Tag Archives: Division

A Good Follower

The next day Moses entered the tent and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the tribe of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.
Numbers 17:8 (NIV)

Years ago I was part of a team that had a leadership issue. Our appointed leader was a lightning rod who attracted a host of unnecessary concerns and distractions. Along with many other members, I could tell our team wasn’t functioning well. Our leader was an appointee, so there was no recourse other than to issue a complaint with the organizational authorities, but it appeared they fell on deaf ears.

As a member of the team, I came to a personal crossroads. I knew that becoming a part of the unceasing undercurrent of grumbling, complaining, and back-biting as not going to be profitable for myself or the team as a whole. Like it or not, this was our appointed leader. I could choose out and leave the team, or I could participate to the best of my ability, keep my mouth shut, and to support the team by doing my best not to be an active part of the dissension.

Grumbling. Whispers. Complaints.

If you’ve participated in any kind of human group, you likely have an example that you, yourself, have experienced. There is a spirit of unrest within the group; An undercurrent of disunity against the leadership or the status quo. In our chapter-a-day journey through the book of Numbers it’s been a theme now among the Hebrew tribes since they left Egypt. God has appointed a system and there is grumbling about the system.

Members of 11 tribes are grumbling that Aaron and the Levites are  the only ones who can serve in the Tabernacle. The Levites are grumbling that they can’t own property like all the other tribes. Certain Levites are grumbling that Moses, Aaron, and Miriam being the only appointed prophets. There’s already been a rebellion. The unrest is growing, and threatening to spill over into division.

In today’s chapter, God prompts Moses to gather a staff from the leader of each of the tribes. They place the walking sticks in the holy place of the traveling temple tent. The next day Aaron’s staff (representing the Levite tribe) had sprouted, bloomed flowers, and produced almonds. God was giving his unquestioned support to his appointed priest and system, and attempting to silence the grumbling.

Last week I found my meditation focused on the qualities of leadership. This morning, at the beginning of a new week, I find myself thinking about the role of being a good follower and member of the team, group, or organization. In a representative system where leaders are elected, I have the opportunity of making a change by supporting an opposition candidate to the incumbent and voting in a new leader at the next regular election. In an organization with appointed leadership I have far more limited options.

Along life’ s journey I’ve come to understand the wisdom of the Teacher of Ecclesiastes: “There is a time to speak, and a time to be silent.” Once complaints are registered with authority and that authority chooses to support the incumbent leader, then I am typically left with three options. I can leave the organization (if that’s  even an option). I can continue to participate in grumbling, complaining and stirring up dissension. I can keep my mouth shut and press on, doing the best I can in the circumstances.

My experience is that leaders come and go in all organizations. Poor leaders will typically implode or move on. To quote REO Speedwagon, sometimes there’s wisdom in simply “riding the storm out.”

If I want what is best for the team or organization as a whole, then being a good follower often means actively choosing not to participate in destructive grumbling despite the self-centric satisfaction derived from doing so.

The Implosion of Evil

merry and pippin held by orcsWhen Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. Acts 23:6-7 (NRSV)

One of the themes I have noticed in epic literature over the years is that evil tends to implode from within. In the Lord of the Rings, Merry and Pippin were able to escape from their captors in large part because of the infighting between the orcs Mordor and the Uruk-Hai of Isengard. Likewise, the reason Sam was able to rescue Frodo from the Tower of Cirith Ungol was because all of the orcs killed each other. Factions of hatred have a hard time uniting.

I was reminded of this as I read today’s chapter. The Jewish council had two main factions who disagreed on theology and who seemed to hate one another more than they hated Paul and the followers of Jesus. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death or in the spiritual realm while the Pharisees did. Paul, seizing on the opportunity to stir up the on-going debate between the two factions, sided loudly with the Pharisees and got the two factions arguing (orc-like). The Pharisees were suddenly defending Paul as an ally and the Romans were forced to rescue him from the ensuing tumult.

Today, I’m reminded that Jesus command to love others, even our enemies, has powerful consequences far beyond the spiritual health of our own souls. The power of love to unite is one of the most powerful weapons we have against evil.

Related Bozos

Source: Peter Bakker via Flickr
Source: Peter Bakker via Flickr

Adam, Seth, Enosh, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah. 1 Chronicles 1:-3 (NIV) I thought we would follow the history of David from the book of 2 Samuel to the book of 1 Chronicles. If you’re reading along, you’ll notice a big difference between this book and the one we just finished. The books of Samuel read much like a biography in which the author is trying to tell the story of a person (in this case, David) from beginning to end. Chronicles is more of an official government record which chronicles the history of the kingdom and the monarchy. The royal scribe, traditionally believed to have been Ezra who lived and wrote his Chronicle about 500 years after King David’s life, begins his record of the kingdom with the beginning of human history and connects the dots through the ages. We’re in for what you might consider a dry couple of chapters of genealogy, but there are some important spiritual nuggets buried in the endless lists of names:

  1. We all come from the same place. The chronicler’s list begins at the beginning with Adam, and even modern science has proven that, genetically, we all come from the same woman. We can speculate and argue endlessly about exactly how things happened, but after reading through God’s Message a number of times I’ve come to the conclusion that God, as a storyteller, was not concerned about telling us exactly how thing happened (because, ultimately, that’s not the point) but why things happened (because, ultimately, that’s the whole point).
  2. Even our enemies are family. As we read through the list in today’s chapter we stumble over a few references to Israel’s traditional enemies such as the Philistines, Moabites, and Edomites. And yet, even the kings official record revealed from the beginning that they were all distant relatives. In fact, we all are. This may not make a huge difference with regard to world politics, but I think it should make a huge difference in my personal view of others.

I find it fascinating that Jesus did not concern himself in the least with the political issues of his day. Whenever the topic of earthly kingdoms and politics arose, Jesus always changed the subject to the Kingdom of God. At the same time, Jesus radically chose to talk to and relate with those whom his contemporary culture had raised him to believe were unworthy of his time and consideration: women, tax-collectors, prostitutes, Romans, Samaritans, etc., and etc. I believe Jesus looked at these people and saw, not the human differences between them, but the similarities. He didn’t see “different” people physically, politically, culturally, ideologically, or morally. He saw people who were fundamentally the same in human and spiritual terms. As I like to say, we’re all just bozos on the bus trying to find our way home. Jesus understood that, and didn’t discriminate what kind of bozo one person was over another.Today, I’m thinking about the ways I continue to divide and categorize people in my mind and heart. I’m repenting of my attitude, and heading into the day choosing to see each person as just another bozo like me (who is related to me as a matter of fact) and who is worthy of my love and consideration. Today, once again, I’m trying to be more like Jesus.

David Becomes a Free Agent

1913 Chicago Cubs, baseball card portrait
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But David thought to himself, “One of these days I will be destroyed by the hand of Saul. The best thing I can do is to escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will give up searching for me anywhere in Israel, and I will slip out of his hand.” 1 Samuel 27:1 (NIV)

Professional sports can be a funny thing. When you’re a long suffering fan of a perennial loser (in our case that would be the Cubs or the Vikings) you face the annual dilemma of who you are going to cheer for in the playoffs. All season long you’ve hated the other teams in your division for beating up on your boys of summer/winter. But, now it’s the playoffs and you know the other team well. Do you stay loyal to your division or league? Or, do you take alliance with some strange team from the other side of the country whom you’ve never watched with the hope that they will beat up on your local rivals?

I find it equally fascinating to watch players move from team to team and all of the machinations that go along with such moves. Financial considerations are, of course, the most common reasons I see for player moves. Nevertheless, there are loyalty considerations, political considerations, and personal considerations that all play into the decisions of coaches, managers, owners and players.

In David’s day, the region around Israel was made up of small towns who acted much like independent city states but were loosely tied to a larger national confederacy. It’s much like a league of teams that are part of larger divisions. David, the rabidly loyal star player and league MVP for team Israel, got cut by his headstrong coach, even though the team owner didn’t approve of the move. David is now a free agent and, in today’s chapter, he chooses to switch divisions. He negotiates a contract with the rival league to be a player/manager for team Ziklag which puts him in the Philistine division, but the remaining season schedule means he will only face teams from the Amalekite division. David doesn’t have to face his former team who is in a bitter pennant race with the other teams in his new division.

It was a shrewd move. David spends the rest of the season wiping up the new competition while biding his time. He’s guessing that his former team will lose big under it’s current manager and coach, Saul. David knows he’s a favorite of the team owner and the owner had once promised David that he would someday run the team. Nevertheless, Saul has been a fan favorite, a star in his own right, and he’s still under contract. David realizes he has to bide his time. If and when Saul goes down to defeat, David knows that the phone is going to ring and the owner will name him the new player/manager for his hometown team.

Chapter-a-Day Judges 12

The men of Ephraim mustered their troops, crossed to Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, "Why did you go out to fight the Ammonites without letting us go with you? We're going to burn your house down on you!" Judges 12:1 (MSG)

Once upon a time, I pastored a church in a small rural town. In this church there were two men. One of the men had "his pew" in one back corner of the sanctuary. The other man had "his pew" in the opposite back corner. Each week they would come to church with their wives and go to "their pew" for worship.

I didn't think anything of this. One day, an elder of the church explained to me that these two men had a dispute over the placement of a property line. Arguments ensued. Bitterness followed. They never spoke to one another again, choosing to sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary to avoid seeing or speaking to one another.

I think of those two men from time to time and remind myself that life is too short to live in anger and hatred. Arguments are usually really stupid. This is especially true when men and their pride are involved, as with the Ephraimites and Gileadites in today's chapter. Why do we choose to hold on to bitterness and it's gnawing, destructive consequences than humble ourselves and seek the healing of reconciliation?