Mondays.” Another day at work means worrying whether or not your boss is going to micro-manage you or ignore you. Work means worry about what your coworkers might say or the weight of being in a job that is underpaid and under appreciated. From the daily grind of bosses and deadlines to the grueling reality of balancing a budget and trying to put food on the table, work is often a weight – sometimes an unbearable one.

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Nakedness, Shame, and When Christian Leaders Fail

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Noah is one of those Bible characters that we love to tell our children about. We sing songs about the arky, we remake movies based on his life, and we lift him up as one of the early heroes of the faith. And in many ways, he is a hero. But there’s also a part of the story that we tend to leave out.

Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”

He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.” – Genesis 9:20-27

Imagine what that must have been like.

Noah was the man that God chose to start over with and moments after the flood, we witness one of the first moral failures from a leader of God’s people. Noah, who was the only righteous person left, gets off the boat and ends up drunk and naked with the door to his tent flapping around in the wind.

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Abuse Doesn’t Get the Last Word

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Renee Alston, in the book Stumbling Toward Faith, begins her story with these disturbing words:

“I grew up in an abusive household. Much of my abuse was spiritual—and when I say spiritual, I don’t mean new age, esoteric, random mumblings from half-Wiccan, hippie parents…I mean that my father raped me while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I mean that my father molested me while singing Christian hymns.”

What do you say to someone who experienced this?

Abuse like this is far too common. One treatment provider suggested that offenders are all too good at keeping this hidden, especially in our churches, “If children can be silenced and the average person is easy to fool, many offenders report that religious people are even easier to fool than most people.”

Abuse, lying, and systems hiding abuse, make talking about grace with the abused incredibly difficult. Love gets tainted by manipulation and power; grace gets covered by oppression. And regularly occurring stories from victims of abuse, repeatedly remind us of the pain that exists in our world. We may not even realize it, but we all know someone who has been impacted by the trauma of abuse.

How in the world are we supposed to find words to speak, when somebody’s experience of Christianity comes from a manipulative, abusive father?

How are we supposed to talk about grace to somebody who thinks they need to be forgiven for their own abuse?

To read the rest of the post, visit Liberate.