Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 29 November 2017

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.  Hebrews 13, verses 17-18.

Pastors, presidents, parents, bosses:   they are our leaders.   So are mentors, quarterbacks, famous actors, media figures, teachers, and drill sergeants.   Every group has leaders and followers; it’s human nature.   Some leaders have natural aptitude for it; some have elected authority; some have power they have simply assumed from those around them or the situation in which they find themselves.   Some leaders inspire you to want to follow them in anything; some leaders are complete jerks.   Some are virtuous; some are murderous Communists.  Whether these verses are talking explicitly about ecclesiastical leaders alone misses the fact that these verses actually do apply to all situations.

God allows leaders to be vested with (and use) authority that originates with Him.  Just before ascending after His resurrection, Jesus said that “all authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to Him.   God the Father owned it and vested it into His Son.  That means Jesus is where the buck really stops.   And because of that word “all,” through delegation, if someone on earth has any kind of authority, they have it because Jesus directly or indirectly gave it to them.   Even people who don’t believe in Jesus have this endowment.

Yesterday evening I was having an online discussion with a friend who doesn’t profess conventional belief in God.   I don’t think of him as an atheist, or even an un-believer as I don’t think his heart is hardened against God.   Indeed, I’m hopeful that God is working on him as we speak.  He’s going through a terrible time right now, and I hope and pray that He learns to seek comfort from the Lord.   He’s having a leadership crisis because he has lost faith in many of the leaders in his life (work, family, etc).  If you told him that these verses required him to have confidence in these leaders he might rip your head off.

Yet think about the writer of Hebrews.   He was saying these words and echoing his contemporary, the Apostle Paul.  Paul exhorted his fellow believers to submit to authorities, and many of those believers were being actively persecuted by those authorities.   Paul himself was imprisoned and tortured by both Roman and Jewish officials.  Unless you have been tortured by ISIS, you and I may not be able to comprehend what kind of character it must take to put trust in leaders who are evil.   But we’ve all worked for bosses who didn’t seem to know how to lead; sometimes those bosses have been us.   And we can each tell stories about parents or people we looked up to who let us down or didn’t do things they should have.

The verses are another of God’s reminders to us that we are to remember that those in charge are in charge because He allows it.   He allows their selection (or assumption of power) because it serves His purposes (even when we don’t understand what those purposes are).  I don’t know what purpose was served by God allowing tens of millions of innocent people to be murdered by Communists in the last hundred years but I do know that God worked to turn that evil for good purposes after.   I don’t know what good purpose was served at Auschwitz, but I do know about the stories of faith and love from people who survived there.   I don’t know what good is accomplished by allowing pedophile priests to rape kids, or presidential candidates destroying classified information, or the exploitation of people for profit and power, but I do know that good people come out of those situations even stronger.   It’s tough to admit but we, as people, have the power to stop many of these things, yet we don’t, and then we blame God when they happen.   But a tangent of this is also true:  when good prevails, you can count on the fact that it was because God was at work through it.

Besides, those in charge will have to give an accounting for how they used the power entrusted to them.   Did they use it in ways to further God’s Kingdom?   Was love increased because of things they did?   To God be the glory or was it to the person waving the flag?  It’s important to remember that we must not hold God to standards that we ourselves won’t abide by.  Thus it’s a fool’s game to blame God for all evil because doing so simply means we’re putting ourselves in His place as God.   I don’t know of anyone who’s worthy of that.

I’ve been fired from jobs, and it’s hard for me to do honor to my former employers but that’s what God calls me to do.   There are leaders in our government whose words and actions I detest, but Jesus tells me to abide and follow them.   Some of what elders and mentors tell me is tough to hear, and some of it is dead wrong, but the Lord still tells me to respect them.   All of this is true because God entrusts them with the authority they have and we all serve His purposes in one way or another.

For further reading:  Isaiah 62:6, Acts 20:28, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, Acts 23:1, Romans 15:33, Matthew 28:18.

Lord, abide with humanity’s leaders.   Empower them, instruct them, guide them and forgive them.   And teach me to do the same as I follow them.   When I follow, I’m following You.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 17 May 2017

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Hebrews 10, verse 24

I’m a project manager.  I manage a team of people working on a project to remove Social Security numbers from older peoples’ Medicare ID cards.  Because I work remotely, I’ve never physically met most of the people on my team (though I do know some from previous jobs).  It’s tough to get to know people you don’t see face to face, and that makes. even more sense because I’m the new kid on the block.  On a work team, you’re drawn together by the commonality of your tasks and the fact that you’re employed for the same reason by the same people.  Yet in a virtual work environment, you never see your co-workers or team members in person.  Unless you know your co-workers from previous interaction, you don’t have common ground.   That makes motivating a team difficult.

So Hebrews 10, verse 24 is perhaps some of the best project management advice ever written, especially for virtual teams.

“Let us consider” is a call to friendly action.   Notice that it doesn’t say “do this” or “you will.”   It isn’t directive in nature and yet it places the reader in a position as if they had been directed.   “Let us consider” are three words that are swung as a velvet hammer.   They don’t force you to do anything yet place the burden of inaction squarely on you and you alone.   They ask you to do something without commanding you to do something.   They appeal to your reason and your sense of belonging.  That shouldn’t be surprising because that’s usually how Jesus operates.

“Spur” (according to dictionary.com) means “anything that goads, impels, or urges, as to action, speed, or achievement.”  The King James version of Hebrews uses the word “provoke” but no matter what version is used to translate the word, the intention is clearly to convince others to move.   A manager spends most of his time doing just this.   A good manager will do it in such a way as to inspire you to act on your own to do your part in a larger mission.   As managers, we spend most of our time spurring people forward to support the tasks we oversee.   As followers of Jesus, we should be spending most of our time doing the same thing, and the task with which we’re charged is sharing the Gospel.

And we are to spur one another TOWARD love and good deeds.   Sure, we are to comport ourselves in love and righteousness.   Jesus gave us both of those things and we’re to use them in living our lives.   Yet when we manage and lead others, we are to inspire them in the direction of love and good deeds.   We aren’t supposed to do other peoples’ love and good deeds for them.  Helicopter parents beware:   you aren’t responsible for living your kids’ lives.   Your job is to inspire them by parenting them, teaching them, preparing them.

Helicopter managers beware as well:   you’re responsible for the efforts of your team, but it isn’t your job to do their work for them.   It’s your job to spur them toward doing it.   It’s our job to serve a greater good by helping those around us serve it as well.  May I suggest that, whether you have Jesus followers on your team or not, some practical advice on why, even how, to do that is found first and foremost in the Bible (and not in the PM Body of Knowledge?)?

Best of all, we get to do these things while relying on the foundation of faith in Jesus’ true good news.   Love and good deeds are both the reason and the by-product of living in Jesus’ presence where love and good deeds become standard operating procedure.  In working with them we find it’s the journey and not the destination that matters most.

I don’t know whether my team-members are believers or not.   In today’s super-sensitive work climate, it’s almost taboo to discuss matters of faith.   Yet whether they’re believers or not, more often than not I find myself asking “what should I do” of my Savior when I have even the slightest question about work.   I’m learning to entreat Him into my routines, involving my faith more and more as a practical tool for managing my work team.   There is no downside to that.

For further reading:  Titus 2:14.

Lord, be involved in my work.   Lead me and teach me so I may lead and inspire others.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 15 September 2015

They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. Mark 10, verse 32.

I like books about warriors, and one of my favorite war authors is Richard Marcinko.   Years ago, he wrote a book called “Rogue Warrior;” it’s an autobiographical book about his work in the Navy SEALs.   One of the maxims about which he wrote was “lead from the front.”   It’s good military advice; it’s good advice overall. You don’t lead a group by giving orders and standing in the back of the pack:   you go to the front of the pack and demonstrate. You don’t shy away from challenges or combat:   you fight from the center, where the fighting is thickest.   In doing so, you inspire, you motivate and you lead.

Now, Jesus is no Special Forces warrior but He could have taught Marcinko a thing or two about leading from the front because it’s what He did every day of His ministry. In verse 32, Jesus is in front of the group, leading.   Keep in mind that it wasn’t just Jesus and the Apostles:   it was a larger group, a Galilean gaggle of followers who had come to find out that there really was something about this rabbi who offered new teaching. They had seen Jesus and the rich man; they had heard His words of power and authority.

And they were afraid.   They weren’t a rioting group of rabble but they were afraid.   They were afraid of being caught.   They were afraid of what could happen if they had to come up against the very entrenched Jews at the Temple.   Truth being told, they were also probably afraid of the things Jesus taught.   Yes, the crowds who flocked to Jesus’ sermons were awe-struck by the love in His words and the power those words conveyed.   I’m betting they were afraid of both that power and of actually having to live up to the things Jesus was talking about.

Through it, Jesus led from the front.   He didn’t hide when things got hairy:   He jumped in and led. Jesus calmed their fears and led them where they needed to go. He’s still doing it today.   Richard Marcinko might just agree.

We can do the same. Over the weekend, my wife and I went to see “War Room,” the new movie about prayer warriors.   It’s a Jesus-Richard Marcinko kind of thing in a unique way.   In the movie, a struggling wife and mom is trying to hold her family together in an all-too-typical situation where they are being pulled apart.   She is taught to lead from the front by fighting the enemy – the devil – through prayer.   The story teaches that prayer is an active battle plan, that it is our way to involve God in our daily battles and our real struggles by getting right in the middle of the fighting and praying for God’s intercession with whatever we’re praying over.   Very lead from the front.

And it’s very much the way Jesus designed things.   In our daily lives, He constantly counsels us to count on Him through prayer and through actively confronting our problems.   He leads us from the front, facing our problems and strengthening us to face them down and defeat the devil who is the real cause of them.

Lord Jesus, teach me to lead from the front as You do.

Read Mark 10, verses 35-45.