Was Isaac Mentally Challenged?

In his book How Good Do We Have to Be? Harold Kushner writes (pages 73-74): “I confess that I have never liked or understood the story in chapter 22 of the Book of Genesis, where God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, born to him after many years of childlessness, and then intervenes to stop it at the last moment. I never like the way it portrayed God, making such an outrageous demand, or the way it portrayed Abraham, so ready to obey it. But some years ago, I read an article by a physician suggesting that Isaac may have been a retarded child. He shares many of the traits of the retarded. He was born to older parents. He periodically gets into trouble by not understanding the consequences of his actions. He is the only man in all the Bible whose parents worry about his getting married, and ends up marrying a woman whose outstanding quality is her kindness. If that theory is correct, the doctor wrote, may that is why Abraham thought he heard the voice of God telling him to slay his son, as many societies in the ancient world did to imperfect children. And God’s intervening would then represent His proclaiming to Abraham that even such a child is fashioned in God’s image, that even such a life is holy.”

This potential interpretation of the story of the Sacrifice of Isaac helps me understand the story better. This would explain why

  • Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac in the first place (surely God would give Abraham a much better heir the second time)
  • Isaac allowed himself to be tied up (12 year old boys can be very strong, especially when struggling against a 112 year old man)
  • Isaac never harbored ill-will against his dad after that event (Hey, Dad, remember when you tried to kill me and the angel intervened?)
  • Isaac couldn’t tell the difference between his sons’ voices when Jacob deceived him and how Rebekah could fool her own husband for her favorite son
  • Of the three patriarchs, Isaac did the least, virtually nothing, except being the grandfather of the 12 tribes

It also helps me understand the mantra “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

  • I am the God of Abraham: a rich and powerful man yet who was willing to pimp his own wife in Egypt
  • I am the God of Isaac: the mentally weak who accomplished nothing in life except be the father of twin boys
  • I am the God of Jacob: a man who struggled with God’s angel all night and was also a thief, cheater, liar, and deceiver

God is the God of everyone – even the infirm – and he welcomes and accepts as His own all of us, regardless of our frailties. We will never know whether Isaac was mentally challenged or not, but if he was, then that tells me that God is not bound by my human condition and can use me (and you!) for whatever God chooses.


Lead On!


Staff Members’ Meeting on the Church’s Nickel

I received the following question: “Our church budgets $100 per month for meals for ministers. Is it allowable for our pastor and worship director go out to lunch each week for a planning session and have the church pay for both meals every week?”

My reply:
There are two components to this question

  1. Legal
    1. The IRS does not permit an excessive benefit to the staff in a non-profit. A lunch every week is not an excessive benefit if the meal is typical $8-$15 meal.
    2. The IRS does encourage an accountable reimbursement plan. That means that for every expense, there must be a receipt and documentation about who was there and how it related to the church. It can be as simple as “Prospective member lunch with the Smiths” – there is NO need to write a paragraph. If you don’t have the proper receipts, then reimbursements might be considered income for IRS purposes. Documentation is not only good but absolutely necessary.
  2. Church Policy
    1. The church SHOULD care if staff are good stewards or not. My professional opinion is that staff members work alongside each other all day and can meet with each other at any point during the work day and work week. If they want to go out to lunch, then that is NOT a professional expense because they could have had that meeting any other time during that day.

To me this is not a financial matter, it is a personnel matter. I suggest that the personnel manual (and finance manual if you have one) make a statement that “meetings between staff members which have expenses (meal, coffee, etc.) are not reimbursable expenses because staff could have met at the church without incurring an expense” or words to that effect.

I do not know the relationship you have with the pastor

  1. If your relationship is strong and he isn’t threatened, then you can approach him and help him understand that if all staff were to do this it would cost the church tens of thousands a year which could be used for other things.
  2. If the pastor might be threatened by you and this subject, then you have to be willing to leave. You can either approach the pastor with this matter OR you can talk with the personnel and/or financechairleader and ask him/her to address this and to keep your name confidential. If the personnel or finance committeechairleader doesn’t think it is a problem, then drop it. That just means you have higher standards than they do.What they are doing is not illegal or immoral but it does stray into the ethical gray area for churches. And one of my sayings is, “Stay Out of the Gray!”

Lead On!


Life-Changing Benevolence

Traditional Benevolence: the church is a collection point for charitable items such as food, clothing, household items, and money to help with other items such as rent and medical expenses. Church members should be encouraged to be generous with their gifts and not just give their leftovers or items they want to discard. I encourage churches to have a regular collection time; this can be monthly, every Communion Sunday, every 5th Sunday, etc. – just pick and stick with something.

I feel there is a much better and more biblically based form of benevolence but it is much harder and far less common in churches. I encourage you to seriously consider this form and decide if your church is doing benevolence to make its members feel good or to have a serious impact on the lives of others. This direction is much harder and requires the church to being a lot more intentional about what it wants to accomplish.

Benevolence That Changes Lives: The church should not be a distribution point for benevolence. Instead, churches should partner with local non-profits who are doing this type of work with excellence (key word).

  • The church can approach these local orgs and offer supplies (food, clothing, etc.), money (for benevolence and even for operations), and volunteers (church members who want to help others). Every non-profit you approach will jump at the chance to get more of these resources.
  • An understanding can be reached between the church and the org regarding overt/covert evangelism (you’re not asking my opinion but I suggest that church volunteers ONLY raise that subject if they are asked why they are doing that – the door is then open for a positive reply without shoving Jesus down someone’s throat).
  • This method allows recipients to go to places in an area of town they are more comfortable with than having to walk into a church (which is intimidating to non-church folk). This makes church members get out of their comfort zone (their church) and into the area of town where they aren’t comfortable but where the hurting and needy are located – church members need to suck it up and get over their fears. After all, Jesus went out to the highways and byways and didn’t wait for people to come to him (though many did).
  • This method allows a church to partner with an org that is far more skilled at distributing resources and determining who are the scammers and who are the truly needy. The partner org most likely has a database where they keep track of who has been helped, for what purpose, and how often.
  • This allows the church admin assistants (the first point of contact for many recipients) to focus on their work instead of answering the phones. And frankly, some of the needy can be scary (though almost never dangerous) and that can affect the work product of the church’s admin(s).
  • If more and more churches would partner with local orgs, the chronic needy would know where to turn for regular help (instead of going from church to church) and those orgs might be able to offer additional services such as job training and placement (to address long-term needs, not weekly needs).

I will say up front that moving your benevolence offsite gives less “glory” to your church and your members might complain about that. However, this is not about meeting the church’s needs but about helping others. God gets the glory (period). It’s not about us – it’s about us being servants to help others.


Lead On!


How to Use a Cab – for the Ride of Your Life (part 3 of 3)


Be nice to the cab driver

Wherever you find yourself, always, always, always look for ways to help people. No one will ever condemn you for being nice (and if they do, it says more about them than about you).

Speak kind words – thank you, please, yes ma’am, and yes sir. People appreciate politeness and it often deflates someone’s anger before they wail on you.

Often how you treat people becomes the way you are treated by the person with whom you’re dealing.

Respect the cabbie, anyone else in the cab with you, and anyone else whose waiting alongside you. Respect people.

If you give the cab driver the wrong address, don’t blame the drive

Everyone makes mistakes in life; everyone makes LOTS of mistakes. Learn how to handle them:

  • Don’t blame others for what YOU did or didn’t do
  • Analyze what went wrong and what you need to do next time
  • Handle the error with grace and aplomb – people will observe you how you deal with pressure and messy situations, especially ones that you created

Enjoy the ride and watch the scenery but watch the meter and other details

Take in the big picture of life as you travel. It can be as grand and glorious as you want it to be (if you take a few chances along the way). But also learn to observe the details that can make the experience of life that much more full of color. A field of flowers is beautiful; but each flower is amazing in itself.

Change cabs if your current cab can’t take you all the way

Be willing to adapt to the current situation and you absolutely must be willing to change as life changes. Flow is the best answer to flux. So, FLOW.

You’ll need to fight upstream a few times when injustice requires it. Thump bullies on the nose – they deserve it and it will teach them a lesson, but only do it if the cause is noble.

Other times you’ll need to jump and you’ll get some bruises and even broken bones. Leaping from the safety of your current ride is really scary but sometimes necessary.

Be ready for your destination

Look ahead to see what’s coming. Always be prepared. Know when the end of the current ride is drawing near and gather your stuff you’ve accumulated on that ride so you can leave properly. You can glance back to see where you came from but don’t linger – you need to be already looking for your next ride.

Get out when you arrive and don’t be pushed out the door

Sometimes the cab is ready for you to leave when you aren’t. Be intuitive enough to know that this period is over and you need to leave. Leave graciously – it speaks to your character. You’ll probably never take that same cab again, but word of who you are will travel quickly and affect what taxi you catch next.


And remember, have fun on the ride of your life!


Lead On!


How to Use a Cab – for the Ride of Your Life (part 2 of 3)

Some cabs are going in the same direction as you

The sign of a good leader is when some people are following you and some are chasing you. Know the difference and know the motivation behind how each person is acting – motives reveal all.

Just because someone is going the same direction as you doesn’t mean they agree with everything you say and do and just because someone is going the other way doesn’t mean they wish you ill. But the same is true for you, too. You don’t have to agree with everyone going in your direction or loathe people going the opposite direction. Observe what others are doing and attempt to learn from them – that is wisdom, a hallmark of a great leader.

Know if you want to go with others or take a ride solo

Life’s ride is short and long. Sometimes you want to go alone through some passages while other times the ride is better together. You have to know both your own personality and the passage you’re going through to decide if you want to go through that time alone or not. Making the wrong decision can be painful, but it is never fatal.

You may need to rest a while between rides. Take time. Think about whether you want or need to go solo or with friends. Sometimes it is good to process the knowledge and info you’ve received. Be intentional about setting aside time to think.

Don’t ride with all your baggage; put it in the trunk, out of sight

Some bags are bulkier than others. Learn to empty your bags of garbage so that you don’t carry your trash around. It won’t help anyone and just stinks up the place. Some luggage needs to be left behind once and for all. Some bags need to be given to others through talking with a counselor who can ride with you for a few minutes. Never be encumbered by your last few rides – always build one experience on another for a richer life.

Talk to the cabbie and/or anyone else in the cab

Introverts and extroverts will view this differently. I’m an introvert. I do fine sitting in silence for long periods. But sometimes I just want to ask a question or share an experience with someone. And I’ve learned that getting (well-reasoned) opinions of others can make the ride more fun. Of course, I’ve also had to listen to a few crackpots – just enjoy them for their idiosyncrasies!

Lead On!


How to Use a Cab – for the Ride of Your Life (part 1 of 3)

If I had to give a graduation speech – which I’ve never done – what would I say? Something like this:

Know where you are and be conscious of why you want to leave

You need to know why you want to leave before you decide you should leave. You need to have a compelling reason to leave. If you don’t know where you are and why you want to leave, you’ll end up nowhere. Take stock of your home and what it offers before you leave – you can appreciate where you’re going more if you know what you’re leaving behind.

Know where you want to go (or at least the neighborhood where you want to end up)

Have some goals in mind. They don’t need to be your final goals but establish a general direction. Birds don’t know their exact landing spot; they start moving in the direction they want to go and decide where to land when they near their destination. You can be pretty general about this and always be willing to change as you progress in your life, but you need to have a general direction to start.

Know which direction you need to go first

You’ll probably change careers seven to ten times in your life. You don’t need to know every step of the way, just the immediate next step. Don’t worry about every step, just plan on the next one. Then, start. You’re not going to have everything planned out so don’t get “analysis paralysis” – just get started.

Stand out from the rest so that a cabbie will see you and stop

There’s a lot of competition out there. Learn early on how to stand out from the rest. That usually means becoming the best of who YOU really are. Always be honest with yourself – it makes living with you easier. Be unique. Don’t try to be like everyone or anyone else – be who God made you.

Know if the cab is going in the wrong direction or taking the long way around

You’re going to meet some people in life who just want to take you for a ride. Don’t be taken in by those who con your emotions for their own gain. Always be willing to speak up for yourself – people are impressed by that. Often, those who speak up for themselves and others are called leaders. Be that.

Lead On!


The Executive Pastor’s Ministry

Does an executive pastor do any ministry or that position completely subsumed in financial, personnel, and facilities management? Good question and here’s my answer:

  1. “Back office” work is ministry, but at a creative and different level. It is not “just” paperwork. I can’t tell you the number of vendors I’ve talked to about church – and those are doors that are not open to other staff persons. When I’ve called a customer service line and got a call center in India, I knew that they could see they were dealing with a church and that I might be the only Christian that person EVER speaks to in his/her life. Paying bills on time is a HUGE witness to vendors who are sour on church. I used all those things to educate other ministers to help them think outside the box and understand that the minutia they detested really did have a Kingdom impact. Think about this as not “just paperwork” but as opportunities for creative ministry. For instance, every year I shred old financial docs – I leverage that by telling members that they can bring in their stuff to shred (because I really don’t much for the shredder). The senior adults LOVE that they can bring in all their old files from the 1960s. So, what I was doing any way I could use to help others and everyone wins.
  2. The XP ministry is higher and more focused in scope. XPs continue to do the ministry they were doing before but now use those opportunities to train the campus and other pastors so they can learn from the XP. Every XP must seek every chance to teach the next rising generation how to do avoid mistakes and to stand taller on the XP’s shoulders. XPs get to work with a high level of volunteers and members – leaders in their community and businesses who can open doors for the church that most ministers can’t imagine. That can give an XP an opportunity to reach people who would never come to the church, all because the XP is working with high-net worth members or upper management members. Most churches neglect high capacity donors but that needs to a focal point for the Senior & Executive Pastors for both the sake of those people and of the church.
  3. The XP ministry is at a broader level. Not just on a campus but on a larger basis and even, through professional contacts, the XP reaches people across the state and region. People will come to the XP’s church to learn the way that church does things and the XP can teach them so they can replicate what the XP is doing in their own context. Just as the XP needs to follow in the footsteps of others, every XP is also responsible for pulling those behind him or her up to his or her level. This is a leadership position – one that people look up to and want to emulate. This position needs to be worth following, not “just another minister.”

The ministry of the XP is more creative, deeper, higher, and broader than other ministers. It requires more excellent ministers to do this work for the Kingdom.

Lead On!


“Not My Job” Syndrome

I’ve heard that saying too many times. I’ve heard it from both church staff and from church members. That saying bothers me. It is an excuse to not do something that should be done but for whatever reason the person feels it is not their responsibility. I’ve seen it said by people looking at trash on the floor of a church or icy sidewalks – “the church needs to get it’s custodian to do his job” or when a person is in the hospital or shut-in at home – “the pastor or deacons need to go visit, that’s not my job.”


People who think like this tend to think like employees, even if they are volunteers and members – they are there to do a specific task, they aren’t responsible to do anything outside their areas, and they fear the consequences of taking action so they do nothing.


On the other hand, owners will often do things they’ve assigned to others (because that other person is doing something else); owners will take initiative and not wait for things to happen; owners will empower others and even absorb criticism because they know what they are doing is for the best.


Church leaders must expect all staff and all members to be owners – of the mission and vision of the church, of the church’s finances and facilities, of the ministries and programs that are the lifeblood of the church. God has entrusted all these resources to us – God wants us to act like owners.


Lead On!