On today’s episode, expert Kristi McLelland will reveal what the Bible teaches us about being a better leader — through a Middle Eastern perspective. Her words will impact your leadership actions, and maybe even change your life.
Kristi McLelland is a speaker, teacher, and professor at Williamson College with a Masters in Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary. She has dedicated her life to teaching people how to study the Bible for themselves, teaching, preaching, discipleship, writing about how God is better than we ever knew by teaching the Bible through a Middle Eastern lens. She leads phenomenal (yes, I can speak from experience) biblical study trips to Israel, Turkey & Greece.
Learn how a Middle Eastern perspective on the Bible can change your leadership, and life:
- Going into the “midbar” to get your “divar” [8:48]
- What’s the point of spiritual disciplines like prayer, reading the word? [15:34]
- Why some leaders can’t “give” to those they serve [16:23]
- Understanding the Greco Roman style that influence our learning [17:27]
- How we misinterpret”God’s absence” in our lives [21:16]
- Why does God allow suffering, and what do we do about it in our leadership when we’re in struggle? [24:18]
- The key Jewish idiom in Jesus’ sermon on the mount [29:32]
- Three cultural norms that govern the Middle East, and give us insight into the context of the Bible [30:34]
- A question to ask of your leadership, that Jesus confronts us with on the sermon on the mount [32:02]
- Understanding God’s economy [33:04]
- The life-changing difference between the Middle Eastern lens of the Bible and the Western lens [36:59]
- The Bible is a story of God pursuing the lost, not judging them, but rescuing them [41:50]
Kristi McLelland – NewLensBiblicalStudies.com
Kristi M: You know, a difference in the Greeks and the Jews and our Western way and the Middle Eastern way of the Bible, is the Greeks being philosophers…you learn sitting down, you know, we sit in desk, we read books. They are a writing culture. For the Jews, you learn in your body. It’s through embodiment. If you’re a disciple of Jesus, you are not sitting at a desk taking notes. You are walking with him, you are being covered in the dust of your rabbi. You’re following him and he’s teaching as he goes.
Chris LoCurto: Welcome to the Chris LoCurto show where we discuss leadership and life and discover that business is what you do, not who you are.
Chris LoCurto: Well folks, welcome to the show. Today I am crazy excited because joining me in the studio is the brilliant Kristi McClelland. Welcome to the show, Kristi.
Kristi M: Thank you Chris. Thanks for having me today.
Chris LoCurto: This is a great dear friend of mine. We have known each other for literally decades. We go back a ways and have had a phenomenal trip recently where we went, Kristi took us, our leadership team, went on a trip with Kristi to Israel and folks, I got to tell you, this was the most life changing trip I’ve ever had in my life. We’ve done, Kristi and I had done missions trips, back in the days, and when I say back in the days, I mean a long time ago, long time ago, long time ago. But this was by far the most life changing trip that I’ve ever experienced. And today we’re going to be talking on the show about leadership through that Middle Eastern Lens, the biblical truths, all that kind of fun stuff. But before we get in, tell them all about you.
Kristi M: Well, first of all, thanks for having me here, Chris. 12 years ago, God opened up the door for me to go study the Bible in Egypt and Israel. And I tell people all the time I went to Israel and learned that God is actually better than I ever knew.
Chris LoCurto: Oh my gosh. She says that all the time on the trip. And you know it and then you see it and then you’re like, oh my gosh, that’s true.
Kristi M: Absolutely. So the last I had spent the last 17 years on staff at a church. I’d been teaching Bible in the Biblical Studies Department at Williamson College. I’m starting my 14th year there and enjoying every minute of that. And it just felt like a gift. It wasn’t really anything that I was looking for. It was an adventure that the Lord brought to me. I love this quote by Cs Lewis in the chronicles of Narnia. “We must go on and take the adventure that shall fall to us.” And I tell people all the time, Israel found me. Pilgrimage found me. It was something that the living God had for me. And at the time that I went and studied, I had no dreams of taking teams. I didn’t know that that was going to be in God’s plan for me. And I remember being on the plane flying home and I just started crying because there was this deep and intrinsic, knowing Kristi, you’re going to this, you’re going to function like a bridge between the Western church and the worlds of the Bible. So for the past 11 years we’ve been taking teams on two week biblical study trips to Israel, Turkey and Greece. We’ve just recently launched Italy. We’ll be taking our first group to Italy. For me, I’m a visual learner. I learn by what I see and what I touch and so being able to see, I tell people all the time, you can never unsee what you’ve seen.
Chris LoCurto: Joel actually came to me on this and because he was in I think it was your Israel class at their church, and he came in and said, hey, Kristi is doing this trip to Israel. You want to go? And it was literally, yes, it was like it was, it was that fast. I want to go, I want to go do this. And it was so life changing. I love what you just said. It was an adventure because you continually talk to us about it being pilgrimage. Those of us that are Christians. So you know, if some of you out there listening to this, you’re not believers, that’s fine. Listen to what we’re talking through. Listen to just the amazing things that we’ve experienced and how it applies to your life and how it applies to leadership. But for those of us that are believers, it is a pilgrimage. So kind of explain what that means and what that’s like. Cause for us, you said it and we knew that and we could read it through the scriptures and we could see this. But then you get there and it all of a sudden it hits you what pilgrimage really is. So kind of talk about that.
Kristi M: So for me as a teacher, a teacher is a learner, first. I tell people all the time, my learning to teaching ratio is about five to one. I teach about one thing for every five things that I learned. And I think the same applies to leadership. Leaders are ever learners. And the idea of pilgrimage. There’s a Psalm, it’s psalm 84 it’s known as a pilgrimage psalm. Now I tell people all the time, pilgrimage doesn’t begin when we get on the airplane to go. Pilgrimage begins the moment you say yes to it and some ancient and eternal way. It activates our spirits, our souls, our hearts. It opens us to new experiences, a new adventure, new learning, new transformation. And in psalm 84 there’s a verse and it talks about blessed is the man whose heart is set on pilgrimage. He moves from strength to strength until he appears before God in Zion. And one of the most important things I’ve learned over the last 12 years is pilgrimage is all about letting God do his work in us for us and through us in ways that we could never do for ourselves.
Chris LoCurto: There’s so many things we want to teach and there’s so many things we want to talk about and so many things that we learned over there that I came out of ministry, we did things back in the 90s and all that stuff. I came out of ministry as well. So much stuff that we have learned in our western Lens. It’s not that it’s wrong, it’s just not complete understanding. There’s so many things by not understanding the culture, understanding the words, that when you do, all of a sudden there’s this amazing richness. So God’s word is fantastic already in the way that we teach it here in a western culture. But then when you see it literally lived out, understand the culture, all that. It becomes so much more powerful in your life. And so going over there for us, I couldn’t say a better word than adventure.
Chris LoCurto: It was like a really cool, great thing because we’re going to do this phenomenal Bible study where we hit four to five stops every single day and just really dig into God’s word. But you get to see it and all of a sudden, just like you said, that pilgrimage concept that that moving from strength to strength, it felt like our whole time, like every day you would literally move from strength to strength. I mean there’s pieces that as you’re going along at the same time, you know, for me, I don’t, I don’t know about everybody else on the trip, but there was a morning I just lost it. There was so much stuff that God was just shoving into me at one time. It was just, I’m seeing your love so greater than I’ve ever experienced before. And for me that was another strength of, okay, let’s move in this direction here.
Chris LoCurto: So all that said, I completely agree. Phenomenal adventure. Pilgrimage is something that all I can do is think about what’s next, when are we gonna do what’s next? So all of that to build into what we’re talking about today, which is that leadership through that Middle Eastern Lens, the very first meeting that we had about going to over there, I don’t remember exactly what I said that brought this up, but you let, God’s going to give you a word. God’s going to give you a word. And the Hebrew way is a divar in the midbar, which that means that going out to the wilderness, this is not going to translate unless we explain all of that. So what is the mid bar? Talk about that. Talk about how that comes about.
Kristi M: So a little bit about west versus east or our Western way versus a Middle Eastern way to lead into this as a an American people, we are infinitely more Athens and Rome than we are Jerusalem. We are infinitely more Greco Roman in our cultural norms than we are Jewish. My specialty in Bible Teaching, I’m known as a biblical culturalist and what that means is I teach the Bible through its original historical, cultural, geographical and linguistic context. I function like a time machine. I want to take you back 2000 years to the first century world of Jesus. Take you back 3000 years, 3,500 years. It’s getting to know Jesus. It’s getting to know the Patriarchs in their world, in their day and their time. One of the things I learned in Israel that encouraged me so much as the Greeks were philosophers. It’s all about ideas and learning.
Kristi M: The acquisition of knowledge. The Greeks loved knowledge, but the Hebrews have always loved the light, the light of the revelation of the Living God, the story of the Bible. And so shifting from being one who’s trying to acquire knowledge for knowledge sake, to seeking to receive revelation for transformation sake has literally been changing my life for the last 12 years. And in Israel, when you talk about where do you go to get your word, the Hebrew word for word is Davar and the word for wilderness or desert is midbar. And there’s a phrase in the Middle East that you go into the mid bar to get your divar. You go into the wilderness to get your word from the Lord and you say, Kristi, how do you see this playing itself out in scripture? It was in the midbar in Exodus chapter three where Moses interacts with the living God through the burning bush.
Kristi M: Elijah flees to the midbar after defeating the prophets of Baal and Asherah and it’s in the mid bar that he hears the still small voice. Right after Jesus’ baptism in the gospels, the Bible says the spirit of God led him into the desert. Why? After baptism, he’s going into the midbar to get his divar, to get his word in the wilderness and we are a people who love to avoid the wilderness. We love to avoid the desert, but a Middle Eastern people. That’s the rich place. That’s where you go to get your word. I heard a rabbi say, once “God does his best work in the wilderness, he does his best work in the desert,” and we’re always asking the question, how do I get out of this wilderness season? How do I get out of this desert? But in the biblical world, they would say, the better question is not how do I get out of this, but how do I carry the wilderness with me for the rest of my life?
Chris LoCurto: What am I getting while I’m here? You took us into the wilderness and it’s amazing. We use that term wilderness in a western culture and you just think of crazy wild stuff you think any anything goes. And really that’s also the way that it is over there as well. You don’t really know. But for us being in that wilderness when we traveled all the way out to it and then we got down in it. So you had mentioned to me, Chris, God’s going to give you a word and it’s so funny how God works as I’m going through this process. And not only do we go down into the midbar and have study and learn and take a look around and kind of understand what this is like and kind of understand, you know, what the psalmist is talking about, about, you know, walking through the Valley of the shadow of death, that this is that place that at any moment, you know, flash floods can happen.
Chris LoCurto: All kinds of bad stuff can happen in this place. That this is a place that God really truly meets people and guides people through this process. And then we climb out. We have this phenomenal hike. I don’t remember what the distance was, but it was pretty fantastic and insane of just climbing, climbing and looking at everything around us. As I came out, everybody, you know, not everybody, but a lot of people were talking about this is what I just received down there. And people are experienced this and I’m going, where’s my word? Like I’ve been waiting on this thing for a year, you know, where’s God and I was praying the whole time and all this. And so I’m like, okay, well you’re God, so you have something for me. Either I’m not hearing it or I’m missing it. Whatever it is, my trust is in you, my faith is in you.
Chris LoCurto: And then we roll on to another site where when our lesson in that place was this hospitality, this lesson of hospitality. We don’t understand how important hospitality is in a Western culture to God. In an Eastern culture it is, it is vital. There’s a lot of scriptures that we don’t understand why people choose to protect a foreigner, even over their own family and not realizing that that is this call of, this is your protection. You have to do this, you have to take care of this. So as we’re going through this process, we have our bathroom breaks and this family, I looked over and I saw this family roll up and they all got out and they’re at these picnic tables. And it was a father, a mother, an older daughter, a middle son, and a younger daughter. And the older daughter’s over there just doing this little routine, like a dance routine she must do at school or something like that.
Chris LoCurto: And it just thought to myself, that’s fun. They’re just having this great family time out here. We go to the restroom and as I’m leaving I hear this “sit down.” Okay. So I just sat down and then it’s like five minutes, I stand up and turn around. I stand up and turn around and here is that father and all of a sudden I see literally lived out before me. Here’s this Palestinian Muslim who steps up and is just like, hey, where are you from? How’s it going? And starts this conversation. You know, you don’t know what to say. How do you handle the situation? And I remember just going, how do I be as vague as possible about what we’re doing? I don’t want to be offensive. I don’t want to say anything that you know, sets him off or anything like that. And I’m just like, well we’re just here learning your, you know, your history.
Chris LoCurto: And he goes, oh, it’s all of our history man. And boom, it was just this hit of here is somebody who in a western culture would be the person we would say, nope, stay away from this person. You don’t understand them. This is bad. And He loved on me. His older daughter runs over and now she doesn’t speak any English, but she wanted to find out what’s going on. The next kid comes up, the next kid and it just becomes this amazing time of watching this lived out and it’s like God goes, do you have your word now? Do you understand? This is what I’m looking for you to discover. So just that powerful moment of going, okay, and we’re pretty hospitable people here. You know, we have people in all the time. We’re constantly taking care of them. But it was as if God was saying, I want you to see there’s more to it than you think.
Chris LoCurto: And it’s not just a specific people. This is important to me. So that was such a big piece for me coming out of that wilderness of going, okay, because since then he’s been dropping all kinds of stuff in my life. So you just talked about how here we try to avoid the wilderness and how we try to get out of it and everything. How do you walk out lessons coming out of the mid bar? How do you take that kind of stuff or the lessons that you’re experiencing and how do you walk that out in your life?
Kristi M: In the church, we talk about spiritual disciplines and spiritual rhythms. Prayer, Bible study, going to charge, tithing, serving on missions. But for 2000 years, pilgrimage has been considered as a spiritual discipline and rhythm of the church. And the question becomes, why? Are the disciplines given to us because God wants us to follow rules or is he getting at something completely different? And one of the things I learned in Israel is all of the spiritual disciplines, all the spiritual rhythms, all the things that we do, as a people living in the way of Jesus, it’s not about following rules, it’s about creating space, creating space for what and for who? And all the disciplines they serve as a way for us to create space for God to come in and fill it. I heard a counselor say to me one time, Kristi, you can’t give what you don’t have.
Kristi M: And I think sometimes as leaders, as shepherds, as pastors and whatever role we serve, sometimes we try to give from what we don’t have. And I think that maybe the mid bar is one of the places of our greatest inheritance. It’s where God seeks to deposit things into our forever stories into our forever journeys. It’s a place of aid. It’s a place of equipping. It’s a place of strengthening. I know in my own life I enjoy the easy times, but I honestly don’t tend to learn a lot from them. I start learning quickly, rapidly, voraciously when things are going wrong, when things are hard, that’s more what has shaped me, what has formed me. And over the last 12 years I’ve come to love the mid bar. I love taking teams down into the wilderness of Zin and taking that hike up and out of it.
Kristi M: You know, a difference in the Greeks and the Jews and our Western way and the Middle Eastern way of the Bible is the Greeks being philosophers…you learn sitting down, you know, we sit in desk, we read books, they’re a writing culture. For the Jews you learn in your body. It’s through embodiment. If you’re a disciple of Jesus, you are not sitting at a desk taking notes. You walking with him, you are being covered in the dust of your rabbi. You’re following him and he’s teaching as he goes. And I’ve learned that for me it’s such a better way to learn who the living God is, who he is in my everyday life of dust and ruin is I get up and go to work and live my every day normal Monday through Sunday and it’s the way that God meets me. It’s these intersections and I’ve learned to love the mid bar.
Kristi M: I cannot wait to take teams. You think about the Temple Mount, you think about places like Bethlehem and Nazareth, places that people love to go, but when I take teams to Israel, one of my favorite days is taking them into the mid bar because I really do believe it’s a gift given to them, and it’s creating that space for the living God to speak, to say what he wants to say, to do what he wants to do. In a way, none of us can control and some ancient way. In a way, none of us want to control because he’s doing more than we could ever ask or imagine.
Chris LoCurto: You know it’s so important to understand that the struggles, the the mid bar, the suffering, like you pointed out, the stuff that I teach here, it’s so funny when people come through and they start to hear about my failures. If we’re doing an event or something like that, and I start talking about failures, people are like, oh, praise God, and it’s like praise God, what? I’m just glad to know that you failed. I’m like, are you kidding? My, everything I teach is from learning from failure. Oh, I failed a ton of times. I’ve screwed so much stuff up. It’s ridiculous. There’s not, I don’t have a count. God has that count. I couldn’t even count up the times I screwed up. It’s the learning. It’s the suffering that I’ve been through and learning out of it. It’s the stupid decisions that I’ve made and learning from it that allows me to teach and grow people.
Chris LoCurto: So yours is a five to one I think on my failure, stupid ratio. It’s probably about a 20 to one you know? I love it. That’s an actual metric, right? Yes. I screw up about 20 times when I teach somebody what not to do. Something like that, but I think it’s so powerful like as people go through Next-Level Life or as teams are coming in through here as leadership teams, one of the things we show them is do not, and James Talks about this, don’t ask God to stop the crap. Don’t ask him to stop what you’re in. You have to change your mindset. Your mindset needs to be focused on, okay, I am in it. If God does take me out of it right away, what’s my benefit? I could say that I went through something difficult, but if I stay right here knowing that he is the god of the universe, he’s not surprised I’m in this junk or this mess or I’ve made the stupid decision.
Chris LoCurto: If I trust him and I realized that he’s aware, then that means he has a plan. He has a better process. He has something he’s wanting to show me. He’s wanting to teach me. He’s wanting to release me from many times out of struggle and suffering. I’ve actually walked away getting rid of bad decision making or bad situations or any of that kind of stuff, and so I think it’s so powerful that as we walk through and we’re talking about the wilderness, that was one of, I don’t know 40 50, I don’t even know what’s the number of spots.
Kristi M: It’s around 66.
Chris LoCurto: 66 spots that we hit. I didn’t think about that, so that’s one spot of all these different places that we just dig in and learn and grow and it just so crazy powerful.
Kristi M: One of the things I think that’s so important in a biblical understanding of the mid bar is oftentimes in our lives, I don’t know if you do this, but I’ve certainly done it. When things get hard, I start asking, God, where are you? There’s almost this sense of the absence of God when things are going south and it’s encouraged me so much. When you look through the biblical narrative, the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years and God wandered with them. He literally said, build me a tabernacle because I’m going to live out this desert experience with and among you. God promises to enter into our chaos to bring order. He promises to enter into our brokenness to bring restoration and renewal. He takes what is crooked and makes it straight. He takes what is high and lowers it so that we can walk.
Kristi M: He takes what’s low and raises it. He is the one who sets a short path for us. And so I’ve learned when things start going south and when things aren’t going well, it’s like Lord of the Bible is true in all. You are present with me in this situation and this experience and this trauma in this hurt in these tough decisions that I have to make and it’s changed it for me. I don’t feel alone. I don’t feel like I’m left to myself. I’ve learned to look for the living God in the mid bar and to actively pray for my divar. And I would say that so much of the wisdom that finds me, cause we never go get wisdom, wisdom finds us. It comes to us. It comes in the mid bar and so it’s been a gift, a pearl that I’ve wanted to bring back to the west to just encourage us in our own day and our own time, whatever we’re doing that when things go south, God is there with and among us. He doesn’t mind walking in dust and ruin. He’s done it before.
Chris LoCurto: He keeps asking for it. He keeps saying, Hey, if you will come this direction, I will be with you in this just come this direction. It’s funny, a lot of people will go through Next-Level Life when we talk through the God thing. We’ll have folks that come through that are, that are Christians, we’ll have people that aren’t, aren’t believers at all that go through this process and when we talk about the God thing with believers or nonbelievers if they want to talk about it. One of the things that we help them to see is we have this belief system that if I do good, God gives me good. If I do bad, God gives me bad. It’s this transactional God. Bad is because bad. If I’m going through something bad, I must’ve been doing something bad. And if things are going really well, then man, I must be phenomenal.
Chris LoCurto: You know, God’s really impressed with me, right? Not Happening. So the interesting thing that I help people to see is how many times throughout the Bible, it’s the exact opposite where God is actually choosing to align us. Now that’s not that it doesn’t happen that way. Sure. So I’ll let you do bad. You get consequences, choices and consequences. Choose bad decisions. You get bad consequences. Choose good ones. You get good ones. But many times God allows good people to go through struggles so that he builds them up. It makes them stronger on the backside. Kind of talk about where you see that in leadership or you know, how does that apply from that eastern Lens to this Western Lens?
Kristi M: I’m getting so excited right now. In the rabbinics they talk about stringing the pearls together, that every biblical story is like a great pearl. It’s beautiful, it’s a great price. But what’s more beautiful than a pearl? It’s a string of pearls together making a beautiful necklace. And when you look at the ancient world, the biblical world, it’s patriarchal. The pater, the father has the highest honor, the highest premium, and the first born son has preeminence. And yet with all of that being sad, when you go all the way back to the origin of the story, back to the genesis, literally the first book of the Bible, Genesis means origin or beginnings. It tends to be the second sign that gets chosen. God loves the underdog. He’s been choosing the underdog from the very beginning. It wasn’t Ishmael, it was Isaac. It wasn’t Esau it was Jacob and on and on and on.
Kristi M: You know, the city of Jerusalem, Zion, the epicenter of the world for the Jewish people, it’s the most unlikely place to make your capital for your nation. It’s easily invaded. Always from the north, by the way. Water is only found at the Gihon spring, so you have to channel it into the city. So it’s so beautiful that God didn’t choose a city where his name would dwell right along the Nile river where water is so plenteous or somewhere else. No, it’s Jerusalem, it’s in the middle of the desert where the city dwells that carries God’s name, not because it has everything right, but because it lives in this dynamic powerlessness, this active dependence on the living God to provide the sun and the rain for its sustainability. And that’s a lesson for all of us.
Chris LoCurto: Absolutely. So you just spoke at one of our retreats here for our Next-Level Mastermind group and powerful It was so phenomenal. It was great to bring this back to a bunch of leaders to kind of learn this stuff. The topics that we want to hit is immense and insane, but one of the things that you hit and you’re going to be the great thing is you’re going to be speaking at our Next-Level Leadership LIVE Event in May. Excited about that. Cannot wait for that. But one of the things you hit was this phenomenal story about the good eye. Now as it’s preached here and in the West, it’s usually preached to something else, but you bring this phenomenal revelation to people. Talk about that a little bit.
Kristi M: You know, the interesting thing about words is they have meaning, right? Different cultures use words in different ways. In our English language, English is a noun based language, but Hebrew is a verb based language. It’s all in the action. It’s the action that’s the subject of a sentence. And so one of the things when I am teaching Bible here, I love to point out some examples in the Bible where we read it as Westerners and we see words that we would define in a certain way. But the question becomes how did the biblical authors mean it when they used those words? When Jesus is talking, what does he mean by the words and terms that he’s using? And in Matthew five, six and seven, we have the most famous sermon ever preached or ever written down. We call it the sermon on the mount.
Kristi M: And right in the heart of it in Mathew chapter six, verses 22 and 23 Jesus talks about that your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. And if your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. Everybody goes, wow, if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. And so we’re all reading this and we’re going, oh my goodness, there is something so important about my eye that my whole entire body is going to follow this. So the question becomes, what is Jesus talking about, when he talks about a good eye versus a bad eye? Because clearly we want to be a people with a good eye. Yeah. And so often here in the west, the way that we have understood this interpreted and taught it is you know, guard your eye gate, which is good wisdom.
Kristi M: Don’t look at things you shouldn’t be looking at. Don’t be searching your computer for things that you shouldn’t be searching for. But if we could take a time machine back 2000 years to the world of Jesus, they had Jewish idioms, sayings and phrases that if you’re living in that day and time, you know exactly what everyone is talking about. We have our own here in the west. “It takes one to know one” “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” You have to know what Vegas is to understand that idiom
Chris LoCurto: they just had, what happens in Decapolis stays in Decaoplis…
Kristi M: That’s exactly right. What happens with the Greeks stays with the Greeks. Yep. Keep it Jewish people. And so when Jesus is talking here in the sermon on the mount as a Jewish rabbi to a Jewish people, when he raises the idea of a good eye, that’s a Jewish idiom not only back in Jesus’s Day, but to this day in the land of Israel, and to have a good eye means to be generous, to have a bad eye means to be stingy, to be tight fisted. And you say, Kristi, how in the world culturally, do we understand that? If you look at the scriptures, the passage right before it is about money and the passage right after it is about money, Jesus is talking about money and our stewardship of it. And so essentially he says the man who was generous, his whole body will be full of light.
Kristi M: And a man whose eye is bad or is stingy or tight fisted, his whole body will be full of darkness. And in the Middle East, there’s three cultural norms that govern the Middle East. Number one, they are an honor, shame culture. Number two, as you’ve already mentioned, they’re a hospitality culture. The way you set a table of welcome, the way you open up your space for others says everything about you. And then third, they are a communal culture. Everything is in the plural. Everything is in the “we.” We’re very individualistic as a western, more Greco Roman people. And so we’re reading the sermon on the mount and we’re like, I want to be a person with a good eye, I want to be generous. And Proverbs Chapter 11, verse 25 in our English bibles, it says, a generous man will prosper himself. But in the original Hebrew, it literally says, a man with a good eye, a generous man will prosper.
Kristi M: And he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. When I take teams to Israel, I get to actually see this lived out when we go onto the Mount of olives. There’s a professional beggar there. He’s in his eighties. He always wears a sort of a black robe with a white hat and when you walk by him, he will shake his cup and you’ll hear him say, Hebrew for righteousness because one of the quintessential definitions of righteousness in Hebrew is generosity. And so we ask ourselves as a person, as a people, as a community, as business leaders, as leaders of nonprofits, whatever organizations, are we fair or are we generous? Do we give everyone exactly what they pay for or do we refuse this culture of scarcity and are we adamant to live in a world anchored in sufficiency? The “I don’t have to take from you for me to have enough.” There’s so much that I can give away and know that I will still be taken care of.
Chris LoCurto: I love the piece that we’re not going to share it here. You are going to teach it at the Next-Level Leadership live event. There is a story that goes with this that just floors leaders and business owners and, oh, I cannot wait for that, but everything that you just talked about with that generous eye and the way that you look at people and you summed it up, I love that. Are we going to refuse this culture of scarcity? We live in this place, rabbi Daniel Lapin talks about this, where people look at money and things and stuff as a pie, and if somebody comes in and takes a big piece of pie, if somebody’s got a lot of money or they have a lot of stuff or a lot of whatever, their business is bigger than mine, then they’ve actually taken away a bigger piece from the pie and I’m losing out. And he’s like, that is not how God’s economy works.
Chris LoCurto: Instead, it’s more like the candle on top of a birthday cake. If I am lit, if I have, if I’m lit…if my candle is lit, I can actually light yours and I’m not losing. God’s economy doesn’t work in the same way our human brains can put it together. It’s like, oh, one plus one equals two and God’s like, no one plus one can equal 4,000 it’s just, it’s the way I choose to do this. And that concept of having a good eye. When you taught that piece here, I mean it just the room, I mean, it was just, whew. There was this big sign, big response from people going, how do I make sure that I’ve got a good eye. And like you said here in Western culture, we teach, “hey, don’t look at pornography. Yes, don’t really don’t.”
Chris LoCurto: It’s still a good idea. This is really good direction here, but the concept of when I’m willing to be generous, you know, one of the things that we always teach is God doesn’t ask you to give or to tithe because he needs your money. He’s God, he can make anything he wants to. He made a universe that’s 93 billion light years across in picoseconds, he can probably handle money. He needs it because he needs your heart to be in that place of giving and letting go. You know, we think we own everything that we have and we actually, you know, Solomon says, hey, go after everything. Go build your empires. Go get as much stuff as you want. Go, you know, do whatever. But realize it’s all in vain because at any moment he could just thump you and go, Hey, I want your focus on me.
Chris LoCurto: So instead when you have that good eye and we got to, AH, okay, I’m going to lose it here. We got to experience this over and over and over again. Our bus driver? The guy who owns the buses. So God. Incredible man, the guy who owns all the, the bus line, his guy couldn’t be there, coincidence. And so he actually took care of us for two weeks, you know, 12 days. He drove our buses around, which by the way, we don’t know how to drive the stuff that he could do with a 55 passenger bus or 40 passenger bus, whatever it was, was just insane.
Kristi M: It’s phenomenal. Modern day miracles.
Chris LoCurto: It really is. But we would be in places that he’s just driving down a road and all of a sudden just slams on the brakes. No, okay. Maybe he didn’t slam on the brakes, but pulls over, gets out, doesn’t say anything. He runs into a store and then comes out with these treats or these things and he’s like, hey, listen, this town, nobody does it like this town here is this Palestinian Muslim bus driver who was stepping onto the bus with a bunch of Christians going, hey, you need to try this. You need to experience. You’re not going to get this anywhere else in our country. This is the place that does it. Right. And then we go somewhere else and …the things that he does, he constantly keeps giving one piece I can’t share because you just have to experience it.
Chris LoCurto: But there’s a point where his generosity, his hospitality just brought a bunch of us to tears. It was just this stunning moment where you’re not expecting it and he’s just taking care of things and he didn’t think anything of it. And it’s just like, how come I have not experienced that? So having that good eye, I’m not going to ever forget him, you know? I hope as we go back, you know, if we could convince them, I’d love to have him again on our tours, but just so crazy powerful. So some of the things I wanted to kind of hit is the difference of how we look at the Bible and the way that they look at the Bible when they read the Bible. Here in a Western culture, especially nowadays, we’ve become so narcissistic in our western Culture Lens that you’re hearing a lot of preaching nowadays saying, read the Bible for what it says about you or what it tells you about you. That’s not how they look at it, is it?
Kristi M: It’s very different there. If I got put my Bible nerd hat on, you know, and I tell my students all the time, we never read the Bible. We interact with it. Yeah, we interact with the text when we are reading the scriptures we’re asking questions of it. And what we don’t often realize is the entire Bible was written by Middle Easterners in a Middle Eastern context, right? And so here we are, thousands of years later, an ocean away, different culture, different time, different language. And when we read the Bible, we tend to ask Western questions of a Middle Eastern book. And so there’s variances and differences when a Middle Easterner touches the scriptures, when they eat them, when they read them, when they take them in, they ask different questions. So here we tend to read the Bible and say, what does his teach me about me? And I tell my students all the time, if you stare at yourself too long, you’ll get depressed.
Kristi M: The Bible was not given to you to stare at yourself. The Bible was given to us… In the Middle East they read the scriptures and their first question is always, what does this teach me about God? What does this show me about who he is, what he’s like, what it looks like to walk with him? And it’s a more buoyant posture rather than going in and down and this internal thing, it lifts up our eyes. It creates a buoyancy in our spirits, in and our hearts. And I tell my students all the time, if you want to figure you out, stare at God because he created you and as you get to know him you will live into a better understanding of yourself.
Chris LoCurto: Yeah, I can tell you it has been, and again, I’ve been doing this for decades and I’ve been studying God the best of my ability and best of my understanding only to find out there’s so much more. As you always say, God’s better. He’s better than you think He is. And I’ve got to say that it has enhanced every aspect of my leadership. So already we’ve been teaching things that we’ve been teaching for decades on how to lead businesses and how to grow businesses and how to treat your people and the kind of culture that you’re supposed to have, how to make strong decisions, all this stuff. One of the most powerful things for me on that trip over there as an individual, as a leader, is that, well, let me say, I grew up with the Justice God, I grew up with just justice period, right and wrong.
Chris LoCurto: You know, they’re an honor, shame society. We are guilt, right and wrong society. I have no problem seeing the justice side of God and I think a ton of people here believe, you know, they look at the Old Testament and they think, oh no, this is a mean bad god and they’re completely missing who’s actually there, who’s showing up because again, we don’t understand the culture. It’s the same thing as saying, you know, a thousand years from now if somebody read, I drove to the store, they’re going to be like, what? What exactly does that mean? Drove? What does that involve? Is that that car thing that they used to have, but you know, it’s a completely different context. And so understanding that has changed. God’s still very righteous and very, you know, justice is a huge piece for him. The love piece has, I’ll never forget, we came off of one of the trips you just looked at me and he said, that just wrecked your face off, didn’t it?
Chris LoCurto: And I’m like, you could not have said it any better. And that became our saying for the next, you know, two weeks, the love of God and to how much I have not even taught it correctly. As somebody who has preached many sermons, taught a lot, not understanding culturally his love is so much greater than I’ve ever known than I could ever imagine. And being on that trip, it wasn’t just once, it wasn’t twice sometimes it was a barrage of, do you see how much I love you? Do you see how I love you here? Do you see how I love my kids? Do you see why I did this? Do you see this? And it became so powerful for me as a leader coming back and realizing my responsibility. I mean, you know, I teach the responsibility of your team is your responsibility to your family. But helping them to see even further his love has been so important. And I think for my team, watching my team grow, over the last couple of months in just that love factor, it is enhanced all of their walks.
Kristi M: Yeah. The Bible is the story of God pursuing the lost. Not to judge them, beat them, smite them or kill them, but to rescue them, to save them, to renew them and to restore them. You know, one of the most famous examples talking about reading the Bible for what does it teach me about me versus what does it teach me about God? When we come to Luke 15, Jesus gives these stories, these parables, and one of them is very famous to us here in the West. We call it the parable of the prodigal son. Cause we read the Bible and ask, what does it teach me about me? But in the Middle East, they call that story the parable of the running father because it’s all about a father who ran to atone for his lost son and to bring him back into the house. And this is the good news that all of us are lost and all of us are in need of a shepherd.
Kristi M: All of us are in need of a savior and God has come down into dust and ruin, not to destroy, but to save. And when the story of the Bible is about God doing his work, it’s very interesting when he comes to Abraham in genesis 12 to enter into a covenant with him every time he says, I will, I will, I will. He never says you will. It’s all about who god is and what he is doing. Its part of what I mean when I say that I went to Israel and learned that God is better than I ever knew and it’s really allowed me to try to mature out of the orphan that sometimes is in my spirit, that scroungers that strives and strains as if it were all up to me. And to really try to live into my son ship or my daughter ship that I have a high and holy father who has pulled up a chair at his table of sufficiency of eternal Shalom, wholeness, flourishing and delight. And he invites me to that table just as I am because the work of restoration in my life is his. And as I take my seat at the table, he will do it. He is doing it and he’s going to do it until it’s done.
Chris LoCurto: Yeah. To not go into too much cause guys, we’re going to actually talk about an opportunity because we’re going back. Yes we are. We’re going to talk about that in just a second. So it’s so difficult not to give away some of the most phenomenal pieces, but speaking on that as we talk through like the prodigal son and a lot of people don’t realize, and they may have heard it preached before that really what he was saying by saying, I want my inheritance. He saying, Oh, I wish you were dead, because nobody in the Middle Eastern culture would have done that except to say, I wish you were dead so I can inherit. Cause that’s the only way you inherit. The interesting thing is when he returns back to the father, he’s actually not returning to the father as much as he’s returning to be a slave.
Chris LoCurto: At least I could be a slave. And it’s a very dangerous thing to do because in that culture, he’s already said, I want my father dead. And so the father running out to him is that representation of no matter how jacked up you get in life, no matter how bad your decisions are, no matter how low you get and you think that you’re going to return to me and just go, okay Lord, I am just a piece of crap. Uh, will you at least let me be a slave? God rushes out in, pursues the child who’s made the bad decisions, who screwed up, who’s gotten themselves in a bad place. The whole time, and it’s not just that one parable. There’s so many different elements that you just got to come and learn it or God is running in pursuing after us and then as you say, restoring us to a place we didn’t even expect to get to.
Chris LoCurto: We weren’t even hoping to get to. We were just thinking, I don’t have to eat after these pigs. Maybe I can just go be slave. That pursuit of God shows up in my whole life. There’s not a place, there’s not a time that he has not been pursuing me. I feel like I’ve got a pretty fantastic relationship with God. I feel like I am growing immensely and just consuming him so much of him in his love and all this stuff and yet he still does not stop pursuing. It’s not like it goes, okay, well Chris, you’re good. I’m going to go look after someone else…He’s the guy who spread billions of galaxies in Pico seconds. He can handle me and everybody else on the planet at the same time and continued to pursue me. So I think for me that has just been the most amazing love story is that I keep thinking it’s about me. I keep thinking I have to do all the right things. I keep thinking I have to be, you know, I’ve got to impress the god of the universe, which is hilarious. And the whole time he’s like, son, I’m coming after you every second with all of me. All I ask is give me you, seek me. So what are some last things you want to help leaders, business owners, team members to just kind of know before we wrap this up?
Kristi M: You know, I think just as a leader it’s important to embrace the disruption, to look for things that will take you out of your normalcy. Things that get you out of your average patterns and ways of doing things. It’s a pathway for new learning, whatever that’s going to be. If Israel is something that some people out there want to experience, it’s certainly a table that we want to set for them. You can never unsee what you’ve seen. And it’s interesting, you know, people ask me often, Kristi, do you take non Christians? People that don’t profess a faith in God or who don’t go to church, will you take them to Israel? And that question is funny to me. Everyone is welcome at the table. Everyone is welcome at God’s table and everyone is welcome at our table for Israel.
Chris LoCurto: God doesn’t stop pursuing. It just doesn’t stop for a second. All right folks, here’s the thing. We kind of talked about this at our retreat, our Next-Level Mastermind retreat because we were just planning one trip and thinking, you know, hey, we’ll share this, we’ll share it with the folks that listen to the podcast. We’re going to share it again at the next level leadership live event and go into a much bigger, deeper teaching time on that as well. As part of all of the leadership lessons that we’re doing and we opened that up and come to find out, wow, a lot of people wanted to go. So here’s what we’re doing. We’re going to be doing two trips. We’re going to be opening this thing up for people. The first one’s going to be in the fall of 2020.
Chris LoCurto: The second one is going to be in the spring of 2021. Now you might be thinking, well that’s a long ways off. Yep. Get it on your calendar and start doing the things I teach you to do. Prepare, plan for this sucker so that you could come and join us over there and have a life changing trip. You’ve got time to do this, but we have created a waitlist. So what we want you to do, because we don’t even have the details yet on the spring event, what we want you to do is go to ChrisLoCurto.com/israel and put your information in there. And as people put their information in, we will load them up onto the wait list and as we are able to get the dates and get everything in place, then we will start to let you guys know. What I have told all of my clients.
Chris LoCurto: So as I’ve come back, cause our whole leadership team went, we didn’t go as a leadership team, we just went together and it was crazy powerful. We’ve got some leadership teams and the Next Level Mastermind not are now taking their leadership team on the next trip. And it was just, it was phenomenal as a team. But as we came back, people are like, explain it to me. And it’s like, you just can’t do it. You just can’t explain it all. But one of the things I keep saying over and over again, if I ever suggest any vacation or anything over this punch me in the throat because this is the most life changing trip you will ever have. So ChrisLoCurto.com/israel go put your information in. If you want to do this, then we will put you on a wait list and as we get the details, which hopefully will be in a few months, then we will launch that and share that.
Chris LoCurto: And we will, we’re going to take a bunch of you guys over there and have a huge impact on your life. A great author, Lois Tverberg. I love one of the things she talks about, she talks about unpacking your suitcase, coming back from Israel. She’s like the dust from Masada, and the shells that you pick up and the things that you’re not supposed to bring back, but you actually do. You see these elements like the rocks from when we’re standing where David stood when he took down Goliath. When you pull these things out, unpacking your suitcase takes moments. Unpacking your memories takes years. And that is so absolutely true. Just crazy powerful trip. So thanks again, Christie for being here and being on the show. I really appreciate you coming in and doing this.
Kristi M: Thanks for having me. I can’t wait to behold in the land of the Bible with you. Amen
Chris LoCurto: Folks. Kristi is going to be speaking at the Next-Level Leadership LIVE Event on biblical truths and leadership and seeing the Bible through the Middle Eastern Lens, which will absolutely wreck your face off. I’m telling you, it has changed my life. It’s changed my leadership, it’s changed my team. It’s changing everything that we’re doing here. So do not miss that. Get your tickets to that event. ChrisLoCurto.com/events. Get that today. And one last thing. How can people get more of you?
Kristi M: Fantastic. They can go visit www.NewLensBiblicalStudies.com and they can find out all the information for the trips, for local series, upcoming events, different things.
Chris LoCurto: …all that fun stuff. Fantastic. Well, folks, as always, take this information, change your leadership, change your business, change your life. Just do it. Make that decision right now. Change your life and join us on the next episode.
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