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Leviticus 9: Next Aaron presented the offerings of the people.
The sacrificial system has been explained, the priests ordained, and now it’s getting underway. Moses, God’s representative, puts everything into place and now Aaron, the newly anointed high priest initiates the first sacrifices. Before he presents the offerings of the people he has personal business to attend to. He makes offerings of his own in preparation for serving the people. The animals are killed and their blood is applied, a reflection of Precious Blood that will be shed many years in the future. It’s only after Aaron has done that that he turns his attention to the offerings of the people. This passage speaks to me as the leader of my congregation. I want to serve the people who are under my care but I must never forget that I have needs of my own. If I fail to bring them to the Lord I’m bound to fail my people. In addition, this is not a one time effort. In spite of what those outside the clergy think, we pastors stand in need of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness on an ongoing basis. Today, as I read about these events of long ago and regardless of the huge cultural and practical differences, I find myself identifying with these priests of old as they take care of their own business before they can serve their congregation.
Take Away: If we’re to help others we need to deal with the needs of our own lives first.
Exodus 39: Moses saw that they had done all the work and done it exactly as God had commanded. Moses blessed them.
God gave the construction plans, Moses passed it on to Bazalel and company, and the people brought the materials. Everything from the frame of the Tent of Meeting to the Ark of the Covenant to the clothing of those who will serve has been crafted precisely to God’s design. Moses inspects the work and sees that it has been done well. Then he blesses them. Sometimes, the job of the leader is to point people in the right direction and then get out of the way while they do what they’re gifted to do. However, the leader’s job isn’t over at that point, in fact, that’s just one of a pair of “leadership bookends.” The other bookend is found in Moses blessing the workers at the end of their task. Leaders are to lead in appreciation as well as vision. As a pastor, I often point people in the right direction, whether they’re singers or electricians. Both are doing things that are beyond my capability and I certainly can’t micromanage their efforts. However, once the job is done, it’s my job to be the “lead appreciator” in the church. Every leader needs to be an expert in showing appreciation for the efforts of those we lead.
Take Away: A real leader knows how to lead in public appreciation of others.
A lesson on leadership
Exodus 32: Moses said to Aaron, “What on Earth did these people ever do to you that you involved them in this huge sin?” Aaron said, “Master, don’t be angry. You know this people and how set on evil they are.”
Aaron is left in charge while Moses is up on the mountain meeting with God. Just as the Lord said, there’s an idol-centered orgy going on. Moses demands an explanation from his brother who responds that these people are just bad people and there’s nothing he can do. Aaron is supposed to be the leader here, but he’s a spectacular failure. Leaders must have vision and be skilled in organizing and persuading people to work toward the fulfillment of that vision. Aaron’s view of leadership is to help the people do what they want to do already. His excuse to Moses is, “that’s just how these people are.” His error is huge and because of it he fails his people, Moses, and God. Genuine leaders don’t wring their hands as people do the wrong thing. Neither is it testing the political winds and “leading” the people to do what they already want to do, right or wrong. In fact, leadership can be lonely and occasionally it is practically suicidal. Aaron should have stood for God’s way even if it meant that the people just ran over him to do what they wanted in the first place. Moses understands leadership. He takes a position away from the goings on and calls for those who are on God’s side to join him. He’s going to make things right no matter what the cost. That’s leadership.
Take Away: Leadership is more than helping people do what they would do anyway.
Having a Moses Complex
Exodus 18: This is no way to go about it. You’ll burn out…you can’t do this alone.
Moses is overwhelmed by his responsibilities yet he presses on. From morning to night he deals with the issues of leadership as this nation of former slaves struggles with issues of personal responsibility. Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, visits and sees what’s happening. Moses needs to get organized by surrounding himself with capable assistants. That will be best for him, for the people of God, and even for the leaders he enlists. To do otherwise is to invite disaster because Moses does have a job to do and if he burns himself out trying to do everything he’ll end up doing nothing. Moses accepts the word of wisdom from Jethro and surrounds himself with competent, God-fearing, loyal people. I think we pastors sometimes have a “Moses complex.” It isn’t entirely our fault. The “higher-ups” are very pastor focused and our lay people will cheer us right into the grave as we try to do it all. We’re wise to spend some time listening to old Jethro and begin handing some things off to good people who are likely more gifted in specific areas than we are anyway. That will free them up to do what God gifted them to do and it will also let us focus our energy doing what we’re called to do in the first place.
Take Away: Leadership doesn’t mean doing everything.
Titus 1: I left you in charge in Crete so you could complete what I left half-done.
As I read Paul’s letters and the account of his journeys in the book of Acts I keep running into Titus and while I’m not given a complete biography of him, I pick up bits and pieces of his story along the way. He’s a Gentile, converted under Paul’s ministry. He joins Paul in his travels and assists the Apostle in various ways. The occasion of this letter is one example. Apparently, Paul spends some time on the island of Crete but for some reason has to leave before the work there is complete. He leaves Titus there to finish up, specifically, to appoint church leaders there. Now, Paul’s writing to Titus with some specific instructions for the completion of his task there. Again, while I don’t know all about Titus, I find enough information about him to cause me to think highly of him, as, obviously, Paul does. In this letter, Paul’s quick to get to the matter at hand. He wants Titus to put pastoral leadership in place in the Christian congregations on the island and he wants him to be careful in his selection of leaders. He wants people who are respected in the community, family men who are even tempered, welcoming to strangers, wise, fair, and reverent. An interesting qualification is that these leaders are to have a good grip on themselves and on the Good News of the Gospel. Understanding the gospel makes sense and so does having a good grip on self. Leaders need to be comfortable in their own skin. Obviously leaders need humility, but they also need a level of confidence. They need to know their strengths and weaknesses and be ready to entrust others to help shoulder the burden especially related to those weaknesses. Off Titus goes with his “shopping list” in hand, ready to pick people God has already picked and prepared for the task. Any church looking for a pastor will benefit from digesting this passage.
Take Away: The Lord uses a wide variety of people for his work, but some characteristics are to be found in them all.
1Timothy 6: A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God.
The final chapter of this first letter to young pastor Timothy is about money. Paul’s concerned about church leaders who see their position as a way to make some easy money. Timothy’s warned to identify such people as quickly as possible to keep them from infecting the whole church with their “germs of envy, controversy…” and other equally bad stuff. Timothy, himself, as a man of God, is to pursue, not money, but “wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy.” Finally, Paul addresses how Timothy’s to deal with those who are already wealthy. He’s to warn them to not be money centered but, instead, to handle their riches in the same way the Lord handles his: with extravagant generosity, helping others out of their bounty. Even though this is a short course on the topic of money and the church we find here a well-rounded treatment of the subject. First, watch out for church leaders who are in it for the money. Second, the pastor must be careful to not get caught up on the pursuit of money. Finally, those who do have money are to handle it with care, letting the generosity of the Lord, himself, but their example.
Take Away: Money doesn’t have to be a curse – rather it can be a way in which we reflect the generosity of the Lord.
Watching others preach the gospel
Philippians 1: I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives.
The first one out there, traveling from city to city preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ was Paul. He’s already a living legend among the Christians. For over twenty years he’s been faithful through thick and thin, through good days and bad. Actually, he doesn’t label “good and bad” as most people do. Right now he’s in jail and you’d think he’d call that “bad.” Instead, he happily explains that his being locked up has resulted in a lot of good things. People who wouldn’t have heard the gospel otherwise have literally come to him asking him to tell them about Jesus. Others, who’ve been timid about their faith before have been inspired by his faithfulness and have stepped forward to tell others about the Lord. A few have mistakenly concluded that with Paul locked up there’s a leadership void and are trying to fill his shoes, preaching about the Lord in hopes of gaining a leadership foothold in the church. That last group causes the great Apostle to reflect a bit on what it’s all about. Obviously, he doesn’t want false teachers out there preaching a false gospel. However, these folks, he’s concluded, are on target with their preaching and are only off target with their ambitions. Paul’s conclusion is that that stuff doesn’t matter as long as the gospel’s being preached. I can’t help but be impressed by Paul’s mature, focused attitude here. He’s willing to give up his freedom and his reputation if it serves to advance the cause of Christ. I’m reminded today that the Lord can accomplish great things through a person who doesn’t necessarily need to get the credit for what’s done.
Take Away: We do our best, leaving the results in the hands of the Lord.
2Corinthians 7: I know I distressed you greatly with my letter.
The book of 1 Corinthians is almost painful to read. It’s clear the there are some sick situations there and that this church is far from being a healthy congregation. The Corinthian church isn’t a prototype of what a Christian church is supposed to look like, although how Paul deals with them is a primer on how a spiritual leader is to deal with a difficult church situation. An insight in this passage is that as Paul writes to Corinth he knows the impact his words will have on the church. Beyond that, his words impact him as well. Administrating this strong medicine is painful for Paul too. The old “this hurts me more than it hurts you” line is literally true in this situation. Paul gets no pleasure in writing to his friends at Corinth as he does. He’s frustrated with them and somewhat fearful for them. Still, he expects his strong medicine to bring about, in the long run, good results. Sometimes parents have to be disciplinarians. It would be nice to always feel warm and fuzzy about things but to do so isn’t what real love is like. In his first letter Paul steps up to the plate, telling them the facts of spiritual life even though, in his words, “I felt awful at the time.” Sometimes preachers have to be disciplinarians. As it is for Paul and as it is for parents, proper discipline should never carry with it a sense of pleasure in causing pain. I imagine tearstains on the parchment that contains what we think of as 1 Corinthians. In the same way, there should be tearstains on the sermon notes of a pastor who preaches a sermon that will cause some pain. Otherwise, that sermon should never be preached.
Take Away: Sometimes discipline must be done but it should never be done with pleasure.
Worship service or a wrestling match?
1Corinthians 14: When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared….
Attending a church service at Corinth must be quite an experience. Some people are involved in a civil lawsuit against each other. There’s blatant immorality and the church has divided between the “it’s no big deal” crowd and the “it’s sin” crowd. Communion has been turned into a potluck and there’s competition, not over who makes the best apple pie, but who gets to eat the most. Now, we see that people are fighting over gets to be “featured” in the worship services. One person starts praying, maybe in a prayer language, only to be shouted down by someone else who tries to pray better. One person has a “message from God” but is shouldered out of the way by someone being more spiritual about their “message from God.” The whole thing, in Paul’s eyes, is infantile. The Apostle tries to walk a tightrope about it all. On one hand, he likes the idea that they’re excited about having the Holy Spirit work in and through them. On the other hand, this disorganized, competition-filled approach to worship has to go. Paul lays down some rules intended to calm things down. When he’s finished, their Spirit-language praying is, for practical purposes, removed from their worship services. He also rules out this business of talking over the top of one another with their competing “words from the Lord.” He tells them to get organized and to come prepared rather than making up their worship service as it goes along. Singers, teachers, and preachers are supposed to come ready to do their part. Basically, he calls them to intentional, prepared, humble, courteous, organized worship. If a person can’t handle that, they probably shouldn’t be up front in the first place.
Take Away: We want Spirit-filled worship but an indication of that isn’t people competing to be the most spiritual.