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Not a Lebron Fan (But I Loved the NBA Finals)

I’m not a Lebron fan. But anyone who’s a fan of the game of basketball would appreciate how history was made last month. The Cleveland Cavaliers won the championship for the first time in over fifty years, and they did it in an unprecedented manner.

It isn’t just basketball fans who can pick something up from the sport. Here are three leadership lessons that can serve as a reminder for anyone who wants to do something significant.

1. You can’t lead by momentum.

No team entered the NBA Playoffs with more momentum than the Golden State Warriors. They broke the regular season record for number of wins. Despite a challenging round against the Oklahoma Thunder, they bulldozed right through the Cavs in the first two games. The Finals seemed over right then. But then they faltered and lost, showing us that all the momentum in the world can’t win the championship for you.

Leadership works the same way. All the momentum in the world isn’t enough to achieve greatness. Momentum helps, but it can’t take the place of discipline, hard work, perseverance, and discerning what God is doing at the present. People who have momentum going for them must not relax. People who have momentum going against them can be encouraged that they can still overcome.

 

2. You can’t lead through statistics.

The other thing going against the Cavs were the statistics. The Golden State Warriors were having a record-breaking season. Their stars were having record-breaking seasons. And the most immovable statistic of all was against them: No one had ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals.

But there’s always a first time. And this year was that first time.

Statistics don’t win championships. Statistics tell what’s most likely to happen, not what will happen. Leaders can change statistics. Maybe you’ve had these thoughts before:

“No one from my family has every finished college.”

“This campus has never had a big campus ministry.”

“No Filipino has ever done that.”

“No one so young has ever succeeded at this thing.”

That may be what the statistics say, but maybe this is your breakthrough moment. Try anyway.

 

3. You can’t lead from public opinion.

When the Warriors won Games 1 and 2 quickly, many people rushed to proclaim the Cavaliers defeated. There are too many examples of this, so I’ll just use the social media of one particularly ignorant and mocking spectator.

Amazingly, the Cavaliers were unfazed by this devastating tweet from a thirty-three year old casual fan. And they  fought through all the negative opinions to win the championship. 

On the other hand, it seemed like the Golden State Warriors believed some of hype about them: “the greatest team ever.” Their own team owner bragged about how their front office was “light years ahead” of the other teams in the league. It was almost cinematic to see them fail to reach their ultimate goal after such a boast like that.

 

At the end of the day, their victory couldn’t lie in the external factors – not momentum, not statistics, not public opinion. It came down to having the will to win. Lebron stepped up his game the Cavs are the new champions.

So this is a warning and an encouragement to all of us.

To those who have all the momentum going for them, who can predict their victories based on the statistics, who have all the support of public opinion – don’t relax. Don’t coast. Stay hungry. Because all the momentum in the world cannot take the place of discipline, hard work, and Holy Spirit power.

And to those who seem to have everything going against them, who seem to be aiming for statistical and physical impossibilities, who have everyone saying they can’t make it – don’t give up. This might be the time that you defy all the odds and win.

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Useless Knowledge

It’s one of the finest lines any follower of Jesus can walk: the line between knowing more about God so you worship Him and knowing more about God so you become proud. It’s so easy to confuse the two in the beginning, but the outcomes couldn’t be more different.

On one hand, we can learn about God and be brought to worship Him more, to love His Word, to obey His commands and to love others.

On the other hand, we can learn about God and become more critical of others, more inflated in our self-estimation, and unable to love the very people God Himself loves.

I’ve crossed this line many times that’s why I know it well. At one moment, I’m thrilled to be learning something new, amazed at God and how He does things. The next moment I’m rolling my eyes at what is obviously an error in someone else’s prayer or preaching. One

How could similar things produce such different outcomes?

I don’t know, but maybe this is why the Bible and Christian tradition have always warned against useless knowledge.

We know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up but love builds up. If anyone imagines he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. I Corinthians 8:1–3

What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone. Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Don’t stock up on useless knowledge. Instead, let our pursuit of knowledge only be part of a greater pursuit of a deeper with God and others.

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Everyone’s Guilty Pleasure

Anyone who knows me knows that freshly baked, chewy, chocolate chip cookies are my guilty pleasure. Any notion of limiting my sugar intake flies out the window when presented with a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies.

A guilty pleasure is something we know isn’t good for us but we enjoy anyway. We all have different guilty pleasures, but there’s one guilty pleasure every human enjoys: the misfortune of our enemies. Watching the ill-fortune that falls on someone who has annoyed us, fought us, antagonized us, or done anything against us is more irresistible than chocolate chip cookies.

I love it when a driver who’s been tailgating me gets stuck and delayed. I love it when a person who’s been bashing one of my friends online suddenly has an army of their own haters. I love reading articles about horrible people who suddenly have a stroke of well-deserved calamities. I’m ashamed to admit it. I know I shouldn’t indulge. But it’s my guilty pleasure. Can anyone else relate?

Now what makes it worth it is seeing the person’s misfortune. There’s little pleasure in hearing about someone else’s bad luck without seeing their pained, frustrated expression.

This is what makes God so aggravating when it comes to revenge. He doesn’t give us that pleasure.

In the fifth book of his Chronicles of Narnia series, The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis describes a conversation between Aslan (a metaphor for Jesus) and the boy, Shasta. Shasta, the fisherman’s son, has been traveling with Aravis, the noblewoman. Aravis has wasted no opportunity to disdain Shasta’s low birth and lack of social graces. The entire time Shasta raged impotently.

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Then they were attacked by a lion who scratched Aravis across the back. Shasta rescued her, and she began to see him in a different light. Later, Shasta encountered Aslan who revealed himself as the lion who had chased them all the way.

“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”

“It was I.”

“But what for?”

“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.

I’m sure Shasta would have relished that scrap of gossip. It would have felt good to finally have something against the ever-superior Aravis. But Aslan didn’t allow Shasta that indulgence, even though Aravis had earned it.

Aslan then steered Shasta to his purpose – something much bigger than this feeble attempt at comeuppance. And you’ll have to read the book for the rest.

In the same way, God doesn’t allow us to indulge in revenge. Instead, He wants us to continue in our relationship with Him and discover His purpose for our lives. That’s worth meditating on so much more than any petty vengeance we can muster up.

Applications:

  • Some of us are motivated to succeed to prove others wrong not to honor God. That’s a path to burnout and disappointment. When you finally succeed, it won’t make things better.
  • Some of us have people we love to hate. We regularly check their social media feeds to see where they are and compare ourselves. We’re angry when they succeed and we rejoice when they’re doing poorly. This is a waste of time.
  • Some of us act like our healing and restoration can only come after those who did us wrong have suffered an equal or greater amount. That’s not true. You can be healed when you put your faith in Jesus. In fact, part of your healing will be finally letting them live their own story. They hurt you, but Jesus heals you. They took something, but Jesus returns it and more. What the devil meant for evil, God turns to good.

Let it go. Trust God. Let’s not indulge in this guilty pleasure. Stick to chocolate chip cookies.

Romans 12:19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Proverbs 20:22 Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you. 

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“I wanted to see something great.”

WARNING: The following post features very graphic images. They are never used gratuitously and are essential to the point. But the shocking and jarring nature of this article could reopen some wounds and repeat the trauma of the NBA Finals to Golden State Warriors fans. My apologies.

In Game 3 of the NBA Finals, Lebron James performed yet another feat that proved that he truly is the greatest player currently playing in the NBA. In the 3rd quarter, he stole a pass and got bumped by Steph Curry. He stumbled to the floor and picked himself up without losing his dribble. He looked up and passed the ball ahead to Kyrie Irving.

Irving took a few dribbles than lobbed it to Lebron for an alley oop but the pass was completely off the mark – much too high and too far to the right. Lebron picked up his speed, launched himself above the hapless Klay Thompson, and stretched out his right arm catching the errant ball. Incredibly, he slammed it through the ring, even as he was drifting away. The game was over even in the third quarter.

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Reporters asked Kyrie Irving why he made such a bad pass to Lebron. His response was telling:

“I threw it very, very — you know, some people may say it’s a bad pass, but I wanted to see something great, and for him to do that, it was awesome. It was awesome.”

Kyrie threw a bad pass because he wanted to see something great. He wasn’t interested in a gentle lob. He was throwing an off target fastball of a pass knowing that Lebron had the speed, strength, and jumping ability to slam it home anyway. The impossibility of the pass only made the play greater.

In other words, Kyrie has faith in Lebron.

These words challenged me. If Kyrie has that much faith in Lebron James’ abilities, how much more should I believe in the abilities of my God? Lebron may be an expert on impossible shots, but God has delivered consistently on even greater impossible situations.

Prayer is like an alley oop to God. We’re just throwing it out there; He’s the one who slams it home. We get to participate and witness something great. So let’s throw Him the biggest prayers we can. He’ll deliver.

  • Let’s share the Gospel to seemingly impossible people, because we want to see something great: a changed life.
  • Let’s pray for miraculous healing, provision, and restoration of relationships, because God wants to do great things for His people.
  • Let’s believe that institutionalized poverty can be eradicated in our nation, because when God does that we will be privileged to witness something awesome.

Let’s live everyday expecting God to do great things in our everyday impossibilities.

This was the most tame example. The others are abundant in profanity. But it would have felt so good to slip them under the wiper of his car.

Pastor Murders Driver in Parking Lot

Last night I saw a car intentionally taking up two slots in a crowded parking lot. Immediately I was filled with thoughts of how to make the person feel stupid or punish him for his insensitivity. “I’m assuming it was a guy because I haven’t seen many women do this. It’s not like his car is even that nice or expensive. Look how exactly on the middle of the line his car is: this was intentional.”

I wish I downloaded those cards on the internet for inconsiderate parking jerks like that driver. Or I could leave a mocking note on his windshield. Or I could force my car into the space anyway giving him a difficult time climbing in his car.

This was the most tame example. The others are abundant in profanity. But it would have felt so good to slip them under the wiper of his car.

This was the most tame example. The others are abundant in profanity. But it would have felt so good to slip them under the wiper of his car.

As these delightful schemes multiplied in my head, I remembered Pastor Christian Flores’ preaching from last Sunday. He had described how hate and offense is the spiritual equivalent to murder. Being offended and thinking bad thoughts towards someone is like killing them in your heart. Talk about a buzzkill. If you wanna hear it, you can listen to it here.

I was immediately convicted. There was no denying how murderous my intentions were. It was also surprising how quickly these thoughts came to mind. There was no need for brainstorming or mind mapping. When we’re angry, we can easily think of multiple ways to lash back. There are no limits to human creativity in hurting one another.

So I circled the parking lot feeling deflated. I couldn’t even think of ways to get back at the car because that would be sinning. But I had to do something. Then I remembered something else, something my dad tells me often:

Pray for people you don’t like. Your heart for them will change. Their heart could change too.

So I prayed for this driver. I prayed that whatever his business was in the mall, he would do it well. I prayed that after his business was conducted, he would make his way to his car with its wide open spaces around it, and safely make his way home to his family.

A new parking space opened for me, farther away than his double-slot, but I was still thankful. My family went into the mall and had a great evening together. On our way back to our car, I noticed that Mr. Two Slots had left already. I smiled inwardly and prayed for him again wherever in the metro he might be.

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The Biggest Challenge with Leadership Development

“Every growing organization will have a leadership shortage.”

When Pastor Steve Murrell said those words last week, I immediately felt a great sense of relief. His statement explained so much of our current challenges. No wonder we always needed to train new leaders. No wonder we kept asking ourselves, “Who’s next?” No wonder we had so many people making rookie mistakes. These weren’t caused by bad things. They were just part of the growing process. And the solution was simple: train more leaders.

Developing leaders seems like a big challenge. But most of these can be overcome.

  • For Identifying new leaders we can develop criteria for current leaders to look for.
  • For Instructing new leaders we can create materials to give them the knowledge they need.
  • For Imparting to new leaders we can schedule times of personal interaction to make sure we touch their hearts, not just their heads.
  • For Interning new leaders we can open different platforms where they can be observed trying their leadership skills.

In short, there are ways we can plan and structure for growing leaders.

But there’s one problem in leadership development that no older leader can overcome. There’s one thing we can’t do: we can’t develop a leader who doesn’t want to be developed.

  • We can’t train a leader who doesn’t want to be trained.
  • We can’t empower a person who doesn’t want to serve.
  • We can’t teach a person who won’t receive correction.
  • We can’t work in unity with a person who doesn’t want to trust others.

I’m not saying to give up on people right away. No one gets it right the first time. I’m thankful for many leaders who gently or forcefully corrected me when I needed it.

But at a certain point, we can’t keep spoon feeding them. New leaders must rise to the challenge. If we don’t give them that chance, then they won’t truly be leaders. As Pastor Kevin York said, “Many times in leadership development we don’t hold the new leader to their responsibility to being developed.”

So leadership development isn’t a one-sided thing. It’s not one leader forcing their will and impression on young leaders. Instead it’s a convergence of two sides – the current leader who’s looking to train others and the young leaders who’s willing to be trained. That is an unstoppable combination.