History was made last night. Beyond Barak Obama’s eloquent speech-making and the DNC’s elaborate stage-crafting, a black American accepting the nomination of his party as a candidate for the US Presidency was a moment not to be missed. Part of Martin Luther King’s dream was fulfilled 45 years to the day after his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. I was glad I could watch it. It also seems to me that John McCain’s selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was a stroke of genius in its own right. The “day after” timing wasn’t bad either.
What is at stake in this presidential race is nothing short of the leadership of the free world. I lead over 2500 people in what is known as a church, but leadership of the free world is a staggering concept. I have been thinking lately about my favorite 20th century political leader. He was actually not an American president, but British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. His leadership and rhetorical skills lifted his nation to prevail against almost insurmountable odds.
Oxford philosopher Isaiah Berlin characterized Churchill as a leader who lived with a vision (outdated as it was) of the glory of the British Empire. That vision of the empire’s world stature, Berlin postulated, caused him to impose his “imagination and his will upon his countrymen, [idealizing them] with such intensity that in the end they approached his ideal and began to see themselves as he saw them.” In doing so, he “transformed cowards into brave men.”
That is a stunning description of effective leadership. People do become what we believe them to be. As a Christ-follower and a leader, I too carry a vision of the glory of Christ’s coming and yet present Kingdom, a timeless vision of God’s ultimate supremacy and our participation in it. It is a vision that truly should lift people up and give them courage as they begin to see themselves as Christ sees them.
Leaders of the free world (and of churches!) need that kind of ‘world-class’ leadership — leadership centered in a visional glory that changes how people look at themselves and “transforms cowards into brave men.” Leadership like that requires more than just soaring rhetoric or administrative skill. It takes what sociologist David Riesman describes as Churchill’s ‘built-in gyroscope,” something at the core that guided him through chaos and towards his objective at a time when oppositional leaders were relying on a kind of “sociological radar” that looked to prevailing opinion to chart their course.
Yoriko (left) and Daisuke Yabuki
I’m in a McDonalds somewhere just outside of Tokyo where I could find some wireless internet access on a Saturday afternoon. I am with Sandi and speaking at a retreat for the Kanazawa church pastored by Yoriko’s father and brother. The church was actually pioneered years ago by Yoriko’s mom! You may recognize the picture. Yoriko and Daisuke (who are with us here) have been a part of Central the past couple of years while studying at AGTS. A couple of days ago I met with the Japanese missions board to explore a longer term partnership by which Yoriko and Daisuke will continue reaching Japanese people in the US (from Springfield) as Japan’s first missionaries to the US! It is all quite ground-breaking and exciting.
The people at the retreat are relationally gracious and spiritually passionate. A lot of young people especially. Believe it or not, the first of the morning services (today and tomorrow) start at 6:00 AM. Everyone is there and ready to go. I only have to speak at the second of the morning services at 9:30, thank God. These people really do go after God and we have had some great times already since starting yesterday. This morning the young people led worship again. The church here in Japan is facing the same issues as we do in America – how do we keep moving ahead in ways relevant to reaching a very non-Christian culture without alienating the existing traditional church in the process. How do we move forward and yet hold to the traditions that are still indespensible to our future?
This morning's worship leaders
There are huge missional challenges in Japan but this church at least is full of faith for the difference they can make. Already the church has spawned over thirty other pastors over the years. Now they are sending their own missionaries.
Thanks for you prayer for Sandi and me. We look forward to being back Tuesday night with a lot in our hearts for the Lord’s work at Cental and around the world.
Seaport Village in San Diego Harbor -- a favorite place
On vacation in the San Diego/Oceanside area recently I finished reading a physics book and then picked up Alan Greenspan’s new book “The Age of Turbulence.” The first half is interesting autobiography but the second half of the book is a fascinating analysis of free market capitalism in all of it’s forms (or non-forms) throughout the global economy. As I read I realized that Greenspan was actually talking about ‘values.’
Russia has for several generations viewed private ownership as ‘robbery’ and yet property rights are probably the most definitive factor in a culture’s ability to produce wealth. Japan has historically held to life-time employment at one company and face-saving behaviors that affect the business cycle and prolong economic recovery. France prefers ‘civility’ to the perceived recklessness of unregulated capitalism and so welcomes significant government regulation into business which, among other things, makes it very expensive for businesses to terminate non-productive employees.
- USS Midway Aircraft Carrier Museum in San Diego Harbor
Values form the underlying ethics that guide behavior. I also couldn’t help but think of the Sunday morning message series we are in the middle of right now at Central — our 4 core values as a church. They describe our spiritual DNA and profoundly affect our capacity to fulfill our mission. That mission, of course, is not to create wealth but to make disciples.
Our 4 values focus on being ‘generous, relational, outward and worshipful’ in all we are and in everything we do. Just like the huge aircraft carries in San Diego Harbor (I saw three of them while there), our values carry the payload of our identity and mission. They mean that we want to be known for what we give away (generous), we want to do mission together in community (relational), we want to be servants and not consumers (outward) and we want to know and love Jesus in the process (worshipful). Usually every year or two we look at these values sequentially on a series of Sunday mornings. They are among my favorite messages to work on because they are so bottom line to what Central is becoming. May they continue to be woven into the fabric of our spirituality.