Leadership and Lent

I have been taking an online class on Christian Leadership.  This has been really good for me, since it has given me the opportunity to reflect on my own leadership as well as the leadership of others.  I’m sure the people around me have noticed: leadership is coming up in conversations and in my preaching.

I was doing some unrelated reading in Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, and I came across his thoughts on leadership, particularly the leadership of the Roman Emperor, Caligula.  In his Jewish Antiquities (19.2.5) Josephus reflects that unchecked power leads to corruption:

“For all that, the advantages obtained from education could not withstand the corruption wrought upon him [Emperor Caligula] by his rise to power; so hard to achieve, it seems, is the virtue of moderation for those who find it easy to take action for which they need account to no one” (LCL, 433, 312-13).

Where he mentions “the virtue of moderation“, Josephus uses a Greek word also found in the New Testament, which is translated as “being of sound mind,” “sensible,” or “right-minded.”  For example, when Jesus cast the “Legion” of unclean spirits out of the man in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1ff), Mark reports: “And they [the people who heard about it] came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid” (Mark 5:15).  Demon possession is contrasted with being “in his right mind.”

Josephus’ use of this term in contrast to unchecked power, implies that he saw the corruption of Caligula, and leaders like him, as like the kind of madness seen in the demon possessed man.  In the context, Josephus catalogued the corruption of Caligula.  This madness/ corruption is specifically because the leader did not have to give an account, he was not liable to anyone.

In the reading I’ve been doing on Christian leadership, I’ve noticed over and over again an emphasis on leaders having accountability.  Since we are in Lent, I would encourage all of us who lead, in whatever capacity, to take time to reflect on our leadership and seek accountability so that we can grow in sensible, right-minded leadership for the sake of our followers.

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My Top Books of 2017

Happy New Year, 2018!

The new year is a time to look ahead as well as to take stock of the past year.  I’m sure many of you are spending time in reflection, I certainly am.  As I think about 2017 I realize that I have done a lot of reading, some for school and some for pleasure.  So I wanted to share some of the books I read last year that had an impact on me.

First, I did a lot more academic reading in 2017, partly because I started a Doctor of Ministry program this year.

I really enjoyed the cleverly titled When in Romans: An Invitation to Linger with the Gospel according to Paul by Beverly Gaventa.  Romans is a big book with twists and turns, so its nice to have a guide.  I picked this one up after listening to her discuss it on the Kingdom Roots podcast with Scot McKnight.

For my first Doctoral seminar on Jesus in his context I read Making Sense of Sex: Attitudes towards Sexuality in Early Jewish and Christian Literature by William Loader.  Sexuality is an ever present topic of discussion and debate, and Jesus is often co-opted as a voice in support of either side.  This book explores what a first century Jew, like Jesus or Paul, would have thought about sex and sexuality, if they were consistent with their Jewish environment.  While I didn’t agree with all his conclusions, the information Loader provides is very helpful.

One more academic book.  I’ve been reading up for my next DMin seminar, in a few weeks.  I have found Jesus against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict by Chris Keith to be very helpful for understanding the hostility toward Jesus from the Jewish Leaders.  Keith asserts that Jesus would have upset societal norms simply by presenting himself as an authoritative teacher.  By entering into space reserved for a select, literate few, Jesus assumed a status that some would have thought he did not deserve.  This, in part, led to his rejection and possibly to his death.

Aside from the academic books I’ve read in the past year, I have read a few for pleasure.

I really enjoy P. D. James, and am always amazed by the abilities of Female British Mystery writers.  James is well known in this category (I recommend her Death in Holy Orders).  She has also written other forms of fiction, including The Children of Men.  Some of you may be familiar with this title, since the book was adapted as a film in 2006.  The movie departs from the book in significant ways, but maintains the foundational premise: that the human race has lost the ability to have babies.

My Summer Hebrew professor mentioned a book that had been significant for him: The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, so I picked it up at his recommendation.  The story is set in Mexico at a time when the Catholic church has been outlawed, and follows a priest (“the Whiskey Priest”), who is struggling to remain faithful to his calling.  In essence, the book wrestles with the disparity between appearances and reality: The Church is more than it may sometimes appear to be.

Finally, I appreciated Brené Brown’s Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.  This book builds upon her work on vulnerability.  Her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, is well know.  This book has encouraged me in the area of personal awareness, something I have been growing in over the past year.

Have you read any of these titles?  I wonder what books have had an impact on you in 2017?  I’ve already got a stack of books to read in the coming year, but I’m sure to be coming back to these ones in time.

Many blessings on the year ahead!



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Jay’s Visit

Jay, a friend and the pastor of our sending church in Illinois, just left after a week long visit to Rwanda. We are so grateful for the time we had with him.

Jay has been coming to Rwanda for about 12 years now.  He started coming in the early days of AMiA when the Rwandan Anglicans reached out to American churches in a time of need.  He has continued to come, building and deepening relationship here, both personally, as well as through our sending church.  Jay has been pressing in and he has been welcomed in, being made a canon (a person of leadership as well as counsel for the bishop) of the Shyira Diocese.

This trip, Canon Jay was invited to participate in a ordination retreat, a time of teaching and encouragement for those about to enter into full-time, ordained ministry.  Jay presented on the topics of worship and clergy self-care, subjects near to his heart and interests, to the almost 50 men and women following God’s call to ministry.  You can see his own reflection on the time here.

Jay also made a point to spend time with our family.  To some this may sound intimidating: the sending church pastor come to check in on the far-flung missionaries.  We have missionary friends here who would not enjoy the experience.  On the other hand, we’ve known missionaries in Rwanda who never received a visit from their sending church.  It really means so much to us to have Jay come visit.  He encourages us, offers perspective on challenges, he gives pastoral counsel, and helps us feel connected to those he represents at “home”.

Jay has personally witnessed a lot of the development in Rwanda over the past years of visiting.  We were able to check out two Kigali establishments, newly opened since his last visit.  Jay and I had coffee at the big new Kigali Marriott in the city center.  This will definitely be one of the premier places to stay in Rwanda.  Then on his last day, Kari and I took him to the new Kigali Convention Center and Raddison Blu hotel complex.  It was fun to explore some of the new sites in our city with Jay.

We felt really blessed to have this time with Jay.  There was a lot of good conversation and catching up.  Two things stand out for mention.  First, I think Jay’s time teaching helped him see some of the challenges of cross-cultural Bible teaching and training.  He may not feel it, but it means a lot to me that he can identify with my own work here by his experience.

Second, Jay spent time with our kids. Josiah and Norah know him as “Papa Jay” and obviously feel a sense of closeness to him.  Having been a Third Culture Kid, Jay seems able to relate to them in a way that most of our friends and family at home won’t be able to.  I think he takes that seriously, which means so much to us as parents.  Jay wrote a little on the kids here.

Jay has recently celebrated his 10th Anniversary as the pastor at Church of the Redeemer and we have known him as our pastor for the last 8 years.  We are thankful for his ministry to us and the time we had with him.


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Scripture Discussions – Mary, Martha, and Amos

Scripture Discussions follow the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the upcoming Sunday.  These recordings air on the radio in Kigali, Rwanda on the following Monday.

In this week’s radio message Brandon and I discuss another passage in Luke’s story of Jesus along with a passage from Amos (RCL Proper 11).  Amos 8 is a prophecy of judgement: a famine of hearing the word of the Lord is coming on God’s sinful people.  In Luke 10 Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to his word.

We would be blessed to be your dialogue partners if you are planning to preach or teach the lectionary on Sunday.

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