The National Institute of Christian Leadership was carefully designed with practicality as its preeminent and presiding value. I have developed every page of the NICL material with one idea as my true north. Keep it practical. That was the foundation upon which the NICL was created and it remains my singular determination. I continue to tweak the dials, constantly trying to enrich the material, add to it, carve out the superfluous, and improve the presentation.
This year-long program is now fuller and better and uses more sophisticated technology than ever. There are, for example, well over 275 individual graphic presentations from which the lectures are presented. Hundreds of leaders in business, the ministry, education and even politics have attended and graduated. Many have gone on to seek graduate degrees from multiple universities.
Three college presidents have attended. An Oklahoma state senator attended, as have pastors of mega churches and, in fact, churches of every size. Business persons from real estate to publishing to construction have attended and found the NICL invaluable. Students have commuted (four times in the year of the NICL) from multiple countries including Brunei, Myanmar, Albania, Israel, Canada and Australia among others.
Why? That is a serious question. Why do leaders who are incredibly busy with jobs and companies and large ministries take the time to attend the NICL and subsequently describe the program as "the most important educational experience of my life?” Why would the founder and owner of one of the world's most prominent Christian publishing companies say the NICL "transformed my company?" Why are more than one hundred pastors bringing the Institute to Australia in 2016? Why?
“His servants shall serve him” (Revelation 22:3)
God only knows the billions of dollars and countless kilowatts of emotional and psychological energy that have been wasted by people in search of purpose. Many plunge through relationships, jobs and avocations in a frantic madness that is both terrifying and tragic to watch.
A weekend farmer who once lived near us let his new BMW roll backward into his lake. How this happened we were never quite sure, but he swore he had backed up into the lake to get his fishing gear out of the trunk. When he got out to go around to the trunk, he accidentally left the car in reverse. At least that was his story.
What we do know is that he then backed up his new tractor to the lake in order to tow out the submerged BMW. When he got down to attach the two chain, the tractor rolled back onto the BMW, smashing the front in and driving it even further into the muddy lake bottom.
Unwilling to admit defeat, he then ran a line underneath the tractor from a winch on the the rear to the crossbeam on the barn. But the weight of the tractor, now hopelessly enmeshed in the bumper and grill of the nearly destroyed luxury car, was greater than he realized. He watched with horror as the winch inexorably cranked the line in under the tractor, pulling the barn roof into the lake on top of the two stranded vehicles.
The inimitable Bill O'Reilly now fines his guests who use any of several shop worn phases. Notable among these is "at the end of the day." Whether they actually pay up, I have no way of knowing. It may be a "theoretical" fine. However, watching O'Reilly from a distance, one tends to think they pay before they leave the set. He does not seem the type to let such miscreants off with a scolding.
While I have no power or inclination to fine anyone, I find that there are several phrases which have worn out their welcome with me. Not the least wearisome of these is "passion." Apart from either romance with my wife or in reference to the Passion of Jesus, I hope never to use it again. It seems that folks everywhere now feel obligated to have a passion for something. Art, music and wine apparently top the acceptable list. I recently met a woman whose passion for Amish furniture would surely be shocking to the Amish.
No one is allowed to have an interest or, God forbid, a hobby. That would far too prosaic. No, it must be a passion. I am sure I will soon meet someone with a passion for passion fruit.
Where it becomes more than mildly irritating, however, is the way people talk about real life. Smug leadership gurus admonish us to "find our passion and pursue it." While I may understand what they mean, I cannot help but think how such a platitude must grate on the nerves of folks who
How very like David the king this statement is. David knew all about enemies. His whole life he was surrounded by enemies. The ravenous beasts who wanted his sheep were the enemies of his childhood. And what a childhood it was! After the lions and bears came Goliath, then Saul, the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, palace plotters, one of his own sons, and finally, old age. When David wrote of enemies he knew whereof he spoke. He lived his life in the presence of enemies.
It is no wonder then that he speaks of God’s loving providence in the midst—not in the absence—of enemies. David never said God would give me a life without enemies. He did say that God has not forsaken me when gossipers and detractors and envious plotters are circling me like hungry wolves.
As a university president and as a businessman, I frequently needed cash flow projections from my chief financial officer. In order to understand those projections I had to know the assumptions they were based on. Likewise, the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 are based on a certain set of assumptions.
Here are the seven assumptions of the Lord’s Prayer.
I am no fan of the "non-competitive culture" nonsense being cultivated in many schools today (especially elementary schools). In real life, competition is part of the human experience. In business, politics, sports or whatever, competition exists. In a silly effort to keep from damaging some child's self image, such efforts to shield him/her from the momentary pain of losing, actually fail to instill character. Setbacks, losses, the pain of not being the best or the first, is real life. How can a child learn to deal with that, to manage the emotions those moments engender, if they never feel the pain? I am opposed to giving winners and losers the same trophy. "Participation" trophies, so called, are anathema to me. The kid or team who wins gets the biggest trophy. Period. That's the way it is in real life and the sooner they learn it the better.
Having said that, the kid who gets the biggest trophy may not learn the biggest lesson. If they win too much, too often, too easily they may never learn it. I know the parents who take the losing child home have a difficult job to do. They have to manage that painful moment, encourage their child to try again harder, and reassure them they are loved irrespective of performance. However, their teaching task is not nearly so daunting as the parents of the constant winner.
Winning easily and consistently can translate inside a child's psyche to many really dangerous life views, such as:
David knew plenty about those seasons of life in which a soul needs to be restored. Following his terrible failure with Bathesheba, which by the way included not just adultery but a cover-up conspiracy and murder for hire, David's soul needed to be restored. After the Bathsheba episode, David's soul was wounded by his own sin, public embarrassment, deep personal shame, and a guilt-ridden conscience.
Ziklag was a very different kind of wound, but my suspicion is that when it was over his soul needed restoration. As we discussed in chapter 3, before he became king of Israel, David was the leader of a band of very dangerous
Here is a statement that should give no one a flicker of pause: Jesus was not a Christian. Jesus never knew a Christian or knew anyone that became a Christian until after His crucifixion. He was Jewish and all of His companions were Jewish. All of those He taught were Jewish except a very few scattered Gentile tourists, some in Syrophoenicia and here and there a Roman soldier. The prayer that we call The Lord’s Prayer is thoroughly Jewish, taught by a Jewish rabbi to a Jewish audience in Israel. Therefore, it is no surprise that the prayer is quite consistent with the main stream of Jewish prayer.
More surprising by far is that Psalm 23, written by King David a thousand years before Jesus was born, is more similar to Christian prayers, at least in one important way. Most Jewish prayers are corporate in nature; that is, they are usually plural in their language. The Lord’s Prayer is a perfect example. “Our Father . . .” “Give us . . .” “Forgive us . . .” This is characteristic of most Jewish prayers, especially liturgical prayers, which are commonly about the Jewish people, the land, the nation, or the family.
"Quitters never win, and winners never quit."
That shop-worn saying denounces quitters and quitting in no uncertain terms. As is true of most folk proverbs, there is a mixture of truth and error in it. Certainly, quitting too soon, giving up the minute the going gets a bit rough is a sure sign of an undeveloped character. For example, we have become a nation of marriage quitters. Instead of hacking through the rough jungle of marital hurt with the machetes of counseling and perseverance and forgiveness, Americans rush to quit. For many, the default position is to bail out without even considering the possibility of doing the hard work to get through whatever tangled mess their marriage is in -- regardless of who got them there.
If quitting means diving for the escape hatch at the first sign of hardship, well, such quitters as that will seldom win. Often, quite often, great leaders must stay the course when the winds are contrary. Encouraging the team while coming up with new strategies, great leaders can steer the ship on through the storms of adversity. Many times victory is just ahead for those who hang in there.
On the other hand, the proverbial wisdom about quitting can sometimes be an ego trap to keep leadership heading straight toward disaster. Lurking in dark side of perseverance is a stubborn refusal to listen to face reality or wise counsel. Sometimes quitting is the right thing to do. Even as I wrote that last sentence I could hear the complaints. I should probably stop right here, but I refuse to quit. While it may be true that quitters never win, it is also true that sometimes winners quit.
Here are a few thoughts on quitting.
When I was in undergraduate school, my Western Literature professor was a young firebrand atheist who made no secret of his disdain for religion. One day in class someone asked him what he thought was the greatest single poem ever written. He shocked us all when he answered Psalm 23.
“We thought you were an atheist,” someone called out.
“I am,” he answered. “Two years ago our baby died. My wife is a Catholic and insisted on having a priest do the funeral. I did not want any such thing, and I was very angry at her and that old priest. At the grave he prayed Psalm 23 and I, who believe not one word of it, felt deeply moved. Some unexplainable wave of comfort swept over me. I don’t believe in God but I believe in poetry. Any poem that can move you like that, against your will, is great poetry.”
When Seutonious, the Roman historian, explained the downfall and death of Marc Anthony, he blamed a flaw in Anthony's character as much as the strategy of his enemy, Octavian. In his pathology of Anthony's astonishing political and military collapse, the historian of the Caesars employed an intriguing Greek word. Literally translated, eklusis simply means to unstring a bow. Figuratively, however, it implies a loss of focus and the resulting loss of energy.
When a bow is strung, energy is in the bow. Unstrung, it loses all its energy. An unstrung bow is hardly more than a stick with a string attached. The energy is in the tension, in the taught string and the bent bow. Furthermore, a strung bow is ready to be used for its purpose. Unstrung, the bow is unprepared for much of any immediate use. Between the unstrung bow and the launching of the arrow, there is now a missing step of preparation and the restoration of energy.
This "unstringing" process is often a matter of distraction. Living in luxury in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire, indulging himself with Cleopatra, and according to Seutonious, frequently staying drunk, Marc Anthony quite obviously forgot the point. Soft, distracted and unprepared, Anthony, could not hope to defeat the ferociously energetic and obsessively focused enemy, who was to become Caesar Augustus.
With the upcoming release of my new book, 21 Seconds to Change Your World, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share an excerpt. Below is the foreword, written by my friend, Mark Batterson. I am so grateful for his kind words and I hope this book will be a blessing to you. To order your copy please visit 21secondsbook.com.
Foreword by Mark Batterson
Have you ever heard someone talk about how their entire life changed—their entire life saved—because they had a thought that was just out of character enough to think upon it and act upon it?
With the upcoming release of my new book, 21 Seconds to Change Your World, I thought it would be a great opportunity to share an excerpt. To order your copy please visit 21secondsbook.com.
Two very disparate elements of Christendom have regrettably nudged the Lord’s Prayer toward a musty and seldom opened cabinet. It happened because of equal and opposite errors, but the effect was the same: assumed irrelevance. The Roman Catholic use of the Lord’s Prayer for acts of penance sometimes devolved in the minds of Catholic laymen into punishment rather than penance: “Say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys and do something nice for the person you hurt.” The intent was to push the penitent soul straight into a dynamic encounter with spiritual formation. Somewhere along the line, for some, saying the Our Father became the parochial version of writing “I will not talk in class” one hundred times on the blackboard.
Some traditional Protestants deposited the great prayer in the dustbin of spiritual irrelevance, or at least powerlessness, in quite another way: liturgy. By relegating the Lord’s Prayer almost exclusively to liturgy it became the mindless suffix to the pastoral prayer, the obligatory annex tacked on corporately just before the amen. Droned through with bovine enthusiasm, the prayer became to genuine spiritual formation what outside lights became to the meaning of Christmas.
Charismatics and Pentecostals finished the job. Paranoid about any possible liturgical subversion and terrified that something might look—God forbid—traditional, they by and large ignored the Lord’s Prayer. When I became the president at Oral Roberts University, certainly the best known charismatic university in the world, I began to occasionally use the Lord’s Prayer corporately in the chapel services. It was not long before one mother called me in tears that her daughter was in “spiritual pain” at being subjected to such a practice. I was, she continued, destroying the students’ worship experience. Pointing out to her that Jesus gave us the prayer and commanded us to use it proved an irrelevant and effete argument in the face of her deeply held convictions. Christian college students, she insisted, should not be put through such a grueling and Spirit-killing experience as praying the Lord’s Prayer together in chapel.
Some charismatics even dismissed the prayer as “too elementary” and lacking in faith. Odd, isn’t it, that it is the prayer Jesus told us to pray? I find myself reluctant to dismiss the Lord’s direction on prayer. It could be that those who believe they have “moved beyond it” have marched on to some greater victory, leaving their ammunition behind.
I found much more winsome the response of a visitor at Free Chapel Church in Orange County, California. After hearing me teach at length she told me how excited she was to go home and memorize the prayer and start using it. She said she had never heard the prayer before and found it quite beautiful and that hearing it had a powerful effect on her. I was surprised that she had come to adulthood without having ever heard the prayer until she explained that she was Jewish.
“It is a Jewish prayer,” I told her. “A Jewish rabbi taught it to His Jewish followers. It was decades before any Gentiles ever heard it or prayed it.”
Absolutely delighted with this fact—and it is a fact—and utterly charmed by the prayer itself, she assured me that she would use it just as I recommended. Not coincidentally that conversation and the thrill of discovery I saw in her eyes in no small part helped me decide to write this book. Have you laid aside the Lord’s Prayer? Has it become perfunctory? Or even forgotten? What about the Twenty-third Psalm? Does it thrill you to pray it? Is it the medicine of your very soul’s restoration? Do you merely repeat it? How long since you prayed the psalm? Or spent time slowly meditating your way through it word by lovely word?
That precious Jewish lady was not the sole encouragement I received to write this book. Pastor Jentezen Franklin invited me to teach on this at Free Chapel Church. He expressed that he was personally touched in a new way by the ancient prayer. He graciously but firmly pressed me to write this book and furthermore, not to wait. My wife, Alison, also urged me to do so. In other words, two of the most significant Christian spirits in my life seemed as blessed as that Jewish visitor.
I interpreted that to mean that the book might be a blessing to neophytes and veterans alike. I was, of course, thrilled that a Jewish lady who had never heard the Lord’s Prayer could express such genuine excitement for this teaching. Knowing that two wonderful, mature, experienced Christian leaders such as Alison and Pastor Franklin were so deeply stirred was the impetus I needed.
The Lord’s Prayer and the Twenty-third Psalm together became the cocktail of life that healed my mind. Mixed and well-shaken, repeated back to back, over and over again, prayed aloud, prayed silently, desperately, and joyfully, sometimes with such ragged faith that it could hardly be called faith, these two ancient devotional instruments became the medicine of my soul’s restoration.
Order your copy of 21 Seconds to Change Your World today at 21secondsbook.com
When I was in high school, lo these many moons ago, I earned the money to buy my first car working at the local Foodland. Until closing most nights and all day Saturdays, I stocked shelves, swept floors and carried groceries out to the cars of those who requested that service. I do not regret those long hours and I have never forgotten some of the valuable lessons learned. I'm sure some of those lessons would sound like mere platitudes to many today. Such as:
"Hard work is the key to success."
"Be diligent in small beginnings and God will raise you up."
"Save your money and you can work your way to a better life."
The thing is they all turned out to be true. I knew I was not entitled to a car. I knew no one, least of all my father, was going to buy one for me. I knew the fact, or at least I thought it was a fact, that "all the other boys dads were buying them cars,” was not going to influence my father to buy me one. Not even for a second. I knew all this. If I was going to have a car I was going to have to work hard, save my money and go get one, which I did.
As I write this I am sitting on the front porch of our national director's house in Ghana. His name is Rev. Sammy Odarno and he has worked in the Global Servants ministry since 1982. One of my dearest friends, Sammy's home is my home in Ghana and Ghana is home away from home for me. It is early morning and there is a delicious coolness to the air which will be gone all too soon. The raucous morning sounds from the nearby village of Anwomaso are getting louder by the minute. Inside the house, I hear Comfort, Sammy's wife, getting breakfast ready. It will be simple; Nescafé, a boiled egg and and her famous banana bread. Comfort's food is, well, comforting.
In fact, this entire ministry comforts me no end. In Ghana, Global Servants is still called Trinity Foundation, which is the first name under which we incorporated the work here. Here on this compound, just outside the city of Kumasi, we have our headquarters church, the director’s house, a day care center, a K-8 primary school, and House of Grace Ghana, which houses 10 Ghanaian orphan girls. In the countryside scattered all across the north of Ghana are thirty churches. A few more are in Togo, Benin, Ivory Coast, and Burkina Faso.
I try to remember why we made the decisions, why we took each step to get here, but the length and complexity of the journey defy easy analysis. It unfolded more organically than systematically. Sammy and I began with evangelistic campaigns in remote villages. Those led to churches as the new believers requested houses of worship. Most of those churches were the first and remain the only Christian presence in the villages.
Success and failure are not so much matters of what we learn or earn or own. Success is measured and determined by what we reverence. As worth is assigned to things in a society, the individuals in it will carve out their legacy of success or failure.
If virtue is reverenced, virtue increases. If virtueless success or characterless talent is admired above all, character breaks down. A dangerous step towards collapse is taken when obvious irreverence is touted as a virtue.
Why do the speed-to-market folks struggle so with the people up in legal and accounting? Why does the church administrator think the music director is the anti-Christ? What makes a security guard so deeply resentful of a professor who just wants her classroom unlocked for an evening class?
A Chicago area athlete, a boy who "identifies" as a girl has been playing on the girls' sports teams at his/her high school for some time with only a low level of controversy. The school accommodated the student with private shower facilities apart from other athletes of either gender. The U.S. Department of Education has now ruled that practice discriminatory and "humiliating" to that student. That student must now be allowed full and unrestricted access to shower with and at the same time as high school female athletes.
This is insane, of course, but an insane government should be expected to make insane decisions, and insanity now rules. No thought has been given to the high school girls, girls who "identify" as what they actually are. They must, or their schools will lose substantial federal funds, MUST shower nude with a student who has all the physical characteristics of a boy. The average sophomore in high school is fifteen. That means a fifteen-year-old girl must shower nude next to boy, a boy who is physically intact, irrespective of his "identification." The invasion of her privacy, her
One of the most popular lectures I teach at the National Institute of Christian Leadership is based on a graphic I designed. I call this schematic the Risk-Reward Quadrilateral. It's simple really, but seeing it, actually seeing it on the screen, has proven immensely helpful to growing leaders seeking to understand how to make decisions. One of the most challenging aspects of leadership at every level is this very issue of decision making. The constant barrage of decisions demanding answers can be wearing to say the least and downright paralyzing at the worst.
I will not try in this brief blog to explain that entire lecture, but here are a few insights.
There are only two places in all of the New Testament where a “charcoal fire” is described in just those words. One is one on which Jesus cooked and to which He welcomed His dripping, wounded friend. The other, the first, was in Caiaphas’ courtyard, at which Peter warmed his hands. There, identified as a Galilean and a friend of Jesus, Peter cursed and denied the man who had prophesied that he would do so.
Perhaps Jesus prepared just such a fire, recreated a place of painful remembrance where Peter could be healed of his most crippling memory. Two of the post resurrection appearances of Jesus are at table. With a meal, Jesus offered comfort at Emmaus and grace in Galilee. His resurrection meant personal fellowship, renewal of relationship, and a new life free of guilt and condemnation.
When, in our moments of deepest loneliness, we turn to Christ, our comfort is not in the doctrine of the resurrection but in His fellowship with us. That is the message of Emmaus. He listens and explains. He walks with us, breaks bread with us, and comforts us with words of revelation.