October 28, 2018 • Life for Leaders
“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
I shared yesterday how Jesus could be perceived according to certain leadership standards as having failed numerous times. In John 6, his preaching repelled numerous people instead of attracting them. Another time, in a Nazarene synagogue, Jesus initially astonishes his hearers with his teaching ability. But that brief approval is quickly followed by criticism, rejection and—according to Luke’s version—an attempt to kill Jesus (Luke 4, Matthew 13, Mark 6)! With this kind of response from his audience, I don’t think Jesus would have passed the modern test of “successful” preaching or leadership, would he?
In Mark 8, Jesus does not hold back in describing the difficulties that await his followers, as he describes the image of them carrying their crosses. Jesus makes it clear that true followers must lose their lives to save them (8:35). Jesus certainly wasn’t on a trajectory of “gaining the whole world”—power, possessions, or the praise of people.
Jedd Medefind and Erik Lokkesmoe’s book, The Revolutionary Communicator, closes with a story of Claus von Stauffenberg, famously portrayed by Tom Cruise in the film Valkyrie. Stauffenberg built a network of secret conspirators devoted to take down his own Nazi party, successfully detonating a suitcase bomb in Hitler’s presence. Originally believing they had killed Hitler, he and the other conspirators were quickly rounded up after it was revealed that Hitler had survived the blast. Just hours after the attempt, Stauffenberg would face a firing squad and die a failure. But as the authors point out, the legacy of his bravery lives on: “While it is nigh impossible to find a parent who will name their child Adolf, virtually every town in Germany has a street named Stauffenberg Strasse. This name can be found on streets in many other lands as well, particularly Israel. And the building where Stauffenberg died, once the stronghold of Nazi rule, now holds the German Resistance Memorial Center in honor of Claus von Stauffenberg and the others who joined him…” Stauffenberg didn’t make these sacrifices so he could be immortalized. But his life of sacrifice and suffering, when seen with the long-view in mind, was not a failure. His example inspired a nation to rise from the ashes of World War II, to become a functioning democracy and a global leader of the free world. Stauffenberg’s apparent failure had lasting positive impact.
Jesus was intent on leaving a legacy through his suffering that would infinitely surpass the earthly achievements and successes that he would have attained if he chose to avoid the cross. Jesus invites us to leave a legacy by taking up our crosses, dying to self, and trusting in God’s ability to bring life out of death. He isn’t demanding that we pursue suffering but reveals the inevitability of it when we follow him. The good news is that nothing in the hands of God is irredeemable: our losses, sacrifices, and apparent failures all have lasting value in this life and the next.
Something to Think About:
“If we follow Jesus’ path, coming to embrace both his practices and his person just as his first students did, we can expect similar outcomes: frustrated efforts and moments of deep disappointment, yet at the same time, a fullness of life and interaction beyond what most people can imagine—and also, without doubt, a legacy that endures long after we have left the stage” (The Revolutionary Communicator, 155).
Something to Do:
Have you ever thought about what you want people to say about you at the end of your life? Consider this spiritual exercise of writing your own obituary.
Father, I know my life does not belong to me. You send your Son to show humanity that losing our lives is the only way to find it. I pray for Christians around the world today, who face the reality that taking up their cross might literally lead them to physical harm. I pray for all believers, that we might dare to live today in step with the Spirit, knowing that the sacrifices we make in Christ have value for this life and the next. May your global body of believers leave a legacy of faith, hope, and love, pointing to you, Lord, the greatest love of all. Amen.