Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

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Vision: further reflections on the corporate mystic

In art,blogging,Books,business,Community,devotional,Fun,generosity,leadership,principles,Theology on December 5, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged:

“One can’t believe impossible things.” “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age I always did it for a half-an-hour a day. Why, I sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” -Lewis Carroll

The first time I heard this quote was at least four years ago when my oldest daughter was doing Through The Looking Hlass at Stone Soup Theater camp. Even as I read it I hear her voice from practicing the part, still causes me concern that it was the Queen who said it, such an angry ambitious woman sure for it right when it comes to vision. Perhaps that is why she was as successful as she was.

Science fiction is very helpful to me in this area of vision. An exercise I attempt daily is to think about something I have seen or read about that I want to become real. One example from my work is translation via telepathy. That one should be able to merely think of the words desired to be translated which would be shared telepathically with the translator and returned. Wrestle through this long enough and other creative interesting ideas and new methods will emerge, and perhaps one day it may be possible.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” -Albert Einstein

There must be space in our lives carved out for this purpose. For me it begins with having daily goals clearly defined, if the minimum requirements for success in a day are not defined by me early in the day I will find time for nothing more then trying to remain busy. Once I know the three to five things I need to accomplish in a day I feel the freedom to dream. Whether I have scheduled that half hour or more does not make a difference and as a matter of fact often I cannot schedule it because the time is inspired from ideas that I a playing with related to other more concrete tasks.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney

There are so many wonderful things yet to be done in this world, why not be a part of it. It begins with your thought life. It is hard to battle through the negative records that play in your head as Anne Lamot says, One tells you that you are the greatest thing in the world and the other tells you that you are worthless both are lies and the truth exists in the silence. Discover who you really have been create to be, take a moment to dream about be the world could be better, then prayfully move into a world that is waiting for your unique contribution. We all will be better for it.

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Corporate Mystic: The person we want to be

In art,Books,business,Community,culture,devotional,faith,familiy,family,Fun,generosity,leadership,Prayer,principles,Spiritual,Sports,Theology on November 30, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , ,

“The less effort, the faster and more powerful you will be.” – Bruce Lee

Twelve characteristics make up the corporate mystic:
Absolute Honesty
Fair
Self-Knowledge
Focused on contribution
Nondogmatic spirituality
Get more done by doing less
Call forth the best of themselves and others
Open to change
Special sense if humor
Keen distant vision and up-close focus
Unusual self discipline
Balance

I hope to come back to these and examine each more deeply but I’ll leave you with this story…

“Master,” said the student, “where do you get your spiritual power?”
“From being connected to the source,” said the master.
“You are connected to the source of Zen?”
“Beyond that,”said the master, “I am Zen. The connection is complete.”
“But isn’t that arrogant to claim connection with the source?” Asked the student.
“Far from it,” said the master. “It is arrogant not to claim connection with the source. Everything is connected. If you think you are not connected to the source you are thumbing your nose at the universe itself.”

Don’t forget the source.

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Continuing with the animal theme

In Bible,Community,devotional,faith,family,generosity,home,leadership,mission,principles,quote,Spiritual,Theology,Uncategorized,work on November 13, 2012 by mstevensrev

ImageThis morning I read Geoffrey James article, The Power of Determinationand was inspired.  There are many challenging things happening in our world, both personally and to friends that are very close to me. “So, even if it feels like God has flushed you down the toilet, pick yourself up and keep going. As long as you’re alive and kicking, there’s always a chance that God will pick you up and bring you to a place of safety.” I recognize that my current challenges pale in comparison to the circumstance others are facing in this world.  While I may be able to do little to improve their life I can be faithful and determined in my circumstances, then live with an awareness of their plight so that if circumstances allow I may be generous with all that I have been give.  The scriptures tell us that we (people) are but a breath, therefore whatever challenging circumstances we face today are less than a breath.  Remember 1 Cor. 13:13, And now these three remain faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

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The (free-range) Chicken Theology of Work

In art,Bible,church,Community,culture,design,devotional,Evangelist,faith,familiy,food,Friends,Fun,Japan,Localization,mission,movies,Prayer,principles,Spiritual,Theology,Uncategorized,work on November 11, 2012 by mstevensrev


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My theology of work is forever changing and evolving, and one place that I journey with others on this path is at Kiros, once or twice a month depending on my travel schedule I attended the breakfasts meetings they put on where they often have a speaker share some perspective on living out their calling as a Christian in the marketplace.  As a side note I also had the privilege of speaking to the group last March, if you want to check that our it is here.  This last Friday Richard Mouw of Fuller Seminary provided one of the best talks I have heard on the topic, his stories had us rolling on the floor, his theology was simple enough a child could understand while making thoughtful people think, and his love of the scriptures came through as everything was driven by the text.  The premise of Richard’s talk was very simple, you have been called by God to your work and you have the opportunity to examine that calling in this life to better understand your ‘responsibility’ to live out that calling in your fullness.

There were so many rich stories to share but my favorite was one Richard shared about a friend who is a chicken farmer who examined his role in the plan God has in raising chickens on his farm.  There is a tension when you come to farming or the role animals have on this earth and the tension is this: Animals are not people and animals have not merely been created to serve our purposes.  Another way to say this is a chicken won’t write Shakespeare, but a chicken is not merely a piece of meat.  Therefore this farmer thought deeply about the theology of raising chickens.  He came up with this, “God wants every chicken on our farm to have the opportunity to strut his/her chicken self infront of the other chickens.” In that theology I hear echos of the local farm movement as described to me by Mark Canlis, that the goals of these farmers is to have their cows (or other animals) only have one “bad day” in their life.  That day would be the day they are slaughtered. Though the image Richard provided me was so much more winsome because I see in my mind that chicken strutting around, rather than focusing on the bloody chopping block.

This can be a helpful premise for chickens, but I propose that people cannot think deeply about these issues because we don’t recognize that we have been created to strut the glory in which we have been created, theologians refer to this as being created in the image of God. Marianne Williamson was famously quoted in a speech by Nelson Mandela, she says,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measureIt is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The knee jerk reaction people, especially from my theological tradition have, to this kind of thinking is that we are sinful therefore pride and arrogance must be guarded against. This warning is fair but it sets up a false choice between humility and glory.  Jesus lived in the fullness of God and yet was extremely humble.  He accepted all people as equal, he did not use them as means to an end, the only part I would add to our responsibility in the area of humility is that we recognize that we are wrong intentionally because of bad motives and unintentionally whereas Jesus did not have this struggle because he was God…he was perfect. One friend of mine says, “I’m wrong 50% of the time, the hard part is that I don’t even know which 50%, but God is making me better.”  Live out in the glory that you have been created in, be quick to acknowledge when you fail at it, and in gratitude acknowledge that the source of every good gift in your life is not your own but rather a gift from God.

The question that Richard’s (free-range) Chicken Theology brought up for me is, how do you apply this in the darkest valley’s of your career and work? In the past two years before my current job I walked through a few of those valleys, the struggle of broken promises that would not reward me for my work, getting fired, and having a job where I felt lonely and hopeless.  How do you strut your stuff in those circumstance? I asked the question and Richard’s answer was twofold as I understood it, in thinking about it I think there may be at least third option as I understand it.

Richard said first your current circumstances may be preparation for the next step.  This rang true for me because I look back on the last two years and acknowledge that I would not be currently living in such glory without all that I had gone through.  The experience humbled me, gave me fearful experiences that I persevered through, and provided tangible knowledge that assists me daily in my current job.  Learn everything you can if you are going through a hard time, examine your character, life and work for there could be something on the horizon you are completely unaware of that will be a blessing.  This answer provides hope, but the truth is like a chicken we are completely ignorant if our future date is the chopping block.  And yes I know that even for the child of God the chopping block is not the end of the story because there is greater glory beyond, but I still find this answer a part of the overall answer rather then complete.

The second answer Richard provided is that your vocation could be less then the sum total of your calling.  Our callings are greater than our work, I sell therefore I am a salesperson yet I am a father, husband, churchman, and the list goes on and on.  Perhaps your work is merely a platform that provides you the freedom to pursue the other callings in your life with greater glory. I have met many people in my life that this is the circumstances they live in, they are lawyers but their passion is to see the gospel forwarded in particular countries in the world like China.  The short side of this answer as complete is that we were created in a garden where all aspects of life were intended to work for God’s glory, so when we set create an arbitrary distinction between our work life and home life, for instance, it is impossible to live as God intended…as a whole person.  I know for me personally when my work life was hopeless it was very difficult to enjoy my time at the park with my children, most of my conversations with my wife were in tears clouded by depression.  This is why I contend again that work as a platform merely for the rest of our life falls short in allowing us to live gloriously.

A third option I want to propose does not answer the question fully either. As a matter of fact I sense that used incorrectly it could be the most damaging of the the options as it is the most deterministic and could create an undeserved heavier burden on someone already struggling. This option is the most Taoist or Confucius of the options, and because of that I think it is the most practical (in touch with how the world really functions and how our role relates to that functioning).

A documentary came out recently titled, Jiro dream of Sushi “by David Gelb takes a look at the work and life of Jiro Ono, a Michelin three-star sushi chef who, at 85 years of age, continues to work on his craft every day at his tiny restaurant in a Tokyo office building basement opposite a subway station entrance. His colleagues, his country, and at least one very knowledgeable food writer recognize him as perhaps the greatest sushi chef alive.” This description is taken from an article on Lifehacker by Maximiliano El Nerdo Nérdez.  In the article titled Lessons We can Learn from Jiro Ono, Maximiliano encourages readers as his first point to fall in love with your work.

“Once you decide on your occupation,” says Jiro, “you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Deciding on your occupation is a challenge for we live in a society that provides the opportunity to live in reasonable comfort regardless of your job or if it is in line with your calling.  The hard work is not finding a job, it is discovering calling…once your calling is discovered or rather accepted (if you are a Calvinist) then the path of occupation is more clear though it may be a difficult path.  Part of my calling is as an evangelist, meant that for a time my occupation would place me circumstances to lead people to a similar vision of my spiritual practice though for most people I talked with they would not share the same vision.  So I became a pastor of a church in Oakland, CA.  The church had financial challenges from before I started there, attendance was poor, and it was in a city that was not necessarily supportive of the entire scope of work we were pursing.  The path for me as an evangelist was not easy.  Now that I am in technology services my calling as an evangelist has not changed, but the path is much easier in many ways, and the path still allows me to live out my glorious calling while dedicating myself in excellence to my occupation.

Today I want to encourage everyone, strut your stuff in front of us other chickens. If you are in a dark valley, remember your current occupation (or lack of occupation) could be a learning step, a platform for other work, or the place you have been given to dedicate yourself.  Even as I write that I believe the answer is all three not merely one or another.  When I worked in a church we began each service with a call to worship, and I would frame the call to worship and the entire service with these words, “The good news for those God loves is that he has the first word to us and that first word is always blessing. God loves you and has made you in his glory! The good news does not end there rather God has the first word and the last word.  The last word of those God loves is also blessing, you have been delivered.” So regardless of your circumstance remember you have been created for glory and you will be delivered unto glory. Amen.

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Starbucks’ amazing marketing and happy election day

In advertising,art,blogging,Blue Monster,Community,culture,design,faith,familiy,Friends,Fun,mission,politics,principles,publicity,Theology,Uncategorized,work on November 6, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , , ,

Living in Seattle I am very accustom to hearing people criticize Starbucks, my thoughts on the topic of coffee are that I prefer how other companies roast their beans. Therefore it is aesthetic not cynical in my critique.

ImageOne thing I am blown away with regarding Starbucks is the sophistication with their marketing.  Today I am in Redwood Shores, CA working at a Starbucks before my appointments.  The baristia offered me a ‘free’ bracelet that clearly has $5 donation marked on it, my defenses went up and I started trying to uncover the angel.  The bracelets are for Let’s Create Jobs for USA, a campaign sponsored by Howard Schultz and others that has raised $15M and leveraged $105M, estimating 5,000 jobs created for small business in the USA.  Since it is election day they are giving the bracelets away for free.  This ‘gift’ took me from being someone who would never donate to the cause to someone not just interested in donating but blogging on it.  Brilliant.

This is a corporation taking advantage of a term I learned from Hugh MacLeod @gapingvoid, check out his article on “Social Objects are the future of marketing.” Hugh states:

The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the rea­son two peo­ple are tal­king to each other, as oppo­sed to tal­king to some­body else. Human beings are social ani­mals. We like to socia­lize. But if you think about it, there needs to be a rea­son for it to hap­pen in the first place. That rea­son, that “node” in the social net­work, is what we call the Social Object.

I’m wearing my bracelet, talking with those around me at Starbucks about it, and will wear it to my appointments this afternoon sharing my experience.  The ‘gift’ Starbucks provided me today is not only the bracelet but the opportunity to be part of a story that is larger than myself…that is impacting the world for good.  This is something that we all should inspire to provide the people around us. There is a place for companies to provide something for free, if that is all you do you are not a company rather a charity (and that is good too).  Starbucks used a social object to engage me on a cause but also it helps change a brand that I do not have the most favorable feelings toward.

So on this election day that is filled with disgusting shit on all sides, make a positive difference.  Inspire something larger than yourself to impact the world for good.  Perhaps it means not having the shitty conversation with someone who may think differently then you, or maybe it is something else.  Do your civic duty and vote, then go hug someone you love and let them know how grateful you are for them.

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Growing into the person you have been created to be

In art,Bible,Books,business,church,culture,devotional,Evangelist,faith,familiy,Friends,Fun,fun video,leadership,Lord of the Rings,movies,principles,Proverbs,Reading,Theology,Uncategorized on November 4, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , ,

During the past week I have been thinking through many of the experiences of my life that have been used to bring me to where I am at. This morning as I am reading I came across a passage in 1 Samuel 21, that clearly reminded me of something out of Lord of the Rings, and it was a passage of scripture that I never have remembered reading.

In a previous post I spoke about King Saul, who had been chosen the leader of God’s people Israel really for no other apparent reason other than God chose him by placing God’s Spirit upon Saul.  Later in the story a new King (a different King) is ordained and the Spirit of God leaves Saul, only returning temporarily in the story.  The kingship essentially is passed on to a young boy named David.  Now just about everyone in western culture knows of David because of the story of David versus Goliath. In a battle between God’s people and their most brutal enemies, the Philistines,  a bet is made to decide the war, instead of all the warriors fighting the Philistines make an offer that if an Israelite warrior can defeat the best of the best of the Philistines it will settle the dispute.  Sounds like a good way to spear blood shed the only problem is the Philistines have a weapon of mass destruction named Goliath. He is essentially an indestructible giant that leads God’s people into fear and cowardliness. Except for one pre-pubescent boy named David, who as everyone can remember defeats Goliath by relying on God and using a slingshot an one stone.  This is often used culturally as a parable on bravery, when it is actually a story of relying on the work of a powerful God in impossible circumstances. Through the event David is thrust into popularity that creates almost constant tension between the old King, Saul, and the newly ordained not yet King, David.  Multiple times Saul tries to kill David, and the story I’m about to share takes place after one particularly intense attempt on David’s life by Saul where David flees.

While on the road David and his men are starving so he stops in to see Ahimelech the priest for some food. The part of the story that gets most of the attention is Ahimelech the priest allows David and his men to eat the holy bread, a big no no.  Then Ahimelech realizes David has no weapons:

8 Then David said to Ahimelech, “Then have you not here a spear or a sword at hand? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste” 9 And the priest said, c “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you struck down ind the Valley of Elah, behold, it is here wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it, for there is none but that here” And David said, “There is none like that; give it to me”

The sword that David won in battle during his youth, is only given to him once he becomes a man.  There is no explanation as Ahimelech just provides it.  The part of the story that is not mentioned other then not being given a reason that David didn’t know about this sword beforehand or already have it, is that it appears David is now ‘big’ enough for the sword.  Going back and reading the story of David and Goliath reminds us that Goliath was a giant, therefore Goliath would have possessed a sword worth of his stature.

In my minds eye I never picture David as a large man, actually after reading this morning I realized that most of my images of David depict him as a handsome late teenager or twenty year old of average stature.  I’m uncertain of any descriptions of David’s stature later in his life but there are many details that provided this picture for my mind: in spite of being a successful warrior David was a musician and poet, David had a way with the ladies, and David had a deeply intimate emotional relationship with Saul’s son Jonathan.  All these details combined with being introduced to David when he is a boy have lead me to always picture him as a smaller man, until now.  In this story he is handed Goliath’s sword without concern that he is ‘big’ enough to yield it when necessary.  David has physically grown into the great manly character he demonstrated as a youth when he defeated Goliath.

This morning I am struck with the connection to the story line in The Lord of the Rings, where Aragorn the misanthrope ranger, who is a human son of the king of Gondor destined to lead the Kingdom of Men into prominence in Middle Earth, receives Anduril.  The sword that defeated Sauron in the ancient epic battle of middle earth that freed the ring of destiny from the possession of the evil King Sauron. Embedded in this post is the scene where Aragorn is given Anduril.  This is a picture I have of David receiving Goliath’s sword from 1 Samuel.

One other brief note on this is related to David’s use or lack there of use of the sword.  After being handed it I would be very excited to go out and yield it at the first opportunity.  Yet David does not, he understands that God has given him many ‘swords’ at the moment and in the next conflict he is faced with he does not use Goliath’s sword as justification that God intends him to go and start a fight with all those who oppose him.  David understands that just because you have the sword doesn’t mean that you are meant to use it.

12 And David g took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them and pretended to be insane in their hands and made marks on the doors of the gate and let his spittle run down his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man is mad. Why then have you brought him to me? 15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this fellow to behave as a madman in my presence? Shall this fellow come into my house?”

David when faced with conflict while holding Goliath’s sword at his side, uses his cleverness to avoid getting killed by Achish by acting crazy.  It reminds me of a friend’s explanation of wisdom, “Wisdom is not merely knowing the correct action to take, but rather the correct action at the appropriate time.”  Everyone has a destiny, something that you have been created to do, embrace it.  When you are given a physical reminder of that destiny use wisdom because possession of the great gift does not necessarily mean that you are meant to use it in that circumstance.

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Not another blog post on leadership, ugh

In Bible,Books,business,Community,culture,devotional,faith,leadership,principles,Theology,Uncategorized,work on October 30, 2012 by mstevensrev Tagged: , , , ,

Leadership is such a popular topic that for me it is beginning to lose any meaning.  Organizations that I respect like Amazon.com use it as core to their hiring practices, just check out their values and Jeff Bezo’s ten leadership principles that never go out of style.  Over the years I have spent a ton of time learning and studying the topic, I have The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell and other books on the topic right next to my desk in the office.  Continually I go back and forth with embracing these ideas as a rule of life and going contrarian to the popular thinking.  Needless to say I am still learning and somewhat tormented with the concept of leadership.

This ambiguity increased when I read a story this morning from 1 Samuel 10 about the anointing of King Saul:

10 1-2 Then Samuel took a flask of oil, poured it on Saul’s head, and kissed him. He said, “Do you see what this means? God has anointed you prince over his people.“This sign will confirm God’s anointing of you as prince over his inheritance: After you leave me today, as you get closer to your home country of Benjamin, you’ll meet two men near Rachel’s Tomb. They’ll say, ‘The donkeys you went to look for are found. Your father has forgotten about the donkeys and is worried about you, wringing his hands—quite beside himself!’3-4 “Leaving there, you’ll arrive at the Oak of Tabor. There you’ll meet three men going up to worship God at Bethel. One will be carrying three young goats, another carrying three sacks of bread, and the third a jug of wine. They’ll say, ‘Hello, how are you?’ and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept.5-6 “Next, you’ll come to Gibeah of God, where there’s a Philistine garrison. As you approach the town, you’ll run into a bunch of prophets coming down from the shrine, playing harps and tambourines, flutes and drums. And they’ll be prophesying. Before you know it, the Spirit ofGod will come on you and you’ll be prophesying right along with them. And you’ll be transformed. You’ll be a new person!“When these confirming signs are accomplished, you’ll know that you’re ready: Whatever job you’re given to do, do it. God is with you!“Now, go down to Gilgal and I will follow. I’ll come down and join you in worship by sacrificing burnt offerings and peace offerings. Wait seven days. Then I’ll come and tell you what to do next.”Saul turned and left Samuel. At that very moment God transformed him—made him a new person! And all the confirming signs took place the same day.

The background of the story is rich, the nation of Israel had a long string of bad leaders called judges, the people began to bitch about wanting a king like other nations because they though that would be best, finally God relented giving them what they asked for, and Saul a really tall good looking young man is anointed king of the nation. This morning as I read the story I was struck with how little Saul did to become their leader.  He was lost looking for his father’s donkey’s when the prophet Samuel finds him and anoints him, Saul did nothing. Then God orchestrates a number of signs for Saul to confirm the anointing: finding the lost ass, people giving him bread, and even an ancient rave with a bunch a prophets where Saul prophesies as if he is a holy man.  All of this happen ‘to’ Saul but most striking to me is, “When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart.

Saul had nothing to do with getting into leadership and this flies in the face of popular theory I have studied and the theological concept of servant leadership.  Saul was neither a great leader nor a servant, rather Saul’s life (and heart) were consumed by a powerful and living God in order to lead.  Even as I write this I know that I should not be surprised as David, the greatest leader ever to live, was nicknamed a man after God’s own heart.  God raises up leaders as fit for God’s plans. As a side note it is no wonder that followers of God are admonished to pray for our leaders, if God has placed them there we are to pray whether they are a blessing or a curse to us personally they are part of God’s greater plan.  This is key to have in mind during this election process in the United States, more prayer and less banter.

To borrow some of the best thoughts I have heard recently on leadership I want to share a sermon from St. Pauls Church Seattle, Rev. Melissa M. Skelton is one of the best leaders inside or outside the church I have ever had the privilege to meet.  Her sermon two weeks ago said this:

Robert Greenleaf, a retired AT&T Executive, championed a similar model of leadership during a time when more authoritarian models of leadership dominated corporate life. In his thin little pamphlet entitled The Servant as Leader, Greenleaf, consistent with his title, wrote not about the Leader as Servant but about the Servant as Leader—a crucial distinction for him. Greenleaf says this: “The servant-leader is servant first… Becoming a servant-leader begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first… The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and the most difficult to administer, is this: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants?” Check out the entire manuscript of the sermon here.

Personally I will continue to wander through the waters of what it means to lead.  I will pray for leaders, I will pray that God will ‘change my heart’, and I will evaluate my life through the lens of whether those I serve are more likely themselves to become servants.