Years ago, I found myself in charge of an organization that was deeply divided. Every decision was challenged. Every vote was split. As I struggled to lead, a good friend said to me, “Just lead! We will follow!” While not everyone followed, the organization survived. If you have ever been a part of an organization that suffered from a lack of leadership, you know how painful that can be. How agonizing it is to watch a group of people flounder around with no direction, wasting their time in meetings that have no real purpose, and dismissing without accomplishing anything of lasting value. Such is the fate of a leaderless organization. Leadership is crucial. People who find themselves in charge, but have no leadership ability, penalize the people. On the contrary, a gifted leader can lead people to accomplish goals beyond their own ability to envision. Alexander the Great is reported to have said, “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” Observe how the emphasis changes in the familiar scripture passage relating to the Apostle Paul turning west on his second missionary journey. So important was that decision, that some have said, had he not headed west, along with his entourage, we in the west might have been receiving missionaries today, rather than sending them. “A vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them” (Acts 16:9-10). “He” (Paul) saw the vision, but “we” went to Macedonia, with the conclusion that God had called “us” to go. Leaders lead. Minus that truth, organizations suffer.
Thanksgiving is coming. By news report, another forty-six million turkeys will be consumed. Calories and memories will remain. As I reflect on Thanksgiving, I am thankful for at least three things, and they come from a rather unusual source. In Genesis 16 Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar had made a mess of God’s plans. Hagar was in the process of running away, when she discovered three things. (1) – “the angel of the Lord found her” (Genesis 16:7). (2) God directed her to “return. . . and submit” (Genesis 16:9) and (3) God was “the God who sees” (Genesis 16:13). Like Hagar, I am glad God found me. I wasn’t running away, but I wasn’t that easy to find either – large city, large school, large church, following the, “be seen and not heard” theory of child raising. Still at age nine, God found me, saved me, and then at age sixteen, called me to serve Him. I’m thankful. I’m also thankful, like Hagar, that God directed and re-directed me. Once God begins to direct us, correction and re-direction is a part of the plan, but I am thankful. Like Hagar, I am also thankful that God could see beyond what I could see. Had I seen where God would lead me, it might have scared me into disbelief. But God knew, I followed, and I am thankful. William Bradford, arriving on the Mayflower, then becoming the first Governor of the Plymouth Colony, wrote: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean.” Approaching another Thanksgiving season, I join Hagar in lessons learned and re-learned, and I join Bradford’s pilgrims on my knees in thanksgiving for God’s leadership in my life.
Thanksgiving is over. By news report, another forty-six million turkeys have been consumed. Calories and memories remain. As I reflect on Thanksgiving past, I am thankful for at least three things, and they come from a rather unusual source. In Genesis 16 Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar had made a mess of God’s plans. Hagar was in the process of running away, when she discovered three things. (1) – “the angel of the Lord found her” (Genesis 16:7). (2) God directed her to “return. . . and submit” (Genesis 16:9) and (3) God was “the God who sees” (Genesis 16:13). Like Hagar, I am glad God found me. I wasn’t running away, but I wasn’t that easy to find either – large city, large school, large church, following the, “be seen and not heard” theory of child raising. Still at age nine, God found me, saved me, and then at age sixteen, called me to serve Him. I’m thankful. I’m also thankful, like Hagar, that God directed and re-directed me. Once God begins to direct us, correction and re-direction is a part of the plan, but I am thankful. Like Hagar, I am also thankful that God could see beyond what I could see. Had I seen where God would lead me, it might have scared me into disbelief. But God knew, I followed, and I am thankful. William Bradford, arriving on the Mayflower, then becoming the first Governor of the Plymouth Colony, wrote: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean.” Having made it through another Thanksgiving season, I join Hagar in lessons learned and re-learned, and I join Bradford’s pilgrims on my knees in thanksgiving for God’s leadership in my life.
My role models have all been workaholics. Many of these have also been perfectionists. This is a dangerous mixture. Trying to justify such a lifestyle, I searched the scriptures, until I discovered Jesus saying in His sermon on the mount, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Then I learned that Jesus is here setting a goal, that is certain to be impossible. The pursuit of perfection is important, even if the attainment of it is impossible. The legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi said, Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” What about the workaholic idea? Jesus said, “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). In other words, “Get ‘er done before dark.” On one hand, I am tired from working toward perfection. On the other hand, I have accomplished much more than those who are content with simply working an eight-hour day with average production. Am I sorry that I became a workaholic perfectionist? Not for a minute. Do I recommend it for others? Only if you are at least partly crazy.
One of God’s greatest gifts is memory. When we remember, we sometimes sit in a recliner and reflect. Other times we do something in response to memory. Yesterday, people placed flowers at grave sites, and memorials of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Others attended ceremonies in cemeteries and at national monuments. Still others, paused in the midst of worship services to remember and pray. We acted out our remembrance and our appreciation, for those who served in the past, and those who serve today. For me that includes a father and two uncles who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, a brother who served in the U.S. Army National Guard, and a son who served in the U.S. Marines, and continues to serve with the U.S. Homeland Security. On this day-after Veterans Day, may we continue to pray for those who serve, perhaps praying 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.” May we also join with those who serve in praying for peace. General Douglas MacArthur said, “The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”
Recent events have reminded me of an old saying. Some years ago, a former pastor of mine and I were having a conversation about a fellow minister who had been terminated from his position. Strangely enough, he had been found guilty of the very action for which he had terminated ministers who worked with him. My former pastor summed up his thoughts by saying, “You know, if you live by the sword, you die by the sword.” I’m not sure he knew the origin of that idea, and I certainly did not until recently. “Live by the sword, die by the sword” is a proverb in the form of a parallel phrase, which can be traced back to the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus in 458 BC. The saying appears in similar form in Matthew 26: 52, where a disciple of Jesus draws his sword and cuts off the ear of a servant of the high priest (though the follower’s identity is left unspecified in Matthew, the follower is identified in John, as Simon Peter). Jesus then says to him: “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” The idea is that whatever you do to others, is likely going to come back to haunt you. The more modern way of saying this is, “Whatever goes around, comes around” meaning, according to Wiktionary, a person’s actions, whether good or bad, will often have consequences for that person. Again, in other not so modern words, Paul proclaims, “whatever a man sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). It then behooves all of us to live by another statement from the Apostle Paul, “Be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).
Transition is tough! I wonder how old does one need to be before life is not punctuated by transitions? I’m not sure. You’ll need to ask that question to someone older than me. I clearly remember transitioning from being at home all day, as a five-year old, to going off to school every morning. I did so with a prayer from and with my mother, the greatest prayer warrior I ever knew. She faithfully prayed every day, that I would do the best I could, with what I had, for Jesus’ sake, on that day. She taught me early that prayer was the way to deal with transition. From early school days, and off to college, through marriage, through parenting, through career adjustments, through mid-life crisis, through grandparenting, through health issues, and through retirement, my life has been marked by transition, and continues to this day. The idea of praying through transition has been enforced by two special passages of scripture: “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16:3, NASB) and “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). Often the measure of maturity is how well we manage transitions. I recommend management with prayer.
Some bumper stickers make me want to pull off the road and reflect. Such was the one that read, “Keep Women in Their Place.” So where exactly is their place? Many and diverse are the way today’s culture answers that question. But where was the place of women according to Jesus? Any sincere student of the New Testament soon realizes Jesus never did or said anything to disgrace, belittle, reproach, or stereotype women. Understanding the culture of the time, it is interesting to note that Jesus did just the opposite in His relationship with women. Jesus showed respect to women, even those of apparent low estate such as the woman with the alabaster box or the woman at the well. The ones who felt they could approach Jesus and be heard, were women. Two women, with their brother Lazarus, were his best friends. In the parables of Jesus, often the lesson was delivered by a woman, and women were Jesus’ most faithful followers. Women were at the foot of the cross, and at the opening of the tomb. The first person to whom heaven revealed the resurrection was a female, and this same woman, was the first commissioned by heaven to proclaim the good news of the resurrection. Nor did it stop with Jesus. Traditionally, the missionaries we honor the most, are women missionaries. During my time serving in China, I realized that most of the churches were pastored by women, and most of the congregations consisted of women. It seemed to me that God called His special servants from among His most faithful followers. The person who guided me through my teen-age years was a woman, my church’s Youth Minister. From Kindergarten to Doctoral degree, the most influential encouragement was provided by a woman, my sixth-grade teacher. The person who taught me to drive, took me fishing, and encouraged me in my early dating experiences, was a woman, my aunt. The greatest prayer warrior I ever knew was a woman, my own mother. Some of those I love the most today, and who love me the most, are women, my wife, my daughter, my granddaughter. “All the things you may desire cannot compare with her” (Proverbs 3:15). Keep women in their place – Indeed!
October is Pastor Appreciation Month. The first pastor I remember was L.B. Reavis, from whom I received my middle name. He was followed by E. Hermond Westmoreland, under whose ministry I became a Christian. During my teen-age, pre-college years, my pastor was my own father, W. Edwin Crawford, under whose ministry and influence I surrendered to the ministry, and who gave me my first opportunity to preach (the carefully planned and practiced thirty-minute sermon lasted all of eight minutes). During my college years I was blessed by four pastors – H.H. Hargrove, Interim Pastor A. Donald Bell, George Slayton and J.T. Ayers. Then I myself became a pastor. During my years as a collegiate minister, I was pastored by Jack Chastain, George Slayton (again), Interim Pastor James Eaves, Lewis Lee, and Ralph Smith. While serving with the Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) I was pastored by Truett Gannon. During my years on the Seminary faculty, I had two Pastors – James Carter and Al Meredith. In retirement years my pastor is Dale Braswell. The Apostle Paul wrote that God “gave some to be . . . pastors (Ephesians 4:11). I’m glad each of my pastors understood that call in their life and followed it faithfully. Each was recipient of spiritual gifts that God used to bless and mature me in the faith. Each had strengths that strengthened me. Each deserved more than one special month of appreciation. I will buy my pastor lunch this month and tell him how much I appreciate him, and how often I pray for him. How will you show your appreciation to your pastor this month?
Since grief is such a big subject, there isn’t a single definition that covers it. A commonly used definition is “Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind.” Let me illustrate. Last week I attended a conference that involved several hundred cross-cultural missionaries, some of whom were former Seminary students of mine. I received two invitations to teach a short-term class on prayer (my favorite subject to teach) in two different countries, far removed from my Texas home. I want to accept the invitations so bad I can hardly stand the possibility of having to decline. But my doctors don’t think too highly of the possibility. Following the X-ray, MRI, Myelogram and CT Scan of my neck, I was told by my surgeon, that I have a serious bulging disk in my neck and the day I feel numbness in my arms or tingling in my fingers, or feel dizzy, or fall, he will meet me at the hospital for emergency surgery. Neither of these places where I have been invited, offer a very good alternative to the emergency surgical facilities in my home town. Across the years, I have made many trips to far-away places, when my physical condition was somewhat questionable. But I’ve never been this old before. One of my doctors challenged me to “Think about age, before making plans!” So, I’m having an “emotional reaction to loss or change.” You don’t have to be my age to suffer grief – from a variety of causes, most of which are far worse than mine. So, if you are grieving today due to “emotional reaction to loss or change” do what I did. Remembering Psalm 119:28 (NASB) where the Psalmist cried out, “My soul weeps because of grief; Strengthen me according to Your word.” I went to the Word where I found two verses in Ecclesiastes: “In much wisdom there is much grief and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain” (Ecclesiastes 1:18 NASB) and “Remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting” (Ecclesiastes 11:10, NASB). Employ much positive wisdom today and move on with life.