Archive for December, 2012

Why It’s Good To Be A Weak Leader

Leadership 1The other day, I was reflecting on how some of my most memorable moments of ministry seem to come when I am not doing the things I normally do.  I spearhead the adulteducation program at Concordia, but I sincerely love getting goofy for the sake of the Gospel with the kids who attend our annual Vacation Bible School.  I spend a good portion of my day in the office taking care of business on my MacBook, but I am delighted when I go on a mission trip and swing a hammer to help an underprivileged community.  Just last week on Christmas Eve, though I am normally a teacher, I was honored to work with an incredibly talented group of actors, musicians, and tech folks as a director in our Christmas pageant.  Stepping out of my normal role and into something different has a unique way of stretching, growing, and inspiring me.

Leadership gurus traditionally teach that a person ought to lead from his strengths while managing his weaknesses.  But as I’ve been reflecting on the times where I have been privileged to lead in areas where I am not apparently talented or naturally strong, I am beginning to question this tenant of leadership orthodoxy – at least in part.  For when a person is called to lead in an area where he may be weaker, it not only helps him grow in a different and new mode of leadership, it helps him grow in his preferred mode of leadership as well.

Here’s what I mean.  Every leadership strength comes with a built-in deficiency.  For instance, if a leader is naturally a type-A in-charge go-getter, he may also come across as insensitive or uncaring, more concerned with finishing a job by a deadline than demonstrating compassion on a person.  But if this leader periodically puts himself in positions where his primary calling is to care for others, this can help him balance his type-A in-charge go-getter proclivity with intentional empathy and deep sensitivity.  If another leader is naturally more of a perceptive, conciliatory, people-person, he may also come across as weak or pandering, more concerned with keeping everyone happy than getting something done right.  But if this leader periodically spearheads projects that involve making tough decisions that will inevitably ruffle others, this can help him balance his perceptive, conciliatory personality with a tough-as-nails determination.  Leading from a place of weakness encourages a person to be cognizant of and work on those deficiencies that are inherent in his strengths.

Leading from a place of weakness, of course, is nothing new.  The apostle Paul writes of his leadership in ministry, “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).  Leading from and in weakness is what honed and helped Paul’s strength, for when Paul led from weakness, he had only Christ’s strength on which to rely.  And Christ’s strength, not human fortitude, is what every leader needs.  As Paul writes in the verse prior, “[Christ’s] power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Don’t be afraid, then, to lead in an area where you are weak.  After all, even if you’re weak, Jesus is not.  And He can use your weaknesses to show His strength and to bless your leadership.

December 31, 2012 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Merry Christmas!

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

On this Christmas Eve, I wanted to share with you a portion of a Christmas sermon from Martin Luther, dated 1521.  Interestingly, Luther never actually preached this sermon.  Rather, he wrote this sermon as part of a collection of homilies for other pastors to share with their congregations.  At this time, he also translated the New Testament into German.  Luther did this so people could read the Bible in their native tongue and pastors could faithfully preach the Bible to their congregants.

In this sermon, Luther beautifully brings out the centrality of Christmas – not just as a story that happened long ago, but as an eternity-shifting event which calls for faith.  Without faith, Christmas brings only condemnation, for the world’s Judge has arrived.  But by faith, Christmas is cause for rejoicing, for our Savior has come!

So, it is in faith that I wish you a merry Christmas!

The Gospel teaches that Christ was born for our sake and that He did everything and suffered all things for our sake, just as the angel says here: “I announce to you a great joy which will come to all people; for to you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord” [Luke 2:10–11].  From these words you see clearly that He was born for us.  He does not simply say: “Christ is born,” but: “for you is he born.”  Again, he does not say: “I announce a joy,” but: “to you do I announce a great joy.” … This is the great joy, of which the angel speaks, this is the consolation and the superabundant goodness of God, that man (if he has this faith) may boast of such treasure as that Mary is his real mother, Christ his brother, and God his father.  For these things are, all of them, true and they come to pass, provided we believe them; this is the chief part and chief good in all the gospels … Christ, above all things, must become ours and we His, before we undertake good works.  That happens in no other way than through such faith; it teaches the right understanding of the gospels and it seizes hold on them in the right place.  That makes for the right knowledge of Christ; from it the conscience becomes happy, free, and contented; from it grow love and praise of God, because it is He who has given us freely such superabundant goods in Christ … Therefore see to it that you derive from the Gospel not only enjoyment of the story as such, for that does not last long.  Nor should you derive from it only an example, for that does not hold up without faith.  But see to it that you make His birth your own, and that you make an exchange with Him, so that you rid yourself of your birth and receive, instead, His.  This happens, if you have this faith. By this token you sit assuredly in the Virgin Mary’s lap and are her dear child.  This faith you have to practice and to pray for as long as you live; you can never strengthen it enough.  That is our foundation and our inheritance. (AE 52:14-16)

December 24, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

When Darkness Closes In: Processing a Tragedy

title_slide2The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut has touched – and shattered – many lives. Last weekend in worship and ABC, the pastors of Concordia offered some thoughts on this tragedy in light of God’s Word and promises. You can check out Pastor Tucker’s message and my Adult Bible Class below.

We pray that God would comfort and keep all those devastated by this terrible travesty. And may the families find their solace and hope in God’s promise of the resurrection of the dead to eternal life!

December 22, 2012 at 3:53 pm Leave a comment

The Problem with Poverty

Poverty 1“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said (Matthew 26:11).  This is most certainly true.  Our best-laid plans to abolish poverty have fallen woefully short.  New York Times journalist Nicholas D. Kristof shines a spotlight on just how short our plans have fallen in his recent column titled, “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy.”[1]  His opening paragraphs are bone chilling:

This is what poverty sometimes looks like in America:  parents here in Appalachian hill country pulling their children out of literacy classes. Moms and dads fear that if kids learn to read, they are less likely to qualify for a monthly check for having an intellectual disability.

Many people in hillside mobile homes here are poor and desperate, and a $698 monthly check per child from the Supplemental Security Income program goes a long way – and those checks continue until the child turns 18.

A plan that seeks to alleviate poverty in the form of Supplemental Security Income in some instances actually perpetuates it.  After all, there is no immediate economic payoff for having a son or daughter learn how to read, only a potential loss.  And though a myriad of statistics could be marshaled concerning how, over the long haul, children who enjoy solid educations early in life enjoy economic and social stability later in life, these parents can’t afford to concern themselves with “the long haul.”  They’re just concerned about their next meal.  And so these parents are pressed into a self-perpetuating poverty.

“The poor you will always have with you,” Jesus said.  This means two things.  First, it means that the sinfulness that leads to poverty will always be with us and in us, at least on this side of the Eschaton.  There will always be some people who are lazy and refuse to work, placing themselves in poverty’s grip and on the government’s dole.  There will always be some people who are victims of economic injustice – just ask those who were bamboozled by Bernie Madoff.  There will always be some people who, because of some fortuitous tragic circumstance – a devastating illness, a lost job, a natural disaster – find themselves with bills they can’t pay and a family they can’t support.  Satan will continue to find delight in impoverishing people.

And yet, Jesus’ words are not only a commentary on human sinfulness, they are also a call to Christian action.  For with His words, Jesus opens for us plenty of opportunities to show mercy.  After all, there are hungry people for us to feed.  There are naked people for us to clothe.  There are hopeless people for us to encourage.  There are plenty of people to which we can offer a cup of water in Jesus’ name (cf. Mark 9:41).  In fact, I love how Mark records Jesus’ statement:  “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want” (Mark 14:27).

Jesus says, “You can help.”  So let’s get to it!  How and who can you help this holiday season?  Maybe you can serve at a soup kitchen.  Maybe you can visit someone who is lonely.  That’s your mission.  That’s your calling.  And, as Jesus says, you can carry out that mission “any time you want” – even beyond the holidays.

I hope you will.

[1] Nicholas D. Kristof, “Profiting From a Child’s Illiteracy,” New York Times (12.7.12).

December 17, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

When Darkness Closes In: Processing a Tragedy

Bethlehem StarPlease take a moment and read this brief important note from Pastor Bill Tucker and then make plans to join us for worship tomorrow at Concordia at 8, 9:30, or 11 am.

Beloved Concordia Family,

The events of Friday in Connecticut have shocked and appalled all of us.  Our hearts are broken for the children and families lost…and for those whose lives will never be the same.  I cannot imagine a person anywhere in the world who hears of this terrible tragedy that does not feel grief over what has happened.

In the wake of these events and the terrible grief we are all feeling, Pastor Zach and I have decided to divert from the planned messages for ABC and Worship tomorrow.  Instead, we will talk about what has happened and address three questions:

1.     Why?
2.     What about the precious children who lost their lives?
3.     What can we do now?

Please plan to join us.  In these times of deep darkness, we must cling to our faith and turn to our God.  Please invite your loved ones and friends to join us, as well.

You are loved!

Pastor Bill

December 15, 2012 at 11:43 am 1 comment

A Life That Ended Too Soon…At 116 Years

Besse Cooper

Besse Cooper (Photo: David Goldman, AP)

Last Tuesday afternoon, Besse Cooper of Monroe, Georgia passed away peacefully.  She was 116 years of age.  She was also the world’s oldest woman.[1]

I was doing the math in my head.  And though I don’t know her birthday so my I may be a year off on some of my calculations, I’m still pretty close.  Besse Cooper was born in 1896.  This means when the Titanic sank, she was sixteen.  When the United States entered World War I, she was twenty-one.  When the stock market crashed the Great Depression hit, she was thirty-three.  When Pearl Harbor was bombed, she was forty-five.  When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, she was comfortably settled into retirement at sixty-seven.  When Apollo 11 landed, she was seventy-three.  And when 9/11 rocked our nation, she had passed the century mark at one hundred and five.

As I thought back over all the events to which this woman had been witness, even if only from afar, I stood in awe.  A lot of history happens in 116 years!  And yet, even a life as long and robust and Mrs. Cooper’s is hardly a hairbreadth long in the eyes of the God who gives it.  The Psalmist puts it bluntly:  “Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow” (Psalm 144:4).  On the stage of history as a whole, 116 years occupies nary a dark corner.

Though the biblical writers may look at life as fleeting, they nevertheless do not resign themselves fatalistically to its end.  Instead, they kick mightily against the truncated span of life.  The prophet Isaiah notes that a life that lasts a mere century – or perhaps a little more – has not lasted nearly long enough!  He yearns for a world where “he who dies at a hundred will be thought a mere youth” (Isaiah 65:20).  Even one hundred years is not enough for Isaiah.  He wants more.

Finally, the problem the biblical writers have has nothing to do with when life comes to end, but with that life comes to end.  A life that ends – be that at ten days, ten months, ten years, or ten years times ten years – is a life that ends too soon.  And indeed, this is true.  For God, when He gave us life, intended life to be a gift we keep.  He intended life to be a gift that lasts.

Sin, of course, had other plans.  But this is why Christ came on a mission – to recapture and raise, by His resurrection, people who die way too soon.  To recapture and raise, by His resurrection, people who die at all.  Like Besse Cooper.  May she rest in peace.  But better yet, may she wake at the telos’s trumpet.

[1] Associated Press, “Woman, 116, listed as ‘world’s oldest’ dies in Ga.,” USA Today (12.5.2012).

December 10, 2012 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Marriage Recession

Marriage 1I’m not surprised, but I am saddened.  A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center confirms what we already know:  the estate of marriage has been in decline now for decades and it continues to decline.  Richard Fry summarizes the study’s findings:

In 2011, 4.2 million adults were newly married, about the same number as in 2010 and sharply lower than the 4.5 million newlyweds estimated in 2008…The decline in nuptials from 2008 to 2011 is in keeping with a general trend away from marriage in the U.S. Barely half of adults (51%) were married in 2011, according to ACS data, compared with 72% in 1960.  Marriage increasingly is being replaced by cohabitation, single-person households and other adult living arrangements.[1]

Two things are striking about Fry’s summary.  First, the rapid decline of married households from 1960 to 2011 is astonishing.  It represents nothing less than a seismic shift in premium our culture places on marriage.  Clearly, the value that people place on marriage has taken a precipitous fall.  Second, Fry’s observation that “marriage is increasingly being replaced by cohabitation” is also tremendously significant, for it marks a radical departure from God’s ideal of a covenanted relationship between one man and one woman who share and confront life together (cf. Genesis 2:24).

Of course, there are some who applaud this shift away from marriage toward cohabitation as the inevitable unleashing of a long-suppressed epicurean desire that has finally managed to shake itself free from the asphyxiating antiquated constraints of Victorian mores.  What these jubilant celebrants who eagerly preside over marriage’s funeral fail to notice, however, is the disturbing darkness that the decline of marriage reveals in the hearts of humans, not only as it pertains to sexual passions, but as it pertains to a basic lack of concern for others.

One of the blessings of marriage is the commitment it demands.  Rather than arbitrarily living with someone to whom there is no formal, long-term, and, indeed, life-long commitment, marriage demands the kind of fidelity that does not shift with better times or with worse times, with riches or with poverty, with sickness or with health.  The promises a person makes in his or her marriage vows are to remain firm even when everything else in life is in continual flux.  Thus, marriage vows are not primarily for the benefit of the one who makes them, though there are certainly blessings to be found in God-pleasing vows, but for the one who receives what they promise, for the vows focus especially on the interests of the partner to whom they are made.  A refusal to make these vows and instead cohabitate can allow some couples to unscrupulously hop from one relationship to the next, discarding any lover who a person feels no longer “meets their needs.”  In its worst form, then, cohabitation can amount to little more than rank selfishness on display.

Ultimately, at the same time marriage forges our character, it also reveals our character.  Marriage forges our character because it calls us to remain committed to another person even when our natural inclination would tend toward severing a relationship.  Marriage reveals our character because whether or not we are willing to enter into such a relationship in the first place says a lot about how willing we are to trade our own self-interest for service to another.  Marriage matters – not just because it safeguards the romantic relationships we have, but because it exposes the kind of people we are.  My prayer is that more and more people commit to be individuals of fidelity and service rather than sensuality and selfishness.

[1] Richard Fry, “No Reversal in Decline of Marriage,” Pew Research Center (11.20.12).

December 3, 2012 at 5:15 am 2 comments

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