Sunday, February 22, 2009

Follow the Leader

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

1 Peter 2:21

Early followers of Jesus were called “Little Christs” because their newfound faith had changed their lives for all to see. This odd group of people from all walks of life – rich and poor, male and female and slave and free -- were utterly different from the rest of society. They somehow had grown more caring and generous to both neighbors and strangers alike, and they willingly sacrificed their time and resources to ease sorrow and correct injustices.

In a word, they were transformed.

And that says a lot for the effectiveness of their leader, an obscure rabbi from a distant corner of the Roman Empire who just happened to be God’s own Son. Few recognized that at the time. But because some did and followed Jesus, millions in future generations would help to change the world for the better.

Modern-day Christ-followers must too be leaders by imitating Jesus’ actions and principles. It’s this very strategy that His first disciples used to guide their very lives. They recognized that Jesus the Leader was also Jesus the Follower. Christ spoke constantly with His Father (God) in prayer and always sought His guidance. “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing,” explained Jesus, “because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

What were some of the other attributes that made Jesus (and can make us) an effective leader? In addition to inspiring His followers to leave behind their old ways for a higher calling, Jesus challenged the status quo. For instance, he defied the day’s spiritual leaders by exposing their religious hypocrisy and revealing God’s true intent behind the Scriptures. Jesus also encouraged His followers and enabled the to succeed in their objectives.

Let’s not forget that He also acted with a sense of urgency. From the foundation of the world, Jesus knew that He had only about three years to save the world. It was in this brief period that He preached God’s word, healed the sick, raised the dead and forgave all those who asked Him. He even asked God to forgive His own executioners because they didn’t realize what they were doing.

As the saying goes, who knows what tomorrow brings? Whether we have three years to live or 33, ask God to fill you with His Holy Spirit – that personal, loving Power that will guide you to follow Jesus the rest of your days. And as a faithful follower who seeks to do His will, He’ll follow the same pattern as in ages past and transform you into a leader – and one who leads intentionally.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

All You Need is Love

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

-- Mark 12:30-32

Maybe you’ve heard the story behind the song. It was June 25, 1967: the day popular music merged with high technology to forever change the world.

The Beatles – hailed by many critics as the greatest rock group in history – gathered in a crowded studio to play before a worldwide television audience estimated at more than 400 million viewers. That’s an impressive number even today. But it was even more amazing 40 years ago because it was made possible by the first satellite broadcast of its kind to link five continents.

All You Need is Love was the unforgettable anthem that the Beatles performed that afternoon. And it was an appropriate choice considering the sought-after notions of love and peace among a world weary of wars, riots and assassinations. But as the decades passed, many would criticize the Beatles’ message as na├»ve and a bit corny. The music was still great, but the lyrics were lame at best. After all, what good is love for changing a hurting world?

The Beatles surely didn’t write All You Need is Love to convey a Christian message. But in a sense, perhaps that’s just what they did. A famous passage from the Book of Matthew puts this into perspective. When asked by one of the Pharisees – a strict religious sect – to name the greatest of God’s laws, Jesus astounded his audience by the simplicity and clarity of his response.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment,” Jesus answered. “And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

So in just a few brief sentences, Jesus summarized the core message of the entire Old Testament – that God’s love, translated into beneficial motivations and actions through our faith in Jesus Christ, is indeed an unstoppable, world-changing force. And as the Apostle John later wrote, “…God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”

This is a difficult concept for many people because they equate the term “love” with that squishy word associated with weddings, chocolates and Valentines Day. But Jesus wasn’t teaching His followers about that often fleeting, awkward emotion. As Christ-followers, God calls us to put our love into sincere, tangible action. And this can come in many widely divergent forms: from helping an elderly neighbor get their groceries to revealing God’s light to total strangers through a prison ministry. It could also translate into changing a co-worker’s life by showing him or her how Jesus has changed your own. The possibilities and potential are endless.

So is love all we really need? It was, according to the Beatles more than 40 years ago. But much more importantly, it is according to Jesus today. Love is to be the motivation of every Christ-follower. It’s what we do. And it’s also who we are.