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A WHITE CHRISTIAN'S RESPONSE TO THE FERGUSON NON-INDICTMENT (repost)

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

NOTE: The post was first sent as a Devotion from An Ordinary Guy and is being reposted on the Blog page. (An additional blog will be published as well.)

Justice, they say, is blind. People, we know, are not.

As the grand jury decision on an indictment for officer Darren Wilson was read in Ferguson, Missouri tonight a few questions ran through my mind and heart:

As a PASTOR, what do I tell the church I serve regarding this decision?
As a FATHER, what do I teach my girls about this decision?

My answers to those two questions were strikingly similar.

Let me start off by saying that I am NOT a legal expert, nor am I in law enforcement. I have friends in both professions. I know people who stand on both sides of this argument, many defending the actions of Officer Wilson, and many crying discrimination and murder. I have friends who are black, friends who are white, and friends who don't identify as either. I am very good friends with republicans and I hang out with several democrats and independents. EVERYONE has an opinion and EVERYONE'S opinions are heavily influenced by their feelings, their upbringing, and what they hear and choose to believe in the media outlets they prefer.

I'm not writing this to pick a side or prove a point. The tragedy and loss of this event demands much more respect than turning the events of August 9 into an opinion-driven political debate. The truth is, 12 people (9 white, 3 black; 7 men, 5 women) were asked to hear as much testimony as possible to determine whether an indictment should be made.

I was not one of the 12. Chances are, neither where you.

So, how do I, as a white, middle class, midwestern (living in the south), Christian man response to the grand jury's decision? Here's what is running through my head tonight:

1) WE LIVE IN A GREAT COUNTRY.
That may be a strange place to start, but I believe it is true. I truly believe that America is an amazing and wonderful place to live. This is a country that allows people to argue and debate, at the top of their lungs, everything that the government is doing, while the government protects their freedom to do so. It's a country where people are elected into office and every citizen is given the right to share their voice in that process. We live in a country that, in theory, treats everyone the same, established on a few "unalienable rights," beginning with: "ALL men are created equal."

2) WE LIVE IN A FLAWED COUNTRY.
That being said, it isn't a perfect country. Our system is flawed. Our politicians are flawed. Our government is flawed. WE are flawed. It's one thing to write that "all men are created equal," it's another thing entirely to LIVE it. If we're being honest, and by WE, I mean EVERYBODY, we all may well believe that men are created equal, but we don't necessary believe that all men should be treated equally.

I do not believe that America is the be-all-end-all country that will save the world. I do not subscribe to any thoughts, theologically or otherwise, that God has chosen the U.S.A. to be His representatives here on earth. I in NO WAY believe that every other country in the world should be like us. I AM advocating that one of the strengths of our country is it's messiness. We are a mess of messed up people, and it's in that messiness and uniqueness that we are supposed to come together, as a nation, and move forward as ONE. We are supposed to be a country that embraces differences and challenges in hopes that our uniquenesses will make us stronger. That being said ...

3) WHITE CHURCHES DON'T STAND UP FOR THE BLACK COMMUNITY.
In general, we don't. We can say that the Michael Brown shooting is about more than a race issue, and I believe that it is, but it has exposed some very nasty truths about America that we have been pushing under the rug for decades, if not centuries. And it has revealed much about the separatist nature of the American church. 

This summer we took a look at the movie "12 Years a Slave" as a church. In preparing for the sermon I must have watched the movie 10 times in one week. It's a brutal movie. Very hard to watch. Do you want to know what I was the most bothered by? The beating scenes were very difficult to sit through, and there is one rape scene that I simply could not bear to watch. No doubt the brutality of the slave-era in American was unconscionable. But what bothered me the most was the inability ... no, that's not the right word ... the unwillingness of white men to stand up on behalf of what they knew was right. Truth be told, I'm not sure much has changed today. Most white American churches will either ignore this issue completely, or they will stand by and do nothing, allowing black churches to do all the fighting.

4) BLACK CHURCHES DON'T STAND UP FOR THE WHITE COMMUNITY EITHER.
I know what's going to come of this one ... "Why does the black community need to stand up for the white community?" "What could the whites want or need from the blacks around them, they aren't the ones being oppressed or shot?"

Let me ask you, how often do you see black churches get involved in any perceived injustices against white people? Can you recall a time when a predominantly black church reached out to a predominantly white church and offered to stand with them in a time of disgrace, dispute, or discrimination?

A while back I met with an African American pastor/friend here in our small town of Bluffton. He acknowledged to me that his church would have a difficult time worshiping with our church for no other reason than the fact that we were considered a "white church." He didn't feel that way, but his church did.

5) SOMEONE DIED AND EVERYONE LOST.
What gets lost in all of this to me is that a young man died and another man took that life. Self-defense or not, every family member and associate of these two individuals is forever changed. Whether this was an injustice or not will be debated in history books for years to come, but please do not miss out on the truth that it is a tragedy on ALL accounts.

Michael Brown died. His parents lost a son. His friends lost a loved one. His life is over. Officer Darren Wilson is changed too, forever living with the loss of a life at his hands. His life and his family's lives are altered forever.

Ferguson, Missouri has lost too. For decades to come they will be a town remembered by and referenced as the place Michael Brown was shot ... the place black and white tensions exploded ... the place where riots took place ... the place that changed history ...

6) WE HAVE TO DO BETTER.
We ... I ... me ... you ... us ... we ... HAVE ... TO ... DO ... BETTER.
White Americans need to realize that racism is alive & well, seeded by hatred and fear.

Black Americans need to realize that a way of thinking (racism) is the real enemy.
White Christians need to realize that our black brothers & sisters need us to stand w/ them.
Black Christians need to realize that white brothers & sisters need them to stand w/ us.

If we ... I ... me ... you ... us ... we ... if we want to become a stronger nation, we need to do better. For our own sake. For our kids' sake. For the sake of our country's future. And as Christians, this shouldn't even be a topic of debate any longer! How abundantly clear does the New Testament make its case for unity? You know, phrases like, "One body," "one baptism," "one faith," "one church," or "there is neither Jew nor Gentile," or "slave or free," or "male or female," or on and on and on (check out Galatians 3:28Colossians 3:11Romans 10:9-12).

If we, as a country, expect to see the changes that are needed to our justice system or in letting our voices be heard, then WE NEED TO FACE IT TOGETHER. If we, as Christians, expect to see the Church united, as one, without color barriers or discrimination, then WE NEED TO FACE IT TOGETHER. Are we capable of doing this? I believe we are ... but only with a lot of help ...

7) COME, LORD JESUS.
I'm just going to say it like it is ... Good Lord, help us. Racial tensions, taking lives, anger, resentment, bitterness, rage, hate ... pride, denial, arrogance, absence, injustice ... Sin has screwed us all, and we are all in need of a Savior.

 

So what now? Now, with God's help, we try to find healing in all of this. We try to see a place for the Gospel to bring hope to the hopeless and peace to the peaceless. We find opportunities in OUR worlds to live compassion, to everyone. We try not to react out of fear or hate or judgement, but instead we try to respond with truth, with grace, and with love.

And at the end of the day, we pray. We pray that God will forgive us, that His Spirit will heal us, and that our kids will do better than we did.

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GOD FORGIVE US

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GOD FORGIVE US

Yesterday Live Oak Christian Church took a look at a few spiritual truths from the movie "12 Years a Slave." If you haven't seen the movie, brace yourself. Powerful. Sobering. Hard to watch.

Inspiring. Challenging. Quite frankly ... it ticked me off.

While an obvious spiritual truth is one of perseverance, we turned that idea on its head yesterday, challenging people to not only persevere through their trials and struggles, but to NEVER TIRE OF DOING GOOD. (Galatians 6:9).

I was most convicted during "12 Years a Slave" at the LACK of people doing good ... of standing up for what is right!

With all that is happening around the world, it seems ridiculous to me that many (if not most) Western Christians are bickering about insignificant issues of comfort and preference instead of being about the "requirements of God:"

Doing RIGHT Loving MERCY Walking HUMBLY with our God

Edmund Birk has said, "The only thing for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." The heart of our service yesterday was that God forgive us for our indifference.

At the end of the sermon we took some time to realize that before we, as followers of Christ, get our hands dirty to serve others we must first get our hearts clean through repentance. Several church members and friends have asked for a copy of that prayer, so here it is. I hope that if you pray it you will do so with earnestness and passion ... and then get off your knees and get to the business of loving the orphans, the widows, the outcast, and the marginalized.

GOD FORGIVE US …

For refusing to open our eyes to those in need … For refusing to open our hearts to the widowed, the orphaned, the marginalized, and the lost … For turning our backs on the down and out … For claiming grace for ourselves while hoarding it away from others … For closing our hearts to the very ones you sent us to open our hearts to …

Forgive us for the stubborn pride that poisons our minds … Forgive us for the judgmental, holier-than-thou posture we take towards those who are not like us: - the poor, the rich, the have-nots & the have-muches who we can’t relate to - Hispanics, Asians, Middle-Easterners, and others who do not speak like us - the Muslims, the Mormons, and the LDS who don’t believe like us - the “other Christians” who don’t worship like us, talk like us, pray like us, or think like us - the immigrants we see as “them” instead of remembering that we were once immigrants too - the homosexual community whom we seem to be so afraid of we cast judgement instead of showing compassion towards

Forgive us for damning the world to Hell instead of doing everything we can to save them from it

Dear God …

Forgive us for quitting on you For giving up the fight on behalf of others For remaining silent when we should be shouting and for shouting when we should be praying Forgive us for KNOWING your Word but not LIVING your Word Forgive us for our indifference Forgive us for doing nothing

God forgive us for the arrogance of making our life about our struggles instead of your grace Forgive us for hijacking your glory for our selfish ambition Forgive us for misrepresenting your Son to a world that is lost

Take all of these confessions, of which we are guilty, and forgive us Lord Embolden/empower us to live Micah 6:8 … to do what is good … what you require of us:

TO DO JUSTLY TO LOVE MERCY AND TO WALK HUMBLY WITH YOU ...

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HOLLYWOOD, CHRISTIANS, AND THE ONLY STORY THAT MATTERS

I love movies. I always have. I’ve seen more of them than I care to admit. Some of them have moved me beyond words, while others had me laughing so hard I’ve giggled like a little girl. They have made me feel fear, joy, anger, sadness, hope, and even emotions that I can’t put my finger on.

Movies have also been one of my greatest areas of struggle. I love to get lost in someone else’s world, in someone else’s story, but some of the stories I have seen, I’m not too proud to have experienced.

So today I want to take a minute to talk about a few movies that have been out recently and how Christians are handling them.

First, let’s talk “Frozen.”

I was both frustrated and embarrassed by the reports from media outlets some time back regarding Disney's movie "Frozen" having a subcontext supporting gay marriage/rights.

(My daughters love that movie! I mean, we've been singing "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?" and "Let it Go" on a daily basis for 5 months now!)

What a load of crap. Has Christianity slipped so deep into the realms of paranoia that we have to create social and cultural conflict when there isn't any? Listen, I get it. Disney's track record with Judeo-Christian morality isn't the best. And OK, of you want to insert a "pro-gay" agenda into the context of Frozen's storyline I guess you could make it fit. But come on ... In talking with every Christian parent I know I have yet to hear any of them say, "Oh goodness, my 6 yr old, 10 yr old, 16 yr old daughter was confused by Elsa's not having a Prince Charming!" or, "The part of Kristoff being played by a gay actor (Jonathon Groff) upset my kids!” If you add up all of the kids connected to every household of every Christian person I know who was influenced or disturbed by anything in this movie, that number would reach the staggering total of ZERO.

But these days many Christians are more interested in fighting against instead of fighting for, even when there is nothing to fight against! I know, I know, there is a morality battle going on around the issues of gay marriage and gay rights and I understand that people are divided. I acknowledge that the Church itself is struggling, but let me say this clearly: I am certain Jesus does not want His Bride to be known for picking fights with people. If I recall, He spoke the exact opposite.

It’s about here that many of you will stop reading and start yelling, “Yeah, but we’re supposed to stand up for the truth!” Agreed. But Jesus NEVER empowered us to pick fights with people. In fact, He taught quite the opposite in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 … a lot about being humble, hungering and thirsting for justice, and being peacemakers.

Second, let’s talk “Noah.”

Folks … it’s a movie … made by Hollywood. Hollywood exists for two reasons that we should not forget: to entertain people, and to make money! While I understand the anger some people have over the film, at the end of the day why is anyone shocked?

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, the film’s creator and director, Daren Aronofsky, who grew up in the Jewish faith, answered the question, “You take some creative liberties; do you expect some pushback?” Here’s what he had to say:

"Where are there liberties? Find me a contradiction in there that can’t be explained. Of course there’s liberties, I mean, we’re making a movie here. If you read the four chapters that the Noah story takes place in, Noah doesn’t even speak. How are you going to cast Russell Crowe and not have him talk? Noah’s wife and his sons’ three wives aren’t even named in the Bible. If you read the story of Noah, it’s very straightforward. The character of Noah just builds the ark and collects the animals. But the struggles, the effort of building an ark, of being responsible for all those animals, being responsible for your family, it’s not explored at all. So how exciting to actually say, “Oh wow, here’s this great story, how do we put human emotion into it?”

Aronofsky never claims the film to be an exegetical study of scripture or even a theological discourse on the life and times of Noah. It’s a movie. To entertain. And make money!

That being said, Christians will get bent out of shape because it’s not an accurate representation of the true story.

Remember the movie “Remember the Titans?” (One of my all-time favorites.) It is a pastor-favorite for quotes and movie clips, and Christians generally regard it as a great film because of the morality that is displayed and taught through it. But most filmgoers don’t recognize that it is based on a true story; it isn’t the actual story. In fact, it isn’t even CLOSE to the real story! (You can check out the differences here.) I don’t ever remember hearing a Christian stand up and dispute the film as not being “true” enough.

“But Michael, ‘Remember the Titans’ isn’t a story from the Bible!”

True, but I didn’t hear many Christians getting upset at the creative license taken in the recent and much loved “The Bible” mini-series. Which translation is it that has angels trained in martial arts, David dancing naked in the streets to impress Bathsheba, or Mary Magdalene on the storm-tossed boat when Jesus walked on water?

Again, don’t forget that Aronofsky isn’t presenting this as a Christian telling the story from a Biblical account. His background is Jewish and very well may have been influenced from the Kabbalah and/or Gnosticism. (Read this article for more on that.)

I guess my point on “Noah” is that the best way to stand up for the truth is to just not support the movie. If you don’t want to see the movie, don’t go see it. Accept that there will be some good dialogue about the story and the content of Noah, jump into the conversation as one who believes the Scriptures, and be ready to share your faith then instead of blasting people online or picketing at a movie theater.

gods_not_dead_movie_poster.jpg

Third, let’s talk “God’s Not Dead.”

I saw this film over the weekend with my family and several other families from church.

First, let me get this out of the way, it is a Christian film, written by Christians, produced by a Christians, starring Christians, about Christians, FOR Christians. This film couldn’t be more Christian. The message was as blatantly Christian as it gets. It had everything you'd expect:

Christian music (including a cameo by the Newsboys) Someone who is dying Someone who is persecuted Someone who is struggling with their faith Someone who is Muslim Someone who is an atheist A pastor who seems to be aloof and unsure, but lovable and appreciated And a missionary, of course, to keep our 1st world problems in perspective

Boy was this a cheesy film! The acting was marginal, the plot was thin, the characters were underdeveloped, and the pacing was a mess. Rotten Tomatoes has given “God’s Not Dead” a 20% rating from the critics, but the audience has it reviewed at almost 90%.

Do you know why the audience rating is so high? Because Christians are the only one’s going to see it.

During this movie people around me were groaning and uttering “yes” and, “um-hum” and “amen” throughout. There was even one lady with hands raised and “amens” flowing like a church service was happening in the theater!

If you talk to Christians, this movie should be up for an Oscar for Best Picture next year, but it really isn’t that great of a movie, even though it has a solid Christian message. Christians love it because it “fits” them. It defends them. It empowers them.

Actually, the point of God’s Not Dead is the point of this blog. The characters in the movie never picked a fight, they simply lived their faith and defended it when necessary.

So that’s it for now on the movies. I recognize this is a very subjective post, and I’m sure there are a lot of people who will find a lot to disagree with. I’m OK with that. I just want to encourage everyone to walk away with this simple thought:

We fight the good fight by living a good faith, which in my opinion, is the best way to share the only story that really matters.

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JOINING VS. BUILDING

Disclaimer: I actually wrote this blog 2 years ago, but am just now sharing it. The post is especially relevant to the topic of OWNERSHIP at Live Oak right now.

I'm pretty frustrated today. I heard today that a family was going to be leaving our church, and that always bothers me. I don't think anyone should want to leave Live Oak, but I understand that people leave churches all the time.

People leave churches for a myriad of reasons - it's too far away, it's not like my old church, the music is too loud, we can't get connected, we're looking for something that's more "us," - but it is amazing to me how few people leave for Biblical reasons. (While there are many valid reasons to leave, truly, only a few are Biblical - bad theology, immorality, etc., but that's a different blog!)

But here is one of the reasons that I see masked in several excuses for leaving, and it drives me crazy.

People would rather JOIN a church than BUILD a church.

grill-assembly

A few summers ago I bought a new grill from Lowe's - a big two barrel grill - a MAN grill. (It took me and two workers from Lowe's to load the boxes into my jeep!) When I got home, I pulled all of the parts out of the boxes and went to work. At one point Avery came into the garage to help, but I think the number of bolts, nuts, and instruction sheets overwhelmed her! When I bought the grill I had the option of having them assemble it for me at the store, but I wanted to build it. To me there is just something gratifying and fulfilling about putting something together. (Yes, I'm that strange guy that likes to put together the pre-fab dressers and TV stands!)

I think this is a lost mindset today in America. We expect everything to come out of the box put together for us. We get frustrated if things aren't "plug and play." When was the last time you had to pull something out of the box and actually work to put it together?

In the Ukraine, a friend of mine is building his house. Note, I said he is building it, I didn't say he was having it build for him. As he has time and money, he adds on to the second story of his house. He invites a few friends over and they go to work. If he doesn't have time or money he stops and waits until he can start building again. I'm not talking about adding a room here, I'm talking about adding a second story! I have been amazed to see his pictures over the last few years as the house has progressed from his persistence.

We just don't get that in America. If it says "some assembly required" we trend towards the "comes fully assembled" item, or at the very least we see if there is an option to pay someone else to put it together for us.

Unfortunately, I believe this "join" instead of "build" mentality is killing the church and weakening people's ability to grow their faith.

If our church doesn't have a strong program for our students we would rather join another church instead of build where we are.

If a small group doesn't meet on our schedule, we'd rather join another group instead of starting a new group.

If it takes too long for someone else to initiate a relationship at one church we'd rather join already existing relationships elsewhere instead of building new relationships.

It is just too much work, too much sacrifice, to actually build something. We want our church experience to come ready made, fully assembled straight out of the box. I think that's why church-hopping has become a common Sunday sport for many Christians. It isn't that they have a "competitive" spirit about churches, they just have a "comparative" spirit, and the church that stacks up the best to where I am right now is the church I want to JOIN. I once heard a very dedicated Christian family "church shop" us at Live Oak and ultimately decide to go somewhere else. When I asked them what drew them to the other church, their answer was, "We've done a new church work before and it's just too much work. We want to be in a place where we can simply go to church." It is much easier to JOIN than to BUILD.

This is also true in our discipleship, in following Jesus. We are quick to do the easy part of signing up for our faith (joining), but slow, if not resistant, to doing the work of growing up in our faith (building). We will often look for the easiest, quick-fix book, program, small group, or spiritual growth opportunity instead of the most rewarding, sometimes challenging, long-term, work-oriented option.

When Jesus sent His followers out, among many instructions He said, "Don't hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who WORK deserve to be fed." (Matthew 10:10). I know that passage focuses on something a bit different than this post, but don't miss the simple fact that being a disciple of Jesus takes work.

Following Jesus is hard. Being a part of a church, especially a healthy church, takes work … and we need workers.

If you are in a healthy church right now … if you are working hard to build the Kingdom of God in your life and in your community, then I applaud you.

If you are at a healthy church right now, sitting on the sideline watching others swing the hammer, get off your butt, grab a tool and get to work, it might just build your faith too.

And if you are simply jumping from church to church, looking to join up instead of build up, with due respect, don't bother coming to Live Oak; we're looking for OWNERS, not consumers.

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AN OPEN LETTER TO POLITICAL LEADERS

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Dear Political Leaders, I'm sick of your crap.

I'm sorry if that doesn't sound Christ-like or isn't politically correct, but that's how I feel. If I have to read one more headline stating, "Dems Blame GOP Amid Bleak Report," or "Republicans Direct Fault at White House" I think I might throw up.

As a "little" leader of a "little" church let me share 5 simple leadership principles that might do you some good to remember:

LEADERSHIP IS ABOUT DOING WHAT IS BEST, NOT WHAT IS POPULAR.

Your role as a leader is not to please, it is so lead. Your decisions are supposed to be geared toward the best benefit, the best outcome, and the best future for our country. Most often, the biggest decisions you make will have a negative response by some, if not many. This doesn't mean the decision was bad or wrong, it just means that people didn't like it. Deal with it. Pull up your "big boy" pants or hike up your "big girl dress" and be a leader, not an appeaser.

LEADERSHIP IS ABOUT DOING WHAT IS RIGHT, NOT WHAT IS EASY.

You can't shortcut leadership. Period. Most of your influence will be earned by leading through the hard. As a leader, who would you rather follow, someone who has walked around the hard, or someone who has learned to push through it? Our country needs you to be willing to role up your sleeves and get to work no matter how hard it is. Remember, you wanted this leadership; you signed up for it! No one forced you into the election or on the ballot, so stop screwing around and trying to screw each other. Grab a hammer and get to work fixing and/or building our nation.

LEADERSHIP IS ABOUT INFLUENCE, NOT POWER.

I know this may be tough for you to remember, but your leadership is determined by your followers, not the other way around. What makes a great leader is not his charisma, his knowledge, or even the decisions he makes. A great leader is empowered by dedicated followers. Many of the world's most effective leaders saw their influence realized through the impact of their followers. Granted, leadership is proven in your decision and actions, but your influence ... that depends on whether the people you are trying to lead are willing to follow you. Your leadership is measured by influence, and right now ... your influence sucks. Perhaps that's because you are so out of touch with the people who you are supposed to be leading that they have no desire to follow you.

LEADERSHIP IS ABOUT ACCEPTING WHAT YOU DID WRONG, NOT CELEBRATING WHAT YOU DID RIGHT.

I'm tired of hearing about what everyone else is doing wrong. I'm tired of hearing about how your agenda or plan is right. Aren't you tired of trying to make everyone else look so bad in order to make yourself look so good? Leadership is all about integrity, and that starts with honesty and humility. Honesty is the ability to look at yourself and see what everyone else sees. It's taking a step back from the campaigns and the press and seeing what we all see. Throw out the good stuff and the bad stuff and find the honest truth in the middle. As for humility, I'm not talking about false humility that says, "Look everyone, I'm such a servant, look at what I'm doing." I'm talking about seeing others as more important than you are, even though you have a title and a place in U.S. history. As followers, we're tired of hearing how everyone else is to blame. Suck it up, accept culpability, and then see thoughts #1 & #2 above.

LEADERSHIP IS A PRIVILEGE.

If you don't hear anything else, please lodge this one deep in your heart. All leadership is a privilege. That big cushy chair you sit in and the responsibility that comes with it is neither an entitlement that you earned or a right that you deserved. It is a privilege that few people in this country's great history get to experience. Use this privilege wisely. Use it to advance our nation. Use it to serve the people. Cherish it while you have it, because every term has a limit!

In closing, I know I don't understand the pressure you're under. I know I couldn't possibly fathom the stress you must feel with the situations and decisions facing you. I have never walked in your shoes. That being said, and I know this isn't fair: I don't have to have walked in your shoes to expect you to lead me well.

As a U.S. leader, you have been given a responsibility to lead, and to lead well. I know, not because I'm a leader too, but because I'm a citizen. Whether I voted for you or not, I fall under your authority, which makes me a follower. So, as a citizen/follower ... be a leader worth following.

"When someone has been given much, much will be required in return;and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required."- Luke 12:48

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