Dr. Martin Luther King Wasn’t Perfect — And That Should Be Encouraging

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Dr. Martin Luther King wasn’t perfect.

And that should be encouraging to all of us.

I’m reminded of the great prophet Elijah from the Bible. God used him once to hold back the rain. He was fed by ravens. He kept a widow and her son alive — miraculously.

Yet, one of the most encouraging Bible verses about Elijah to me is James 5:17: Elijah was a person just like us.

And, I’m reminded of that when I think of Dr. King.

Dr. King was a person — just like us.

If we aren’t careful, because he accomplished so much, we can make Dr. King something he wasn’t.

He wasn’t perfect.

Wait, don’t throw things. I’m a fan. I’ve studied him beyond his most famous speech.

Was he great? Of course.

Was he extraordinaire? Absolutely.

Did he do great things? Without a doubt.

These lines from his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” alone are grand enough for celebration:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope.

As a pastor, knowing these words were obviously inspired by Dr. King’s knowledge of Scripture, I’m impressed. So inspiring. I wish I could do it that well.

But, was Dr. King perfect?

I don’t think so.

I doubt, based on what I know of his faith as a Gospel preacher that he would even claim perfection apart from Christ. Only Jesus is perfect. Dr. King surely believed this.

We honor his birth because of his impact on our world.

In fact, he’s one of the best examples of leaving a legacy that we have in modern history. His work keeps encouraging, inspiring, and making us better.

We honor him because he was fighting for a perfect dream.

We honor him because he was willingly to sacrificially give everything to achieve his dream.

Yet, sadly, his dream yet to be fully realized. His work is not finished.

This year alone should teach us we haven’t reached the dream Dr. King fought for with his very life. Ferguson. New York. Your city.

Every hill and mountain has not been made low. The rough places are not yet plain. There are still crooked places. The glory of our Lord hasn’t been fully revealed.

Peace has not been achieved.

And, here’s why it matters so much, in my opinion, that Dr. King — the man — wasn’t perfect.

If we see him as perfect, then, those of us who know we are not, (people like you and me) may feel we can never measure up to his standard. That we could never attain greatness, because we don’t have the charisma of Dr. King. Or, the courage. Or, the oratory ability.

In fact, we may not even try. We may not give ourselves the chance for God to use us for His glory.

So, we will dismiss any dream we have as unattainable. Even our efforts to continue the dream Dr. King had will cease because we falsely believe that such acts of greatness were reserved for the one man — Dr. King. Or, maybe a few like him.

But, that’s not true, is it?

Dr. King was great, but only His Savior Jesus is perfect.

The best way to honor Dr. King is to strive for impact.

Strive for a perfect dream. Strive for an end to racism, an end to the fighting, a reality of peace — where all God’s children are able to sing, “Free at last. Praise God Almighty we are free at last.”

Have a dream. A big, hairy audacious dream.

That kind of living honors the legacy.

The fact is that all of us are capable of greatness. If we have big dreams — ones that honor others and make the world a better place — and we do everything in our power to realize them, we can be used of God to accomplish great things.

There will never be another Dr. King. Just like there never was another Elijah.

But, there will never be another you either.

And, we need your dream.

We need your work.

We need your energy and your vision and your passionate attempt to make things better in our world. We need your contribution to the peace and prosperity of our land.

So start honoring Dr. King!

Be brave. Be bold. Dream big. Live strong. Do good things!

Having a Gut-Honest Talk with Jesus

Jesus asleep

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Mark 4:38 NIV

I have been told that the stern is the strongest part of the boat. The Creator of the universe was asleep there.

The One who made the waters and was there when the waters were parted; who led Moses as Moses led the people through on dry ground — that same One had His head on a cushion — sleeping soundly.

The One who walked with three guys in the fiery furnace — in all of His current humanity — had decided He needed some rest.

The disciples, however, had apparently lost sight of the fact that, Jesus was not only human — not only needing rest — He was also God. Creator. Master.

The One who was asleep was never out of control. He was never without a plan. (It was His idea to get in the boat.)

I am reminded that I forget the same thing at times. I accuse Jesus of not caring. Of not being aware of my current situation.

No, I don’t say that — at least not very loud. I have too much respect for the Creator to do that. So, I just mumble it under my breath — or think it loudly — as if He who reads the heart doesn’t already know.

Have you ever felt like the disciples felt?

Have you ever wondered if Jesus cared?

Has the thought crossed your mind that Jesus might not even be aware of your current situation?

Have you thought, “Jesus, I see my problems, don’t you?”

Or maybe, if you are completely honest, have you ever felt something like, “Jesus, don’t you care?”

Wow!

Of course, our spiritual piety would never allow us to admit our weakness in this area fully. Could I as a pastor really admit that I doubted His love?

Could you?

Yet if I am honest, sometimes from my perspective, it appears that Jesus is nowhere to be found when I need Him most and I am left all alone to wallow in my sorrows.

Did I just say that?

I think the best thing we can possibly do in those situations is to be like the disciples and admit our frailty to God.

And, here’s the truth we may know but not always live.

When we get gut honest with Jesus about our insufficiency — is often when He is most willing to do what only He can do.

Do you need to have an honest talk with Jesus today?

You Feel You Are To Be A Leader, But You Aren’t Yet Leading — Here Are 5 Possible Reasons

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Let’s be honest. Leadership is an attractive subject to many. I talk with so many younger people, and some my age, who want to be in leadership. They may feel they’ve been passed up, haven’t been given their chance (or second chance) or they sometimes they are patiently (or not so patiently) waiting.

I understand. If you are prone to leadership, or have your eye on being a leader, nothing quite satisfies you until you get to do what you think you’re ready to do.

But, in my observation, there may be some common reasons you aren’t yet leading. Perhaps understanding them can help you, if you’re in that situation. I’ll follow each one with my advice.

Here are the 5 reasons I have observed of why people aren’t yet leading:

You don’t have anything or anyone to lead – You say you would lead if someone gave you an opportunity.

My advice: Find something to lead! The world is full of problems.  Choose one of them you are most passionate about and start leading. Motivate people towards finding or working a solution. Lead. We need you.

You are afraid – You really want to lead, but you fear you may not have what it takes.

My advice: Get over it. Pray hard, lean on God strong, but lead. That’s what leaders do. Leading takes people into the unknown. It’s natural to be afraid. Be willing to walk by faith.

You gave up. – You tried leading and it was hard. You got hurt. Perhaps you failed. So you quit.

My advice: Get up and try again. The best leaders have failed many times, perhaps more times than they have succeeded. That’s what makes them a success. That they tried again and again until something stuck. Get back in the game. You’ll motivate us by your return.

You  don’t think you know how – You don’t think you ever learned the secrets of leadership. You have more questions than answers. You’re waiting until you have more answers than questions.

My advice: Join the school of leadership. Leaders are all around you. And, they are still learning too. The best never quit learning. So join in. Watch, listen, read, ask questions. It’s what we do. You can learn skills of leadership if you are teachable. The best leaders are still figuring it out daily.

You think you don’t have authority to lead. – You feel you are in a stifling environment. No one is looking to you to lead them.

My advice: Either learn to “lead up” — influencing people that are supposed to lead you — or find a place that values your input. The world is changing and the newest and healthiest environments allow people to grow in leadership. Or learn to lead within your own context. If you’re in a ministry, lead volunteers the best you know how. Be the best where you are today. Or, find a cause outside your work environment — and be a leader there. The experience will shape you for future assignments.

Just a few thoughts. But, here’s a final one. If you feel you’re supposed to be a leader — and you’re currently not — no more excuses. Lead. That’s what leaders do.

Let Your Leaders Lead

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This is a guest post by my friend Tim Stevens. Tim is a team leader with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries find great leaders. Previously he was the executive pastor at Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. During his twenty years there, he helped grow the church to more than 5,000 gathering weekly in three locations and saw a worldwide impact.

We call it the Loose/Tight Principle.

That is, you have to decide as a leader what you are going to hold on to loosely and what you are going to hold on to tightly.

For example, you likely want to hold on to your mission tightly. For most organizations, it’s not up for debate. When you define your mission and communicate it over and over in many ways, it gives clarity to your direction. You likely have some major values and beliefs that are also tightly held.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things in the loose category. I love to bring great leaders on a team and then free them up to lead. They can make decisions, spend money, set direction, and develop initiatives—all without a huge approval process or a bunch of hoops to jump through to get permission.

In many organizations, problems emerge like this: Perhaps bad hiring decisions are made, so senior leaders jump in and start running things. Then the organization starts to get bottlenecked, and people get frustrated. High-capacity leaders begin to leave the organization. And the senior leader is too busy running things to properly interview potential replacements. So more bad hiring decisions are made. And the cycle continues.

If you want to develop a healthy culture, decide the non-negotiables, bring great people on your team, then get out of the way and watch them do great things.

But even when you hire great people, there is another cycle that can take you down—and that also relates to running things with too heavy a hand. Perhaps you hire a great person. You take the time to ramp her up on values, vision, and the DNA of the organization. (So far, so good.) But then you give that leader responsibility without authority. You let her make all the micro-decisions, but hang on to the big decisions such as setting direction, approving expenditures, or making hiring decisions for her area. The high-capacity leader gets fed up and leaves your team. The leader isn’t disloyal; she is just wired by God as a leader and a developer. And you won’t let her do either. So now you have to start over looking for a great leader. You spend all your time looking for new staff and restating the values because you don’t have any great leaders next to you to help.

Authority is the ability to make decisions without asking someone else’s permission. So often we give a leader responsibility (e.g., run the youth ministry or oversee the marketing department) without also giving him the authority. The department leader has to get approval from the senior leader, or the person who says yes or no about expenses, or worse yet, a committee. Nothing frustrates a true leader more than not being able to make decisions, or than making decisions that are later reversed.

How to Free Your Leaders

If you want a great culture in which leaders are excited, then do six simple things.

  • Train them so their blood pulses with the mission, vision, and values of the organization.
  • Set them up to succeed. Lend them your credibility by telling everyone they are the leaders, and they have your full confidence.
  • Give them the authority to make decisions including spending money, hiring and firing staff, and setting direction for their areas.
  • Get out of the way and let them lead.
  • Connect with them continually for evaluation, values review, and rare course corrections. Be available as a sounding board to process decisions. Remember, they don’t need you to tell them the answer. Rather, they need you to ask questions and help them process the right course of action.
  • Celebrate their wins publicly, and reward them with greater responsibility as appropriate.

This is easy to put on a list, but much harder to practice. Find a leader you know who is great at empowering and releasing other leaders—and watch him or her closely. Within that leader you will likely find someone who is great at producing a healthy culture.

Learn more about Tim’s new book, Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.

7 Recommendations for Those Studying to be a Pastor

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I have the opportunity to talk with young pastors each week. I also interact regularly with those who are preparing for the pastorate. I love investing in the next generation of leaders and am thankful for those who invested in me.

One of those pastors in training recently asked me, “If you were my age (about 22) and were studying to be a pastor, what would you do?

Great question!

If I were studying to be a pastor today, based on my experience as a pastor now, which is still most important, there are some things I would make certain I accomplished prior to assuming the role.

7 suggestions as you prepare to be a pastor:

Take some business and/or leadership courses

You’ll find more available, especially in the area of leadership these days at seminaries and Bible colleges, but you may have to take some courses online or at another school. Every pastor needs to know some general business and leadership principles to manage the complexities of a church. That’s true in church planting or in an established church.

Build connections with pastors

Just as in the secular world, having the right connections makes the difference in church positions also. It may be to help secure a job or to learn from other churches, but pastors should build a healthy network of peers. It’ll also keep you from having to lead alone. You’ll always be able to “phone a friend” who has been there and done that.

Volunteer in the church

Just volunteer. Its amazing to me to see seminary students who attend church, but don’t find a place to serve. They are training to be a pastor — one who will need lots of people to volunteer in their church some day — yet they aren’t volunteering. Some day you’ll want to understand the sacrifice of those who serve the church without a vocational commitment.

Work a secular job

Even if only part-time, at some point in your studies, work among people in the secular world. You’ll learn valuable principles about life, work and people. You’ll also be better able to identify with the people to whom you are called to minister. (Plus, it will be harder for that person who always thinks “well pastor, in the real world…” to discount your teaching.)

Take a people-helping or counseling course

Let’s face it! Regardless of the size church, a pastor is going to encounter hurting people. Understanding some basic questioning, summary and counseling skills is critical to pastoring and will make your teaching even stronger.

Find a mentoring pastor

Early in ministry, or even before beginning, I would strongly encourage a young pastor to find a mentor. Ask a pastor who is older and with more experience to be available to help you through situations you find yourself in where you need wisdom you don’t have. You’ll be glad you’ve recruited this person in advance.

Embrace accountability

Develop a close relationship with a few other same-sex friends and invite them to hold you accountable to God, your family, your church and yourself. These do not have to be pastors, but should understand the pressures and demands of ministry.

Bonus Suggestion BE A PASTOR

If you are confident God has called you to be a pastor, then don’t wait to get all the training. Keep receiving training, follow these suggestions, but more importantly, get some on-the-job training by finding ways to be a pastor today! Maybe to your own family, or through nursing home or prison visits. You may have to be creative, but there are lots of opportunities to shepherd people if you look — even without a paycheck.

Of course, the most important thing to do is to prepare your heart and mind spiritually, but these are practical ways you can prepare.

What would you add to my list?

7 Life Giving Statements Everyone Needs to Hear

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Words are powerful.

As leaders, the words we use make a difference. A huge difference.

I recently posted statements Jesus made that are life-giving.

As we seek to be like Him, we have an opportunity within our influence to be people-builders. Speak life-giving words.

For good and bad, my life has been greatly shaped by words shared with me.

I once had a pastor say, “Ron, you’re a giant killer!” He encouraged me to kill giants for the Kingdom of God. It changed the trajectory of my life.

Words are huge. Especially from someone we trust.

I’ll be honest. I’m not the best at it, but I try to pass on encouragement to younger leaders. And, others as I see opportunity.

Everyone needs encouragement.

It takes an intentional effort. I try to make it a personal discipline.

Here are 7 life-giving statements everyone needs to hear:

I’m praying for you!

You can do it!

I love you!

It’s going to be okay!

I believe in you!

I’m proud of you!

I’ve got your back!

So there you go. Words. Powerful words of encouragement.

Who could you add some life to today?

7 Life-Changing Questions of Jesus

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Years ago I became fascinated with the questions of Jesus.

It occurred to me that if Jesus was asking a question it must be an important one.

In fact, depending on our response, they could be life-changing questions.

I realize that in the culture in which Jesus lived asking questions was a method of learning, but Jesus always knew the answers. He didn’t need to ask them. He IS the answer. What does He need to know?

His questions were to cause His listeners to think. And, they do.

Consider some of these 7 questions of Jesus.

“Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28)

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26)

What do you think about the Christ?” (Matthew 22:42)

“Do you love me?” (John 21:17)

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’, and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46)

“What do you want me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41)

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)

To which of these do you most need to consider your answer?

25 Life-Giving Statements Jesus Made

Woman Reading the Bible.

I only read one statement of Jesus, but I couldn’t go any further in my reading.

It was a statement I had read hundreds of times before, but this time it hit me differently. Deeper. More impacting.

I love when that happens.

I realized I often take a statement like that from Jesus for granted.

Jesus — the Son of God — said something. Something so profound, so life-giving, and yet it has become so familiar to me that I almost gloss over it when I read.

This time I stopped.

I stopped and  thought about the many other truths Jesus shared — often in a single sentence — which are life-changing.

Perhaps some of these will be meaningful to you.

Read through the list — memorize a few of them (you probably already have many of them.) But, don’t read them as familiar quotes that are usually written in red. Let them soak deep into your heart and mind. Let them add life to you. Be better with truth.

25 life-giving statements Jesus made:

“Take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37)

“Go and learn what this means ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice'” (Matthew 9:13)

“Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2)

“Ask and it will be given to you…” (Matthew 7:7)

“If the Son has set you free you are free indeed” (John 8:36)

“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30)

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

“You are the light of the world” (Matthew 6:14)

“Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)

“The greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)

“Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)

“I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:7)

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

“If you love me you will obey what I command” (John 14:15)

“Your give them something to eat” (Mark 6:37)

“A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit” (Matthew 7:18)

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8)

“This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me.” (Mark 7:6)

“You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8)

“Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink…” (Matthew 6:25)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do to them” (Matthew 7:12)

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

I realize some of these can be misunderstood if out of context, so feel free to read the context of each of them. But, the fact is these are things Jesus said.

The Son of God — who is God — said them. Spoke them. Revealed truth to us.

And, every word He said has life-changing value.

I wonder, if we really understood the magnitude of these words of Jesus and believed them — if they would change the way we lived our life? The confidence we have? The assurance in which we find hope?

Which of these do you most need to apply to your life today?

The sacred trust and responsibility of an online platform, and 5 ways to honor it

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I’ve been online since 1996. Those were dial-up days. I’ve learned a lot, made plenty of mistakes.  If you want to find typos — you’ve come to the right place.

Along the way, through consistency and patience, I’ve developed a small platform. Weekly — almost daily — I hear from people wanting my opinion because they somehow think I have something to offer. It’s so easy to clean up your game and appear to actually know something online. :)

Seriously, I’m honored people would care what I think. I don’t consider myself an expert by any means. I’m still learning new things everyday. But, for whatever reason, people’s boredom probably, last year my blog realized just a few numbers shy of 3,000,000 page views. Amazing.

It’s not huge. I have friends with far more. But, it’s huge for me. And, it’s humbling. Thank you if you’re one of those.

But, reflecting on that fact reminded me of something sobering. It’s true for bloggers, and Tweeters, and those who popularize Facebook and Instagram. (And any other social medium.)

There is a sacred trust and responsibility with a platform.

Whether online or because of your position — you have a platform. People look to you for insight. (That’s true for my ministry friends — regardless of your church size.)

And, it’s a platform we must honor. And protect. And use wisely.

Here are 5 ways to honor your online platform:

Think before posting. You already know you should — otherwise you wouldn’t have the platform you do now — but sometimes it’s hard isn’t it? Like everyone else, you have an opinion. You have immediate thoughts. Things happen about which you don’t agree. I get it. It happens to all of us. And, you just happen to have a platform to share them. You can move people’s opinions faster.

But, that’s a dangerous combination if misused. People are listening to you. They respect you. Take time to reflect before you react. You can cause a lot of damage quickly. Beware!

Don’t post when angry. Record the thought — then wait — go back when your emotions have calmed and see if you still feel the same way. Also, consider how your core audience will feel when they read what you post.

Make sure you’re not just another negative influence in their world. There’s enough of that elsewhere.

Use your platform for the good of others. That’s what the world really needs. More positive influences. More platforms making the world a better place to live. Helpful.

Above everything, use the platform with which you’ve been entrusted to make a positive difference. That’s how you honor it and show appreciation to those who have given you the platform. And, remember, you wouldn’t have a platform if people hadn’t honored you with it.

You are a leader. With a platform. You have influence. Use it wisely.

Don’t support every cause. You may legitimately care about every issue, but if you do, you’ll water down the impact you can have on the issues you care about most.

Do you remember the story about the little boy who cried wolf? And, then no one took him serious. Yea, that. It’s not quite the same thing — but the reaction will be similar.

The more you can streamline your platform the stronger that platform will be.

Speak about what you know — and not as much what you don’t. Find your niche. And don’t say it’s everything.

People are looking to you — because you have a platform — for wisdom and advice. It’s unfair, therefore, for you to build a platform, lead people to trust you, and then address issues about which you know very little. That misuses the privilege of your platform. Leave the subjects about which you know little to the people with platforms who are knowledgeable about the areas you are not.

And, when you do feel led to speak about something of which you’re not an expert — tell people up front that you’re not an expert. And, better yet, point to some people who you consider experts.

Limit self-promotion. The surest way to (eventually) lose your platform is to abuse it. You abuse it when you are only online for your own personal benefit. It may work for a while. Really well, in fact, but eventually it comes back to burn you. (Pride goes before destruction – Proverbs 16:18.)

When you only promote yourself. When you pretend to be bigger than you really are — or when you’re posting just to get more page views — you are building a platform on shaky ground.

There is nothing wrong with profiting from a platform. Be strategic. And, that will include promotion. But, always consider the interest of others — first. Build your platform for the good of others — first. If rewards come from that — consider that grace.

Those are a few of my thoughts. And, in full transparency, it’s a good reminder for me as well. Thank you for being one more page view. I’m honored. Seriously.

What tips do you have for protecting a platform?