Unsafe and Good

“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” ~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Teaching leadership is big business, and for good reason. Civilizations rise and fall on the tide of leadership – as God wills. There are hordes of books on leadership, some good and some not so good. I don’t claim to be a leadership expert.

But I have noticed something.

First, people want their leader to be predictable. When a boss of a company has random moods and changes his mind like the weather, the team wonders what version they’ll get today. This hurts morale, as the goal becomes peacekeeping or a minimization of volatility. It’s natural. The more predictable a leader is, the more her team will be at ease and the more trust will grow.

Second, a good leader is predictable but a great leader is good. And thus, the great leader may be wildly unpredictable – dangerous even. When playing in junior varsity, predictable leadership is better than most. But when it comes to leading well, it takes goodness of character. A leader must have a heart set upon a rock.

Consider Jesus. No one knew what he would say or do next. For example, when he rebuked the storm. The disciples were freaking out – and for good reason. These were experienced watermen. This was not their first rodeo. The storm was raging and their boat was in danger of capsizing. Meanwhile, Jesus sleeps. When they rustle him awake and beg for salvation, he rebukes the storm but he also rebukes them for their lack of faith. That’s always confused me. These guys know Jesus is powerful and beg him for help and he rebukes their faithlessness. Remember, he’s unpredictable, but good.

The heart is the heart of the matter. With leadership, we look inside the chest of the leader. A man bent on fame, riches, or power will lead horribly even if he is sharply trained. An ordinary man with a heart set upon the eternal things of God and a conviction to match can take on the world.

This isn’t about leadership. This is about who we will follow. Our earthly leaders will be a mix of train wrecks and saints. And we should do our best to follow them and honor them and pray for them. But they do not lead your heart, or at least they shouldn’t.

When we put our heart in someone’s hands, they better be the right someone. And here is where we must consider the dangerous and good nature of Jesus. He is unsafe because he has the power to calm storms with a raised voice. He raises people from the dead, himself included. His power is like that of a tornado – you want to watch but you don’t want to stand in its path. But unlike a tornado, which goes this way and that destroying stuff without a brain, Jesus’ power is leveraged perfectly in pursuit of those things that are for his glory and our good. It’s pretty scary nonetheless, but we can trust him.

The worst leader of all stares at me in the mirror when I brush my teeth. When we decide we belong on the throne of leadership of our life, and we grab our bootstraps and make these self-determined actions that will guide us to a certain future, we are like a kid building a crude sandcastle just before the tide comes in and washes his empire away. That’s James 4:13-16. Don’t abdicate your personal responsibility over your life – you are indeed the one who must act. But if you determine your course based upon your own good ideas, you’ll navigate yourself into foolishness, destruction, or if you are successful, pride.

If you follow Jesus, you can rest assured you’ll experience fear and frustration that you aren’t in control. You will be pushed into situations beyond your ability and certainly beyond your threshold for discomfort. But if you follow Jesus, you’ll follow a leader who is dangerously good. You will grab the mane of Aslan and trust that he cares for you, even if his jaws could snap you in half in the blink of an eye. You trust because you know he’s for you.

I recently had coffee with a professor who has studied C.S. Lewis for years. He has even studied those who have studied Lewis. And he told me something that blew my mind. When I read Lewis’ fiction, I assume I am reading an allegory – a myth based on the facts of Christianity. And this is true. But it isn’t necessarily what Lewis had in mind. You see, Lewis wrote Narnia as the very best story he could write. He did not necessarily start with the characters of the Christian faith and put them in a story with different names, he did the opposite. He shaped and made a story to the best of his ability. What happened was that Jesus was the best character Lewis could imagine: dangerous, good, loving, cunning, tender, ferocious. And Aslan became Jesus, not Jesus became Aslan. Lewis’ soul ached for Jesus and so he created Aslan.

If your life is boring and flat, consider the deep questions. Do you really trust Jesus? Do you really intend to follow him? Do you intend to do what he says? Because if you follow Jesus, your life will be anything but boring. It may be terrifying and weird and fast and tiring, but boring is not a prescription for the life of a follower of Jesus.

I’d start here, with a prayer: 

Jesus, I admit that when I consider your power it scares me. But I trust that you are good. Disrupt my life, take hold of my life, and by the power of the Spirit I pray for the courage to follow you where you lead. What do you have for me? Where will we go? Jesus, I trust you. I will follow wherever you lead. In your holy name, Amen.

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The Pass/Fail Test of Following Jesus

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:22-23)

We like ranking systems. When the college football rankings come out each year, the media outlets buzz with judgments on who should be ranked where. We want to know where our kid’s elementary school stands in the ranks. Some people want to know their IQ so they can rank themselves against other people. We rank cars, restaurants, and computers. When I got a dog recently I found his two breeds (he’s a mix) were at the top of the list of best gun dogs by Field and Stream – and somehow this made me feel proud. Rankings – and competitiveness – are part of our economy and this spirit is woven in the fabric of our country.

If we aren’t careful, our American competitiveness can creep into our relationship with Jesus. You see, there are no echelons of Christianity. One person cannot be more Christian than another person. The very notion that someone could be a lesser or higher Christian shows a belief in a false assumption.

The false assumption is this: by our good behavior we can raise our standing with God. But this is far from true. Now this doesn’t mean that obedience isn’t important or that we should not fight for holiness – we absolutely should. But we are not going to change our standing with God. If my daughter throws a rip-roaring fit in the grocery store she will still be my beloved little girl. I will love her no more if she folds her little hands and prays for everyone as we go down the aisles. Her standing with me is sealed once and for all because she is mine.

When we follow Jesus and put our faith in him, we are adopted. And that means the deal is done, finished. We are adopted into God’s family. If you were to ask my son if he were a Larson and he said he was “trying to be”, you would be confused. You either are or are not a Larson, it has nothing to do with your behavior. So it goes with our faith in Christ – we either are or are not adopted into Jesus’ family. As Yoda said, “there is no try.”

So how do we know if we’re in the family?

Well, first, some good news. Christianity isn’t a Rubik’s Cube. It is not reserved for those who can unlock its magic. God is not interested in making us squirm while we wonder if there’s an open seat at his table. No, he makes it plain to us.

If you want to know if you are a Christian, consider where your hope lies. A faux Christian is someone who puts on Christian clothes and hopes in a standard of good behavior, serving the poor, or tradition. A legit Christian is someone who lays their moral and spiritual bankruptcy at the nail-pierced feet of Jesus and gasps, “help me!”

He not only saves us, he brings us in close. His Spirit lives within us and we become his friend and family member. We are saved by faith as a gift (Ephesians 2:8).

Say you are drowning. You have tread water for hours and you are about finished. The sharks are about to show up. A boat pulls up and a man stands there at the railing with a life preserver. As your head slips beneath the surface of the water, the man throws you the life preserver. You are saved.

The follower of Jesus knows he is drowning. His resume won’t help, his strength as a swimmer won’t help, and his arguments won’t make a difference. His traditions won’t help, nor will his reputation. We can worship Jesus with our mouths, but if we are busy measuring our behavior instead of trusting in Jesus (Matthew 7:6), we should be scared. A drowning person needs help or they will die.

So, friend, you are not trying to be a Christian. This is pass/fail. You are either in the family or you are not. Where is your hope? As Jesus cried “It is finished!” he bore your penalty and earned for you what you could never earn. He is our hope and if you trust in him and depend upon him and believe in him as your only hope, you are already sitting at the table. You are accepted, saved, and loved.

For he himself is our peace…(Ephesians 2:14)

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