Lessons in Leadership: The Most Important Muscle

Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Samuel 16:6-13.

While on vacation I spent precious time with my two nephews, Jacob and Elijah. Jacob will be three in October and Elijah is almost four-months old. They are true delights.

One afternoon Jacob asked, “Aunt Schawah, will you playdoh with me?” And when someone asks you to playdoh, you playdoh.

Jacob has quite a collection of playdoh toys – scissors and rollers and stamps. He even has little critters that will grow playdoh hair through their heads!

I took hold of one of the critters, turned it head down, and started stamping it on one of the playdoh pancakes Jacob prepared. “Aunt Schawah, whatcha doin’?” “I”m stamping. Look, this critter stamps out a flower.” “No way!” “Yes way. Look!” With amazement Jacob watched all the blooms appear. And with excitement, Jacob took hold of that same critter and started blooming a garden of his own.

Playdoh is impressionable. It is flexible and pliable – unless it is exposed to the air too long. Playdoh takes its shape from the maker and reshapes again and again at the maker’s desire.

Writes the prophet Isaiah, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa 64:8). As God shapes us, God makes us new. As God molds us, God prefects us.

As the work of God’s hands, we bear God’s impressions in our very beings. God’s shaping of us occurs throughout our lives; it is an ongoing transformative process that begins with our most important muscle. 

It begins with our hearts.

This week the Tuskawilla UMC Family begins a five-week series entitled Lessons in Leadership. We will study texts related to David found in I and II Samuel as well as the Psalms. I hope you will join us. See you in worship.

Prayer: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”* Amen.

*”Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” The United Methodist Hymnal 140.

Help! I Need Somebody!

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 86:1-10, 15-17

“Help!  I need somebody!” – words thought by pastors when they decide to be on vacation over a weekend.  I am thrilled that my dear friend, Rev. Corey Jones, is my somebody this week!  He will be leading the Tuskawilla Community in worship and offering a sermon on Psalm 86.  Thanks Corey!

This Psalm is a prayer of David.  David – the beloved King of Israel.  David – a person the Lord called righteous.  David – a leader.  David – a conqueror.  David – a susceptible human to all of the temptations of the world.

In this Psalm we hear David pleading before the Lord, “Listen closely…save your servant…have mercy…make your servant happy…come back to me…show me a sign of your goodness” – words that would come because some action has happened where David needs saving, needs God’s attention, needs God’s companionship, needs God’s justice.  What was the event?  Well the Psalm does not tell us directly…but if we think back through David’s life we can recall moments where David would be in need of God’s reckoning righteousness.

David was a leader and David was by no means perfect.  God used David.  God redeemed David.  God led David.  God accompanied David.  God responded to David’s, “Help!  I need somebody!”

But the somebody was not just anybody.  The somebody was God. Here in lies deep theological truth.  Humans are incapable of saving themselves – ourselves.  The 4th Century theologian Pelagius was deemed a heretic because he denied the need of divine help in performing good works.  Pelagius believed that humans could secure their own salvation through good works.  Not so, my friend.  Not so.  We cannot do it – and David was well aware of this.

David also knew that it would not be worth his time or energy to cry out to another god as some of his neighbors did in the Ancient Near East.  David affirms, “My Lord! There is no one like you among the gods!  There is nothing that can compare to your works!”  So David will not waste breath calling out to a god like, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Those who pour out gold from a bag and weigh silver with a balance hire a metalworker; then he makes a god. They bow down; they worship; they carry the idol on their shoulders and support it; they set it down, and it stands still, unable to move from its place. If one cries out to it, it doesn’t answer. It can’t save people from their distress” (Isa 46:6-7).  David calls out to the God who will answer and answer swiftly.  This is the God who saves.  This is the God who reckons righteousness that is corrective and life-giving.  This is the God to be praised.  

What gods do we seek to save us, but they remain silent and life-draining?  Money?  Gambling?  Substance abuse?  Reckless activities and relationships?  Over-eating?  Sloth?  Gossip?  Lying?  Theft?  Self-hate?  And possibly more?  These gods do not respond.  These gods do not save.  And we may not be able to turn away from these gods on our own.  Those are the moments when we need God’s help, when we add our voices to the cry of David, “Help!  I need you, God!”

God listens.  God responds.  God is there.  And God brings us to one another when we are in need.

Prayer: “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!  O what a foretaste of glory divine!  Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.  Perfect submission, all is at rest; I in my Savior am happy and blest, watching and waiting, looking above, filled with his goodness, lost in his love.  This is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long; this is my story, this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long.”* Amen.

*”Blessed Assurance,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 369.

Strong and Courageous: Vacancy in the Chariot

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 41:37-44 and I Samuel 18:1-16

One of my all time favorite movies is “Remember the Titans.” The movie is based on a true story and set on the threshold of integration in the school system.  In a town where there was once the white high school and the black high school there is now the high school. Folks were going to have to come together – students, teachers, parents, coaches – folks that were once set apart due to their pigment were now all together.

And at first tensions were high.

“Remember the Titans” subjects the high school’s football team and how they found unity in their diversity, which led them to a championship football season. Their unity brought together the school as well as the community – their unity made what was once broken newly whole.

But in order for this to be possible there had to be dialogue and compromise. Students, coaches, and parents that had very rigid understandings of how things should be and what should be done and who should be in charge had an immediate decision to make: adapt and join the dialogue to make the needed compromises or be very unhappy…because that’s just the way it was. There was no going back. There was only going forward.

This scenario was met with resistance at first, but slowly the community came around and rallied behind their players. Foes became friends and increasingly acknowledged the incredible gifts one another brought to the team.

And they won – not just the game or the season.  They won the fullness of life that God has to offer when folks put aside those things that seek to separate and embrace those things that unite us as one people before our God.

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In our Scripture passages this week we read two examples of leadership.  In the case of Pharaoh and Joseph in the Genesis passage we read of adaptations that led to dialogue that led to compromises that led to everyone succeeding.  In the case of Saul and David in the I Samuel passage we read of stubbornness and jealousy.

Which leadership scenario would you prefer?

I think I’d rather hang out in Pharaoh’s boardroom…

Pharaoh made room for and welcomed other persons to share in the leadership of the kingdom and it was to his benefit.  With Joseph at his side Egypt was at it’s best.  Joseph knew that Pharaoh was pharaoh, but the king didn’t wear that on his sleeve 24/7.  His leadership was a model for other leaders and he wanted those other leaders to engage those practices, not be paralyzed on the sidelines.

This is an important model for our own leadership styles no matter the context or venue that we engage them.  Whether at home, in the classroom, in the Sanctuary, in the coffee shop, on the production line, or the soccer field our leadership style should inspire and invite other leaders to partner with us.  In this way we will share the responsibility of leadership and get more work done than a single person could ever manage alone.

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The young men of T.C. Williams High School led that community in partnered leadership.  They found unity in diversity and altered the face of their community.  If God’s people scattered across the globe engaged this same sort of practice, imagine the Kingdom work that God would bring about with us as helpmates in the kingdom…

Just imagine…now let’s make it reality.

Prayer “A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify, a never ending soul to save, and fit it for the sky.  To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill; O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will!”*  Amen.

* “A Charge to Keep I Have,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 413.

Mayhem and Foolishness: The Neked Truth

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Genesis 39:1-18

In Florida we are quickly approaching the beginning of the school year…which for some means that summer is over…even though we all know in Florida that summer REALLY isn’t over until…uhhhh…Valentine’s Day? And then it usually kicks back up around the beginning of March.

You think I’m joking? Come visit…you’ll see…

Before we get all serious about life since we are heading back to school and settling into a more routine work schedule, I thought we would share in some fun with a sermon series on some of the Mayhem and Foolishness going on in Scripture.

This week: Streakers. Yes, my friends, streakers.

Join us in worship on Sunday to hear all about the Joseph running around Egypt without any clothes.

For the purpose of this blog, I turn my attention to another streaker in Scripture.  “What Sarah?!  More than one streaker in Scripture?!”  Yes!  Yes there is!  This streaker was King of Israel!  This streaker was none other than David – first, humble shepherd boy and player of the lyre, then slayer of Goliath, then uniting force of Israel, and now neked (pronounced neck-ed) and dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.

II Samuel 6 recounts how David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem.  “David and all the house of Israel were danging before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals” (II Sam 6:5).  In verse 14 we read, “David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.” An ephod is a linen garment worn by priests during worship as an official vestment; it fits over the head and is rectangular in shape, hanging down the front and back of the body.  Michal, daughter of Saul was not pleased with David’s choice of clothing saying in verse 20, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before  the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!”  Michal was not pleased with David’s behavior or his choice of fine but meager garment.  She felt that he was completely undignified.

When I was in college I served my home church as their Children’s Ministry Intern.  We offered a weekly children and family service called Firehouse and a regular song during that service was entitled “Undignified.”  The song sang

I will dance I will sing to be mad for my king
nothing Lord is hindering the passion in my soul

And I’ll become even more undignified than this
some would say its foolishness

It was a very simple song.  Had some “na na na heys!” in there, too.  The kids loved it…as did the adults…well…at least this adult.  And whether we knew it or not, this song was about King David – dancing before the Lord – undignified, unashamed, wholly caught up in the moment, wholly caught up in the Lord.  

I think sometimes our clothes hold us back.  Not meaning they are too small and constricting so we’re uncomfortable – although I have been known not to purchase a dress or blouse if I can’t raise my arms completely over head.  Clothes hold us back because if we dress a certain way then we feel we have to act a certain way.  Like our clothes determine our behavior.  That’s not always a bad thing – dress professionally – act professionally.  But what if the clothes we wear when we come before the Lord withhold us from becoming undignified, becoming unashamed and giving the Lord all we have?

And what if it’s not just our clothes holding us back?  What if it’s our titles, the positions we hold in our professional lives, among our friends, in the church?  What if it’s pride or our fear of what other people will think of us that keep us from being undignified before the Lord?

It’s time to strip all that away.  It’s time to claim freedom.

By no means am I endorsing streaking in church.  Once in college a streaker ran though a convocation service…it was…yeah…I don’t want to qualify it.  But he was fully committed to what he was doing, even to the moment of getting caught.  Are we willing to have that same fervor in our worship of the Lord?  Fully committed to what we are doing, even to the moment when our neighbor looks over and says, “what in the world are you doing?!”

Humans may say it’s foolishness.

God receives it as true, unhindered, unrestrained worship.

Prayer: “Lord God, your love has called us here, as we, by love, for love were made; your living likeness still we bear, though marred, dishonored, disobeyed; we come, with all our heart and mind, your call to hear, your love to find.  We come with self-inflicted pains of broken trust and chosen wrong, half-free, half-bound by inner chains, by social forces swept along, by powers and systems close confined, yet seeking hope for humankind.  Lord God, in Christ you call our name, and then receive us as your own; not through some merit, right, or claim, but by your gracious love alone; we strain to glimpse your mercy seat, and find you kneeling at our feet.”*  Amen.

*”Lord God, Your Love Has Called Us Here,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 579.