How to be a Great Bad Leader

I’m reading through the book of Acts, and I just came across Stephen’s speech to the official assembly of Israel’s elders in chapter 7. Turns out the assembly was full of less-than-stellar leaders, and you, too, can be a great bad leader if you follow their example. (Or you can use their example as what NOT to do in leadership…your call.)

Stephen’s story starts in chapter 6. All we know about Stephen is he lived in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven and that he was “…a man full of God’s grace and power [and he] did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people,” (Acts 6:8). And the Jewish leaders/elders didn’t take kindly to this.

As Stephen, and, more importantly, Jesus, grew in popularity among the Jews in Jerusalem, that necessarily meant the Jewish leaders’ power and popularity decreased.

And guess what?

Bad leaders cannot STAND to lose power. They will go to GREAT lengths to maintain power because without it they feel worthless. It’s sad, really.

In Stephen’s case these jealous elders decided to “secretly persuade” some dudes to accuse Stephen of blasphemy.

Again, bad leaders create conflict using deception and underhanded tactics in order to create the illusion that their poor leadership choices are justified.

And because most of the Jews inherently trusted their leaders, they automatically believed whatever they said. The general population just couldn’t conceive their beloved elders would deceive them or have back door meetings or strong arm people into doing immoral things.

The elders wanted Stephen to shut up about Jesus so they could maintain their dictatorial control over the masses. The best way to ensure Stephen would shut up was to kill him. And the fastest ticket to death in those days was to be convicted of blasphemy. After all, no upstanding Jew would tolerate such a thing, and neither did their law. And guess who got to decide if someone accused of blasphemy was guilty or innocent? That’s right: the assembly of elders.

Hmm. Sounds a little self-serving.

Bad leaders design processes and procedures that always result in them alone having absolute authority. They carefully craft heirarchies to ensure they cannot be held accountable by anyone else.

Israel’s elders went to great lengths to make sure Stephen would be found guilty of the drummed up charge of blasphemy. “They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place (the Temple) and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us,” (Acts 6:13-14).

Bad leaders have people in their pockets. They know who is weak enough morally and/or emotionally to exploit them when they need to. Sometimes bad leaders bribe others to do their dirty work so they themselves can still appear clean to the general population. Other times they threaten people to cooperate. Other times they manipulate people to do their bidding by convincing them the task at hand is really a noble thing to do. Worst of all, sometimes bad leaders misuse scripture to convince the spiritually naive that God WANTS them to do whatever devious thing the leaders have in mind. That last one gets all over me and makes me want to hit things.

So the Jewish elders put Stephen on “trial”. They went through the motions of justice to deceive the masses into thinking they really were after the “truth” and really were being “fair” to Stephen. These elders brought in these hand-picked false witnesses and pretended to be hearing the false accusations for the first time, as if they hadn’t coached these witnesses to say exactly what they said.

The heart of Jewish religion was the temple sacrifices doled out by the law God established through Moses. So these sly elders got people to accuse Stephen of defaming and wanting to get rid of both.

Bad leaders play on people’s emotions. They know what hot-button topics will really get their people stirred up–so stirred up that they become unable to calmly and rationally listen to anyone else’s side of the story. Literally, the science says once we humans become flooded with anger or fear, our brains cannot process new information until we physiologically calm down again. Bad leaders know this and use it to their advantage.

The high priest (think “head elder”) puts on his best shocked/fake-let’s-be-fair voice and asked Stephen, “Are these charges true?” (Acts 7:1).

And you know what Stephen says?

He brilliantly launches into the history of Israel and, specifically, how the Israelites royally failed at recognizing Moses as a prophet. They disobeyed Moses all the time, willfully choosing idolatry over worshipping God again and again.

Stephen uses the example of Moses to illustrate to the elders that, just like their ancestors before them, the elders are stubborn, have hard hearts unyielded to the Lord, refuse to listen to God, and, worst of all, “…always resist the Holy Spirit!” (Acts 7:51).

Wow. That’s an indictment there if I’ve ever heard one. Stephen also accused the elders of “betraying and murdering” the “Righteous One” prophets of old spoke about–i.e., Jesus (Acts 7:52).

You’ll never guess how the elders responded to Stephen’s rebuke.

That’s right, they humbly accepted the correction, admitted their wrongs, and thanked Stephen for having the you-know-whats to point out the sin in their lives so they could stop and grow more mature in their faith in God.

Just kidding.

The elders of Israel threw a fit. A FIT, I tell you.

“When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him…[at the mention of Jesus being with God in heaven] they covered their ears, and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at [Stephen], dragged him out of the city and began to stone him,” (Acts 7:54-58). Stephen died from that stoning, and then the elders went on to persecute other Christians in Jerusalem so badly that they all literally ran for their lives, scattering throughout the region (Acts 8:1).

Bad leaders lose their minds when they are confronted with the truth. If their cover as “good guys” is threatened publically, bad leaders attack those blowing the whistle. And then they attack everyone associated with those who blew the whistle. The gloves come off. The leaders stop delegating their dirty work and take matters into their own hands as a last ditch effort to squelch any revolt on account of the masses slowly beginning to realize these leaders are not what they seem.

Like Israel’s elders back in the day, some people today are really great bad leaders. Phenomenal, actually. And, unfortunately, there are still some really great bad leaders in churches today.

Ask the Spirit to help you perceive if any of your leaders–inside the church or out–fit the bill of great bad leaders. If you find you are under one (or more–they tend to travel in packs), blow the whistle. But know you will likely be clobbered when you do. That’s ok. Jesus told us that will happen when we stand for what is right.

If your whistle-blowing results in change for the better, rejoice! If it doesn’t, relocate. That is, find new leaders. There are great great leaders out there; stop wasting your time under great bad leaders.

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When Life is Hard

There are days (and weeks and months and years…) that life is one heartache after another.

That just kind of comes with the territory living on a broken planet among broken people being broken ourselves. Things don’t go right very often.

And it hurts.

It hurts me.

It hurts you.

It hurts everyone around us.

And sometimes talking to the Lord about all this helps.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

And sometimes reading scriptures about comfort and love and peace and joy and hope, all of which He wants to provide us, helps.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

On the days the brokenness inside me refuses to be comforted, about all I can do is decide to mentally assent to two things:

You are good, and all You do is good…

Psalm 119:68

This is the foundation of my worldview that I have to return to when I am stumbling.

God is good (and loving and kind and for me and attentive and trustworthy). God is good. He doesn’t just act in good ways; He embodies goodness.

And all God does is good (whether He is passively allowing things to unfold or actively causing things to happen). God is in total control of everything every second, and because He is good – that is, there is no badness in Him – He cannot act in a single bad way. Not ever. Even when He allows bad things to happen – evil things, horrid things – He only does so that we might come closer to His heart, the very best place for us to be.

Broken people on a broken planet watch the madness, feel the sadness, and are all but overwhelmed. Our feelings tell us, even those of us who know Jesus, there is no hope.

And, truth be told, sometimes we can read scripture and pray until we are blue in the face, and we will still feel hopeless. Reading, “You are good, and all You do is good…” may not alleviate the pain.

But I think just telling God we believe those things to be true does two things.

It shows Him we trust Him even if we don’t feel happy about it. And I have to believe He likes to be trusted.

But it also shows us we trust Him even if we don’t feel happy about it. And, especially when we’re despairing, we need all the help we can get reminding ourselves we do, in fact, trust God. It forces us to think about why He is trustworthy. And if we want feelings of hopelessness to lift, it seems to me sowing seeds of His trustworthiness is a good place to start.

Who You Are

Believers,

Do you know who you are?

Do you know who you are?

You are not your choices.

You are not your ideas.

You are not your accomplishments or your abilities or your accolades.

You are not your career.

You are not your talents or your treasures.

Your inherent worth as a human being doesn’t come from what you do or don’t do, from whom you impress or depress, from your success or your excess.

You are valuable because the God of all that ever was and all that is and all that ever will be knit you together in your mother’s womb. He created you as a reflection of Himself for the pure joy set before Him that He might get to have a relationship with you.

He has loved you with an everlasting love – infinitely backward through all the days history has lost and infinitely forward into all the days the future hides- simply because you are His.

He made you.

He loves you.

And that’s why you’re valuable.

You are not your sin.

You are not your mistakes or misgivings.

You are not your addictions or bad decisions.

You are His.

You are distinctly separate from all of these things. Your worth is independent of your performance, your feelings, your failings.

You are precious and honored in God’s sight, His lavishly loved child.

That’s who you are.

Leave Room

We all have two gods (at least). There’s the god we make up in our minds, and there is the actual God. And to the degree we allow scripture to shape our notions of who God is, our version of god comes to resemble the real God more and more.

The Jews in Jesus’ day were no different. In John 8 Jesus and the Pharisees were having one of their typical spats. You know – the ones where the Pharisees completely miss the boat as to what Jesus is getting at, and Jesus nails them/us with a truth so piercing it takes their/our breath away.

Jesus is explaining to the Jews that if they truly wanted to hold to Abraham’s teachings – claiming Abraham as their spiritual father – they would believe Jesus is the Messiah because Abraham’s teachings pointed to Jesus’ coming one day (8:39).

In the midst of this discussion, in which the Jews keep pointing to their lineage, Jesus says this,”I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word,” (John 8:37).

In other words, Jesus didn’t fit the Jews’ preconceived notion of what the Messiah would be like, so their minds were closed to the possibility that He really was the Messiah. He actually fulfilled the Jewish prophecies quite nicely, just not in the ways they expected.

They had no room for Jesus’s word – the truth. So they missed it. 

People who reject Christianity are in the same boat. Jesus doesn’t fit their idea of what God should be or would be or is like. So they reject the notion that Jesus is the Savior. They have no room for Jesus’ word – the truth. So they miss it.

A lot of Christians are in the same boat too. For all the sermons we’ve heard, books we’ve read, Bible we’ve learned incorrectly, we have our own ideas of who God is and what He is like. Some of those ideas are right. A lot of those ideas are wrong.

The question is do we have room for Jesus’ word – the truth? 

Are we open and humble enough to have our notions of Jesus challenged? Are we willing to change our beliefs about God if biblical teaching says we’ve got some things wrong?

In the midst of all the beliefs we hold so dear, let’s make sure we leave room for Jesus’ beliefs about Himself.

Prayer: Conflict Resolution with God

Unable to sleep despite needing to sleep, I went downstairs for the next best thing – coffee. I paced the length of my kitchen as the machine sputtered. The coffee maker struggled to brew as I struggled to order my thoughts.

I began speaking aloud to the Lord, using Him as a sounding board for my broken logic and heightened emotions. He listened patiently. He gave me all the time I needed to verbally rearrange the pieces of the puzzle… in vain.

Sometimes prayer goes like that. It isn’t so much a laundry list of “Please do these things for me, Lord,” as it is a wrestling match to align my heart with His on matters.

image via wikipedia/Jason M. Carter

His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:9). Sometimes we have to fight for understanding. Sometimes we have to settle for peace without clarity, but even that doesn’t always come without an altercation with God.

Our broken minds are inclined to believe a lot of things that aren’t true, especially about ourselves and about God (see Jacob – Genesis 32). So it’s no wonder we have to spend a lot of time with God – the Spirit of Truth – to sort out our right thinking from our wrong thinking (John 16:13). Part of “fight[ing] the good fight of the faith” is mentally fighting the inclination to believe falsehoods (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Corinthians 10:5).

He doesn’t take offense to our (respectfully) arguing with Him (see Moses – Exodus 3-4). He knows that’s part of the process. He delights that we’re speaking honestly with Him, seeking to reconcile our perceptions of reality with who He is and what His Word says. And He knows it is hard and exhausting at times (see Jesus – Luke 22:44).

He never expects us to will ourselves to believe things we struggle to comprehend. Mostly because He knows we can’t. And He certainly doesn’t expect us to pretend we trust Him when we don’t.

Instead, He invites us to come to Him in conversation and work things out. He knows that it is through this wrestling process that our hearts will learn to value what He values and trust His character.

If your heart is overwhelmed, put on your singlet, pop in your mouthpiece, and get on the mat with the Lord.

Who Do YOU Say I Am?

It’s a big week for Jesus.  You know, Easter and all that.  So, as long as we’re all thinking about Him to one degree or another, He’s got a question for us.

(Actually, it was initially for Peter.  But it’s for you and me, too.)

image via pisteuo.wordpress.com

Jesus was standing around shooting the breeze with the disciples one day, and He asked them who people thought He was.  They offered the most recent results of the Gallup Poll – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets (Matthew 16:13-14).

It’s interesting to me that popular opinion thought it was more likely Jesus was one of these guys REINCARNATED than the Son of God.  I mean, wouldn’t both ideas be pretty far-fetched?  If you’re gonna believe Jesus was a reincarnated prophet, why not go ahead and make the “leap” that He is who He says He is – God’s Son…

Anyway, after the disciples offer these conjectures on Jesus’ true identity, Jesus says to the group, “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

Jesus wasn’t concerned with the world’s perception of Him.  Not so much, anyway.  He wanted to know what His most intimate followers – His closest friends – understood about His true identity.

Peter responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

Imagine, if you will, that you are standing there with that group of disciples, listening to this conversation.  And Jesus turns to you.  His strong, yet soft, brown eyes meet yours.  And He says, “But what about you?  Who do you say I am?”

You know exactly who you think He is.  Whether you are a believer, a skeptic, or an apathetic, you have an opinion about Jesus.

Was He a great teacher?

Was He a good man?

Was He a lunatic?

Was He a con artist?

Was He the Son of God?

Was He a prophet?

How do you answer His question?

Jesus didn’t offer any documented response to the ideas that He was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.  But to Peter’s statement that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus replies, “Blessed are you…” (Matthew 16:17).

Jesus clearly accepts Peter’s answer as correct.  All other answers are incorrect.

But you and I weren’t there.  We’ve never seen Jesus.  We’ve never talked to Him.  On what, then, do we base our answer to His question, “Who do you say I am?”

Christian or not, you need to have an answer and a basis for your answer.  Know why you believe what you believe about the most important and influential person in history.

Spiritual Legacy: How I Lied to Get a Bible

(For the story of my salvation, read Part I, Part II, and Part III.)

I became a Christian through a long process that culminated in November, 1999.  Once I decided that Jesus was really who He claimed to be – the One True God and the only Savior that could make amends for my failures – I thought it would be good if I read His book.

But I didn’t have a Bible.

image via Amazon.com

Actually, I had a Children’s Bible my Catholic grandma had sent me when I was a child.  It was a thick volume with creepy, old-fashioned pictures, and we never read it.  It lived on the shelf of my closet my entire childhood.  After I became a Christian, I dug it out, opened it, and considered reading it.  But I felt silly, being 16 years old and reading a children’s Bible.

I didn’t have a job (read: money) or a car, so I wasn’t sure how I could get my hands on a real Bible.  And I was too embarrassed/fearful to ask my parents for assistance.  I just wasn’t sure how they’d react to my interest in the Bible.  We never talked about religious things, and I assumed it would be an uncomfortable conversation if I asked them for a Bible.

But God wanted me to have one.  I saved my allowance and asked my mom to take me to the bookstore so I could do some Christmas shopping.  While she was looking around, I snuck away to find the Bibles.  I stared at a WALL of books, all Bibles, and had NO idea how to determine which would be best for me.  I took a look inside a few of them and, ultimately, selected a cheap, readable Bible.  I took it to the cashier as fast as possible and never made eye contact with her as I handed her exact change.  I hoped my mom, being under the impression I had bought a Christmas gift for someone, wouldn’t ask me what I bought.  And she didn’t.

(My flesh STILL wants to justify that deception by saying, “I did buy a Christmas gift that day.  I bought myself a Bible for Christmas…  see?  I didn’t lie to my mom!”  But I can’t convince myself that’s true.  So my flesh tries a different approach, “Well, even if it was a lie, it was a justified lie – I was lying to cover up buying a BIBLE, for goodness sake!”  But I still don’t believe myself.  I’ve read too much Bible to sit here and pretend like the ends justify the means.  God NEVER supports doing the right things the wrong way.  And so the struggle with self continues…)

When I got home, I went to my room and opened the bag.  I pulled out the Bible, opened it, and stared at the pages.  What were these strange notations?  Why was each sentence numbered?  I read the tag, “Psalm 32:2”.  What was that colon about?  I didn’t understand.  I felt like I was looking at a foreign language.  I flipped back to the “Introduction” and read every single word, hoping I’d find instructions on how to read this book.

Thankfully, it explained that each book was divided into chapters (the big numbers, as it were), and the chapters were divided into verses (the small numbers, it turned out).  Feeling more informed about how to use the book, I decided to start reading it from the beginning.

Genesis began to explain to me how the earth and everything in it was formed.  It didn’t sound like anything I’d ever heard before.  I had never even heard of Intelligent Design or Creationism.  My science-loving dad had never spoken of this, not even as a mere possibility.  Whenever he taught me things about the universe and space and humanity, he explained things from an evolutionary stand point.  And I had always taken his word as truth because he was my dad.  His authority was all I ever needed as a child to believe what he was saying.  Similarly, the public schools I had attended my whole life had failed to mention there was more than one theory out there about the origin of the world.  But my teachers were my teachers, so I had trusted that they were teaching fact and truth.

As I sat and read this alternate idea as to how the universe was made and how people were created, I was fascinated.  I knew it was true.  In a similar way to how I just knew Jesus was God/Savior one day, I trusted this book without any need to verify its truth.  I read it most days, eager to learn what it had to say, but often not understanding the significance of what I was reading.

And that was ok in the beginning.  I was learning.  And you have to learn before you can question.

To be continued…

Part 5