Christians: Merciful or Mercenaries?

If we obey in order to attain heaven, we are nothing but mercenaries; bounty hunters collecting our reward.   If we obey God only to avoid punishment and hell, we are nothing but fearful slaves.  God wants us to be loving children, with whom He can share His life and who are willing to share His love.

Christians have no problem believing about themselves:  “if Christ came to my home, I would honor and welcome him.” And no doubt would do it knowing that the Lord does so much more for us, He is powerful and saving, and to serve Him in the end is to my benefit.

But what if Christ comes to our house, and it was obvious that he was powerless – homeless, hungry, terminally ill, crippled, begging, or suffering from a debilitating disease like MS?

Would I be so eager to minister to Him? Would I be eager to serve and minister to one who was weak, blind, lame, less powerful than I am? Would I gladly give my time and effort to one who is dependent on me and will take more of my time and energy away from me?    

That is what Christ asks us to do – to the least of His brothers and sisters.  If Christ comes to me and is debilitated, will I love him and be awed by him? Will I worship Him as king? If he is not beautiful to look at, but is repulsive, would I embrace Him?  (Isaiah 53)

If there is no obvious chance of reward, would I be so eager to serve Jesus? 

I think about the strange story of Balaam from Numbers 22-24. Balak offers Balaam a huge sum of money to consult with God and then to curse the Israelites. God tells Balaam to go ahead and do what Balak requests, but then along the way God sends His angel to confront Balaam and is angry with Balaam. The angel of the Lord speaks to Balaam through his donkey. The story is strange because God told Balaam to go with Balak but then is angry with Balaam for going and threatens to kill Balaam.

Why is God angry with Balaam for doing what God told Balaam to do?   I think it has to do with Balak’s offer of a huge sum of money to Balaam. Balaam is told by God, go with Balak. Balaam is no doubt thinking, this is great, not only will I do what God wants but I’m going to get rich for doing it! But God confronts Balaam in his thinking – you are to go with Balak, and you are to tell him what I say to you, but you have mixed motives, you want the money. God is warning Balaam, don’t do my will in order to get rich. As it turns out Balaam does obey God. Balaam goes and tells Balak what God has said. This angers Balak because its not what he wants to hear; in the end Balak refuses to pay Balaam a penny.

Balaam does what God wants and speaks exactly what God tells him to speak.  Balaam actually did what Balak wanted him to do, but Balak is not happy with Balaam for speaking God’s word, rather than saying what Balak wanted him to say and was paying him to say.  Balaam gets nothing for his efforts, though he did God’s will.  There is no reward for him. 

So each Christian must ask him or her self:  Am I so willing to obey God even if I get nothing in return? Am I so willing to love Christ even if He comes to me weak, powerless, released from prison, mentally retarded, downtrodden, disease ridden, begging for money or disabled by MS?

Leadership Lessons from the Apostle Paul

I’ve decided to read a little more about the Apostle Paul during this Year of St. Paul

I would encourage everyone to take a look at the information about St. Paul available at

 From the book PASSIONATE VISIONARY: LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM THE APOSTLE PAUL by R. S. Ascough and C. Cotton, I gleaned the following:

“…transactional managers – people in authority who have the power and influence to keep the status quo afloat into the future.  In times of change, we want transformational leaders rather than transactional managers.” 

The notion that the world constantly undergoes change is a truth recognized in Orthodoxy which affirms that God alone is changeless.  But Orthodoxy by its nature is conservative and traditionalist.   It resists the whirlwinds of change that sweep human society.  Nevertheless it needs leaders who can cope with the changing demands of the world in which the Church exists.   It is painfully obvious that at many points in its history the leadership of the Orthodox church was almost petrified as the world went through tremendous change and upheaval.  Unlike the early apostles, missionaries and apologists of Christianity, modern Orthodox bishops certainly have been far more transactional managers than transformational leaders.  While this helps preserve the faith in times of upheaval, sometimes, as in the case of the current OCA scandal, the episcopal leadership has been preserved like a mummy – preserving even its problems in perpetuity.  Admittedly the book embraces constant change as both always normative and always good,  but this is a modern American assumption.  Some change can be change for the worse.  But the condition of no change better describes a corpse than the Body of Christ.

“Transformational leaders such as Paul challenge people to change and grow, to look at the world in new ways.  This is rarely a smooth journey, since the status quo tends to have a stronger hold on the imagination and heart than any exciting vision of the future.”

Unfortunately, bishops are by office and by personality conservative and preserving people.  They are not the creative people who can bring about needed change or who can help others appropriately deal with change.  The OCA is undergoing a transformation, and needs to, but the bishops are least suited to lead this task.

“That is why leaders who talk about new ways of seeing, being and doing must adopt an encouraging leadership style if they care about their followers. (The alternative is to manipulate people based on their fears and anxieties.)  … Transformational leaders do not offer inducements or manipulative tokens; rather, they seek to energize and inspire others through passion, vision, personal values and reciprocal commitments.  In short, they seek to transform others.  This sounds a lot like Paul.”

The book says that there are “Four Competencies” of leadership:

  • 1) To understand and practice appreciation of others.
  • 2) To remind others of what is important.
  • 3) To generate and sustain trust.
  • 4) To form an intimate alliance between leaders and led.