Houston, we have a problem…

One of history’s great understatements.

It comes of course from Apollo 13′s mission to the moon, and was made famous by history and Hollywood.  Though credited to James Lovell, the phrase was originally issued from John Swigert Jr. on April 14th, 1970. I’m not a space historian, but it would seem the conversation went something like this…

Swigert:  ‘Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.’

NASA (Houston):  ‘This is Houston. Say again please.’

Lovell:  ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.’

This doesn’t sound like a big thing.  But it was.  Lives were at stake; a mission was at risk.  And leadership had to emerge from both ends of the problem to create hope.  Both ends.

When situations forbid problem solving from multiples ends, missions will suffer, and lives could be lost.  It’s true in business, in families, and government (I know, if only…).  It’s true in the church as well.

Gaius (one of the most common names in the first century world) and his congregation had an all too common problem:  their mission of supporting those on mission was jeopardized by a self-commissioned leader.  His name was Diotrephes, meaning “suckled by Zeus” (no really… so I’ll just call him Mr. D.).  Mr. D’s leadership style was “me, me, and only me”.  3 John 9 states that he loved to be first and would have nothing to do with the Apostle John.

So… what happens in your head to reach the notion that you don’t require input from others on important issues, especially when it comes from one of the twelve apostles?  I mean, who else won’t you listen to?

This was common man versus uncommon delusion.

Mr. D. rejected other’s input, rejected apostolic authority, rejected those in need who we’re on mission for the Christ he claimed to serve, and rejected those who rejected him.  All in all, not a fun guy.

They had a problem.  How do you know if you have one?

John was a pretty simple fellow:  “Anyone who does what is good is from God.  Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.”  It’s the old “you’ll know a tree by its fruit” recast.  If leadership doesn’t listen, has no authority figure, has a loose tongue, is inhospitable, and rejects any/all who don’t agree, that’s bad leadership according to John.  I think it still is.  And just as the apostle pledged to call attention to the problem, you may need to call attention to yours.  Because so much is at stake.

If you are a leader, does a hard look in the mirror suggest any similarities between you and Mr. D?  Are you helping the “Gaiuses” of the world or making it hard for them?  If you were to interview Mr. D. he’d likely couch his actions within language such as “its best for the church” or “I really do love Gaius and his efforts, but these kinds of things are a waste of resources“.

John saw through that.  The problem with Mr. D. was simply this:  he loved to be first.

What do you love?  I hope it’s not to be first for two very important reasons:

  • first theological – Jesus taught that those wanting to be first should become last and take up the role of servant hood, just as He came to serve rather than to be served
  • second statistical – As one of my favorite de-motivational posters states:  “For every winner, there are dozens of losers.  Odds are you’re one of them.”

The lessons of 3 John are worth considering.  They suggest a gut-check regarding your consideration of others, your care of others, and your help of others.  And those are all leadership issues.

It’s doubtful you can be in first place and be successful at all three.  But then again, maybe first place isn’t really… first.


Love’s “Click”

I have a lock on all my doors.  And I use them.  I’m thinking you do too.

Fact is, I’m quite choosy about who gets into my house.  Family, friends and well meaning visitors are always welcome.  But there are those who will find it hard to gain admittance:  salesmen only after a sale, strangers I don’t know, criminals, wild animals, etc.  They will find the door locked.

The more I think about it, I suppose more people have been locked out of my house than have been let in.  Why?  Because I value what’s within.  I value my family, our memories, and our stuff (stuff last).  You may be the same.

Value applies criteria to the privilege of admission.

This informs our definition of love.  The apostle John is well known for his big picture view of God and faith.  And love lies at the center of that definition.  But make no mistake – love, for John, has clear criteria.  When it comes to love of God, it means to follow His commands as expressed through Christ (1 John 5:3).  When it comes to love of others, it means to love God (2 John 6).  Love has little to do with our cultural concept of something that you fall into (and later, at a convenient time – fall back out of).  No, it’s more like something you step into with full force of will, and remain in because of clear criteria.

You “love” your teeth so you go to the Dentist.  You “love” your child so you raise them with discipline.  You “love” being connected 24/7, so you buy a Smartphone.   Hi speed oral drills, discipline, and giving away cash, have little to do with feeling good.  They are the criteria of admission.

And 2 John has something to say about admission to your home.  If someone comes to your “front door” with these credentials, don’t let them in if you love God and you value what’s behind your door:

  • a deceiver who is anti-Christ (this is not some person dressed in red with horns and fangs, but rather someone who does not hold to the life, mission, sacrifice, and resurrection of Christ – they are “anti” Christ), AND…
  • they are a teacher of the anti-Christ concept (they are not interested in having a conversation with you; they are interested in destroying your faith by subtle or not-so-subtle means)

This is someone with something to sell.  Something that is anti Christ.  Don’t buy.  Don’t even open the door.

In the late first century AD, this was a growing problem.  People had become “so much smarter” in the nineties than they were in the sixties (AD) that they had run ahead of the teaching of Christ.  Kind of reminds me of how our culture today thinks about the nineties (as in 1990s) – “what did we do before the internet?“  A little historically untested knowledge can make anyone think they’re more sophisticated than they really are.  And by the way, we did a lot.

Back to the nineties – religious salesmen were showing up at churches/believers “front doors” with new knowledge to teach.  John’s word sounds unloving:  “don’t let them in/don’t welcome them“.  But in reality, it was very loving for those who lived within.

I don’t think I know person who loves strangers with bad intent coming to their front door.  But I know many (including myself) who pay money to have such strangers bypass our front door entirely and stand right before those we love most, and speak anti-Christ.  They come in through cable, satellite, radio, internet, literature, books, etc.  The front door has changed.  Are we paying attention?

Have you listened to what you’re laughing at?  Is what you’re paying for something that does not “have God“?  Are we loving our families?  Are we loving God?  Or should we be a tad more willing to lock the door?

This begs another question.  Do you know the criteria of admission?  Do you know the commands of Christ in the first place?  In true love, as in most enduring areas of life, content is king.  What you know matters.  Knowing what Christ commands (what God desires) enables you to know when to turn the lock of love.  So study, learn, and turn.

I’m still listening… for the click of love.  Maybe we can encourage each other to turn that lock.



That’s what Vizzini repeatedly exclaimed as the Dread Pirate Roberts advanced on his well-oiled kidnapping of the lovely Buttercup (The Princess Bride).  After the apparent incongruence of the word’s repetition and the obvious closing of the gap that existed between the two parties settled in, Inigo Montoya (the Spaniard Swordsman) finally responded – “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I think the same could be said for leadership.  There’s often an apparent gap between popular or “successful” leaders and good ones.  It can be frustrating to know who to follow; who to believe.

The residual questions remain… How do you influence others?  How do you guide through an ethical dilemma?  How do you urge redemptive progress in a deep canyon of unmovable circumstance?  How do you build reliable superstructure on the quicksand of poor decision making?

These are issues leaders constantly face (you may face them).  Some appear better than others.

Some seem to lead with a chainsaw (see Al Dunlap, ex-CEO of Sunbeam).  Others appear to lead with victory and diversion (see Lance Armstrong, ex-7 time winner of the Tour de France).  The fact of the matter is this – it’s often hard to tell a good leadership “engine” from a bad one until it’s got a lot of miles on it, and you have a chance to “pop the hood” and learn how it really works.

Time will tell.  Maybe we should be slower to emulate until we have time to extrapolate.

The Apostle Paul ranks pretty high on the historical leadership chart.  His “engine” acquired a lot of miles.  With the hood closed, you’d tend to see him as harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving… an emotional IQ of “0”.  If you like his level of success, it’d be easy to make that approach your own, thinking to yourself “if I’m the same way, I can get things done, move people, and change the world!”

Read Philemon first.

In it we find clues as to how the engine of Paul’s leadership really worked.  He found himself in between a run-away slave, an angry owner, the bizarre ethics of slavery as an accepted culture in the ancient Roman world, and a freshly minted follower of Christ in Onesimus – wondering if change mattered.

This letter ‘pops the hood’ and lets you see beneath the appearance of how Paul led to how he actually led.  You might be surprised at the differences.

Specifically, that he led with relationship – the letter is laced with the request of one man toward another based on partnership, friendship, fellowship, and gratitude.  Philemon wasn’t merely an employee or church member to Paul.  He was known by Paul.  And on that basis Paul requested cooperation and forgiveness on behalf of another.  Paul didn’t just know Philemon.  He had served Philemon.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… Who are you presently serving?

He also led with product – the heart of the letter concerns a run-away slave who’d been changed in a way most of us need to be changed: from “how can I escape?” to “how can I do what’s right?” Nothing helps a matter more than actual product.  Superior to marketing, diversion, and political pressure, true product influences.  Content is king.  Paul didn’t change the world with religious sleight-of-hand.  He changed it with reformed men.  His “product” wasn’t preaching.  His product was embedded in his message – the power of Christ to change lives from the inside out and alter character.  He could’ve tried to change the system.  Instead he focused on people who make and unmake the system.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… What are you relying on to create change?

And he led others with trust – Paul sends a transformed slave home to face the unknown; and it could have gone badly.  He sends him home with trust.  He extends confidence to a man who had a choice.  But he does so with trust that his request will be honored because of the relationship and the product.  He had confidence Philemon would do what he asked and more.  And I think he did just that.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… What level of trust are you offering?

I’m thinking about the last picture above.  Could be you or me.  There are a lot of leaders out there; lots of models to choose from.  Choose wisely and change your world.  But some of the best leadership happens “under the hood” or behind the scenes.  So lead on… where it counts.