Lessons from Junior

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Tonight as I was part of the memorial service for Junior, it hit me even more than it did earlier this week the impact this man had on the youth of our city. He was truly a giant of a leader that stood as the backbone of our community.

Some individuals do so much for a community that to narrowly define it is very difficult. At a first glance, it may seem that Junior was just very active in his church and community. But his impact went far and beyond that. His roles did not always involve a visible presence on the stage but you always could feel the touch that Junior brought to a project.

In 2003, OPYF started a journey of doing annual drama productions. In 2004, we conducted one of our largest productions, The Pharisee. From The Pharisee onto many other plays, Junior was always a giant force behind the scenes, making sure everything came to life despite any difficulties along the way. As it was stated at the memorial tonight, in a room full of 30-40 rambunctious kids, Junior could silence them all with his quiet but commanding voice because they all knew he loved them all and cared for them. That kind of leadership is rare and will be missed.

Junior was a big fan of being behind the scenes. For organizations like Future of a Child and others, Junior would work diligently and faithfully managing websites and always being a force behind the scenes. He encouraged the visions of those who had dreams and helped them accomplish those goals.

He was an excellent model of servant leadership. He didn’t do any of his leadership duties to lift himself up, but did all to glorify God.

I want to end this with a few final thoughts/lessons that I believe Junior would want us to know:

  1. KEEP FIGHTING. In all my experiences interacting with Junior, no matter how bad anything might be in his personal life or struggles, he never let it show and he flashed his trademark smile and reassured us all that things would work out. No matter how difficult a task seems or impossible it seems, keep fighting and work to finish what God has planned.
  2. SERVE GOD FULLY. Emphasis on “serve” … Junior exemplified what it was to serve God through serving his family, his church and his community, to the glory of God and not himself. He sought to bring unity and vision and growth in whatever he did. He proved this through word and deed. As was stated during the memorial, he was a faithful tither, giving every single month without fail. And if there was any need for help he always stepped up no matter what.
  3. KEEP DREAMING AND SUPPORT DREAMERS. Junior was a supporter of those with vision. If he knew he could support the ministry or business efforts of a young person, he would do everything in his power to support that effort and make it come alive. After I heard of his passing this week, one thing kept ringing through my head: keep working toward the visions and dreams I had; don’t quit. And I thank Junior for living that and showing me how important that is.

Lastly, to all OPYF youth, I believe Junior would want us to carry on his legacy. His father, Pr. K.E. Mathew, was instrumental in starting the early churches in Oklahoma City. And Junior knew he had to carry on that legacy to the next generation. And he did so, with a zeal and passion that was hard to find in most. But I believe he would want us in this generation to stand up and continue to fight for the right things, to expand the Kingdom of God.

Even in his last days, though he didn’t really need to, he recommitted himself to ministry. Let us daily recommit ourselves to the purpose of God and carry on the work and efforts Junior started, and keep his zeal and passion alive in our community.

Thank you so much, Junior, for your life and lasting impact on Oklahoma City.

Trusting in God or yourself?

Many of the lessons contained in the Word, especially in the history of Israel, are embedded in the lives of the rulers mentioned. From their successes and failures, timeless lessons are taught about the key to true success. This is a quick look at two kings of Judah and their legacies that still speak to us today.

2 Chronicles 17 introduces the fourth king of Judah, Jehoshaphat. The author of the Chronicles presents Jehoshaphat in a favorable light from the beginning, saying in verses 3-4, “Now the Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the former ways of his father David; he did not seek the Baals, but sought the God of his father, and walked in His commandments and according to the acts of Israel” (NIV).

The reign of Jehoshaphat is similar to that of his father Asa; their reigns featured reform, building programs, and large armies. Jehoshaphat recognized that the source of his strength and success was God and that the only way he could succeed by seeking Him and removing evil things that were dishonoring God. And for Jehoshaphat, this did not change over time.

2 Chronicles 26 introduces the tenth king of Judah, Uzziah. He became king at the age of 16. From his early days, he sought the Lord and that led to his success (v. 5). The Chronicler states it this way: “…As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success” (v. 5b, NIV).

Many in their journey toward success reach this point of favor with God. They reach a point of trusting God and things begin to work in their favor. However, the tragic legacy of the life of Uzziah is his downfall. People today know Uzziah for his downfall rather than his initial success.

Verses 6-15 of chapter 26 describe the great deeds of Uzziah’s reign, going to multiple battles, rebuilding towns, and even creating devices for soldiers to shoot arrows and hurl large stones from towers and corner defenses.

But then the heart of Uzziah’s legacy is found in 26:16, “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (NIV). He received leprosy immediately after going in to burn incense when that was not his duty.

Whatever success he had achieved to that point was made mute by the fact that his pride got the best of him. He became so proud that he became unwilling to follow the established laws that established Aaron and his descendants as the ones to burn incense on the altar. It is possible to come to a point in your pride and accomplishments that you show disregard for the basic rules and in the process dishonor God and your heart moves away from trusting God completely for direction.

King Uzziah had a sad ending, having leprosy until the day of his death, living in a separate house, and being banned from the temple. Jehoshaphat, on the other hand, lived such a life of trusting God that the author of the Chronicles spent a substantial amount of time on his life. What an honor for one’s life to be featured so heavily in a lasting manner that still impacts lives for the better today.

At the end of Jehoshaphat’s reign, “…the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around” (2 Chronicles 20:30, NIV)

What do you want your life to look like, a life of rest having fulfilled the purpose of God or one that is living with the ills that this world brings like Uzziah? For every person there are different versions of leprosy, most definitely including myself.

When you look at your life today, are you trusting God for every detail or is your pride and reliance on yourself too high? When you focus on your accomplishments as Uzziah did, your focus will move from the God who sustains you to a false belief that you yourself brought about your success. And that will take you on a journey away from the heart of God.

Gut check: Where is your trust and focus today?

Three Questions For Leaders

I’ve had a few challenging questions to myself and for all leaders lately, especially within Christian circles, and I pose these to myself, and to all who consider themselves to be in such roles. And this is you, even if you don’t realize it, as God may have given you a passion to lead or be an initiator of something that is inside you.

Here goes.

As leaders, if we do a thorough, honest, introspection, do we ever get caught in the trap of thinking that no matter what, we’re always right? That there isn’t something that we may have overlooked, because of human error or oversight? As leaders, does our ego get the best of us? Do we ever honestly think or believe that someone else could not possibly have a better solution than our idea? Are we stubborn to the idea of trying someone else’s way?

When it comes to being critical of others, do we draw a line b/w properly discerning when someone is in error and lovingly correcting them, also keeping them in prayer, and the other side of being outright critical of them in a non-loving manner (condemning/prematurely judging them)? Are we quick to jump to the judgmental side when trying to be Christ-like and loving is too difficult or requires a level of patience from us?

In the chaos of planning and organizing, do we as leaders lose sight of the initial goal of the project we’re involved with? Do we care like we used to about the people we were trying to help? Do we care that it’s become more about pride and ego than helping those people?

Just a few thoughts to ponder over. I know I will be. Because if we fail in in our leadership, the people we are “leading” are not getting what they signed up for, and valuable time is disappearing, for both them and us, while our organization could have been progressing and improving in the process.