Tag Archives: Follower

Strong Women in Weak Circumstances

“According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?” he asked. “She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her.”
Esther 1:15 (NIV)

In the days after the end of Game of Thrones, I have suffered a bit of withdrawal. I know I am not alone in this. While nothing in the current entertainment market is going to really compare to the epic series, of late I have been catching up on the series, The Last Kingdom, (on Netflix) which has enjoyably filled the void. It follows the life of a young English noble who is captured and raised by Vikings while his uncle claims the title and land rightfully his by birth. The series is set in a period of actual history when Vikings threatened to conquer all the kingdoms of the British isle while Alfred the Great sought to join the disparate Kingdoms of the isle into one united England.

One of the interesting themes that I have noticed of late in multiple series and movies set in medieval times is how the role of women is handled. Certainly, the dark ages and middle ages were a time in which women had little or no social standing. Daughters of nobility were married off to create political alliances. Writers seem to enjoy creating female characters of strength and courage who challenge and undermine the status quo of that time. I laughed a lot as I watched the character of Brida (played expertly by Emily Cox) in The Last Kingdom (who, like the male protagonist was a young Brit captured and raised as a pagan Viking) who re-enters English society and all of the male priests and nobles have no idea how to handle this strong, fiery, female warrior. Earl the Bruce’s wife in the movie Outlaw King (also on Netflix) is another recent example.

Today we begin another chapter-a-day journey through the book of Esther. Along with the stories of Daniel and Jonah, which we just blogged through in the past few months, Esther is set in the period of exile when many of the Hebrew people were living in exiled captivity to a successive series of foreign empires (Babylonian, Mede, and Persian). Esther is one of the most enjoyable and unique reads in the entirety of God’s Message.

The first chapter sets the scene as the Persian Queen, Vashti, refuses her intoxicated husband’s demand that she present herself to him and the drunken, seven-day binge of a frat-boy party that he and his court were having. King Xerxes wanted to serve his wife up to be sexually ogled by his “noble” entourage. When Vashti has the self-respect and courage to refuse her husband’s demand, the boys decide that she must be punished so that all women would know their place and all men could cement their power over their wives and households.

Today’s chapter sets the scene for the story on which we are about to embark. It establishes the setting in an ancient culture in which men systemically dominated politics, society, and culture. Women had little or no power, and to challenge the system – even for the best of reasons – could lead to very negative consequences. The Hebrews, as a people living in exile, understood this position of powerlessness.

As I think about the historical setting of the story of Esther, of the courage of Vashti to stand up to her drunken husband, and the examples of strong women in weak social positions that I’ve been watching of late, I can’t help but think of my wife and my daughters. God has surrounded me with strong women whom I greatly respect. I am partnered with a fiery, Enneagram 8 of a wife, who compliments and challenges me in all sorts of healthy ways. I also know, however, that most of human history would not have treated her and her God-given temperament kindly, despite what Hollywood writers portray as they try to bring 9th-century realities to 21st-century audiences.

In the quiet this morning I find myself excited to once again wade through the amazing story of Esther. It reminds me of the spiritual paradoxes that lie at the heart of being a follower of Jesus: that strength is found in weakness, that spiritual power is often unleashed in temporal impotence, and that the power of Life is found on the other side of death.

“Kingdoms Rise and Kingdoms Fall”

In everything set them an example by doing what is good.
Titus 2:7a (NIV)

Tay, Clay and Milo visited Berlin this past week. It was fun for me to see the pictures and to get Taylor’s Marco Polo describing their trip to the Berlin Wall memorial. How remarkable that what stood as a very real, tragic, iconic and seemingly immovable metaphor of the times for my generation is now reduced to a memorial and museum piece.

[cue: The Times They are a Changin’]

I am fascinated by the times we live in. Technology is advancing at a rate faster than any other time in human history. Humanity is witnessing and experiencing more rapid change than our ancestors could fathom. As a follower of Jesus, it is not lost on me that our current culture is being dubbed the “post-Christian” era or the “post-evangelical” era. Denominational institutions are splitting and crumbling. Ironically, I might suggest, much like the Berlin Wall.

I’ve watched this create tremendous anxiety and fear in some. Yet, as I observe and witness these things, I can’t say that I’m particularly worried or upset about them. Why? First, we are told countless times by Jesus and God’s Message not to be afraid or anxious. Second, if I truly believe what I say that I believe, then I have faith that this Great Story has always been moving towards a conclusion that is already written in the eternity that lies outside time. Third, the mystery and power of Christ was never of this world. That’s why the Kingdom had to come as Jesus embodied and prescribed, and why Jesus was never about becoming an earthly King with political power and clout.  When humans attempted to make the Message of Jesus and the Kingdom of God about Level 3, institutional, earthly power I believe we essentially made it into something it was never intended to be and, at the same time, emptied it of its true power.

In today’s chapter, Paul instructs his young protégé, Titus, what to teach the followers of Jesus in Crete. What struck me was not what those specific instructions were, but the motivation Paul gives for the instructions and their adherence:

“…so that no one will malign the word of God.”

“…so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.”

“…so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

The paradigm was not that followers of Jesus would have the political and institutional power to make non-believers toe our moral line. The paradigm presented was that we who follow Jesus would live out the fruits of the Spirit towards everyone, that we would exemplify Kingdom living in all we say and do, and we would love all people in such a way that others would see, be attracted to it, and wonder how they might experience the same love, joy, peace, and self-control they see in us. What a different paradigm that that of making rules, appointing enforcers, and punishing offenders which is the paradigm of this Level 3 world

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about times and change.

The words of an old U2 song flit into my thoughts:

October,
the leaves are stripped bare of all they wear.
What do I care?
October,
Kingdom rise and kingdoms fall,
but You go on,
and on,
and on.

And so I proceed on, into another day of this earthly journey trying to live out a little love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Thanks for joining me, my friend. Have a great day.

Rooted

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)

Last summer Wendy and I had five fire bushes planted at the back of our yard. As the hot, dry summer wore on the bushes struggled for life. Despite the fact that I gave them water and they had plenty of sunlight, they slowly withered and died. Fortunately, all of our other landscaping, which had been planted two years earlier, made it through the drought and is full of life this spring.

It’s been a beautifully warm, wet spring this year and I’ve been mowing my lawn twice a week. As I passed by the dead bushes at the back of our yard on Saturday, I happened to bump a couple of them with the edge of the mower. I noticed that they quite easily bent and seemed to pull up from the ground. They had no depth of root structure grounding them.

I thought of those bushes as I read this morning’s chapter. Paul instructs the spiritually immature believers in Colossae that having made a decision to follow Jesus was just the beginning of their spiritual journey. They are spiritual saplings, newly planted. Now, it’s time to put down deep spiritual roots which only happens slowly, over time. It is the continual processing of Word and Light and Spirit and relationship in spiritual photosynthesis leading to a chain reaction of praise and gratitude which perpetuates the cycle.

In the past few week’s I’ve written about an observation I’ve had over the years. The brands of Jesus’ followers with whom I’ve been associated most of my life have had a penchant for focusing on getting people “saved” like a nursery of seedlings dropped into a tiny pot of loose soil and sprinkled with water. When life begins to scorch, or the storms of circumstance blow in like a midwest thunderstorm, there are no spiritual roots. The seedlings wither.

This morning I find myself meditating on the long, slow, gradual process of growing deep spiritual roots. It’s not a quick fix. It requires time, attention, and a certain amount of discipline. It goes against the grain of a culture that worships the quick, simple, and easy. But, it’s good. The deeper my roots, the more capable I found myself to weather the unpredictable ebb and flow of both drought and storms in life.

Dig deep. Build up. Strengthen faith. Let gratitude flow.

Have a great week, my friend.

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.

 

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“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.

 

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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.