Sunday, June 17, 2007

The way up is down

We were blessed to have STM's TEE Director Sarah Yap preach to us today from 2 passages: Mark 9:33-37 and 10:35-45. The theme of the sermon is leadership.

Mark 9:33-37 (NASB)
33They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, "What were you discussing on the way?"
34But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.
35Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all."
36Taking a child, He set him before them, and taking him in His arms, He said to them,
37"Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me."

Mark 10:35-45 (NASB)
35James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You."
36And He said to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?"
37They said to Him, "Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory."
38But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"
39They said to Him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.
40"But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
41Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John.
42Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them.
43"But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant;
44and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.
45"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

These 2 passages took place right after Jesus spoke about his death. It is ironic that when Jesus talked about dying, the disciples wrestled with greatness.

Henri Nouwen in his book In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership discussed the 3 great temptations on Christian leadership.

1. The desire to be relevant
We usually want to be relevant, competent and professional in what we do, driving towards accomplishments. In church ministry, competence will get you pass the door but that's about it. It takes more than competent to make you carry on.

Sarah brought us through a brief look at the history of leadership literature in the market. If we were to look at the publishing of such leadership books in the market, the defining title in the 1980s is definitely Tom Peters In Search of Excellence. But with the many business failures thereafter, there is a need for a new model of leadership. The leadership books of the 1990s were led by Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And in the 2000s, it is back to square one with Covey's The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. Such irony.

2. The desire to be spectacular
Sometimes our serving of the Lord stems from mixed motives. We need to keep it in check so that we will not rob God of his glory. There is this "dark side of leadership", pride: something we really must be careful of, that we do not gain glory for ourselves but for God. Indeed not an easy thing to do.

3. The desire to be powerful
It is the amazing paradox that Jesus gives us: to be the first, we must first be the last. The truth is, to be powerful is a cheap substitute for the hard task of love. In other words, loving is hard work, being powerful is easier.

Sarah then concludes with a reference to a really beautiful psalm.

Psalm 131 (NASB)
A Song of Ascents, of David.
1O LORD, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
.........Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
.........Or in things too difficult for me.
2Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
.........Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
.........My soul is like a weaned child within me.
3O Israel, hope in the LORD
.........From this time forth and forever.

This is a song written by David, though king was humbled as a child before God.

Nor my eyes haughty: his eyes are not lifted up to see only the honoured but focussed on the Lord. He does not undervalue or overvalue people.

Nor do I involved myself in great matters,or in things too difficult for me: David is not preoccuppied by anything great but God.

Like a weaned child: just like a 3 or 4 year old child weaned from his mother, David is composed, quiet and secure. Just like the child's relationship with the mother, David has a strong bond with God, having fed on his word and being in his presence.

Hope in the Lord: hope, the anchor of the soul (Heb 6:19).



  1. Nouwen's opposites are also true:

    1. Uniqueness vs Relevance: My greatest challenge is to be the unique leader that He has made me to be.

    2. Quietness vs Spectacular: It is so hard to not self-promote and patiently wait for God to raise you up.

    3. Inner Power vs Outer Power: So often I want to be powerful in a visible way and forget that true power lies within us.

  2. Thanks KB,
    I have not read Nouwen's book, and yes,I can see they are true. I think it is not easy to practice being unique, quiet and powerless in our working world. Being relevant, spectacular and powerful is more fruitful than unique,quiet and powerless. And yet I am being more unique, quiet and powerless than relevant, spectacular and powerful, and therefore getting nowhere. Which is why I keep reminding myself of the eternity God has placed in my heart.

  3. Pearlie,
    This is so true! It's so hard to go against the grain.

  4. I love that eternity in our heart (hard one to get our head around) and that there is more to life than these few years on earth.

    Blessings, Bob

  5. hard one to get our head around
    Haha ... that is why I keep drumming it into my head by talking about all the time :)