The Virtue of Humility

cowboy

On more than one occasion I’ve meet and spoken with people who say they used to be Lutheran. Some were baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church but for any of many reasons, usually unhappy ones, they left. I’m always saddened when I come away from that kind of conversation.

Sometimes church traditions and human pride erect unnecessary barriers that contribute to a person’s departure from God’s Word and Sacraments. Here’s a story that illustrates this truth:

One Sunday morning, an old cowboy entered a church just before worship time. Although the old man and his clothes were spotlessly clean, he wore jeans, a denim shirt, and boots that were ragged and worn. In his hand he carried a worn-out hat and an equally worn out Bible.

The church he entered was in a very upscale and exclusive part of the city. It was the
largest and most beautiful church the old cowboy had ever seen. The people of the congregation were all dressed in expensive clothes and accessories. As the cowboy took a seat, the others moved away from him. No one greeted, spoke to or welcomed him. They were all appalled at his appearance and did not attempt to hide it.

As the old cowboy was leaving the church, the preacher approached him and asked the cowboy to do him a favor. “Before you come back in here again, have a talk with God and ask him what he thinks would be appropriate attire for worship.” The old cowboy assured the preacher he would.

The next Sunday, he showed back up for the services wearing the same ragged jeans, shirt, boots and hat. Once again he was completely shunned. The preacher approached the man and said, “I thought I asked you to speak to God before you came back to our church”.

“I did,” replied the old cowboy.

“What did God tell you the proper attire should be for worshiping here?” asked the preacher.

“Well sir, God told me that He didn’t have a clue what I should wear. He said He’d never been in this church.”

While unable to vouch for the veracity of this story, I believe it illustrates what Jesus had in mind when he told the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in the temple. The Pharisee said: “God, I thank you that I am not like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and pay tithes of all that I receive.” The tax collector prayed: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Jesus added: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14). As we remember and live those words, people who visit our church, even in blue jeans, will find love and acceptance from God and from his people!

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Characteristics of Healthy Leaders

Follow the Leader

As promised, today’s focus is on characteristics of healthy leaders. While not perfect, I’ve tried to fit characteristics neatly under a few general categories. These thoughts reflect my personal experience and what I’ve learned from others. Here we go with characteristics of healthy leaders:

  1. A Servant’s Heart: Only people capable of serving are capable of leading. Servant leadership emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and ethical use of power. Servant leaders will not ask subordinates or volunteers to do anything they themselves are unwilling to do. Servant leaders lead by example and are humble about their position. They look to the example of Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve.
  1. Trustworthiness: Trust is the basis for all relationships. To be trusted, leaders must be trustworthy. Trust is built over time but can be destroyed in an instant. A huge element of trust is follow-up and follow-through. Keeping promises builds trust. Leaders won’t be trusted until they show by attitude and conduct that they trust others.
  1. Humility: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Prov. 16:18 Humility is a necessary requisite for healthy, successful leaders. Leaders who take all the credit for themselves and do not understand the necessity of giving credit for success to co-workers will soon be resented by those they are trying to lead. Humble leaders find joy in authentic self-deprecation and genuine, generous affirmation of others.
  1. Integrity: Leaders lacking integrity say one thing and do the opposite. Leaders having integrity not only talk the talk, they also walk the walk, saying and doing privately what they say and do publicly. They communicate frankly and truthfully, regardless of their audience. Healthy leaders behave in a manner consistent with the image they portray.
  1. Transparency: Healthy leaders are open and vulnerable with those they lead. Leaders are responsible for defining reality, even when doing so calls for delivering bad news. Successful leaders cannot ignore the truth in an effort to make themselves look good but must speak the truth even when doing so is personally painful or politically inexpedient.
  1. Delegation: Great leaders are not indispensable and can’t succeed alone. Excellence is a team sport. Leaders can get more done if they share the burden through delegation. Healthy leaders trust people enough to delegate significant responsibilities to those who are qualified for the task. Delegation includes oversight but not micro-management.
  1. Courage: Healthy leaders almost always disappoint someone when diagnosing problems and taking steps to resolve them. Doing so almost always involves an element of risk. Healthy leaders are not afraid to take risks, but have the courage to act, not foolishly but wisely, after careful calculation and intentional evaluation of risk and reward.
  1. Prayer for Wisdom: The Bible says a lot about the power of prayer and the importance of praying for wisdom. God granted wisdom to Solomon, who didn’t ask for possessions, wealth, honor, or the death of his enemies. Solomon did not even ask God for long life. Healthy leaders pray, especially for others. They also pray, fervently, for wisdom.
  1. Conclusion: Healthy leaders are not always born leaders but earn their way into positions of responsibility and authority, by God’s grace. Successful healthy leaders inspire their followers through integrity, hard work, courage, faith, humility and confidence in God’s guidance.

God bless healthy leaders! May their number increase!

The Papal Visit

Pope Francis at UNPope Francis has concluded his visit to America, which in some ways seemed longer than the six days he actually spent in our country. The reception he received in the cities on his itinerary was warm and enthusiastic. His pastoral touch was obvious, as he paused en route to touch and bless individuals, particularly children with special needs, their families and caregivers.

While comments could be made about each of the pope’s speeches, I’ll share here a few thoughts about Saturday’s 90-minute worship service at Saints Peter and Paul Basilica in Philadelphia. It was carried live, in its entirety, on Fox News and a couple other national networks.

Watching such a service brings to mind more similarities between Catholicism and Lutheranism. Both are fundamentally liturgical and sacramental. Clergy vestments, Scripture readings, homily, hymns sung by congregation and choir to organ and orchestra accompaniment are quite familiar. Seminarians later visited briefly by the pope sang the familiar “Lift High the Cross.”

Yet some of the differences between the Catholic Church and Protestant denominations were also obvious, including a somewhat appealing use of incense and the repeated veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus. It’s obvious that Catholics still pray to Mary and consider her holy and a perpetual virgin. They often and properly identified her as the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, thankfully making generous reference to his work of redemption on Calvary’s cross.

The publicity, news and TV coverage received by the Catholic Church last week was worth millions and likely will catalyze, at least temporarily, a resurgence of interest in Catholicism. The negative image of the church resulting from sexual abuse scandals of the past may perhaps be somewhat mitigated by this pope’s messages and non-self-aggrandizing sense of humility.

That humility was emphasized, intentionally, in simple yet significant ways. One of the most visible was his ground transportation in the U.S., provided not in a limousine or even a Chevrolet Suburban, but sometimes in the Popemobile, at other times in a much smaller Fiat. By the way, the Vatican vehicle registration plate for the Popemobile and all official Vatican vehicles, begins with the letters “SCV” (an acronym of the Latin Status Civitatis Vaticanae “Vatican City State”) followed by the vehicle fleet number. In this case the plate read SCV-1.

Summarily, Pope Francis should feel very good about his visit to the U.S. And so should the Roman Catholic Church. The visibility and news coverage received by both provided publicity beyond the hopes, not to mention the dreams, of the rest of Christendom.

I pray that the result of this papal visit will be fruitful for the kingdom. As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches, perhaps even our own church will experience resurgence from the apathetic atrophy in which we seem to be stuck. Time will tell. Lord, help us!