The Paradox of Power

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Eugene was a big man who towered over me. He put one hand on my left shoulder, one on my right, looked me straight in the eye and said in a resonant voice that was heard throughout the room, “In my country, when they make you a king, they make you a slave.”

I had just been installed as senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Fairfield, Connecticut, and was at the reception following the service. In that congregation there was a wonderful extended family from Ghana in West Africa. Eugene was “head” of the family. He was a former officer in the Ghanaian army, and still stood straight and had a commanding presence.

His words echoed in my ears and went straight to my heart, “In my country, when they make you a king, they make you a slave.” Eugene continued his loving exhortation by saying that people need a leader who protects, provides and cares for them. “The good leader knows,” he said, “that the welfare of the people means his own security and well-being, too.”

I imagine you may find it a bit jarring to compare a pastor to a king, or hear an African speak openly about slavery. But Eugene’s point is clearly consistent with Jesus’ message. In John 13, just hours before his betrayal, trial and crucifixion, Jesus showed his disciples the way of power in God’s Kingdom.

After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them” (John 13:12-17 New Living Translation).

Leaders need to understand the nature of power. Power is framed differently in God’s Kingdom as opposed to the world. In the world, power is a sign of prestige; in God’s Kingdom, power is vested in servants. In the world, power is a tool for self-gratification; in God’s Kingdom, power is a means to show love. In the world, power is often exercised through personal intimidation; in God’s Kingdom, power is dying to self.

A number of years ago, I developed the book TouchPoints for Leaders as part of the Tyndale House Publishers TouchPoints  series. It contains over 150 topics with Scriptures and comments I wrote applicable to leadership issues. Don’t let that word ‘leader’ throw you if you think, “I’m not a leader.” Leaders are, most simply, people with influence. This influence can be formal (like a teacher or a coach) or, more likely, informal (as in the influence you have with friends, colleagues, and family members). Here’s what I wrote as one of the entries under “Power:”

Leaders have the ability to influence others, to mobilize resources, and to get the attention of significant people or groups of people in society. They can make things happen– or keep things from happening. In short, they have power to control. This is the most seductive aspect of leadership– but is also at the heart of effectiveness. Ultimately, however, leaders in all walks of life are dependent on God’s power.

Many passages in Scripture remind us that us we are stewards, not originators, of power.

“…’It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” (Zechariah 4:6 NLT).

“…He [the Lord] did it so you would never think that it was your own strength and energy that made you wealthy. Always remember that it is the LORD your God who gives you power to become rich” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18 NLT).

“…For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NLT).

“And who is adequate for such a task as this? . . . It is not that we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves. Our only power and success come from God” (2 Corinthians 2:16, 3:5 NLT).

“There are no ‘self-made’ people who have power in and of themselves. They cannot claim responsibility for their birth, their genetic makeup, nor the political, economic and social circumstances and times into which they were born. God allows us to live at the time and place of his choosing. Wise leaders continually remember where their power comes from so that they use it in accordance with God’s values and will.” (TouchPoints for Leaders, Wheaton, IL, Tyndale House Publishers, 2004, page 181).

The more you use power for self-advancement, the less you really have. Power used in selfless ways grows giving glory to God and blessing to others.

 

 

 

 

 

Gilt by Association

So who are you all-by-yourself-all-on-your-own?

 

No—I did not forget to do spell-check before publishing this post. I do mean ‘gilt,’ not ‘guilt.’ Decades ago, I coined this “pun” to describe a tendency I have—that I’ll tell you about in a moment. You’re likely familiar with the phrase “guilt by association,” when the people associated with a guilty person are judged guilty because of their association—even if their “guilt” is unfounded. “Gilt by association” is just the reverse.

Gilt is gold leaf or gold paint applied in a thin layer to a surface. It is a decorative feature, meant to give the impression of value and even “solid gold” beneath the surface. “Gilt by association” is the effort of trying to shine in the glow of another person’s importance. It’s all about impressing others. I fall into this when I “name drop” about people I know or who attend our church; or “place-drop” about places I’ve been in my travels. You get the idea. You can recognize it quickly in others but not see it in yourself so clearly. There are many dynamics at work in this “gilting,” but I want to focus on two.

First, let’s show ourselves some grace because this is one of the most natural tendencies we all have—to draw a sense of identity and worth from others. This is what being a sports fan is about, or being a part of a club or a special group. The danger lies in making that layer of gilt a primary factor in our self-worth and identity. If we do that, we make it part of our mask, our false self, our facade. It’s important to remember I am not who I know, or where I’ve been, or even what I do. In Christ, I am God’s child and all that means in being part of God’s family. Every other association pales in comparison with that!

Second, we dare not try to do this in the area of faith. Fake-faith, in-name-only faith, is a dead-end road. There’s a fascinating story about this in the Acts 19:11-16

God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.  (Acts 19:11-16 New Living Translation).

In my book Questions God Asks, Questions Satan Asks, (Tyndale House Publishers)—here I go my-book-dropping!!! – I spend a chapter on Acts 19:15, “…the evil spirit replied, ‘I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?’” The sons of Sceva made a tragic assumption in this passage. They assumed that knowledge of Jesus was the same as knowing Jesus.  Those are two very different realities. They tried to use Jesus’ name without believing in Jesus, without trusting Him, without relying upon Him.  The evil spirit challenged their presumption. When I let my imagination go, I picture this demon sitting back, kicking up his legs on a desk, folding his hands calmly across his chest and saying, “I know Jesus… and I know Paul,…. but (and now Demon takes his legs off the desk, looks right into the eyes of every single one of the sons of Sceva, and shouts) but WHO are you???!!!” Then Demon leaps on these guys, overpowering them.

Now, I don’t claim it happened that way… but that’s kinda what I’m picturing. There is no gilt by association with Jesus. Either you know Jesus or you don’t. And people, even demons, can tell the difference.

So who are you-all-by-yourself-all-on-your-own?

But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God (John 1:12 New Living Translation NLT).

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure  (1 John 3:1-3 NLT)