A prophet gives us focus for the day of ashes. “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart . . . ." (Joel 2:12).
Lent is a season for turning and returning. We've been going the wrong way. We must orient ourselves anew. The Bible calls this repentance - a turn of the heart.
Joel offers us a word - three letters - that make repentance appealing.
After all you've done.
Even though you deserve what you have coming.
Even though you got yourself into this mess.
Even after what you did last night.
Even after all the lies, gossip, and anger.
"Yet even now" . . .
God makes a way.
God doesn't give up on you.
God wants you back.
Ash Wednesday reminds us that "dust you are and to dust you shall return." And "yet," the man Jesus Christ has come to call us from dust to live and breath again.
Our church recently hosted a leadership immersion class for Concordia Seminary, St Louis. For a week, Professor Ben Haupt brought 30 young seminary students "in residence" with us for hands-on learning about congregational dynamics and the pastoral vocation. During this intensive course, two things struck me.
1.) I’m not a young pastor.
2.) These young, soon-to-be pastors will enter a turbulent time in the history of the church. They will enter ministry during the the great decay of Christendom in our country. The challenges of a changing relationship between church and society will serve as a furnace. Churches and pastors will be tested and refined.
“A pig is most vulnerable when it’s fat.”
The Dow Jones industrial average recently topped 26,000 for the first time ever, just seven trading days after it blew past 25,000. The run between 1,000 point milestones was easily the fastest in the index’s 121-year history.
We live in a time of growing economic optimism. A new tax overhaul. Low unemployment. Incredible stock market growth. I'm pleased with my IRA statements. At the same time, there’s something perilous about the prosperous state of affairs.
You've seen the signs and bumper stickers: "Keep Christ in Christmas." It's a rebuttal to the growing secularism of Christmas in our culture.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that while nine in 10 U.S. adults celebrate the holiday, that celebration is heading in a more secular direction. Three years ago, 51% of U.S. adults said Christmas for them is more a religious holiday than a cultural one. But according to a Pew survey out last week, that number has slipped to 46%.
Our daily lives fall effortlessly into a conventional set of circumstances.
The daily grind.
The predictable path.
The ordinary set of expectations.
The likely outcome.
The natural consequences.
The record of the nativity implies this as well.
Those in power win (King Herod).
Pregnant, unwed teens are abandoned (Mary).
Refugees live in fear (the Holy Family in Egypt).
But Matthew records an unconventional word that disrupts the anticipated outcome:
We've seen enough failed leadership - self-centered, corrupt, inept, greedy. Where can we see genuine leadership? Power used for others, not self?
As Christians, we are drawn to the cruciform posture of leadership. In Christ, power, authority, and influence are used in selfless ways. He exemplifies servant leadership. More than just a model for us to follow, he offers forgiveness for leaders - for all - who falter and fail.
In a follow up post from last week, here are five more of my top leadership quotes.
We are confronted daily with failed leadership. It seems that every morning, there’s a revelation of another powerful man who abused his influence and authority. (See my post on this here.) We’ve been let down by politicians and producers, presidents and prime ministers, pastors and priests.
What examples of genuine leadership do we have? Rather than stating “what I’m against,” I’m determined to focus on “what I’m for.” I look to mentors who demonstrate leadership in the positive, not the negative.
Here are my top leadership quotes. They give me focus in an era of floundering leadership. I’ll share five this week, and five next week.
Common reactions to the growing list of men accused of sexual misconduct, harassment, or abuse.
"I'm so disappointed."
"They're dropping like flies."
"I can't believe it. I would never have guessed . . ."
"Who's next? The Pope? The Rock?"
We should all be saying that such behavior is unacceptable.
We speak on behalf of the dignity of women.
We work to break systems of lewd perversion and abuse of power.
We press for a new transparency in workplace and society.
We stand for those violated and look for ways to provide healing and support.
While we certainly say all these things, I'm also looking for what no one else is saying.
A dear friend once told me, "Jesus always did the unexpected. He constantly surprised people."
People expected a moral coach. He ate with the impious.
People expected a leader of the religious establishment. He sparred with the Pharisees.
People expected a line between "good people" and "bad people." He said, "Love your enemies."
People expected an easy way of spiritual improvement. He said, "Deny yourself and follow me."
People expected a dynamic rock star. He did miracles and then told them to keep it hush-hush.
People expected tidy sermons. He spoke confounding parables.
People expected a triumphant general. He died by execution.
500 years after Martin Luther boldly reasserted "Grace!" into the Christian church's vocabulary, we still struggle with it. Let me explain.
My six-year-old daughter and I went a St. Louis Cardinals game in September. We had tickets way up in the outfield. On the sidewalk, a guy comes up to us and asks if we have tickets. “Yes,” I say abruptly. He’s probably trying to sell me something.
“Where are they?”
“Section 340,” I say reluctantly.
“I’ve got some better tickets. You want 'em?”
Before I can say "no," he hands me two tickets. The price on each says $184. Third base line behind the dugout. “How much?” I ask. “Nothing,” he says. "I’ve got four tickets, but I’m only using two."
I sat next this generous gift-giver during the game feeling like I owed him. "I have to return the favor." I offered to buy him a beer, but he refused.