The Least of These

Leaders are wired and trained to look for highly leveraged people and opportunities. We think about influence, change, courage, and about mobilizing the people who can help make things happen.

So, what about people who have nothing strategic to give back? What about the people Jesus identified as the least of these?

With my Uncle after a burger togetherAbout six years ago I became the person who looks after my Uncle. At first, it meant simply making sure his bills were paid and his medicines were in order. Then it meant taking him to Dr. appointments, cleaning out his refrigerator, and hiring in home help. Eventually he required residential care and the sale of his home. Lately, waves of dementia has him believing illusions of reality and becoming irritated at everyone–including me.

His needs are rarely convenient and being with him is never fun. My Uncle is someone like those Jesus described as the least of these. He can’t drive. He can’t hear. He has no hobbies and no real interests of any kind. He has no friends, no one who would attend his funeral. In short, there are no strokes to be gained or benefits to be earned as a result of caring for him. But, it is the right thing to do. He has no one else.

However, I have to be honest, lots of times my attitude stinks. I  am not writing this post with a dynamic climax at the end. It is simply that caring for my Uncle makes me think about a lot of things differently. While I spend most of my life working with leaders to help them shape the churches and organizations they lead, I understand in new ways that leadership is about much more than what you do in public.

Jesus said, that caring for “the least of these,” literally equals caring for him. He did not say it is “like or similar” to caring for him, but actually doing it for him. Wow. I find that so hard to believe. When I am with my Uncle, I see the face of my Uncle, I don’t see the face of Jesus. There is no glamour in taking him out to lunch and watching him eat. Can it really mean that serving someone  like him–where there is no quid pro quo, no strokes or favors to be returned–is literally an act of compassion received by Jesus?

Take a good look at Matthew 25:37-46. It will rock your world. “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers you did for me.”  … the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, those without clothes, the sick, the imprisoned.

 

I wonder, do you have someone who is the “least of these” in your sphere of influence? Is there anyone you avoid because there is nothing in it for you?

What have you learned about what Jesus meant when he spoke about serving the least of these?

Law of the Pencil and Stone

I want to talk about having goals and plans. I think they really matter. I am not compulsive about them and don’t let them rule my life, but for me they are essential to living an intentional life. I hold life as a gift to be stewarded, an entrustment to be handled with care.  Setting goals for my personal development and for the things I believe God wants me to work on is one key to intentional focus.

However, there are some complicating factors. How do you balance having goals with being sensitive to the ongoing leading and direction of the Spirit? How do you align yourself with goals and pursue them intentionally without becoming driven?  How do you live in that dynamic tension that calls for daily dependence on God and his direction at yet at the same time align your behavior, decisions, and priorities to what you believe you are supposed to be working on?

In other words, how does a leader live by and provide focused direction while simultaneously remaining responsive to the dynamic leadership of Christ?

I would like to suggest a principle that I believe serves individual leaders, families, churches, and ministry organizations of any size. I call it, the “law of the pencil and the stone.

It works like this.  Knowing that circumstances are always changing, at any given moment all I have to go on is my best understanding to date. I never know every detail or nuance that is important. At any moment God may break in to to redirect, clarify, or interrupt what I understood I should be doing. Therefore, I imagine my goals and plans are written on that elementary-school paper with the really wide lines by one of those finger-thick pencils. They aren’t fancy or polished, just my best understanding to date, and therefore I hold them with a loose grip. Anytime God has a new assignment, I am ready to relinquish those goals for another sheet of penciled writing on elementary school paper.

At the same time, because they are indeed my best understanding of God’s priorities, plans, and direction for my life I need to live in obedience to those goals as if they were written by the finger of God on tablets of stone. Yes, they might change, but until they do they are the best I know. In fact, during my entire life all I will ever have is my best understanding to date. I need to align my life to that understanding and live in obedience to it.

That’s it: holding onto your goals as if they are written in pencil while living them out as if they were written by God on a tablet of stone unlocks the potential for responsive but focused obedience.

It’s Not hard to understand, however I need to address what might be the issue beneath the issue. A great many people and organizations resist setting goals. Something in us likes keeping our options open. We dislike the feeling of having limits. We like the freedom of going with the flow and dislike being accountable to stay on task. And we are really good at masking this personal resistance in some lofty language. In the Christian community, we talk about being Spirit-led — as if the Spirit can only lead in the spontaneity of the moment.

One final thought: When it comes to a group of people, be it a family, a ministry team, or a church, clear agreed upon goals and plans are the way a group of people lives in obedience as a community. The law of the pencil and the stone is a powerful posture for a group that longs to follow Christ together.

So, I have to ask, how has God been directing you?  Isn’t it time to take those good intentions and put them into action?

— Gary

P.S.  By the way, in a changing world and changing marketplace, the law of the pencil and the stone has great value as a corporate posture as well.