Over the course of several posts we’ve been looking at the story of the rich young man’s encounter with Jesus. We looked at the original context, the two errors that we make about Christianity and money and the idea of starting with judging our own generosity before judging others. Today I want to look at what it means to walk the line with wealth and the Kingdom and avoiding the fate of the rich young man.
The first thing I want to note is that the this man had it all. He had prosperity by any standard. He was not only in the top 1%. In his day he was more likely in the top .01%. Not only that but by all accounts he was a morally upstanding guy. He kept the ten commandments at least generally. Heck he probably tithed his 10% to the temple.
And yet, something was missing and he knew it. Otherwise why would he have come to Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”
I’ve seen a lot of conversions (or arguments might be a better word) about the inclusivity of Christianity. Some say that Jesus was all inclusive. Others say that it is a narrow road and that the Kingdom is actually very exclusive. I want to offers some thoughts on this.
First I think that our current culture inclusivity it a sort of virtue. It seems that many want everyone to be included in everything. There is a lot good about this idea. Far too often people have been left out, or even kept out, of opportunities and experiences that they should not have been. That’s a fair critique of parts of our society. So everyone wants everyone to be included. I think that’s a good desire.
The flip side of this is that not everyone is the same. People don’t all have the same skills, talents and even desires. And, no matter how we might try to rig society we will never have equal outcomes for all. It’s literally impossible and extremely unreasonable. And frankly a dangerous plan.
But the real question as a Christian is what does Jesus teach and what does He say about the Kingdom in this regard? Here are my thoughts.
In two previous posts we’ve been considering the story of the Rich Young Man’s encounter with Jesus. We discussed the story itself and then in the last post we looked at two major errors Christians make in thinking about money. Today I want to start with the idea that we need to start with ourselves before we judge others.
One of the problems in our society is that we like to create groups of people and then judge the groups that we don’t see ourselves in. This is true in many aspects of our lives but I think money is a great example and it’s the theme of this thought we are in right now.
You hear all the time about wealth or income inequality, the 1%, the 10% and so on. We talk about people that have an income over a certain amount. Mostly we like to judge whatever group has more than us.
A few weeks ago I wrote a 5 part study on the parable of the Samaritan. Following that in a related post we looked at the idea of what it might mean to love our enemies. In a way this all points toward the idea of loving our neighbor.
Jesus uses the parable of the Samaritan in response to a Jewish lawyer who had asked what the greatest commandment was. Jesus answered that the greatest commandment was to love God with all of our heart, strength and mind. The second follows; that is to love our neighbor. The lawyer then asks who is our neighbor. Jesus uses the parable to make the point that every person, yes even our enemy, is our neighbor.
Today I want to look at what we might call Christian leadership. Really at the end of the day that should be our goal as believers if we want to lead. This is not as simple as “lead like Jesus” although obviously we want to look at Jesus who was without a doubt the greatest, most effective leader of all time. And He still is.
So what does it mean to be a Christian leader? How do we do it?
Think about the following short list of people who could be considered great leaders in history. People who were effective by my working definition of effective leadership: “An effective leader is someone who has followers and gets them, through his/her leadership, to accomplish something. The more followers they have and/or the greater the accomplishment; the more effective the leader.” Some of these are more moral than others but we’ll leave out the completely immoral examples. Here’s the list:
Martin Luther King Jr
Pope John Paul II
Joan of Arc
Now I could list a ton more people in every context. Religious, business, countries and causes. This is just a few that came to mind right away that I think most people would say had a huge impact. They had lots of followers and accomplished real change in their context.
Obviously most of us, or more accurately probably none of us, will be on any future list like this. But I think we can learn something here about leadership from these folks. What do they have in common? What made them effective leaders?
Last week we began to look at the parable of the sower from Luke 8. Today I want to take a closer look at what these soils look like.
The first soil is that by the road. This is the soil that the seed falls on but then the devil comes and steals the word before it can take root.
This soil is what we might call the people who reject the word outright. They have a hard heart and therefore the word just stays on the surface. It’s like when I seed my lawn and some of the seed gets on the driveway or sidewalk. It has no chance.
In Luke 8:4 Jesus shares the parable of the sower. Jesus tells of how a farmer spreads seed. Some falls on beside the road and is trampled or stolen by birds. Some falls on rocky soil and grows quickly, but withers quickly because it has no root. Some falls in the soil where there are thorns and grows well until a certain point and then it is choked out. Other seed fell on good soil and grew and produced much fruit.
Jesus later explains this to the disciples. He says that the sower is God and the seed is the word of God. Those on the side of the road are those who have heard the word but devil comes and steals it from their heart so that they can’t be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who receive the word with joy, but then, because they have no root, when tempted fall away. Those who are among the thorns are those who receive the word and grow but are choked out by the worries, riches, and pleasures of this life and don’t produce fruit. The final group are those who receive the word with an honest and good heart, hold fast and produce much fruit through perseverance.
This is a tough parable for a lot of reasons. First, it appears that only 25% of people end up producing fruit. Although to be fair, it doesn’t say anything about percentages. Heck 90% of the seed could have fallen on any one of the soils. But as someone who has tried to spread the word to people for over two decades, it sure does seem like 25% of people being the good soil seems about right.
A few weeks ago I was watching The Last Dance. This is the ten part documentary on the Chicago Bulls and the final of their six NBA Championship season. But really it’s more a documentary on Michael Jordan. And man is it good. I grew up on Magic, Bird and then Jordan and the Bulls.
It was interesting to learn more about the inner workings of the team and Jordan. A lot of the stories I’ve heard about but it’s different to hear it from them. Jordan was simply the greatest of all time. The thing that separates him to me was his drive. The guy hated losing. Absolutely hated it.
Jordan was singularly focused on the goal. And he brought others along with him. Jordan was a leader. But he wasn’t a “nice” guy. We’ve talked a lot about not being the nice guy here at the blog over the years. I’m not going to dive back into that today. Just go to the front page and search “nice”. What I want to talk about today is leadership.
Luke 7:36-50 tells an interesting story that I think is often misinterpreted or glossed over. Jesus is at the home of a pharisee who has requested dinner with Jesus. Let’s push pause right here before we go further.
One of the mistakes we make reading the gospels is that we often turn the Pharisees into one monolithic group. They were not. They were actual people. And Jesus loved them too. Yes they got a lot wrong. Yes many of them did not like Jesus. But Jesus didn’t hate them. He loved them. He kept loving them all the way through the end. Even when He was challenging them He was doing it to try to get them to see the truth. He asks them once – who will save you from hell?! Jesus was trying to get them to get it. Just like everyone else. And some of them were interested. Obviously this Pharisee was curious.