Then they cleaned house of the foreign gods and worshiped only God. And God took Israel's troubles to heart. Judges 10:16 (MSG)
I took my daughter to a Minnesota Vikings football game yesterday. They won the game, and we had a great time taking in the event. I was reminded, however, of a time in my childhood when I thought that it was somehow my fault whenever my favorite team lost the big game. Growing up in an era in which the Vikings lost four Super Bowls, I had plenty of opportunities to wonder what I did that made God punish me so.
I look back and shake my head at the notion. How selfish of me to think that my sins are so central to the cosmos, that a mere misstep in my ten-year-old existence would factor into the balance of power in the National Football League.
I have to admit, the book of Judges sometimes tempts me to revert back to that kind of silly thinking. There is so much time scrunched into so few verses. It feels like a constant stream of karma. The people worshiping other Gods and something bad happening. They repent and something good happens. It feels a bit like their faith is a lucky charm.
I don't think that my wrong doings make the difference in a football game. I don't believe in reducing God to a good luck charm or Santa Claus who will do whatever I want if I'm good enough. I do, however, think that my wrong doings have negative consequences. My faithfulness to God's message has positive consequences. My perpetual wrong doings have increasingly negative consequences, both spiritually and physically, for me and those around me. My obedience has increasingly positive spiritual and physical consequences (for me and those around me, but not for the Vikings).
Since the girls were young, I've relished our daddy-daughter dates. As little girls, the dates were to McDonalds or a movie. As they grew, the daddy-daughter paradigm became weekends to Chicago or Minneapolis. Daddy-daughter time continues to change with time. A few months ago, Taylor and I took off for the weekend in what would be our last getaway before she got married. This weekend, Madison and I are in the Twin Cities looking at colleges. Next week she turns 18. Another reminder that the days of McDonalds PlayPlace, Polly Pocket and the Disney Store lie far behind us.
One of the things I promised myself when the girls were babies was that I would enjoy every stage of life, growth and parenthood for what it was. I remind myself of that promise all the time. You can't stop the train. Enjoy the ride.
And so, I've really enjoyed my time with Madison this weekend. We've visited three very different colleges. From massive state university to small technical community college and private liberal arts college. I've enjoyed watching Madison envision herself in each as she thinks through the possibilities and challenges. She fell in love with the University of St. Thomas. It's quickly risen to the top of her list. An added bonus was free tickets to the St. Thomas vs. Northwestern football game. My high school buddy, Matt, is Athletic Director at Northwestern and we got a chance to meet up with him and catch up.
Interestingly enough, our fun time this weekend has been a reminder of daddy-daughter dates of years past. We went to Minneapolis Children's Theater production of "Cinderella." The production was funny, energetic and entertaining. Just as entertaining was the army of little girls dressed in their Cinderella costumes dancing in their seats. Ahhhhh, what memories that brought back to mind of Madison in her Snow White costume playing "Maddyella."
Last night, we went to Where the Wild Things Are, the movie based on the popular children's book. Again, memories came flooding back of Madison's favorite childhood books and stories while we had a very adult conversation about the themes and metaphors of the movie. How times have changed.
Today, Madison will give ol' dad his due – letting me take her to the Vikings game before heading home. It's been a great weekend. While the content of Daddy-daughter dates have certainly changed over the years, there is one constant: they are each priceless to a daddy's heart.
Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to Shechem to his uncles and all his mother's relatives and said to them, "Ask all the leading men of Shechem, 'What do you think is best, that seventy men rule you—all those sons of Jerub-Baal—or that one man rule? You'll remember that I am your own flesh and blood.'" Judges 9:1-2 (MSG)
It's lonely at the top, or so they say. No matter how lonely it may be, there always seem to be plenty of people lining up for the job. There is something in our human condition that wants some one to lead us. We like having a leader, an executive, a chairman, a general who will motivate, administrate and inspire. We also like having some one to blame when things don't go our way. We like having a scape goat at the pinnacle of the org chart.
In today's chapter, we see the beginnings of an important theme in God's story during this period of history. When the nation of Israel escaped Egypt and settled in the promised land, they had no formal leader or governing structure. They considered themselves a theocracy, with God as their ruler. It was a lofty and idealistic notion that didn't work so well in practical terms. The "Judges" were leaders who emerged in a time of national crisis, rallied the nation for a number of years, and then were gone. When the Judge died, the tribes of Israel went back into their loose system of tribal leadership.
Enter the crafty Abimelech. He recognized the leadership vacuum. He tapped into the discontent of the people who wanted some one to lead them. He heard the grumblings and whispers in the coffee shop. People wanted a king like all the powerful kingdoms around them. He recognized an opportunity and seized it in a fratricidal blood bath.
He also learned an important lesson in leadership the hard way: He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.
Today, I'm mindful of the authorities in my own life and God's command that I respect and pray for them. I'm equally mindful of those under my authority, and my responsibility to lead well.
Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and orvalrochefort
Gideon made the gold into a sacred ephod and put it on display in his hometown, Ophrah. All Israel prostituted itself there. Gideon and his family, too, were seduced by it. Judges 8:27 (MSG)
I love old family stories and history. However, I have a hard time comprehending some historical events in my contemporary brain. I don't get why my maternal great-grandfather would commit suicide on his son's birthday after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. I can't fathom it. I wonder at my paternal great-grandfather being so upset that he up and left both his family and homeland to emigrate to America by himself. Nor can I understand his mother not wanting him to return to see her when he offered to do so.
It's difficult to get our heads wrapped around the times and realities of family just a few generations back. How can we expect to fully understand the equally flawed humans who lived in the brutal, chaotic time of the Judges three thousand years ago?
And yet, there is a common thread of fallen man that connects us all. Gideon makes an altruistic refusal to be Israel's leader, telling them that God will be their leader. Good for you, Gideon. What spiritual maturity. What humility. What a guy. A few verses later I'm scratching my head as Gideon turned his spoils of war into a "sacred" ephod which becomes the center of idol worship.
I'm perplexed. But, should I be? The same sinful, hypocritical blood flows in my veins. How often do I do and say things that leave people scratching their heads? How often are my actions during the week incongruent with my words on Sunday?
Last night was the Tulip Queen's announcement party. Madison was one of twelve finalists and the whole family gathered to support her as she made her presentation. She had diligently prepared her three minute talk, in which she was to display her talent and tell about herself. Madison chose photography as her talent. She had three of her photographs blown up to poster size, and explained how each of the photos she'd taken represented an important part of her life: family, music and missions. One of the photos was one she took of Wendy and me at Thanksgiving last year. She was then asked a total of four interview questions which she capably answered.
Madison did a great job, and we couldn't be more proud of her. She carried herself with incredible confidence and poise. Her presentation was outstanding. In the end, she didn't make the final cut to be on this year's Tulip court. Nevertheless, she felt great about the opportunity and had no reason to be disappointed. It was great experience for her.
She may not have been selected Tulip Queen. But, no worries. She's still my princess 😉
God said to Gideon, "You have too large an army with you. I can't turn Midian over to them like this—they'll take all the credit, saying, 'I did it all myself,' and forget about me." Judges 7:2 (MSG)
As I write this post, plans for Thanksgiving are in full swing. In just over two weeks we will gather with family and friends to share in a feast and to give thanks. I've always loved Thanksgiving. Unlike most holidays, there is something about Thanksgiving that still repels commercialism. Thanksgiving is a humble holiday. It is a simple holiday. It is one of the few holidays we celebrate that still lends itself to introspection.
In a culture steeped in rugged individualism, self-seeking, and the perpetual pursuit of 15 minutes of fame, I find the idea of stopping to give thanks is a welcome moment of sanity. Like Gideon's army, we are at constant risk of taking all the credit for what God has done to bless us.
Several centuries ago, Thomas a' Kempis wrote a wonderful treatise on the difference between nature and grace. "Nature willingly accepts honor and respect," he wrote, "while grace attributes all honor and glory to God."
Today, I'm mindful of the many ways my natural self seeks to hoard respect and glory for myself. I'm reminding myself that God deserves all respect, honor, glory…and thanks.
Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and soulrider
Gideon said to him, "Me, my master? How and with what could I ever save Israel? Look at me. My clan's the weakest in Manasseh and I'm the runt of the litter." Judges 6:15 (MSG)
Consider, for a moment, some of the "heroes" of God's story:
- Jacob: the younger son, a deceiver, becomes the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.
- Joseph: the youngest of Jacob's sons, became the most powerful man in Egypt and saved the nation.
- Moses: an orphan and a murderer on the lam (with speech impediment to boot) leads Israel out of bondage and delivers God's law.
- Deborah: a woman leads Israel in a time when women had about as much social standing as livestock.
- Gideon: the "run of the litter" leads Israel to defeat the Midianites.
- David: the youngest, smallest son of Jesse becomes the greatest King of Israel, through whom Jesus would be born. All this despite being an adulterer and murder.
- Solomon: the youngest son of David, born out of a scandalous marriage to Bathsheba, becomes the most powerful king in Israel's history.
- Mary: a young girl with no social standing, becomes the mother of Jesus.
- Jesus disciples: an eclectic, rag-tag group of uneducated misfits would turn the world upside down sharing the good news of Jesus.
- Paul: a murderer and persecutor of Christians becomes the most influential follower and apostle of Jesus.
Anyone see a pattern?
As human beings, I've noticed that we are quick to believe the most negative things about ourselves. "God would never use me. I'm not sure God even loves me. I could never to anything worthwhile for God. I'm too…worthless, sinful, ugly, small, fat, dumb, short, stupid, dirty, weak, sick, poor, young, old, sinful, untalented, unknown, unlucky, unimportant, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."
Look at the list again.
Join the club.
Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Ashley Rose