Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Posts tagged ‘Leadership’

Character Development is the Key to Effective Leadership

Pubu and Chen - with Everest in the background

Pubu and Chen - with Everest in the background

This was a happy day!  Standing with Pubu and Chen (my Tibetan guide and Chinese driver) at the Everest Base Camp, 18,600 feet above sea level, was a dream come true.  After 24 road hours on a track as dangerous as it was beautiful, it’s no wonder the three of us are smiling.  We were happy to be alive, and breathing the purest air on the planet.

The trip back to Lhasa was memorable, too.  (Chen had promised me on the day we left for The Mountain that he had all four … 4! … spare tires in good running order.  Good thing, because before we arrived at the Base Camp we blew two tires.  I’m tOur third flat tire ... with no spare for hundreds of mileselling you, the road was about as rough as it gets.

So why are we on the side of the the road in the next picture?

Chen had stretched the truth about all the spare tires being in good shape (and I’m being very gracious with the word “stretched”).

We were going nowhere, and I was perturbed.  We were about 850 kilometers from Lhasa, with no patch kit and no air pump.

I learned something about character that day.  No … some things.  And since then I spent hours connecting what I learned to what I love … things having to do with Leadership.

First, when it comes to a team exercise – be it constructing a building, revamping a curriculum, or getting to and from Everest – to borrow a golfing cliche, “it’s not how you drive, it’s how you arrive.”  (I’ve driven a golf ball 300 yards, made a decent iron shot close to the pin, and then missed a 12″ putt … so it’s not how you drive, it’s how you arrive.)  The start of a project is important, but people will determine the project a success or failure based on its conclusion.

Second, good character is a rare and priceless commodity in our world; leaders having good character are becoming scarce.  Today courage, integrity, wisdom, humility, and loyalty is in short supply in leadership (and followership ranks alike).  When it comes to leadership, you know and I know:  character is more important than charisma 99.9% of the time.

SIDE NOTE:  Good character is in short supply among followers as well.  Leading a team is challenging enough when everything is moving forward, toward a project goal.  But if the leader lacks confidence in his team members, it’s very difficult to reach team objectives without serious stress taking a toll on the leader’s mind and body.  When team members’ character is in question, the leader’s job becomes exponentially more burdensome.   (I’ll tell you, I was really hesitant to get back in the truck with Chen after he lied to me about the tires.)

That’s why I’m glad the leadership curriculum I’m sharing with the world focuses the first 6 of 12 modules on character development.*  (The last 6 modules teach leadership skills, and that’s where most want to start … but choosing to start with the inward workings of a leader is the best time spent.)  We must get the character thing right!  We have enough charismatic leaders working systems with zero character on this planet … in government, business, and sadly the Church.  People serving in every human institution are tired of the hypocrisy, duplicity, and outright dishonesty too many leaders exhibit shamelessly … and it’s hard to see good character increase in the ranks of followers when leaders don’t model it.

*Leadership Training International, or LTI.  Visit http://www.ltiworld.org for more information about the teaching materials I’ve alluded to above.

A “Joseph” Generation

A “Joseph” Generation

August 9, 2009 – WEAG

INTRODUCTION:

There’s a broad spectrum of people that attend church, so I’m sure there are some here today who are checking out this church, wondering if God is real, taking in the atmosphere, wondering if there are business connections or networks to be joined, etc. You’re seeking something … You’re seeking Someone. That’s GOOD! You are welcome here!

If you aren’t a committed follower of Jesus, what you’re about to hear is typical of what we talk about … when you’re not around. The content of today’s message is not atypical, in other words. We, the church, know we’ve got some growing to do. We’ve got issues. We know we’re in process – moving from seekers of God to lovers of God. We come together every week, in a million locations around the world, 24/7 … not just on Sundays … and we LEARN. We study. And we grow.

We, the people who call WEAG our home base – our church – are no different.

I say “we” because Becky and I are members of West End. And while we’re not on the pastoral team, we’re on the ministry team!

I say, “we” … we are part of the WEAG Ministry Team because every person at WEAG is in ministry … of some kind or another. Ministry is just a church word that means – service. We are organized and energized to serve the interests of Jesus. What Jesus wants done, we want to do THAT!

We believe that God is real and that He forgives sin, don’t we, church? We love Him because – because He first loved us. Because He paid the penalty for our sin – which is spiritual death – eternal separation from a holy God. Because He willingly died in our place, for our sins. Because He’s alive – resurrected from the dead!

We want to learn more about Him, what’s important to Him, and how to please Him – which includes what He enjoys hearing when we worship and praise Him. We, the people of West End A/G, want to be the best Jesus-followers we can be … and we know that in order to be Christ-followers, we will change. WE MUST CHANGE! We haven’t arrived. We, the Church of Jesus Christ … we get it: we’re not perfect. We never will be … but that’s no excuse. We MUST grow.

Now, those of you who call WEAG “home,” if you agree with what I just said, would you say, “Yep … that’s us.” (Ha!)

Pastor John asked me to speak on Tuesday of this week. I was in Orlando, at General Council, and immediately I knew what the topic would be. I just didn’t know the biblical text. But I found it!

Nowadays, all I seem to see, all I want to read about, all I want to talk about is leadership, leadership, leadership. I live and breathe the subject. I consume all I can on the subject. I’m constantly studying it. I have been for years! And because leadership development has captured my heart, my passions, my imagination, my life … because leadership development is now my calling and vocation … I AM A HAPPY MAN!

And in the course of my studies I’ve taken note: Leadership is either on display … for all to see … or it’s missing!

You can feel it … sense it … when leadership is present. And you can feel the hollowness, the emptiness, the void when it is absent. Leadership is either present or absent. There is no middle ground – no grey area. And I think you instinctively know what I’m saying is true.

When John asked me to speak, the Holy Spirit took me to Psalm 105.

Throughout the Bible, you will find potential leaders in various stages of development. And then, once they become recognized leaders, you’ll read how they brought necessary change … because that is one thing ALL leaders do. When leaders lead, changes follow … either for the good or for the bad.

Throughout the Bible you will see examples of leaders and observe their leadership. The Bible gives us an honest report of the good, the bad, the inept, the humble, the hesitant … military leaders, governmental leaders, religious leaders, early church leaders. From the dominating leader to the servant-leader – you’ll find them all in the Bible.

Look at Psalm 105:16-22

16 [God] called for a famine on the land of Canaan, cutting off its food supply.
   17 Then He sent someone to Egypt ahead of them —
Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
   18 They bruised his feet with fetters
and placed his neck in an iron collar.
   19 Until the time came to fulfill his dreams, the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
   20 Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free;
the ruler of the nation opened his prison door.
   21 Joseph was put in charge of all the king’s household;
he became ruler over all the king’s possessions.
   22 He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased
and teach the king’s advisers.


1. Coming Conditions Will Call For Josephs

In Joseph’s day, God created circumstances that required a Leader to emerge that would change the course of history. God cut off Canaan’s food supply.

Take note: God … who is always GOOD … did something that appeared to be BAD at the time He was doing it.

Could God be doing the same thing, right now, in the world? Not just in America, but the world? Could God be creating the environment that will require godly leaders to arise, and step into the spotlight? Are there people – men and women in the church – THIS CHURCH – that will hold in their hearts the answer to the wearied and worried cry of humanity?

There’s famine in the land. People are crying out for bread, but not just any bread. They want … they need … the Bread of Heaven. There’s a spiritual drought in the land, and the only thing that will satisfy the thirst of disillusioned humanity is the Living Water. Jesus referred to Himself as the Bread and the Water that would satisfy the souls of men.

If Jesus satisfies your hunger and thirst, will you say, “That’s me!”?

Before you go rushing out of this building with slogans and t-shirts, bumper stickers and spiritual clichés, let me tell you – YOU’RE NOT PREPARED.

You’re not prepared for what God wants to do … what He’s going to do in our generation.

I know that! ( … and statistical studies will back me up) We can’t lead our world anywhere before we look, sound and live differently than our unbelieving friends. The divorce rate in the church is 30% … the world is 37%. We cheat on our taxes, we surf internet porn sites, we lie when we do business … and we’re the Church??? Did Jesus say, “I will build My Church,” and intend for it to look so … so … worldly?

If you believe that God is the Sovereign King of Heaven, the Creator of the Universe, and the all-powerful, all wise and knowing, everywhere-present God … and you don’t think He’s got a hand in what is going on in our world right now, there’s a disconnect between what you say you believe and what you really believe.

I’m not trying to mess with your mind, or lay a guilt trip on you. That would never bring about needed change in your lifestyle anyway, right? And I’m not manipulating facts. I’m calling it the way I see it. I have a strong opinion about the current state of the Church … in America. If you don’t see it my way … okay.

But you can’t just disagree with me and not have another theory on why things are happening the way they are, and why they might be happening this way at this time. I’d love for you to send me an email. Give me your opinion. You’ve heard mine.

Back to my point I’m making from verse 16: Like the famine in Joseph’s day, God is doing something. He called for a famine then. He can do the same thing today … but I suspect He’s going to do something on a much bigger scale. He’s not just going to mess around with Canaan. He’s going to shake the world.

BEFORE He sent famine to Canaan, He sent Joseph to Egypt.

2. Coming Conditions Require the Character of Joseph.

God began a process of preparing a leader to provide His solutions for Joseph’s generation. I believe God is in the process of doing the same thing – right now. Today. And He’s doing it in the lives of people IN THIS ROOM.

God took Joseph to school! Joseph thought, as most teenagers do, that he was ready to lead … AT 17!!!

He lacked wisdom. He totally offended his brothers because he had no filter in his brain or on his mouth. From the original story, told in Genesis 37 to 50, we can gather than he was a spoiled kid. That wasn’t his fault. His dad showed favoritism to such an extreme that it was inevitable – a family feud would be ignited by Joseph’s big mouth. The family would be thrown the into chaos.

What I’m about to tell you is surreal. God was in it. God had given Joseph his personality and his parentage. From his mother’s womb, God had everything in mind that we read about in Joseph’s story.

God knew that Joseph would require a certain confidence to stand before Egypt’s king and make the declarations he did! God knew that Joseph would be willing to do and speak anything! But first God had to work on his raw gifts. He had to sharpen his mind, temper his ways, and develop his character.

Now … how would you go about raising up and training a Joseph?? If you knew there were days ahead – days that would require spiritual leaders using God’s wisdom, speaking God’s words and knowing God’s WORD, how would you begin? And when?

WEAG has been intentional when it comes to investing in kids and young people.

The Assemblies of God has over 330,000 churches, in 214 countries, with 60 million members. The A/G has grown from 300 people meeting in Hot Springs, Arkansas, in 1912 to 60 million strong! We haven’t had our 100th birthday yet! And it is estimated by church demographers that by 2020 – if Jesus doesn’t come back first – the A/G will have over 500,000 churches and number 100 million strong.

Now … this is not an A/G pep rally, and I’m not selling the A/G, but I sure am glad I’m a part of it.

And … in the US … where it began, the A/G has 2.9 million members. And in that number … 2.9 million … there is a sub-group, numbering 1 million. That sub-group is made up a kids and young people under the age of 25!!

Do you get what I’m saying??

Why does West End pour so many resources into its kids and youth and college ministries??

Because God will, out of that population, raise up a generation of Josephs! Raw, edgy, hip, passionate, determined, mighty, fearless Josephs. They are in this building … and in this room.

You don’t have to be under 25 to be a Joseph. You can be 85, like Caleb. He was one of two spies that Moses sent into the Promised Land that reported, “We can take this land, in spite of the giants, the walled cities and the armies of idol worshippers!”

It’s a shame those two were in the minority … 10 spies said, “It can’t be done. We’re like grasshoppers in their sight. We’ll lose. We’ll die. We can’t win.”

Forty-five years later, after all the smart people, the financial experts, the nay-sayers and negative report people … a whole generation … had died off, Caleb, at age 85, said, “I’m as strong as I was when I was a 45 year old. God has given me strength to do battle.” And he looked over the land of Promise and he said, “Give me THAT MOUNTAIN!” And he went and got it!

Now … to have

3. The Character of Joseph Requires a Challenge

It won’t take me long to make this point.

When God taps a Joseph … and He may be tapping YOU this morning … and this is tough … you’ll go to God’s version of Leadership School.

There are seekers in this room … I know that. People who are considering making the leap, believing the Gospel, giving their lives to Christ … and when some will hear this, they’ll stop seeking the God we serve. They’ll stop dead in their tracks. And they might say something like this: “Are YOU CRAZY???”

And the answer to that question is, “No.”

We’re grateful, not crazy. We’re forgiven. We’ve not lost our minds. God threw our sinful record into the sea of His forgetfulness. He’s won our hearts. He’s loved us into His kingdom. We have gladly accepted His rule in our lives … because we’ve lived without Him … AND THERE’S NO FUTURE IN THAT! We were once far from God, but now we want to be as close to Him as we can possibly be!

And if it requires that we lay down our lives for Him, we’ve considered the cost. We’re not stupid. We’re not uninformed. AND we don’t have messianic or martyr complexes.

We know that being a Joseph in the future requires God’s version of Boot Camp now. But we don’t run from that reality. We embrace it. Because there are lost and dying people out there who will never hear that Jesus loved them so much He died for them. They will never hear that God raised Him from the dead! They will never know that there’s a heaven and a hell. They’ll never hear a clear presentation of His story, in their language, unless we willingly go.

Joseph was rejected and betrayed by his brothers, fettered and sold into slavery, bruised, falsely accused of rape by a desperate Egyptian housewife, put into prison for years – with no hope of release, and forgotten by his cellmates.

But the whole time … from 17 to 30+ years old … he maintained an A average in God’s school for Emerging Leaders. He aced his character-development classes. He passed the tests each time they came.

And when he was ready, and not a day before … when he was ready to lead …

4. God Literally “Set Him Free!!!” to Lead

He blew Pharaoh’s mind with his wisdom and spiritual depth. And not only did his dysfunctional family benefit from his rise to power in the throne-room of the king … not only did he literally save the lives of the people who trekked from famine-torn Canaan … but his strategy for battling the famine that eventually made its way to the breadbasket of the world – the fertile valley of the Nile – saved another nation, too. Egypt. God gave him the strategy.

“Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy.” – Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –  Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Joseph of ancient history had been prepared in God’s school of Leadership to make decisions … some decisions that would literally mean LIFE or DEATH.

CONCLUSION:

Are the days we’re living any less critical than the days of Joseph’s emergence?

Actually, they’re much more critical. What’s at stake? The eternal future of our generation. The eternal future of our family and friends. Is that reality on your radar?

At some point in time – in the not-too-distant future – God will keep a promise. He will usher in the literal Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. And He – Jesus, the Son of God – will reign forever and ever. There is coming a day when time as we know it will be no more. Before then, you must decide!

Some people, on their spiritual journeys, aren’t looking to Jesus as Savior and Lord. They not convinced they have a sin problem, and that there’s a holy God out there somewhere that can not co-habitate with sinners. Instead, they’re looking for something else … fulfillment, satisfaction, meaningful purpose … something to plug the hole in their soul.

Our mortality cries out for immortality! We want more! We have eternity in our hearts. This is why people go on spiritual journeys in the first place. We all want something to believe in that is bigger, better and beyond our selves. We’re so desperate for something to believe in, we’ll eventually find something … to worship.

It might be Michael Jackson; it might be a crystal good luck charm; it might be a politician or a political cause. Some might worship Mother Earth, and live to save a sick environment. Some will join the church of Tiger Woods; their communion will take place at the 19th hole, and their small group might be a radically committed foursome. Some might choose to worship at the Altar of Intellect, worshipping at the great university libraries of the world. Others might choose to put their best time into “World of Warcraft,” or wear out an X-Box 360. Some here might be tempted to put their trust in Oprah; they might religiously attend her televised meetings – never missing a broadcast … less they be “left behind” and considered un-cool or uninformed.

Many here … many here … may choose to worship The Golden Dow – whose temple sits in the middle of Wall Street, and whose priests ring a golden bell at the beginning and end of five, 8-hour services a week.

I could go on and on with idol possibilities. But none of those gods satisfy completely.

We know they don’t love us. We know they’re powerless to change our hearts, lighten our load, or heal our emotional and psychological wounds. And they certainly can’t forgive our sins.

But friends … Jesus can. And does, 24/7, 365! He saves us! He heals us! He loves us unconditionally.

And He’s coming soon.

God is setting the stage for the single-most important spiritual awakening the world has ever seen. This spiritual awakening will not be geographically confined – like The Great Awakening that occurred from 1730 to 1751. The next GREAT AWAKENING won’t look anything like ANYTHING that has happened since the resurrection of Jesus!

What will you do with this information … this sermon … this challenge?

First, I’m praying for A Joseph Generation to arise here at West End! I’m praying for young and old, male and female Josephs to pick up the Cross of Jesus Christ, and take His story to neighbors and nations.

If you believe in the eternity described in the Bible … if you believe the sermons preached by the Son of God, Jesus … you know …

You do not want anyone to miss heaven!

Second, I’ve been praying for persons attending today who have been looking for God in all the wrong places. Even after hearing the description of Joseph’s life today, they are … right now … saying to themselves, “This is the something I’ve been looking for. This is worth investing my life in. Jesus is the SOMEONE I can put my trust in. I know, full well, I am a sinful person. I know I need a Savior if I ever hope to live in the presence of a God so holy, as much as He loves me, Who can’t allow me into His presence unless my sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus, His only Son.”

The first invitation is for those who wish to take the Good News about Jesus to neighbors and nations, to the end of the block or the ends of the Earth; who are willing to trust God; lay down their lives, put aside their plans, for a greater and more important plan.

If you fully understand what it means to say, “God, I’m willing to be a Joseph to my generation,” come.

The second invitation is for those who aren’t ready to take the message to friends and neighbors, but for those who are ready to believe the message. You’ve been thinking about it. Today is your day of decision, and you have decided … I’m going to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

To those who are reading this message on my website, if you would like to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord, take this prayer as a guide and pray it. Put as much of it as you can in your own words. And if you can think of anything – if anything comes to mind while you’re praying – that you want to specifically acknowledge as sin in your life, take some time to articulate what you want from God. (It may sound something like this: “Lord, I can remember when I was immoral [describe it to Him in your own words] … and it has haunted me/made me feel unforgiveable/made me feel guilty for so long. Please forgive me for that sin. [And if you think, after you’ve finished praying, that you should forgive someone, or ask for forgiveness of someone, make plans to do so.].”)

PRAYER: Jesus, I believe that You died for my sins, in my place, and I believe that God raised You from the dead. I give You my life for Yours, and I intentionally choose You as my Lord and Master. I invite You into my life with thanksgiving and deep gratitude. Amen.

Some of The Keys to UNITY

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  Vacations, unplanned and planned weekend trips, business complications, and book and magazine writing deadline challenges have all contributed to the lack of attention I’ve paid to this blog site.  But I’m back!

I’ve been thinking about UNITY a lot recently.  It’s going to take something extraordinary to bring a sense of unity to our nation, considering the political climate that’s been created in this election season.  That’s challenging enough.  But I’m also aware of churches that are going through leadership crises, and the missing component in many of those church settings is unity.  I’m also aware of many families in crisis – many because parents aren’t unified … and children are alienated from their parents.

Let me talk to you about some keys to unity.

In Amos 3:3 (New Living Translation) you can read it yourself:  “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?”

Practically speaking, no … it’s impossible for two or MORE people to walk together without agreeing on a direction.

Agreement is a wonderful thing, presuming, of course, that the group isn’t made up of lemmings.  (I remember seeing a television documentary on the lemming … a sub-arctic rodent … and was amazed.  Lemmings play follow the leader, even if the leader is leading them off a cliff.  I looked up the word “lemming,” and found that it has come to mean, “doomed conformist.”)

When you’ve got LEADERS in a room, the last thing you have to worry about is conformity.  When LEADERS are in a room, the potential for chaos can ratchet up exponentially and precipitously the longer there is silence.  True LEADERS are always ready to fill the silence with an idea, or fill the void if someone doesn’t step forward to point out a direction to go in.

So … when you call together an organization’s leadership council, board of directors, or deaconate … and you say, “In order to be the most effective company, or business or church we can possibly be, we need to take time to talk out ideas, exchange information, or work through solutions to challenges,” that is a good idea!  Board retreats are a good idea.  They hold tremendous potential for forward movement; they can be great morale-boosters.  Board retreats can be occasions to foment strategies, increase effectiveness, and provoke excitement.

But … board retreats can also expose an organization’s weaknesses.  You might find out not only who’s NOT “on board” (pun intended) with the program, but who has an agenda of their own!

I was watching the replay of the US-Spain gold medal basketball game, and I heard this from one of the commentators:  “The United States has always had the best players but, we’ve seen in recent competitions and world championships and Olympics, they didn’t always have the best team.”

Friends … been there, seen that … and it’s painful – to watch a group of people with awesome gifts, be they a men or women sports team, leave an audience scratching their heads in wonder, asking, “How did they lose?  What went wrong??”

I’ve seen companies go bust because they couldn’t decide what to name a widget.  I’ve seen churches in turmoil because they couldn’t agree on what color to paint the nursery.  I’ve seen families torn apart over a few dollars in a last will and testament.  Sad.

On the flip side, I’ve seen companies, organizations, sports teams, families and churches succeed, surpass expectations, thrive, and exceed growth projections.  The DIFFERENCE?  UNITY.  I’m going to share a portion of the Bible with you, and make some applications, on the subject of UNITY.  The Bible has a lot to say about UNITY, but I’m only going to speak from Ephesians 4.

Ephesians 4:1-6 New Living Translation says, Therefore I (Paul), a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.  Always be humble and gentle.  Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

Paul starts this passage by observing:  “You have been called by God.”

Have you ever seen a person in sales that couldn’t sell?  I have.  I’ve seen pastors in the ministry who didn’t like people!!   You don’t stay on the baseball team long if you can’t hit or field the ball … and it has nothing to do with desire.  You can desire all you want.  You won’t succeed.  The kind of success I’m talking about has everything to do with innate talents and giftings that go hand-in-hand with a heart that contains a calling.

If the question of calling is not an issue, then Paul writes, “Always be …”  Those two words are huge.  They imply that you and I have a choice.  “Always be …”

Always be humble.  No false humility allowed.  If you’re good at something, say so … and if you’re not, say so.  Humility involves having an accurate appreciation of who you are … who you really are.  And if you don’t know something about yourself, ask your children.  They’ll tell you more than you want to know.

Always be gentle.  I heard someone say, “Meekness is not weakness.”  Gentleness is “power under control.”  Moses was described as the most gentle man who ever lived – and yet he was able to lead, some estimate, 1,000,000+ Jews out of Egypt.  And Jesus described Himself as “gentle and humble in heart.”  Jesus was anything but weak!

Always be patient.  It takes a strong person to put up with people, and to endure discomfort.  Fighting back is engrained into us.  Personal survival is part of our DNA.  Patience is not only a virtue – it’s a rarity.  But truly patient people tend to be the wisest among us.  They wait for all the facts before making a judgment.  Patient people built the pyramids.

Always make allowances for other people’s faults.  I’ve got a great book – “The Spirituality of Imperfection.”   If you not only know that nobody’s perfect, but you can live with it, you can impact a city.

Always be loving.  “Love is a decision.”  Arranged marriages work because the couple decides to love each other.  And you never wait until you feel like forgiving someone – you’ll never do it!  Love is probably the biggest key to UNITY.

Let me conclude this part of my talk by saying, YOU DON’T EVER WANT TO PRAY:  “Lord, make me humble.  Lord, make me gentle.  Lord, make me patient.  Lord, make me loving.”  You don’t want God to “make you” ANYTHING.  The way He tenderizes people is the same way I tenderize a good steak.  First, from my experience, He’ll say, “Are you SURE you want Me to do the ‘making?’  Why don’t you just go ahead and do the right thing!”  God is the most loving Person in the Universe, and He’s totally trustworthy and kind … but He’s also strong.

Paul concludes with:  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

There’s that CHOICE thing again.  Paul didn’t suggest praying about UNITY.  He said, “Make every effort …”  Don’t you wish UNITY didn’t require effort??  (For you leaders/pastors:  The reason unity is so hard is because LEADERS always think they’re right.  You won’t lead long if you think you’re wrong most of the time.  Leaders are strongly opinionated.  I know that’s true … and I don’t want to hear any more discussion about it!!)

Warren Wiersbe wrote, “Unity … is the responsibility of each person involved … and is a job never done.”

If you’d like to see unity break out in your church, family, business, or board room I’d like to suggest you pray this way:  “Lord, create in ME a clean heart, and renew a right spirit in ME.  Don’t let ME try to get away with waiting for everyone else to get their act together while I choose not to get my act together.  And today, Lord, as I make the effort to keep unified with my compatriots, please add Your blessing to those efforts.  Please make up for my shortcomings with Your grace.  Let Your grace be like humidity.  Even though we can’t see it, we want to feel it.”

My second suggestion is this:  try to be a better listener.

Third, don’t take ownership of an idea.  You’ll just be setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration … and both tear away a UNITY.  Be patient.  Communicate your idea.  Let the group own it.  Don’t be so anxious to get the credit, which is a big part of the ownership issue.  You’ve heard it said, “There is no “I” in TEAM.”  Well, don’t just preach TEAM, live it.  Take “I” out of “I”dea.

Fourth, be HONEST … and be gentle when being honest.  In a group like this it’s probably not a good idea to be “ruthlessly honest,” or “lovingly brutal.”  Be kind.  Be considerate.

Finally … if you need to, FORGIVE the person who offended you at the last meeting.  If they haven’t thought to ask you to forgive them for the offense, do a Jesus-Thing.  He prayed, “Father, forgive them.  They don’t even know what they’re doing.”  And if the offender does come to you and ask for forgiveness, DO IT.  Let the offense go.  Don’t be concerned that your gracious forgiveness will leave you vulnerable to those who would take advantage of you.  I’m not suggesting that you throw caution to the wind when it comes to a habitual offender.  That would not be wise.  All I’m saying is, trust God to cover your back.

The Times … they are a changing.

There’s such a vacuum of leadership in this country, and in our world.

Jesus had something to say about our times.  His disciples asked Him questions about the future, any “signs” they would recognize that would signal His return to earth, and “signs” that would portend (warn, foreshadow) the “end of the world.”

Jesus gave them the following information (all taken from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 24):

1.  False “messiahs” would come, and would lead people astray.

2.  Wars would break out.  “Nations and kingdoms will proclaim war against each other.”

3.  There would be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world.

4.  Christ-followers would be hated all over the world, and would be “arrested, persecuted, and killed.”

5.  “False prophets” would lead many people astray.

6.  Something “sacrilegious” would desecrate “the Holy Place.”

7.  A time of “great horror” – so terrible that if that time of calamity is not supernaturally shortened (by God Himself), the entire human race would be destroyed.

In other places in the Old and New Testament (Daniel in the OT and The Revelation in the NT) “end time” events are described.  It’s all interesting reading.

One of the striking things that Jesus and God’s prophets also spoke about was the longing for leadership the entire population of the Earth would have in the “end times.”  Right now in America this desire for leadership is very much present.  America is looking to her politicians for strong, intelligent leadership that will prevent economic ruin, and produce military victory.  America is longing for a “messiah.”

Every major religion is looking for a messiah.  What a perfect time for a false one to appear.

Think about it.