Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Jun
04

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“But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matt. 6:7, KJV).

The phrase “vain repetitions” comes from the translation of Matthew 6:7 in the King James version. It is a translation of the Greek word battalogeo. This is the only time this word is found in the entire New Testament. It is related to the Greek word battalos which means stutterer. The ESV translates this word as “empty phrases” and the NIV translates it as “babbling.” Jesus used it to describe the prayers of Gentiles. These pagan prayers contained “many words” and it sounded like “babbling.”

Jesus is arguing for simplicity in prayer. Immediately following this warning he gives what we know as the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:9-13). He instructs us to “Pray then in this way…” (Matt. 6:9). In the Gospel of Luke, he gives the same prayer again and says, “When you pray, say…” (Luke 11:2). We are commanded not just to use his prayer as an example, but also to pray the very words he prayed. This means that “vain repetitions” does not refer to using prayers that have been handed down over the years. The Jewish people prayed the Psalms, and even Jesus prayed them from the cross (Matt. 27:46). They prayed the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9) multiple times each day. Jesus never condemned this practice. In fact, he speaks favorably of the Shema and calls it the greatest command (Luke 10:25-28). Jesus condemned the Jewish people for praying just to be heard (Matt. 6:5), but he never says anything about them using the same prayers over and over again. Praying the prayers we find in Scripture is not “vain repetition.”

What is condemned in Matt. 6:7 is “vain repetition” and not simply repetition. There is nothing wrong with repeating something. In fact, this could be a beneficial practice. In Psalm 136 the phrase “for his steadfast love endures forever” is repeated 26 times. The word of God is not “vain repetition.” Psalm 136 is not “vain repetition.” The repetition of certain phrases within God’s word can help mold and shape us. It can help to remind us of God’s faithfulness and enduring love. When we sing a song on Sunday morning, we often sing the chorus multiple times. We are repeating the same words over and over again, but this is not “vain repetition.” Repetition is not condemned in the Bible. What is condemned is “vain repetition.”

When Jesus used this phrase in Matt. 6:7, it referred to something specific. It referred to pagan prayers that sounded like babbling and were full of many words that had no meaning. Our prayers are to be simple prayers from the heart. The idea of something being vain refers to the condition of our heart. We can sincerely say the Lord’s prayer and mean every word, or we can mumble through the words and not mean any of them. We can stand before the congregation and pray a prayer from the bottom of our heart, or we can get up and just say what pops in our head and maybe throw in some phrases we have picked up over the years (e.g. guide, guard, and direct). We can stand and read Psalm 136 together focusing on the steadfast love of the Lord, or we can think about how silly it is to read together and never contemplate on the deep love of God. We can make anything vain. The choice is up to us. Are we truly worshipping God on Sunday mornings, or are we just going through the motions? One is vain worship and the other is not.

May
07

One of the most trying times when you are a parent of small children is nap time. Both of my boys fight sleep. If you lay them down, then they cry. If you try to rock them, they kick and wiggle around and won’t stay still. If you let them stay up, then they are cranky and fussy. They need sleep, but they don’t understand that. Their goal is to avoid the one thing they need the most. This can be frustrating as a parent, but you respond with patience and love until eventually they lay down their little head and close their eyes.

The truth is we all need rest, and sometimes adults are just as bad at avoiding it as small children. Rest is a theme throughout the Bible. The first things we learn about God is that he is the Creator and on the seventh day he rested. Later in the Bible, Sabbath will become an important concept for the people of God. This day of rest would set them apart from the other nations around them. The concept of Sabbath was bigger than just one day. There was a Sabbath year. Sabbath was extended to animals and the land. Sabbath is where we get the modern idea of a sabbatical. Jesus also finds time to rest. He withdraws to be alone and pray (Luke 5:16). If Jesus and God needed to set aside time to rest, then shouldn’t we also?

Why is there so much attention given to rest within the Bible? It seems like something that is ordinary. At first glance, it looks like an idea that is simple and does not need to be taught. The problem is that God knows we are like small children, and we need to be reminded to rest over and over again. If not, then we will skip it, and we will not get the rest for our soul that we desperately need. There are multiple kinds of rest. We need rest each night. We need a day or two of rest each week from our jobs. We need times throughout the year where we can get away and maybe spend time with family. We also need times where we can be alone and reflect on our lives and pray. Rest refreshes us. Rest reenergizes us. Rest allows us to gather our thoughts and recenter our lives on what is important. Rest is a time to reflect on God and his creation and praise the one who has blessed us beyond measure.

“The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.'” (Mark 6:30-31)

Apr
17

Canada Island

1 Corinthians 13 is one of the more well-known chapters within the Bible. It is read at weddings. It is quoted by religious and non-religious people. It is a meditation on love. We are called to love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). The two greatest commands are to love God and love others. God is love, and we are to imitate God. Love is an important topic for Christians. It is also a challenging topic. None of us have mastered the two greatest commands. None of us have perfected our imitation of God. We love, but we often do it imperfectly. We need practice. We need to keep pursuing love.

The greatest example of love is Jesus on the cross, but most of us need something more practical. We are in awe of the cross. We are moved by the cross. We see the cross and we see love, but most of us will never achieve a level of love like that. God understands this, and so we are given other examples and instructions. Love for our neighbor is defined in the story of the good Samaritan. Paul describes love for us in 1 Corinthians 13. He presents various ways we can practice love. In verse 7 he writes, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Paul explains in this verse what love looks like in the communities in which we live. This is what love looks like in the church. This is what love looks like in our families. This is what love looks like on the job.

What makes a strong community is trust. As Christians, we are called to believe the best about a person. Love means that we hope for the best and work toward that outcome. When trouble arrives, we are to bear the burdens of others and endure the hard times. We do not abandon people. We do not give up on people. We do not gossip or turn our back on others. A strong church is one built on trust. When we trust each other, we strengthen the bonds of friendship. Trust allows us to learn from one another. Trust means we are comfortable confessing our sins. Doubt will destroy a church. When we doubt we will not confess. When we doubt we will not develop the friendships we need. When we doubt we will not learn from others because we will always be leery. Pride grabs a hold of us, and we think we know better. Trust means we are humble. Trust means we are sometimes vulnerable. We love by learning how to trust and by growing together in Christ. This is what it means to become a mature Christian.

May we imitate Jesus as we practice bearing the burdens of others, trusting one another, hoping the best for one another, and enduring whatever obstacles get in our way. May we be patient and kind with one another as we walk in the ways of love.

Apr
14

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We tend to think of sin as something we do. When we lie, cheat, or steal we sin. When we gossip or spread rumors, we sin. These are things we do, but James informs us that sin is also the things we fail to do. He writes, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). We could go through a day without lying, cheating, stealing, gossiping, etc. and still sin because we failed to do what is right. The priest and the Levite in the story of the good Samaritan sinned by doing nothing. Their sin was passing by on the other side of the road and ignoring a human being in need.

The word sin means to miss the mark. What is the mark? For us, it is Jesus. His life is our goal. We want to imitate him in everything we do. Christianity is about being transformed into his image (2 Cor. 3:18) and following in his footsteps (1 Pet. 2:21). This is what we strive to do, but we often fall short. This should not discourage us. We are on a journey, and it takes time. When we fail to live up to the high standard, we have been called to, then we need to be open and honest. We need to examine ourselves and make changes in our lives. This transformation happens little by little. We continually have to work to reshape our image, which has been marred by a fallen world, in order to look more like Jesus, who came to show us what true humanity looks like.

We need to pay attention, not just to the things we do, but also to the things we fail to do. Christianity is not simply a list of don’ts. It is often about what we do. If we are to be like Jesus, then we will pray, feed the poor, help the sick, eat with sinners, minister to children, and much more. The mark has been set high, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. We are not called to a low calling. We are not called to be mediocre or average. Let us press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14).

Mar
31

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Metalhead is an Icelandic film about grief and loss. It opens with a farming accident that will forever alter the life of a family and the small rural community in which they live. The film focuses on Hera (Thora Bjorg Helga) who witnesses the tragedy. The loss of her older brother causes her to undergo a transformation not for the better. She burns all her clothes. She obsesses over her brother’s passion for heavy metal. She is filled with anger and turns to alcohol to try and numb the pain. She lashes out at people who love her and want to help. Most people are patient with her because they know what the family has endured.

The majority of the film explores the downward spiral of grief. Hera’s parents are also deeply effected by the tragedy. Her mother often stares off into space and loses track of what she is doing. Her father becomes hardened. He focuses on his work. He makes sure to keep up with life’s everyday duties, but he has lost his passion for life. Hera’s parents remained married. They remain active in the church and in the community, but their love for one another has all but disappeared. They do what they have to do because they don’t know what else to do.

Hera is an adolescent. She is still searching for an identity. She rebels. This is accepted at first, but after Hera becomes an adult the community begins to grow tired of her tirades. She sinks deeper and deeper into her grief. She feels misunderstood until one day a new priest (Sveinn Olafur Gunnarsson) arrives in town. He is not like the one’s they have had in the past. He is young and single. He is more progressive and Hera discovers he has a love for heavy metal. He tries to help out but his help is misinterpreted by Hera and she leaves for good.

As Hera sits alone in the silence of the cold snow covered country, she finds herself. She undergoes a second transformation, but this time she is changed for the better. She returns to town and begins to try to live a normal life. She eventually settles for being herself, while not allowing grief to overtake her.

The film is somewhat predictable. It is the age old story of someone lost but now found. The audience expects this from the beginning, so it is not too big of a distraction. The film also fails to explore the complexities of grief and Hera’s transformation toward the discovery of joy and life. It would have been nice for the film to have taken its depiction of a sensitive and complicated subject to the next level. Even though it falters on these two points, the film is still an interesting and beautiful piece of art that is worthy of praise.

There are many things the film does right. The setting is magnificent. Iceland seems like another age compared to the materialistic and consumer-driven culture in which we live. Many of the scenes involve farm work or sitting around a table. The people are tied to the land. They work and they eat. Meals are a constant theme throughout the movie. At many of the meals there is a disconnect because grief lingers at the table, but in one of the final scenes joy is discovered by all at a great banquet feast. The continual practice of something so ordinary leads to an amazing discovery in the end.

I was amazed at the exploration of community in the film. The town in which the story takes place in an isolated community. There is a city somewhere near and a single bus that connects them to the outside world makes an appearance from time to time. Most people never venture that far. They are committed to their families, farms, and church. When something goes wrong the community must come together to dispense justice. They do so with compassionate hearts. This is a stark contrast to our judicial system that is bound by laws written in books. For this community in Iceland, it is not so much about what the law says, but about the human being that will be forever influenced by what they decide.

Metalhead also reminds us of the importance of being ourselves. Faith is a part of the film because it is a part of the community and the people who live there. Hera’s parents practice their faith for many years even though their hearts are not in it. They are overwhelmed with grief and are simply going through the motions. No one can really blame them, considering what they have been through. Hera rejects faith in her grief, but eventually finds her way back. At first, she is just going through the motions also, but eventually she discovers that she must be honest. In the end, she finds a way to be a part of her family, community, and faith while also being herself. This allows her the freedom to seek joy and live life like she has never lived before.

Metalhead will be available on Video On Demand on April 3rd.

Nov
07

bible-text

Each Sunday morning, Christians around the world gather for Bible class. This is a wonderful tradition that has helped to strengthen the faith of believers for many years. Christians agree that God speaks to us through his holy word. We believe that even though the words of Scripture were first written down long ago, God still has a word for us today. We gather to learn about the stories of Abraham, Moses, David, and many more. We believe we are a part of God’s story, therefore, it is important for us to know our history.

I have a crazy idea. I know this may seem radical, but I believe we should study the Bible in Bible class. Call me insane, but I believe committing ourselves to the study of the word of God will transform us more than any other book. I think anytime we spend time in the Bible, we walk away a better person.

I’m not against other books. In fact, I have many religious books in my library. I am constantly reading what other Christian authors have to teach me about God and other subjects. I am indebted to many of these authors for helping to shape what I believe. Even though I have benefited greatly from other books, I still think we should study the Bible in Bible class. Why? I have several reasons. Here are a few.

Communal Bible Study is Important – I think we have overemphasized personal Bible study over the years and neglected communal Bible study. We may only get one or two opportunities to do this a week and we shouldn’t waste them. Personal Bible study is a modern idea. For many years the majority of people could not read, nor did they have access to a Bible. It is only recently that we have emphasized doing Bible study on our own. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it is a good practice, but I think communal Bible story is even more important. There is something special when the body of Christ comes together to draw out a meaning from a text. We learn from each other. We see things in the text that we may have never seen before. We are challenged and we grow together. It is important that we keep this practice alive.

Some Bibles are Covered in Dust – There are some people who may never pick up a Bible any other day of the week, so why would we take this time from them and use it to study something else? People live busy lives. We rush from one place to another. Sometimes it is hard to fit in time for reading the Bible. Our busyness is not an excuse, but the church should come to the aid of those who live busy lives. Our Bible classes should be counter-cultural. They should be a time to slow down. They are a time for us to come together and hear God speak to us through his word.

Studying the Bible Unifies Us – Some may disagree with this point. Some may point out how the Bible and people’s interpretation of it have divided people over the years. This is true. There have been divisions over Scripture and how to interpret it, but we all agree on the Bible. We agree it is our book and that it is central to the Christian faith. A person usually chooses a book other than the Bible because it fits their theological beliefs. There is likely going to be another person in class that sees things differently. The discussion in Bible class should not be about what one author has written. It should be about what is in God’s word. People will continue to disagree about how to interpret certain passages of Scripture and what some texts mean, but we agree on the Bible. When we begin with a book other than the Bible, we are beginning with someone’s interpretation (even if that book claims it is not interpretation). Why not begin with what we all agree on?

Books come and go. The Bible has been around for more than two thousand years. Christians over the centuries have looked to this book for guidance, encouragement, and hope. It is a book that tells our story. What we find in Scripture should be a central part of our faith. We should tell the stories to our kids. We should sing the psalms. We should pray the prayers that are recorded for us. We should spend time as a church studying these special words that have been handed down to us in order to draw closer to God and become more like Jesus. The Bible can transform us like no other book can.

Sep
21

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Each generation is different. They each have their own unique perspective. They each have different ways of looking at problems and coming up with solutions. Each generation looks at things through a different lens. A younger generation sees things an older generation does not and vice versa. These different perspectives sometimes cause generational rifts. This happens in the world, but it also happens in the church.

The difference between generations is often because one generation is reacting to another. Sometimes it is like a pendulum swing. One generation sees that another has swung too far in one direction, so it tries to correct this by swinging in the opposite direction. Sometimes one generation simply identifies things another generation has overlooked or ignored. These reactions are not a bad thing. They are often a way of trying to fix a perceived problem.

Younger generations are freer. They are not tied down to a tradition. They have the ability to change rapidly and easily. Older generations are less likely to change quickly or without some objection. They have a routine. They value tradition. They have gained wisdom from their previous experiences. Neither is right or wrong. This is just the way it is. This is life.

The church is comprised of various groups. It is comprised of black and white, men and women, young and old, etc. These various groups come together to form one body. One group is not inferior to another. We are all one in Christ, and yet generational strife often creeps its head in the church. A healthy congregation will not ignore these differences, but seek to create an environment where differing generations are able to benefit from one another.

Here are four ways to defuse generational strife and get to a place of learning and growth.

Listen: Each generation needs to listen to the other and seek to understand why they value what they value. Listening is a helpful exercise that is always beneficial. It even has the potential to resolve a problem. People like to know they are being listened to. A good listener pays attention and asks questions.

An explanation of why someone does what they do is good for both parties. One side is able to think through and articulate something that is meaningful to them. The other side gets to hear the reason behind a certain belief or behavior.

Do Not Get Defensive: Because generational rifts are often a reaction to something the other generation is or is not doing, there is a temptation to become defensive. We do not like being told that we have missed something or we have gotten something wrong. Although it may be true, it is not always welcome advice. Each generation needs to recognize that other generations see things they have missed. This should cause us to learn from one another, rather than get defensive.

Do Not Act Based on Fear: Generations can sometimes fear one another. This fear may stem from a lack of understanding. We fear what we do not understand. Fear is a great motivator. It causes us to act, but when we act upon fear we are not doing what is best. Making decisions based upon fear is often very harmful. God wants us to act based on faith.

Compromise: One of the most important passages on church relations is Philippians 2:1-11. In this passage Paul encourages all Christians to have the mind of Christ. In verses 3-4 he writes, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We are commanded to consider the interests of others. As long as there is not a clear Biblical answer, then compromise is a valid option.

In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” All Christians should seek to get along. Differences will arise, but we should always respond in love and remember that we are all united in Christ.

Sep
11

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“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)

“For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

Many people love the idea of doing good. You see it on Facebook. You hear people talking about it. It is mentioned almost every Sunday. We read passages like the ones above and no one objects or disagrees. People like sharing stories about good Samaritans or kind strangers who show compassion for others. These stories bring us joy. They make us feel warm inside.

We love the idea of doing good, but is this enough? The Bible calls us to do good, not to simply love the idea of doing good. We read books and stories about doing good and we feel good about ourselves, but the Bible calls us to get our hands dirty. Defending the idea is not enough. We must be involved in the good deeds that we love so much. We must show hospitality to the widow, orphan, and foreigner. We must have compassion for the blind, lame, and sick. We must give water to the thirsty and food to the hungry.

It is easy to love an idea. It is much harder to involve ourselves in the work of doing good. People have messy lives and there are not many easy answers or quick fixes. Thankfully, the Bible does not call us to fix people. Instead we are called to walk beside them. We are called to help people where they are and point them to Jesus. He is the great Physician. He is the answer.

May we not simply love the idea of doing good, but actually involve ourselves in the work of helping others. Loving the idea only makes us feel good about ourselves. It is a facade, but doing good comes with the promise of blessing. We are blessed when we give. We are blessed when we show compassion to others. We are blessed when we heed the words of God and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Sep
09

boyhood

Richard Linklater is a master at capturing the mood of a town (Bernie), generation (Slacker), or period of life (Dazed and Confused). In his latest film, Boyhood, he uses this talent to follow the life of a boy from age six to eighteen. Linklater is probably the first director to take twelve years to film and make a movie, but what he does in Boyhood should be familiar to all his fans. He captures life, and this film is Linklater at his best. He goes all out and delivers a film with all the feeling and emotions of what it is like to grow up. Ellar Coltrane, who plays Mason, gives a stellar performance over the span of twelve years. Mason grows and the audience is privileged to have a front row seat to his life.

The film is not plot heavy. It is more like a string of memories. These memories are probably from the mind of Richard Linklater since he wrote the film, but they are memories that most people will be able to relate to. It is also evident that Linklater himself has grown up since the days of Slacker and Dazed and Confused. The parents played by Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke have a significant role in the film. Obviously, there has to be parents in a story about a child growing up, but in Boyhood we are given insights into how the parents feel and what they might have done differently. There are ups and downs. The viewer is a witness to both the beautiful and ugly side of parenting. Boyhood is perhaps the most realistic coming of age film that has ever been made.

Everyone’s reaction to Boyhood will be different because we all bring different feelings, emotions, and life experiences to the film. At certain points I was whisked back to my childhood and was recounting memories I had not thought of in years. At other points I was thinking about my own role as a parent. Although each person may not respond the same way to every scene, it is a deeply moving film. There is something in it that should resonate with nearly everyone.

The family in the film are not Christians. They are like many families who do not identify with any religion. They are not opposed to it. It is just something they have not embraced. At one point in the film the family does cross paths with a devout Christian family. There is no ill will towards this family, but it is also evident that Christianity is unfamiliar and strange to them. A Christian watching this film may be tempted to judge the characters for some of their behaviors and choices, but I believe that would be a mistake. There are some poor decisions that are made and some objectionable advice that is given, but all parents, Christians and non-Christians alike, make poor decisions. The point of Boyhood is to connect with the film and examine our own lives. It is a heartfelt film made by a parent who has obviously wrestled with the difficulties of parenthood. No one gets it perfect, but we can all learn something and strive to be better. I think Boyhood helps us do this. It is a tribute to growing up, but it is also a film with parenting close to its heart.

Boyhood is an experience. It is nearly three hours long, but it does not feel like a long film. It grabs you and you are taken on an incredible ride. It has its lighter moments, but it is a serious film. It is a film that I have not stopped thinking about since I saw it, and I will probably continue to think about it in the days ahead. It does what you hope most films will do. It moves you. It moves you in unexpected ways, and for that I am thankful.

Sep
08

jesus-washing-the-feet-calvin-carter

When people are thrust into a leadership position, they are sometimes surprised by the expectations. Leaders are viewed differently than everyone else. This is evident each time there is a presidential election. The candidates are grilled. Their backgrounds are checked, rechecked, and checked again. Minor missteps are made front page news and dissected on 24 hour news channels. It doesn’t matter that much of the rest of America has made the same mistakes, these are supposed to be our leaders and they are looked at from a different perspective. Some people have thick skin and are not bothered by the expectations of leadership, but most people are sensitive to these issues and are caught off guard when it happens. If you are in leadership or thinking about accepting a leadership position, then you need to be aware of the cost of leadership.

Leaders Must Be Ready to Make Sacrifices – People will judge leaders differently than they judge themselves or others. Is this right? No. Is it worth arguing over? No. There is nothing leaders can do about this. It is just the way it is. People will pay attention to where you go, what you do, who you hang around with, what you wear, and what you say. There will be times when you will need to speak out against a certain judgment, but for the most part this behavior should be accepted as part of the occupation. Becoming a leader involves putting yourself out in front of everyone. It means you become an easy target. It means people will pay more attention to your Facebook and Twitter accounts than they do the accounts of others. Even though you should accept much of this, there still needs to be boundaries. I draw a line when people begin to hold my children to the same high standards they hold me to. That is going too far and I will not allow it. When you become a leader be ready to make certain sacrifices, but also understand you have a responsibility to protect your family.

Leaders Must Be Spiritually Mature – No leader is perfect. Leaders are just as fallible and prone to make mistakes as anyone else. Even so, leaders must be prepared for the difficulties of leadership. Leaders will find themselves in difficult situations. They will encounter and have to deal with people who are emotionally or spiritually immature. A leader is not expected to always give the right answer or advice, but they are expected to be spiritually mature.  If someone comes to you and they are angry or upset, then it is essential that you remain calm. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, it is important that you do not do anything to make it worse. Leaders must work on becoming emotionally and spiritually mature individuals. This means leaders must continually examine themselves. It means leaders need to be practicing spiritual disciplines on a regular basis. If you are going to help someone with a spiritual issue, then you must know something about spirituality. If you are going to speak about prayer, fasting, study, or meditation, then you need to have practiced these disciplines. You must be ready to share your experiences with those who need help, and you must be prepared for the attacks the enemy will send your way.

Leaders Must Lead By Example – There will be times when a leader will need to delegate certain duties, but a leader must be willing to get his or her hands dirty. Jesus led by example. The greatest example of this is found in John 13, where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. People respond better to example than they do being told. If you do not lead by example, then you will not be a successful leader. Leading means that you go first. It means that you set an example for others to follow. Leading is more about serving than it is about power or prestige. A leader must not be puffed up. A leader must not have grandiose ideas about himself or herself. A leader must be humble and ready to do what is best for the community. There is no room for selfishness when being a leader. A leader must submit themselves to Jesus and follow in his footsteps, so others will know the way.

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