When Leaders Are Called Losers

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I don’t like the Vietnam era or anything related to it. I lived in the midst of it, had friends who lost relatives in the war and friends who fought in the war and were never the same.  For that reason, as much as I like war documentaries, I never watch anything about Vietnam, except for “We Were Soldiers”.  The movie is a 2002 film that dramatizes the Battle of Ia Drangonthat took place on November 14, 1965.
If I’d known the movie was about Vietnam I might not have watched it.  However, once I started watching it, I was hooked.  It wasn’t so much the plot that attracted me as much as a segment of a speech the protagonist of the movie, U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (played by Mel Gibson) gives to his men right before they head to Vietnam:
This I swear before the Almighty God: when we go into the battle, I’ll be first to set foot on the field.  I’ll be the last to step off.  I’ll leave no one behind.  Dead or alive, we’ll all come home together.  So help me God.
The statement touched me deeply.  All my life I’d lived by that creed, but this was the first time someone had articulated it for me.  I’m the type of a leader who likes to get close to his people — become buddy-buddy.  I refuse to shove my position down anyone’s throat in order to prove my superiority.  Those who know me, know very well that as a Christian leader I’ll never send my people anywhere I’ve not been myself, nor expect them to accomplish anything I haven’t or at least attempted to do myself.  And, because of that I was called a loser.
I must have really ticked off the mega-church pastor when he looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re a loser because you have no respect for your position and want to be buddy-buddy with everyone.”  In other words, I was a loser because I was too close and friendly with those around me.
“Pastor,” I said to the man, “when Jesus walked among us, he refused to ride on a horse.  He preferred to rub elbows with those around him, the sinners and the scum of the earth.  He didn’t give a crap about his position when the religious leaders of his time accused him of being ‘buddy-buddy’ with common people.  However, when He comes back, He’ll be riding on a horse to smash the heads of God’s enemies.”
For the sake of honor, I’m one of those leaders who refuses to ride a horse while fighting along side of his people.  I’d rather be the first to set foot on the field and last to step off than one who sits behind his desk in an air-conditioned mansion of an office telling others how to do things I’ve never done myself.  I’d rather be called a “buddy” by the forsaken than a “winner” by the likes of that pastor.
When I was in 5thgrade in Iran, we read a story about one of the old kings of our country. The king loved to read. One late night as he was reading, the oil in his lamp ran out. His servant, who was standing behind him, reached over to take the lamp away for refilling when the king stopped him.
“I will do it myself,” said the king to the servant.
Absolutely shocked and dismayed, the servant replied, “But sire, it is beneath his majesty to do such a menial job.” But, he could not argue with his king.
So, the king got up, refilled the lamp and sat down to read. Knowing that his servant was still uncomfortable with what had just transpired, he turned around looking the servant in the eyes said to him, “When the oil ran out I was the king, when I got up and filled the lamp I was the king and when I finally sat down again I was still the king. Doing a servant’s job did NOT take away my kingly position.
Pastor…leader, do you ever befriend people for no reason at all, or are there always strings attached?  Do you ever go out of your way to rub elbows with those who are not in your class, or is getting off your high horse too uncomfortable for you?  As I look around today, I notice that a true friendship is one of the most desired, and yet most lacking commodities in our society.  Why not be a loser in order to become that desired commodity?  Maybe then you’ll gain the ability and privilege to share the Gospel of Christ with those whom you’ve become “buddies” with.  

Are You A Heat-Waver?

Have you watched the show, “King of the Hill”? It’s one of the very few animated TV shows that tells stories with moral values. In Season 12, Episode 4 (“Four Wave Intersection”), Bill — a depressed, divorced, and overweight character on the show — becomes known as the famous “Heat-Waver” when he begins to stand on the side of the highway in a scorching summer heat to wave to passing motorists.

At first, some drivers are annoyed by his seemingly foolish act, but eventually, they start to wave back. It doesn’t take Bill too long to realize how every driver enjoys being acknowledged even though they have no idea who Bill is. So, he shows up the next day on the same spot to do the same thing. Soon, he becomes the talk of the town and even radio talk-show hosts begin to talk about the “Heat-Waver”.  

For me, it all started one Saturday in 1998 when Karen and I decided to start a Bible study at our house for unbelievers, pre-Christians, non-Christians, or whatever is politically correct to call those who don’t follow Christ.

After 2 hours of discussion, we realized, as great as our attempt was, we didn’t know too many non-Christians. We worked with Christians, served Christians, went to church with Christians, socialized with Christians, ate and drank with Christians, and, consequently, had very a few non-Christian friends. Like most Christians, we lived under an illusional bubble called “Christendom”— a bubble that separated us from the real world and limited us in fulfilling the Great Commission.

As we were trying to figure out where we could find more unbelievers, one of us (I don’t remember which one) said, “Hey, what about our neighbors?” “Oh, yes! What a novel idea,” I thought to myself. However, the idea was NOT that novel.

After 8 years of living in our neighborhood, aside from the next-door neighbors on either side of our house, we barely knew anyone in our neighborhood. Why? Because we were too busy serving at the church.

So, that very day I went house-to-house on our block to invite neighbors to our home for dinner. That was the start of one of the greatest decisions Karen and I have ever made: loving our neighbors by befriending them.

In 2006 when I lost my job working for a Christian organization, I became a full-time househusband, which helped me get even more involved with the lives of my neighbors, or anyone I ran into in my neighborhood. I started my own “Heat-Wave”. I began to wave and say “hi” to anyone who drove or pass by our house. When I took my dog, Cocoa, for a walk I made sure to greet everyone I met on the street and it didn’t matter if I knew them or not. Everybody deserved to be waved at and greeted.

At first, there were some who didn’t wave back. After all, this is Los Angeles. Within some cultures, to show your teeth as the result of a smile is considered a weakness, but I kept waving and greeting. It didn’t take very long before almost everyone in the neighborhood started to wave back and came to know the man and his Chocolate Lab.

Today when Karen takes Cocoa for a walk, it’s not unusual for strangers to walk up to her and say, “Hi, Cocoa!” and then, immediately look at Karen and say, “Where’s your husband?” But wait, there’s more…

As I got to know my neighbors better, our relationships deepened and I was allowed to ask questions of them. You see, when you show people you care enough to acknowledge them even if it is by a simple wave or a greeting, they will eventually open up to you. It did take a while, but little by little, neighbors began to pull over or stop by to talk to me. Our conversations would go something like this:

Me: “ Hi, my name is Shah. What’s your name?”

Neighbor: “‘Jack’! It’s so kind of you to wave at me every day when I go by your house. Good to finally meet you.”

Me: “What do you do for living, Jack?”

Jack: “I’m an engineer. What do you do?”

Me: “I’m a writer. Here, I have a gift for you.” Going to the garage, I come back with a copy of my book and give it to “Jack” as a gift.

I don’t need to SHARE the Gospel with Jack, whom I just met. My book will eventually do that. For now, I want him to understand how important he is to me. Important enough that every time he runs into me, or drives by my house, he’ll be greeted by a wave and a smile as a significant person.

It’s one of those pleasant June evenings in Los Angeles. Many of our neighbors are out for a walk and I’m playing with Cocoa on the front lawn. She loves to fetch her red ball. As I look up, I see Jasmine approaching me.

“Cocoa,” she screams. I don’t think she remembers my name, but Cocoa she remembers. It must be Cocoa’s color that does it, or maybe her loving demeanor.

“Where’s Victor?” referring to her husband, I ask.

“Didn’t I tell you?”


“Victor was diagnosed with, how do you say? The blood cancer.”

“You mean leukemia?”

“Yes, that’s it. He’s very weak and can’t walk with me.”

“Will you let me pray for him?” I ask as I reach over, grab her hands and begin to pray.

Jasmine walks away with tears in her eyes thanking me.

A few minutes later Kevin pulls up. He’s my neighbor around the block.

“How are you, brother?” He’s been calling me that ever since I got to know him.

“Hey, have you lost any of Vicky’s dogs lately?” I teasingly ask him.

A few weeks earlier as I was walking Cocoa in the hills across the street from our house, Kevin approached me with tears in his eyes.

“Brother, I need your help?”

“What’s up?”

“As you know, my wife, Vicky trains dogs. Well, a few minutes ago, one of them ran away from our house.” I’ve been walking up and down the block, but can’t find him.

Without asking a word, I put my hand on his shoulder and begin to pray for the dog to come back.

That night my neighbor, Jeff, on the end of the block finds the dog.

As Kevin drives away, I suddenly realized: I may not have a church building, but I’m the block’s official pastor.

PS: This morning Jasmine told me Victor’s doing much better.

The $5 Sinner’s Prayer

 The other day my wife, Karen, was channel surfing when she came across a very well known preacher who’d just finished his Sunday morning message.
With a perpetual smile on his face, the preacher said something like, “As it is our custom at this church, we’d like to give everyone the opportunity to become a Christian. So, if you want to become a Christian, please repeat after me.” He then went on to pray a traditional sinner’s prayer. What got my attention was what he said after he finished the prayer.
“If you repeated this prayer, you’re now a Christian. Make sure to find yourself a good Bible teaching church,” he said as he continued to smile.
His statement reminded me of the something that happened to me over 35 years ago.
In those days many people hitchhiked. I’d been one of those people for several years. So, when I finally bought my first car, wanting to pay my debt back to all those who’d at one time or another given me a ride, I’d picked up any hitchhiker who came across my path.
One particular day going home from work, I picked up this homeless guy off the freeway on-ramp. He was a tall thin man in his 30s. As soon as he got inside the car, he began coughing and sneezing blowing his nose in the used tissue paper I had stuck in my ashtray—Yes, those days all cars had ashtrays.
As it was my custom when I had a hitchhiker in my car, I began to share the Gospel with the man. Before I could even finish my sentence, he stopped me and said something that I’ll never forget for as long as I live. Very calmly and as a matter of fact he said, “For $5 I’ll repeat the Sinner’s Prayer for you.”
I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to say. I’d never had someone selling me his sinner’s prayer. He honestly thought he was doing me favor. Apparently, he’d been through this many times and by now he’d realized that by repeating some words, he was going to give me the satisfaction of thinking I’d brought him to Christ and therefore I owed him a few bucks – $5 to be exact.
Is it really true that by repeating some words one automatically becomes a Christian? Only the Lord knows since it is the faith in our hearts and not just the confession our mouths that saves us (Rom. 10:9). Could the above man had gone through the rest of his life repeating the prayer over and over again while making some money, but still end up in hell?
Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe a simple prayer can save a man’s soul. On the other hand, just because a man has repeated a prayer doesn’t make him a saved person. To assume that is to practice Islamic theology and cheapen the Gospel.
In order to become a Muslim, all you have to do is repeat the following phrase (known as the Shahada) in Arabic: “I testify that there’s no god but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger.” Although it’s desired that one recites the phrase form the heart, a Muslim will rejoice in hearing you repeat the Shahada and will consider you a Muslim. And, it doesn’t matter if you understood a word you’ve said. Case in point, the following video-clip.
In this clip, an Arabic speaking sheikh (Muslim cleric) is guiding a Portuguese soccer player to become a Muslim by repeating the Shahada. Those who speak Arabic will find the clip quite funny, which is not the goal of this blog. My goal is to expose the danger of automatically calling someone a Christian because they have recited the words we put into their mouths.

What is the difference between this sheikh and the above pastor?
PS. I never asked my hitchhiker to repeat after me. Instead, I took him to a restaurant and bought him a nice chicken fried steak dinner.

Let’s NOT Do Lunch

So, the other day I ran into an old friend I’d not seen for a long time. As he was rushing to a meeting, he said, “Let’s do lunch!”

Having heard that phrase many times before, I wasn’t about to just let it go without a response. I called his bluff.

“Absolutely!” I replied. “When?”

He was caught quite off guard. He didn’t expect me to call him on his offer.

“Well, I’ve got to get back to you on it.”

I wanted to scream, “Hey, I didn’t ask to have lunch with you. You’re the one who suggested it while knowing it was an empty gesture.”

Do you know what happens when we give our word to do something and then renege?

1. We destroy the very foundation of all true relationships—trust. Without trust, there’s no true relationship. However, trust will be established when we stay true to our promises.

2. We give the impression that the person on the receiving end of our empty promise is neither important nor needed. Unfortunately, most of us tend to treat a person we esteem important or needed more differently than an average Joe Christian.

I was raised in a culture where to blindly trust people was your demise. In that society, we were expected not to trust, so everyone went around with his guard up 24/7. Shouldn’t we Christians be a bit different than those from my old culture? Shouldn’t all our leadership – our pastors – be people of their words?

A majority of young people I come across today are longing for a community, a place where the people are trustworthy and transparent. A place were the people’s “yes” is “yes” and “no” is “no”.

Creating such an environment starts with us as individuals. The next time you promise to do something for someone, regardless of how unimportant the person might be to you, for Christ’s sake, DO IT. This way, you create a highly sought-after commodity within God’s community—trustworthiness. Let the person know he’s important not because he’s got something that you need, but because he’s made in God’s image.