Tag Archives: Follower

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.

Hollywood Moment in Colossae

But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary.
Philemon vs. 14

One of the things you learn in the world of theatre, film, and story is that conflict is what makes a story interesting. It’s Friday before 4th of July weekend as I write this, so we’re all being treated by Hollywood to blockbuster conflicts of good and evil in the form of comic book heroes and alien invasions. Fun epic conflicts that feed the adrenal glands while requiring very little of us emotionally. The more personal and human a story’s conflict, the more deeply it affects us.

Paul’s letter to Philemon is an overlooked personal story amidst the grand epic of the Great Story. It’s a deeply personal moment between two men: Philemon and Onesimus. It’s a moment made possible by an unexpected, divinely appointed meeting.

Philemon is a man of means. He’s a respected local businessman in the city of Colossae, where he met Paul and became a follower of Jesus. Philemon became a generous benefactor to the believers in Colossae. He opened his home for them to meet and worship. He was generous in love and deed and greatly respected by Paul.

Onesimus was a slave owned by Philemon. At some point in time, Onesimus stole from his master and ran away. Under Roman law, Onesimus was guilty of crimes punishable by death.

The exact details of the historical story are sketchy, but as a story-teller I’d dare to believe that as a runaway slave, Onesimus likely stuck to a life of petty theft to stay alive and on the run. Petty thieves, especially those who are poor runaway slaves, get caught and thrown into prison. As fate would have it, Onesimus is thrown into jail with a religious disturber of the peace named Paul. Paul recognizing the thief as a member of his friend, Philemon’s household, befriends Onesimus. The runaway slave becomes a sincere follower of Jesus.

Paul tells the slave and fledgling follower that while he has repented of his sins and his sins have been forgiven through Jesus sacrifice, he still must make things right with his master. Onesimus the runaway slave must return to his master, Philemon, as a brother in Christ. Paul pens his short letter. Onesimus, upon his release from prison, returns to his master in Colossae, letter in hand.

What a Hollywood moment. What a churning mixture of emotions as slave owner sees thief and runaway slave walking back through his door. What a moment when Philemon reads the letter from Paul and begins to fathom how God has orchestrated this story. What layers of meaning on personal, spiritual, and cultural levels as matters of slavery and human conflict gets intertwined with fate and personal faith. Runaway slave returns as a fellow follower of the faith. I can only imagine Onesimus’ fear mixed with memories of anger and hatred toward to this man who “owned” him. Philemon’s feelings of legal rights, personal betrayal, and desire for justice is now in conflict with his conscience as the word’s of Jesus’ prayer run through his head: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgiven those who sin against us.”

Today I’m reminded that the test of our faith is in our interpersonal conflicts.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

“Yes, And”

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had….
Romans 15:5 (NIV)

This past week my friend Matthew and I gave our final message in a four-week series on the topic of overcoming shame (audio can be found here). The series focused heavily on our need to own the darkness of our souls where things hidden and secreted away grow to wield power over us. We urged listeners to find safe and trustworthy places to expose things hidden in darkness to the Light.

There rose an argument among some that 1) Christ should be all we need, therefore 2) we shouldn’t need to take this step of revelation. And, if 1) we are saying that what we need to reveal our shame to another, then 2) we are saying we don’t need Christ.

Let me introduce you to a concept we use in the world of acting called, “Yes, And.” When an actor on stage is trying to figure out what his or her character is thinking we box ourselves in a corner by asking, “Does my character want this or that?” Sometimes the answer is, “Yes, my character wants this and that.” Sometimes things are not “either or” but “yes and.” Our friends on Sunday approached our message saying “its either Christ or confession.” Matthew and I were teaching that “Yes, it’s Christ and confession.”

Why else would God’s Message urge us to:

  • Wash one another’s feet?
  • Confess our sins to each other?
  • Encourage one another?
  • Admonish one another?
  • Build each other up in love?
  • Bear on another’s burdens?

The path to following Jesus includes both the vertical (me and God) and horizontal (me and my fellow believers) axis. It’s not either the vertical or the horizontal. It is, yes, the vertical and the horizontal. That’s why Paul, in today’s chapter, prays for God’s encouragement and endurance. You need both when you are in relationship with others.

In a black and white, either-or world of legalism, the mind loves to categorize information into exclusive compartments. With these exclusive mental compartments we can quickly determine that certain people, thoughts, or ideas don’t fit neatly in our compartments, and conclude therefore that they are wrong and we can dismiss them. But, Jesus has never fit neatly into any one person’s or denomination’s box and He never will.

 

chapter a day banner 2015Featured image: alphachimpstudio via Flickr

Blessing

And of Joseph he said:
Blessed by the Lord be his land,
    with the choice gifts of heaven above,
    and of the deep that lies beneath;
Deuteronomy 33:13 (NRSV)

Along my life journey I have received words of incredible encouragement from family, teachers, and mentors:

You will do well in whatever you do.
Whatever you do, I know you’ll succeed.
You’ll do great. I know you will.

Those words are examples of what the ancients called a blessing. Most commonly given from father to son, king to subject, leader to follower, a blessing is a word of affirmation spoken to bless and encourage. Some blessings can be prophetic nature while others simply to strengthen and comfort the recipient.

In today’s chapter we find Moses approaching then end of the road. He is in the home stretch of his life journey, and the finish line is straight ahead. He gathers his people together and, tribe-by-tribe, he speaks over them a blessing. The blessing for each tribe is unique, and the themes include life, safety, strength, acceptance, abundance, provision, affluence, favor, possession, and etc.

Today, I’m thinking about my children, and others who live within the circles of my influence. I’m thinking about the opportunity I have to speak words of blessing into them. Conversely, I’m thinking about the curse of staying silent and not blessing those who I have the opportunity to encourage. I need not wait until the end of my life journey to speak a blessing over others. In fact, what a shame it would be for me to do so.

Killing the Messenger

Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast
Rembrandt Simeon houdt Jesus vast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35 (NIV)

My company does customer surveys and research for many different companies. Over the years I and my company have been in the position of reporting data that we knew would be unpopular with the client. In some cases, the truth of the data pointed to conclusions that opposed to the prevailing opinions of our clients leadership. In other cases, the data pointed to customer dissatisfaction that would put certain executives in a difficult position with their employer. It’s never fun delivering bad news. Killing the messenger is sometimes a frustrated clients first reaction.

I thought about Simeon’s words to Mary this morning. Mary was fresh off of angel visits and the shepherds’ amazing stories. She had to have been living in constant wonder and awe after all that she had seen, heard, and experienced in the previous year. Then Simeon pulls her aside to speak a quiet truth. There was another side to this amazing story that she, perhaps, had not yet considered. When you speak the truth you tend to become unpopular with certain people and you sometimes make powerful enemies. Simeon’s warning was prescient. Children will be slaughtered and a flight to Egypt will be made. The  family will be pressured to get their lunatic son under control. She doesn’t yet know that the crown that awaits her baby boy is full of thorns. His kingdom and his truth will be misunderstood, maligned and rejected by the majority of people. Blood will be spilled.

I read an article yesterday about the fate of Jesus followers in Mosul, Iraq. The church of Mary (ironically) that has stood in that place since the middle ages was recently emptied by muslims and blockaded. Followers of Jesus have lived and worshipped in that city for centuries but now have been given the choice of conversion to Islam or death. In the Sudan a woman was recently sentenced to death by the government for choosing to believe in Jesus. With a little investigation you’ll find that these are not isolated incidents. Simeon’s words still ring true. Jesus remains a lightning rod and outside of the tolerant nations of the west the choice to follow Him can be a life or death decision.

This morning I’m thinking about a young girl filled with wonder at the glorious events she has experienced, and is only beginning to get a hint of the darkness that lies ahead for her and her Son. I am contemplating the reality that God sent a Messenger, and we killed Him. I’m mulling over one of Jesus’ own stories which has come to mind:

Jesus told another story to the people: “A man planted a vineyard. He handed it over to farmhands and went off on a trip. He was gone a long time. In time he sent a servant back to the farmhands to collect the profits, but they beat him up and sent him off empty-handed. He decided to try again and sent another servant. That one they beat black-and-blue, and sent him off empty-handed. He tried a third time. They worked that servant over from head to foot and dumped him in the street.

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘I know what I’ll do: I’ll send my beloved son. They’re bound to respect my son.’

“But when the farmhands saw him coming, they quickly put their heads together. ‘This is our chance—this is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all to ourselves.’ They killed him and threw him over the fence.

“What do you think the owner of the vineyard will do? Right. He’ll come and clean house. Then he’ll assign the care of the vineyard to others.”

Those who were listening said, “Oh, no! He’d never do that!”

But Jesus didn’t back down. “Why, then, do you think this was written:

That stone the masons threw out—
It’s now the cornerstone!?

“Anyone falling over that stone will break every bone in his body; if the stone falls on anyone, it will be a total smashup.”

The religion scholars and high priests wanted to lynch him on the spot, but they were intimidated by public opinion. They knew the story was about them.

Service is not “On the Clock”

source: tjblackwell via Flickr
source: tjblackwell via Flickr

Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
    who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
Psalm 134:1 (NIV)

In all my work experience, I have never worked “the graveyard shift.” I have, on occasion, been required to do training presentations for clients who have a graveyard shift. I’ll admit that doing customer service training at 2:00 a.m. stretched me a bit. It’s hard to crank up the energy when your body is screaming at you that you should be in bed. Being a morning person, I have worked plenty of early morning shifts as paperboy, breakfast cook, caterer, radio dj, and etc. There is something I like about being up and about when the majority of the world around you is still asleep.

I like the fact that the abbreviated lyric of today’s psalm pays homage to those who serve through the watches of the night. Perhaps the brevity of the song is a word picture of how little most of us can relate to the task of regularly serving all night and sleeping all day. Nevertheless, it’s a reminder that God is not bound by time and therefore His work does not wane with the setting of the sun.

It’s easy for me to be lulled by the daily work schedule. Because my occupational labor tends to end each weekday, I apply the general rule to spiritual service as if following Jesus is an activity to which I punch in and punch out. But, that’s not the case. Following Jesus, and serving others means being on call 24/7/365, and it sometimes requires staying up through the watches of the night to bring Life to the graveyard shift.

wayfarer chapter index banner

Enhanced by Zemanta

All You Nations

pillow globePraise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.
Psalm 117:1 (NIV)

I am not what I would consider to be “well traveled” from an international perspective. I’ve done just enough travel to other nations and cultures to have a taste of life in other places. I am proud of my daughters. Even in their youth, they have travelled far more extensively than me and have experienced many other cultures on other continents. I have watched them approach life with a larger perspective on life than I see in most of their peers. Through their experiences I have gained a much bigger appreciation for our global village.

I am constantly aware that for my brothers and sisters around the globe, following Jesus comes with a much higher personal price tag:

  • In North Korea, being caught with a Bible or worshipping God will get you and your entire family thrown into the gulag. It is estimated that between 50,000-70,000 Jesus followers have been imprisoned. North Korea tops Open Door’s list of the 60 most dangerous countries for followers of Jesus. (OpenDoors.org)
  • In Syria in 2013, there were 2,123 documented killings of Jesus followers because of their faith (CBS News)
  • On New Year’s Eve in Cairo, a Jesus follower was shot leaving worship. He was turned away by three hospitals and died a short time later. (MideastChristianNews)
  • On January 3rd in Lebanon a Greek Orthodox priest, whose personal library of books and resources had been used by the whole community, had his entire library torched and an employee shot. An interview with the priest, published years ago, had been deemed blasphemous to Islam. (WorldWatchNews)

This morning I am thinking about how easy it is to follow Jesus in this place where I live. While grateful for this, I confess how susceptible I am to giving undue daily emotional concern and mental energy to what my daughter Taylor labels “Midwest white girl problems.” When I read the lyric in the psalmist’s short, ancient ditty calling on praise for all nations this morning, it reminded me of my penchant for living an insular life and my need to widen my perspective. In the quiet of this dark, Iowa morning I muse that ease and affluence may be more eternally detrimental to my spiritual well-being than the daily suffering and persecution faced by my brothers and sisters around the globe.

Enhanced by Zemanta