Leadership, Phillippians 2, Strength

Strong and Stable…

This election seems to focus on leadership more than any other in recent years, I wonder if students have developed a drinking game yet where they have a vodka shot every-time Theresa May say “Strong and Stable”, which to me seems to be trying to make a virtue of having little personal charisma.

Interestingly, the question of character has come up a lot in this election, which I think is odd, as (unusually) the three party leaders I would say are all principled people of integrity, and although I believe that Theresa May is misguided in her right of centre views I do believe she is genuinely intending to make the lives better of people in the UK.

Yet it made me think about leadership and character.

Is Jeremy Corbyn a strong and stable leader?

Actually yes!

This is a man whose views haven’t shifted with focus groups and popular appeal, a man who wasn’t bullied by the whips into going against his conscience, in fact he has been arrested for protesting about apartheid in South Africa when Maggie Thatcher was keen to take their golden Rands.
Nor has he stood down when he faced opposition and conflict, to keep going amid all he’s faced shows he is a man of immense courage and strength, stable and reliable, you can trust him to do what he believes is right.

The issue is not that he’s not strong or stable but rather he’s not doing what the crowd wants him to do, anyone can lead when there is broad consensus but leading when people are trying to pull in different direction is much more challenging.

As a Christian, to sell out our principles for popularity is a constant temptation for us all.

One of the bravest stories I ever heard was Maximilian Kolbe, a monk in a concentration camp, who volunteered to swap places with a prisoner due to be starved to death with other unfortunate prisoners, the man protested as he had a family, and Kolbe offered to die in that man’s place. They sealed these men in a bunker, and normally the prisoners killed each other, but in this case peace reigned and the Nazi’s ended up killing them by lethal injection. This little Monk was brave enough to do the greatest act of bravery giving his life for another, and his non-violence spared something of the suffering of his fellow prisoners.

Strength doesn’t always look like Arnold Swatzeneggar but a shuffling monk with glasses, a nun from Calcutta not giving up, a missionary in the toughest gang controlled slum of china’ walled city, an Indian Politician suffering at the hands of the British Army, a hippie from the American South choosing to live in the toughest areas of Philadelphia.

These people show more strength than any “He-Man” or “wonder woman”, or politician with a vast army, or a bully with a gun.

The Greatest Act of Human Strength is described in the Garden of Gethsemene when Jesus says on his knees with sweat like drops of blood “Yet not my will but yours”.

The Greates Act of Human Strength is spoken about by St. Paul when he said “(Jesus) Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”

Our idea of what strength looks like should not be dictated by what the media tells us, but rather how we see Christ live his life, bravely and sacrificially.

As a Christian leader doing what people want you too will make you popular for a short time, but ultimately you will find that you can’t please all of the people all the time, and you have to make a choice, and even when you don’t make a choice, often that is a choice in itself. Jesus knew what to do and when to do it, and wasn’t pushed around by the ‘good ideas’ of the disciples who often tried to force their opinions on him like Saul’s Armour that simply didn’t fit the calling he knew the Father was calling him too.

Day after day for three years, he got up and spoke to the people, often rejected, ridiculed and walked away from, he never chose to stay in a nice appreciative village and make a home there, but instead kept on going often to villages which were so hostile even his disciples wanted him to reign down fire from heaven.

The toughest choice when things are tough and difficult -the thing that often requires the most strength is not giving up, getting back up from a knock-down and getting back in the ring for another fight, getting up on the road to another village.

Some of the strongest people on this planet are those who didn’t quit despite unimaginable opposition.

So I think Corbyn is strong and unchangeable, and Theresa May might be too.

Yet I wonder if Jeremy Corbyn is strong enough to change his mind on something? To say he was wrong when he was (he might well be), sometimes we confuse strength with stubbornness which comes from pride, when have we ever heard a politician say “I made a U turn because I was wrong and I made a mistake??” -sometimes admitting our failures, faults and flaws takes enormous bravery, whereas arrogant boasting takes no bravery at all.

Theresa May keeps telling us how strong and stable she is, but I have come to realise that those people who keep telling us about their character normally are insecure about it, the young person that always was talking about Alpha male stuff turned out to be struggling with his sexuality, Shakespeare says “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much”.

Strength is something that our actions will speak louder than our words.

Some of the strongest people I know I have never heard raise their voice.

Strength is not shouting at people, or making jibes into a microphone, sometimes dignity takes more strength than ranting, raving and sly digs and cruel jokes.

Strength sometimes in not putting the boot in but instead showing mercy.

Strength sometimes shown in non-retaliation is tougher than to retaliate.

Strength is to keep on negotiating for the common good even when it seems futile, it takes strength to stay at the negotiating table, strength to keep talking. It was this strength that saw the signing of the Good Friday agreement, and it is this kind of strength we need for Brexit.

Strength to forgive and shake the hand of someone who has wronged us is sometimes really hard, and then to keep our heart soft takes more strength than to let it become hard and callous.

A wonderful story of Corrie Ten Boom, another Prisoner of the Nazi death camps who survived (although her sister Betsy tragically died there) Corrie met a guard in prison guard in a Church she was speaking at, and she was able to shake his hand.

So, whether Theresa May is a Strong and Stable leader is not something I’m so sure on, but I know as Christians maybe our idea of strength may look different to the rest of the world.

Humility, incarnation, Phillippians 2

The Attitude of Christ…

I never cease to find Phillippians 2 an incredibly challenging passage… it starts with the phrase, “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” -that’s a big challenge, as I know how often my attitude falls short of Christ’s.

The whole passage is full of counter cultural words such as “humbled himself” -“became nothing”, “emptied himself”, “taking on the form of a servant” -in fact slave us a more accurate translation- “he was obidient to death -even death in the cross”.

I realise my attitude is far far from this most of the time, and yet I do want to have a Christ like attitude, and although it us is painful, costly and will be sacrificial it is still something I want.

Yet I also know I can’t have a Christ like attitude unless Christ himself helps me, unless I am part if a body of Christ-like people challenging, encouraging and sharpening me…

It also makes me realise how missional this whole attitude is, because it is not self seeking, nice demanding its own way but is seeking first the Kingdom of God, and is putting other people’s needs before our own wants, desires and preferences.

This passage is the complete antidote of what I was writing yesterday about the dangers of a consumer Church… It is s Spirituality that gives good stuff away rather than hording it for ones self.

On Saturday Si told the story of people wanting Church to be how they liked it, a consumer attitude, and yet Church and the Christian life is not about us, it’s about Jesus.

To pick up our cross and follow Christ is the ultimate act of surrender to God.

When we say “I didn’t get anything out of the Ŵorship today” -we need to remember that Ŵorship isn’t for us, it’s for God, and even if we didn’t get blessed did other people encounter God through it…

Sometimes in serving others and putting their needs before our own we find a blessing that is more greater and more beautiful than simply having things within Church done as we would like it, we discover the joy of the Father saying to us “well done good and faithful servant”.

I’ll close with a verse that always challenges me when I think of surrender and following Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, the life I live in this body I live by faith in the on of God who loved me and died for me”.
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