Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Jesus Style Leadership

A Footwasher to the Footwashers
by Ken Barnes

My Boys Are Good Boys
The mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, respectfully approached Jesus. She had what she thought was a small request.  “In your kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on the right and the other on the left” (Matt. 20:21 NLT). Many have noted that only a Jewish mother could make such a request. She wasn’t asking much, only that one could be the assistant savior and the other the associate Lord. Jesus must have thought that he had heard it all now.
Jesus pondered for a few seconds, and then gazed into their eyes with a look of loving rebuke. “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?” James and John confidently chimed in, “Oh yes, . . . we are able!” (v. 22). Their response proved they were pretty “clueless in Judea”.
The other ten disciples looked at each other in disbelief; they could not believe their ears. Mama had been politicking for her sons. They were beside themselves and reacted with indignation. (v. 24). They were indignant probably because they wanted those positions themselves. Pride and vanity have a tendency to bring to the surface more pride and vanity. So, we see the picture.  The disciples were jockeying for position and working one-upmanship. They were a pretty ratty bunch.
The First Shall Be Last and the Last, First
Talk about a teachable moment. Jesus, the master teacher, was not going to miss this opportunity. He hurriedly called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave” (v. 25-27).
Wow, what a paradigm change. You can just imagine the puzzled looks on their faces. He had just described to them an upside-down leadership style. If you want to be a leader, become a servant; do what others are not willing to do. If you want to be first among the leaders, become a slave (a bond servant). Not embraced with a legalistic obligation, but born of a free choice motivated by love. In this commitment there was no free agency; it was a lifetime of voluntary indentured service.
Remember, the Pharisees perpetrated the model of religious leadership of the day. They loved the best place in the synagogue. They loved to be noticed in the market place. “Hello, Rabbi.” The disciples also must have been tempted to think; it will be nice when our movement succeeds to have the best seats and have people affectionately say, “greetings, men of God”.   But after this little discourse by Jesus, they might have been thinking, maybe I should rethink my commitment to this leadership thing.
Finally, Jesus revealed to them the hinge that would support this radical service. That hinge would be the willingness to give up their lives. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 28). At the core of all authentic service is always a relinquishment. No, for most of us it will not be our physical lives, but in true service there is always the aspect of giving up what we want, to do what he wants. How did this teaching go over with his disciples? Let’s fast-forward to the end of Jesus’ ministry on earth to answer this question.

The Secret Weapon
The scene is the last Passover meal that Jesus would share with the men he had picked to carry on his work here on earth. He looked at his disciples with love in his heart, but understood that they are still a needy bunch. He needed an object lesson that would demonstrate the leadership principles previously outlined. His disciples had been with him three and a half years. “Look, the Lord is doing it again, another miracle”, they exclaimed.  “That little girl is breathing again. He just touched his mouth and the man could speak. Amazing, even the seas obey him.”  They had seen it all; yet, it hadn’t brought the change in their lives the Lord had sought. He needed a secret weapon that would not only change them, but also be a tool to reach the world. This was the last interaction with his disciples to etch upon their minds the image by which he was to be remembered. What would it be?
They have just finished eating and every eye in the room was trained on Jesus. He reached down for a servant’s towel and they gasped.  The disciples, with wide-open eyes and puzzled faces, thought; what is he doing? “Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end. It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him” (John 13:1-5 NLT).
That night he must have shaken the very Espirit de Corp of Hell. Demons must have shuttered when they pondered what would happen if this mindset replaced the mentality of the world—this system of the world that is under the “power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), which says you are important according to position, possessions, or posture in life. Jesus blew a hole right in the center of this mentality by the most valuable taking the role of the least valuable.
A Footwasher to the Footwashers
I worked with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) for 17 years, eight of those in Kona, Hawaii, where Loren and Darlene Cunningham, co-founders of YWAM, lived. On several occasions I heard Darlene say that God had called her to be a “footwasher to the footwashers.” When Loren needed to be away to take care of the vast responsibilities God had given him, Darlene was home taking care of the children, always with a positive attitude. I watched her spend untold hours counseling and encouraging those of us who were called to “stay with the stuff.” We needed encouragement. Being logistical workers and not directly reaching the lost, we sometimes viewed ourselves as second-class missionaries. Darlene encouraged us by speaking worth and value into our lives both in relation to who we were and what we did. Through her life and example, she helped us esteem the high position of service to which God had called us.
I think we might be a bit surprised when God gives out rewards for our earthly deeds (Matt. 16:27). We might find high on his list of tasks, child-rearing responsibilities, washing socks, or wives championing their husbands even though it placed them out of the glow of the limelight. I would not be the least bit surprised if on that day we have some shocked men (unlike Loren who always honored Darlene) when they finally realize that in serving God, it is not the height of the task or even its breadth that impresses God. It is the depth of our love for Christ that motivates us to serve, which catches the eye of our Father. To the many faithful spouses of ministry leaders I say: the eyes of the Lord are upon you, and he is impressed.
And, of course, our honor and service must go first to Jesus Christ, the ultimate footwasher to the footwashers.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ronald Reagan's Hope

If you are discouraged with the result of the recent presidential election, you need to read this article.

Ronald Reagan’s Hope to the (Conservative) Hopeless
By Ken Barnes

Don’t Give Up the Ship
            It was election night 2012 and it was becoming clear that Barak Obama would be reelected to another four-year term as President.   The Republicans were starting to analyze why President Obama had been able to pull off this crushing defeat.   Finger pointing and recrimination was starting to arise from the battered Republican political landscape.  The mood was somewhat pessimistic, but there was one voice among the many that resonated a different tone.  This voice was like one crying in the wilderness, alone and isolated, that challenged the pessimism and despondency in the air that night.  Charles Krauthammer, on Fox News, exclaimed that he was not discouraged.  He believes that there is arising a “new generation of Reagan-esque leaders”.   He mentions young leaders like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker and others he describes two days later in the Washington Post as “philosophically rooted and politically fluent in the new constitutional conservatism”.  He admits there may not be another Reagan among them, but there is an emerging generation who will “do conservatism but do it better”.
The Reagan Mystique
             As I read this article I was struck by the fact that just the mention of the name of Ronald Reagan can bring, politically speaking, hope to the hopeless.  What was it about this iconic figure that made him appeal to young and the old, rich and the poor, black and white, fourth generation or first generation immigrants, Republicans and Democrats?  Like no other recent political figure, he was able to bridge the political, racial, social, gender, and generational divides so prevalent today.  The evidence of this came in 2003 when Mr. Reagan succumbed to the long goodbye of Alzheimer’s disease, as untold numbers of all types of people lined the highways and byways to express their love and affection for this bigger than life figure. 
            Many close to him have said that he was a man who never lost sight of his roots.  What were those roots?
A Truly Modest Man
             Mr. Reagan’s spiritual input came mainly through the life of a godly mother, Nelle Reagan.  Paul Kengor in his book God and Ronald Reagan, describes Nelle Reagan as a pillar in her church, the Disciples of Christ (commonly know as the Christian Church); second only to the Pastor in visibility.   She believed in prayer, ministered to prisoners and would often open her home to help them transition them back into society.
Many felt that if Nelle had been educated she would have taken the pulpit herself.   This godly woman was the main influence on his spiritual values and ensuing philosophy of life; a philosophy of life that led him to believe he was an instrument and servant of God on this earth.  Mr. Reagan writes in 1987 in a letter to Bernard Cardinal Law, Archbishop of Boston, “My own prayer is that I can…..perform the duties of this position so as to serve God”.
What was it about this woman that instilled in her son the ability to be great but yet modest, and powerful but not proud?  Interestingly enough, the answer may come from the margin of her Bible.  In Nelle Reagan’s old wrinkled Bible, the same Bible Reagan used for the swearing-in for his first term is an annotation that says, “You can be too big for God to use, but you can never be too small”.  From those closest to this man we seem to hear a consistent theme.  He is said to have been a genuinely modest man.  He did not seem to have the necessity to impress.  As the old saying goes, what you see is what you get.  Reagan hailed from Dixon, Illinois, and the town mayor, James G. Burke once said, speaking of his small town values and religious upbringing, that “Reagan had no pretenses or excessive pride; you can take the Ronald Reagan out of Dixon, but you cannot take Dixon out of Ronald Reagan”.
Mr. Reagan, though arguably the most powerful man on Earth, when he was with someone of a lower station in life, did not come off as I am great and you are not.  This man must have realized that although he had risen to the highest pinnacle in worldly pursuits, in the eyes of God he was no different than the humblest servant.  After President Reagan’s death a memorial service was held at the First Christian Church in Dixon.  Following the service those attending marched eight blocks to Reagan’s boy-hood home in a light rain.  As the crowd was standing in front of the house under multitudes of umbrellas, the Dixon Telegraph records that as the band started to play “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, one of Reagan’s favorite songs, the clouds opened up, “drenching rich and poor, humble and proud, old and young, treating everyone equally, just as Ronald Reagan always had done”.   Mr. Reagan, through his demeanor, communicated to the common man; I am just like you.  
The Final Encore
President George W. Bush finished his tribute at the President’s Reagan’s funeral by saying, “When the sun sets off the coast of California, and we lay to rest our 40th president, a great American story will come to an end”.   As dignitaries, Hollywood friends,  and government officials were filing past the casket to say their last goodbyes to the “Gipper”, Margaret Thatcher, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain and one of Reagan’s staunchest allies in his fight against tyranny, slowly approached the casket.  Seventy-eight years old herself and with her body racked with several small strokes, she paused momentarily, and then slowly bowed.  It is a fitting postscript to what she had penned a day or two earlier in the condolence book; “To Ronnie, Well done thou good and faithful servant”.   At this awesome moment, observers at the funeral noted that as Lady Thatcher bowed, the sun slipped below the western horizon.  It was as if heaven’s choreographer had staged one last encore, but in this one the actor had not taken the bow, all creation bowed in a final gesture of thanks to one of its choicest servants; a fitting end to a life well lived.
Doing Conservatism and Doing it Better
            So, let’s do it one more time for the Gipper.  In saying this I am appealing to a new generation of conservative leaders, be it Republican or Democrat, yes I said Democrat.  Reagan was a man for all people.  No, we will never see another Ronald Reagan again; after God made him He broke the mold.  Though we no longer have the mold, we still have the model.  A model for young political visionaries to emulate that makes us feel good about ourselves again, not through arrogance, but humility.   A standard for new Reagan-esque leaders that enables them to relate to the rich and the poor without making us feel ashamed or bad about ourselves.  Class warfare always divides people, but so does ignoring the just pleas of truly needy people.  Addressing both ends of this equation may be the herculean task for the new group of conservative policy-makers.  It won’t be easy and it may be messy, but what choice do we have?  Look at the election results; we are a divided nation.  How would Mr. Reagan walk this political tightrope?  Maybe he would do justly, by holding tenaciously to his conservative principles, but also love mercy, by reaching out to the marginalized and disenfranchised among us.  How is this possible?  Only by walking in Reagan-esque humility.  My young conservative friends, if you tread this path you will “do conservatism and do it better”, and we may see this divided nation become One Nation Under God again.