Tag Archives: Humility

Humiliating Defeat

Humiliating Defeat (CaD 2 Ki 14) Wayfarer

Jehoash king of Israel replied to Amaziah king of Judah: “You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?”
2 Kings 14:9-10 (NIV)

There are certain things that one simply experiences and knows from growing up and living in Iowa. For example, there’s the sport of wrestling. For whatever reason, the sport of wrestling is a thing in our state. Our major universities have long histories of success in the sport, and they’ve produced some of the most dominant wrestlers in history.

When I was growing up, wrestling was part of the required P.E. curriculum in the Middle School years. When you’re the youngest of four children, that means that older siblings came home and taught what they’d learned. I had never really wrestled in any official capacity, but I knew a few things from what my siblings taught me. I remember being paired up with partners in P.E. class and whoever my partner was, I had a pretty easy time of it.

Then we were allowed to challenge others in the class while the entire class looked on. I chose to challenge one of my classmates who was about my size. I figured I would at least be able to hold my own. What I didn’t know is that the guy I chose was already an accomplished wrestler and would go on to be a formidable wrestler in high school. It took less than five seconds for him to pin me. It was total humiliation.

It’s funny the things that I remember, and that still come to mind, over forty years later. There have been moments along my life journey when I experienced humiliating defeats and crashes of different kinds. Moments of shame are hard for me to forget. They have definitely served a purpose, however.

In today’s chapter, King Amaziah of Judah finds himself flying high after defeating the army of Edom. Feeling good about his victory, he challenges the Kingdom of Israel to a battle. Jehoash, King of Israel, tells Amaziah to reconsider and gives him the opportunity to withdraw the challenge, but Amaziah will have none of it. It does not go well for him. It ended up a humiliating defeat and Amaziah’s own people eventually turned on him and killed him.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the seasons of life. In the ebb-and-flow of the journey, I have experienced seasons of victory in which I felt on top of the world. It’s easy for me to think I’m going to stay there or fly even higher. Eventually, life always hands me a loss.

I also wrote yesterday that I’ve learned to embrace every season for what it is. Seasons of loss, defeat, shame, or humiliation are good soil for growing faith, humility, perseverance, and proven character. The “mountain-top” soil isn’t suited to grow those things.

In the quiet this morning, I’m praying a word of gratitude for the defeats, losses, and humiliating moments along my life journey. They’ve taught me a lot, including when to be content with life’s victories and appreciate how transient they can be. I’m also saying a prayer for my classmate who humiliated me on the wrestling mat (Yes, Wendy, I still remember his name!). I hope he’s in a good place on his own life journey.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

“Consider” This

"Consider" This (CaD 2 Ki 5) Wayfarer

Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.”
2 Kings 5:20 (NIV)

I’ve been working on a message I’m scheduled to give this Sunday morning among my local gathering of Jesus followers. One of the concepts on which I’ve been meditating is the idea of “consideration.” There is a subtle theme in the Jesus story and the Great Story’s teaching regarding what disciples of Jesus are to “consider” and what we are not to “consider.”

Today’s chapter is a fantastic example.

An Aramean military officer had some kind of incurable skin disease (FYI: The Hebrew word that gets translated into English as “leprosy” has a much broader meaning and could mean any number of skin issues or diseases). He comes bearing an extraordinary amount of money and gifts and visits Elisha, asking to be healed. Through intermediaries, Elisha instructs him to dip himself in the Jordan River seven times, which he eventually does, and he is healed. Elisha sends word to the man to keep his gifts and go home.

As I meditated on the story, I thought about what Elisha was considering that motivated his words and actions. Elisha, considering the big picture of what God is trying to do at that moment, wants this Aramean (a foreigner dedicated to Aramean pagan gods) to know that the God of Abraham, Moses, David, and Israel is the one true God. He chooses not to even meet the man in person because he wants no credit for the miracle, and he doesn’t want the man to focus on Elisha, but on the God of Elisha. Finally, Elisha refuses any gifts or payment because he considers that he has done nothing to earn these things, and he’s not in the business of miracles-r-us. He was just doing what the Lord instructed. He considers God his master. He is just a servant doing what he’s been told.

The officer leaves, and the scene switches to focus on Elisha’s servant Gehazi.

First, Gehazi considers to himself all of the silver and fine clothes that the Aramean had brought. He then considers that this Aramean is a foreigner and an enemy. He considers why this pagan Aramean should have such wealth and fine things instead one of God’s chosen people. In his considerations, Gehazi comes to the conclusion that he deserves a little bit of the spoils for himself.

Gehazi then runs after the Aramean. He lies to the Aramean about prophets arriving from a distance and his master Elisha commanding him to ask for silver and clothes for the two prophets.

Gehazi then takes the ill-gotten plunder and hides it.

Finally, when asked where he’s been, Gehazi lies to his master and claims not to have gone anywhere.

What a contrast. Elisha’s words and actions were in consideration of what God, his Lord, is doing and desiring in the larger context of the political and spiritual landscape of the people of Israel and their rulers. Elisha acts as a humble servant who sees everything through consideration of his master and what his master desires.

Gehazi, on the other hand, reflects the original sin:

When the Woman [Eve] saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.
Genesis 3:6 (MSG)

He sees the silver and fine things that the Aramean brought with him. He considers how awesome it would be to have some for himself. In doing so he does not consider his master’s intentions, his master’s wishes, or what his master will do if he finds out what he has done. Gehazi considers his own selfish desires as everything while considering his master Elisha’s desires nothing.

Welcome to the human condition.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself convicted. How often are my daily, moment-by-moment considerations about myself, from my lizard brain survival instincts to my envy of others, my desire to have what others have, and my lust after the things of this world? How different was Jesus’ example:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)

And so, I find myself sitting in the quiet considering the day ahead. Will I consider this day about me and my personal needs, wants, and desires? Or will I consider Jesus’ example, humble myself, act as a servant, and consider others’ needs ahead of my own?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Power and Chaos

Zimri came in, struck [Elah] down and killed him in the twenty-seventh year of Asa king of Judah. Then he succeeded [Elah] as king.
1 Kings 16:10 (NIV)

I’ve observed over my life journey that the kingdoms of this world are really all about power: the power to control others, the power to acquire for self, and the power to maintain power.

Tyrants wield power like blunt force trauma. They lie, deceive, kill and destroy in order to rise to the top of their kingdom. Then they eliminate any threat, use force to control the masses, and entrench themselves at the top of their kingdom.

Politicians are more subtle. They manipulate the rules to their advantage in order to ensure their coffers are always full, their personal assets favorably rise, campaign and election rules are rigged in their favor, and their opponents are smeared as extremists. The endgame is the same, however: control others, acquire for self, and maintain power and privilege.

Media use their power of influence to control what their viewers see and hear, boost their fame and ratings, help those who align with their political bent, and demonize those who don’t.

Religious institutions use the power of religious authority to create spiritual hierarchies of authority. Those at the top control mass behavior with that authority coupled with guilt, shame, and the threat of ostracization, ex-communication, public shaming, or other punishments.

I could go on to talk about the abuse of power that exists in businesses, families, sports, community groups, charitable organizations, and every human system.

Today’s chapter follows the quick succession of kings in the northern Kingdom of Israel. While the southern Kingdom of Judah was committed to being ruled by the dynastic line of David, the northern Kingdom of Israel was a free-for-all. The game of thrones in the north was a virtual “King of the Mountain.” The throne was there for the taking of anyone who could seize and wield power.

Bashaa reigns 24 years and dies.

Elah succeeds his father, Basshaa, and reigns for two years.

Zimri, a military officer, assassinates Elah, slaughters the entire family of Bashaa, and declares himself king. He reigns seven days.

Omri, a military general, is hailed as king by the army under his command as soon as they hear of Zimri’s coup. Realizing he was doomed, Zimri commits suicide by lighting the palace on fire and dying in the flames.

Tibni, a prominent public figure, challenges Omri for the throne, dividing the nation into two competing factions. Omri (with the military behind him) proves stronger and ascends the throne for 12 years.

Ahab, son of Omri, succeeds his father on the throne.

Corruption, assassination, military coup, suicide, destruction, and division. It’s not a picture of peace and harmony.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded how differently Jesus prescribed His game plan for changing the world. His people wanted a Messiah who was a divine version of the top-down power under which they’d suffered for centuries. They wanted a divine Messiah who would wipe out their enemies while raising them to positions of power and prominence. But from the very beginning, Jesus was the living embodiment of God’s word through the prophet Isaiah: “My ways are not your ways.”

In a real sense, that is what Christmas is about.

The way of Jesus was that of an omnipotent God humbly lowering Himself and taking on the role of servant, becoming human and submitting Himself to all of the constraints, weaknesses, conflicts, labor, and pain that come with being human. Jesus’ taught his followers this same example. Humble yourself, consider others ahead of yourself, love your enemies, bless those who persecute you, be content with what you have been given, lead by serving, control your thoughts, words, and behavior with others, and live a life marked by love, joy, peace, patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness.

Jesus’ paradigm wasn’t to change the world with top-down power, coercion, threat, force, and control. Jesus’ paradigm was to change the world was that of one person changing the life of another individual with love, motivating that individual to pay it forward toward others who will, in turn, have changed hearts motivating them to pay it forward in loving yet others who will pay it forward in loving still others, until an organic, underground movement of love spreads across humanity.

By the way, it really worked for a few hundred years. At that point, the Prince of this World made a brilliant move in the chess match between him and God. The Prince of this World gave the Jesus Movement worldly power. They became a Kingdom of this World. Almost overnight the organic, persecuted followers of Jesus found themselves with the power, authority, and earthly riches of the Holy Roman Empire. Chaos followed just as it always follows the kingdoms of this world under the dominion of the Prince of this World.

But that wasn’t Jesus’ paradigm. There was no earthly power, or control, or wealth in a stable outside of Bethlehem.

I adore that.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Today’s featured image was generated with Wonder A.I.

Prepped for Success

King David dedicated these articles to the Lord, as he had done with the silver and gold from all the nations he had subdued…. 2 Samuel 8:11 (NIV)

Yesterday I was in my client’s office and he was sharing with me a little bit about his background. He took me through a brief overview of his professional journey and resume. At the end of it, he had connected the dots to reveal how his entire career had uniquely prepared him for his current role in his company and industry. Laughing, he told me “I guess I learned a thing or two along the way.”

I thought about that conversation this morning as I read today’s chapter. David was on a roll. Bent on expanding and establishing his kingdom, his energies were focused on conquest. Connecting the dots, I recognize how all those painful years on the run from Saul now benefitted him greatly. Those difficult years prepared him uniquely to be a successful leader. He had been forced to live in foreign territories and had gathered around himself an international military team. He knew how to lead a diverse group of men. His understanding of neighboring nations, their politics, their militaries, and all of the geopolitical nuances of the region allowed him to be shrewd in his decisions as a general and a king. Like my client, David had learned a thing or two along the way.

I have to believe that all of those years depending on God for daily strength, courage, provision, and perseverance also prepared David with humility. He knew what it was like to be an outlaw living life in a cave. Now that he was king and the military victories were stacking up David had not lost sight of the fact that it was God who made those victories possible. The trophies of his victories he dedicated to God, refusing to take the glory for himself.

Today I am reminded to place credit where credit is due in my own life and victories. Like my client, like David, I can connect the dots in my journey and see how God has led me to this place. I’ve learned a thing or two as well, and have been prepared for my calling.

Though my victories are relatively small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, there is no doubt that I have been richly blessed. God has been good to me and I never want to lose sight of that fact, nor take credit for what has been graciously and undeservedly given.

A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m take a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in May 2014
.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Underdog & the Unprepared

The Underdog & The Unprepared (CaD 1 Sam 22) Wayfarer

“Then David said to Abiathar, “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family. Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.”
1 Samuel 22:22-23 (NIV)

I’ve always cheered for the underdog. I’m sure that this is wrapped up in my temperament. Throughout my life’s journey, the teams I ended up adopting are teams that never (or rarely) win the big one, the perennial losers, and the “less than” team in big rivalries. Perhaps this penchant for the underdog is the reason that one of my favorite classic tales has always been Robin Hood. I love the lone upstart who cares for the common man and takes on the prejudicial system. There’s a hint of Christ-likeness in the character and the story.

This came to mind this morning as I pondered today’s chapter. The saga of King Saul and to-be King David is, throughout, a story of contrasts. King Saul is on the throne. He has all of the authority and power. He is, however, a horrible leader. Today’s chapter hints at the fact that King Saul has stuffed his administration with friends and cronies from his own tribe, the little tribe of Benjamin. This could not have played well with the other 11 tribes. Instead of being concerned with the welfare of the nation, Saul is slowly descending into a personal, mad obsession to kill young David, who is anointed by God to become his successor.

Saul is an object lesson in a trifecta of deadly sins: pride, envy, and wrath.

David, in contrast, has all the gifts of a strong leader in the making. His courage, humility, and military prowess have made him popular with the people. David, however, has no nobility, social standing, or systemic power. Rather, he’s got a price on his head. The king is myopically focused on killing him. He flees into the wilderness.

David is an object lesson in the forging of a great leader through injustice, suffering, and sore trials.

In the wilderness, hiding first in a cave and then in a forest, today’s chapter states, “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander. About four hundred men were with him.”

A rag-tag bunch of mercenaries, misfits, and malcontents who have no social standing becomes David’s merry band of followers hiding in the forest. Sound like anyone?

Meanwhile, the mad-king has the high-priest who gave David consecrated bread in yesterday’s chapter killed along with his entire family and the entire population of the town where they resided. One son of the High Priest, Abiathar, escapes to David in the forest to tell David what has happened.

What does David do?

He takes personal responsibility for the slaughter: “That day, when Doeg the Edomite was there, I knew he would be sure to tell Saul. I am responsible for the death of your whole family.”

He treats the young priest Abiathar with kindness, extends to him peace, and shows him loving hospitality: “Stay with me; don’t be afraid. The man who wants to kill you is trying to kill me too. You will be safe with me.”

Looks like Robin just got his Friar Tuck. 😉

Some people are thrust into leadership unprepared, like Saul. Without the requisite character qualities for learning quickly on the job, the position becomes a trap that brings out the worst in a person.

Some people become leaders through experience and trial, like David. All references to Robin and his merry band aside, David is not having fun. It is during this period of hiding that David wrote the lyrics to Psalm 142:

Listen to my cry,
    for I am in desperate need;
rescue me from those who pursue me,
    for they are too strong for me.
Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me.

As I ponder these contrasting individuals, my underdog spirit whispers: “Forge me, Lord, into the person you want me to be. Amen.”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The “Uh-Oh” Moment

The "Uh-Oh" Moment (CaD 1 Sam 14) Wayfarer

Jonathan said, “My father has made trouble for the country.”
1 Samuel 14:29a (NIV)

Have you ever been in a situation in which you suddenly realize that the person in charge has no business being the person in charge? I call it the “uh-oh” moment, as in “Uh-oh! If this is the person in charge, then all of us are in deep Shinola.”

There is an amazing scene in the mini-series Band of Brothers, based on the true story of a paratrooper company preparing for D-Day in World War II. Their company commander had turned them into one of the best units in the entire army, but he was a poor leader in the field. His men had their “Uh-Oh” moment as they contemplated jumping behind enemy lines with him in charge. They had no respect for him, and they knew that he would get them all killed. At the risk of being court-martialed and shot for committing treason, they wrote letters refusing to serve in combat under their commander. They were dressed down and punished, but the letters had their intended effect. The company commander was reassigned and a truly gifted leader rose up within the company to replace him.

In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel introduces two important themes in the story. First, we find that Saul’s son, Jonathan, is a courageous warrior, has qualities that his own father lacks, and the young man seems to have his act together. It is Jonathan who, by faith, acts on his own to attack the Philistines and unleash the panic that ultimately leads to Israel’s victory. This is contrasted with his father, Saul’s, own erratic and poor leadership. This is the other overarching theme of the chapter.

Saul starts to seek God’s guidance but then fears that waiting on a word from God could lose him the advantage so he acts on his own. Later, he follows through with seeking God’s guidance but then gets angry and impatient when God doesn’t answer. Saul foolishly makes his men swear an oath not to eat until the end of the fighting with the Philistines. As the battle does on all day, his men become famished and weary. Jonathan, who wasn’t even present when the men swore the oath, eats some fresh honey he finds in the field. When his fellow soldiers tell him about the oath his father made everyone swear, even Jonathan has an “Uh-Oh” moment as he realizes that his father’s leadership has only served to hurt their cause. When it becomes clear that Jonathan ate the honey, Saul acts to have his own son killed for insubordination. Jonathan’s fellow soldiers rise up against this injustice and demand that Saul refrain from carrying out the sentence. They recognize that it was Jonathan, not Saul, to whom they owe a debt of gratitude for the victory that day.

These early episodes in Saul’s career as Israel’s first king only foreshadow what is to come. Along my life journey, I’ve learned that leadership at all levels requires a certain tension between confidence and humility, between decisiveness and wisdom. Every leader makes mistakes, but I have observed a big difference between those who learn from their mistakes and those who are incapable or unwilling to do so. I read one commentator this morning who described Saul as an ego-centric leader. I thought that hit the nail on the head.

As I wrap up another work week this morning, I can’t help but once again think about my own leadership. I have been honored to hold many positions of leadership along life’s road. Here in the quiet, I can quickly think of times that others may have had “Uh-Oh” moments as I failed and made some serious mistakes. However, I’ve done my best to learn from those mistakes and not repeat them. Failure is a powerful teacher if one has the wisdom to be taught.

I’m afraid we’re going to find out that Saul was a poor student.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Faith Over Fear

Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.

“What have you done?” asked Samuel.

1 Samuel 13:7b-11 (NIV)

Early in my career, our company’s founder and CEO was accompanying me on a business trip. For a week I was presenting a very long and intense multi-media training event for all the Customer Service agents in our client’s contact center. Because there were hundreds of agents and they could only take them off the floor a handful at a time, I was doing multiple sessions each day from early morning until late night to make sure we even got all the third-shift reps trained. It was grueling, which is why my boss had come along to encourage and assist.

Towards the middle of the week, the head of our client’s contact center informed us that the conference room we were using was needed by their executive team. We would have to move all of our equipment to the only other room they could find for us. It was not ideal. The room they were sending us to was not a great space for what we were doing. And, we were already weary from the grinding schedule. It would take us a couple of hours to move rooms and set up for the next morning when we really needed to get some sleep.

I was surprised to watch my boss dig in his heels. I was young and relatively inexperienced in these types of situations, but it seemed clear to me that my boss seemed to think this was some kind of power play on the part of the Contact Center manager. He refused. A heated argument followed, which was followed by angry phone calls. The entire thing threatened to destroy a very good and profitable relationship we’d built with a large national corporation. I was watching a heady cocktail of pride, anger, and stubbornness drive my boss to dangerous and irrational behavior.

Tense situations in times of weakness or weariness often reveal a leader’s true mettle.

In yesterday’s chapter, God through Samuel established a new org chart for the monarchy. The King would handle political and military affairs while God’s prophet would handle spiritual matters and communicate with God who was still above the King on the org chart.

In today’s chapter, the first thing Saul does is cross the boundaries of the org chart. Fearful of the Philistines, anxious that Samuel has not arrived on time, and nervous about the fact that his troopers were rapidly going AWOL, Saul takes it upon himself to do Samuel’s job for him. It was presumptuous on Saul’s part to think he had the authority to do his prophet’s job, and it was directly disobedient to the system God had put in place. Perhaps, most importantly, Saul’s actions were motivated by fear, not faith.

I couldn’t help but think of a scene in Shakespeare’s Henry V in which a tired, sick, and rain-drenched English army is on the march. The French Herald arrives to announce that a freshly assembled French army is ready to confront the weary English soldiers. The Herald then offers Harry “ransom.” In other words, “You surrender and become our prisoner, and you won’t be hurt in battle. We’ll charge England ransom for your return while we destroy your army on the field.”

Harry refuses the offer to the encouragement of his men, but he and all his men know that to face the French in their present state would be disastrous. One of the King’s nobles confesses to Henry what everyone in the English army is thinking: “I hope they don’t attack us right now.”

King Henry replies, “We are in God’s hands, brother. Not in theirs.”

That’s faith and courage to press on despite fear. By contrast, Saul’s actions reveal a lack of faith and a penchant for acting rashly out of fear.

This brings me back to that tense stand-off in our client’s contact center. I got frantic phone calls from a colleague asking what was going on because they’d gotten frantic calls from our client asking them to do something about our boss. I had quietly watched this intense escalation, trying to respect the boundaries between myself and my boss. He had basically ignored me through the entire battle of egos in which he’d been intensely engaged. Finally, he turned to me and asked me what we should do.

I reminded him that our company’s mission statement (the one he wrote) said that we strive to be examples of “servant-leadership.” I quietly suggested that to serve our client well, we should bite the bullet and humbly move as requested. Thankfully, he agreed. A crisis was averted, though I’m not sure our company’s reputation remained unscathed. It became a good lesson for me.

In the quiet this morning, my heart and mind ponder my own positions of leadership in family, community, and business. I have my own natural human responses in times of fear and anxiety, and I confess that not all of them are positive. I have a natural bent toward pessimism that tends to choke my faith like the seed that fell among the thorns in Jesus’ parable of the Sower. And yet, I have yet to give up in uncertain times and circumstances. When they come along, I try to remind myself of two passages I have memorized (over and over and over and over):

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

[Those who fear the LORD] will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.
Psalm 112:7-8 (NIV)

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Crowns and Surrender

Crowns and Surrender (CaD Rev 4) Wayfarer

They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being.”

Revelation 4:10-11 (NIV)

I was speaking at a business conference and struck up a conversation with a gentleman from a company for whom we’d written a proposal a year or two prior. In charge of that company’s Customer Experience operations, he told me how much he loved our proposal and how convinced he was that we could actually help them move the needle in “improving their serve.” When I asked why we lost out on the opportunity, his answer was telling: “My boss wasn’t really interested in actually improving anything. He just wanted a program that would make it look like he had accomplished something and that would provide plaques to hang on his office wall saying how good we were.”

There’s something innately human about wanting to win awards. Children participate in programs, like scouting, in which they earn merit badges and are recognized for their efforts. Children’s sports programs dole out trophies, ribbons, medals, and even championship rings. In adulthood, we often continue to chase some kind of tangible proof of our achievements by way of titles and awards. As children, we like to wear crowns and tiaras and pretend we’re kings and queens. As adults, we do the same thing it’s just that it’s usually less visible and obvious.

This human penchant came to mind as I read today’s chapter. Having completed dictating letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor, Jesus calls John “up” to the throne room of heaven in today’s chapter. It is from here that John will be given the visions of what is to come.

This “throne room” vision is not without precedent. Both the prophets Isaiah (Is 6) and Ezekiel (Ez 1) had similar visions of heaven’s throne complete with strangely described angels (also known as “cherubim” and “seraphim”) surrounding the throne with endless praise.

The praise in today’s chapter is motivated by God’s eternal nature (“was, and is, and is to come”) and in God being the “alpha point” of creation, from whom all things flow and have life and being. The visions provided in the rest of the book describe the “omega point” to which all things flow to the end (before a new beginning).

In this throne room, John describes 24 “elders.” There are numerous interpretations of who they are or represent. Jesus told his disciples at their last supper that they would “sit on thrones and judge the tribes of Israel” (Lk 22:30) so many believe the 24 thrones to represent the 12 tribal patriarchs and the 12 disciples. The bottom line is that John doesn’t identify them.

As I pondered this, I realized that the important thing is not who they are, but whose they are and what they do. They lay their crowns before the throne and offer praise to the One who sits on the throne.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about my own ego and penchant for awards and achievements because I have it too. I want to look good. I want to be a success. I want to be recognized for my hard work and accomplishments. And yet, one of the most simple and profound things about being a follower of Jesus is the fact that He calls me to consciously choose against my ego-centered human nature.

To carry out my faith quietly and personally – not for show.
To worry more about treasure in heaven than awards on earth.
To serve others more than I serve myself.
To humble myself before God and others rather than play endless psychological and spiritual versions of “King of the Mountain.”

In other words: To surrender my crown and lay it before the only One worthy.

And so, I enter another work week this morning. I don’t know who the 24 elders are whom John saw in heaven’s throne room, but I know whose they are, and I know what they did. My goal this week is to do the same.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Two Paths

Two Paths (CaD Jud 9) Wayfarer

Abimelek son of [Gideon] went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”
Judges 9:1-2 (NIV)

I still have vivid memories of the bully. I remember his name. I can see his face in my memory along with the bathroom at Woodlawn Elementary school where it happened. I was in second grade and he was a year older than me. He was bigger than me. He was mean and intimidating. He demanded that I give him my lunch money, but I didn’t have any. I brought my lunch to school. This made him mad and he feigned that he was going to hit me. He then told me that after school he would find me and was going to beat me up. The two-and-a-half block walk home was sheer terror, but I managed to walk with my neighbor who was two years older and that gave me some comfort.

That was my first experience with a bully, and it obviously left a strong impression on me. History is filled with those who use threats, violence, and intimidation for personal gain. What begins as bullying on the school playground can easily become a way of life that in adulthood turns into gangs, organized crime, and rackets. The same tactics of power and intimidation get “cleaned up” but still fuel political parties, corporate boardrooms, and union organizations. I’ve also experienced the same basic bully tactics from powerful individuals in churches.

The stories of Gideon and his son Abimelek form the center of the book of Judges. Ancient Hebrew writers, poets, and lyricists commonly used a literary device and placed the central theme of their work smack-dab in the middle. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that one of the central themes of the book of Judges is the tension the Hebrew tribes were experiencing as they tried to be a theocracy and follow God as their ultimate King and the reality they were experiencing with their enemies of what a powerful leader/king could do for a city or region. At the center of the book are two contrasting examples of this very tension. Gideon and his son take two very different paths to power and end up in very different places.

The story of Gideon provides the example of a powerful leader who humbly refuses to be made king, and he calls on his fellow Hebrews to recognize God as their only true leader. In today’s chapter, Abimelek provides a contrasting example. He takes the path of the power-hungry individual who will stop at nothing to seize and maintain his power.

Beneath the story of Abimelek are other subtle themes that were crucial in their time, and they still resonate today. Abimelek was one of some seventy sons of Gideon, the offspring of Gideon and a Canaanite slave. It’s likely that the biracial son of a slave was treated as less-than by his pure Hebrew half-brothers, the sons of Gideon’s legitimate wives. Abimelek uses his Canaanite blood, and his position of relative power as Gideon’s son, to convince the Canaanite people of the city of Shechem to appoint him their king. He then goes all Michael Corleone and “settles accounts” with all the potential threats to his power, his brothers, by killing them all (with the exception of the youngest brother, who escapes).

Chaos, political intrigue, violence, vengeance, and the continuous struggle for power follow Abimelek through the entire chapter. The Godfather epic is an apt parallel. Once he stepped down the path of power by violence and vengeance, Michael Corleone could tragically never escape the consequences of where it led. Abimelek found himself on the same tragic path.

In the quiet this morning, I said a prayer for my elementary school bully. I hope God led him to find a better path in life. He taught me a lesson that day. He provided me an example of the person I never wanted to become. I’m grateful for that.

I also find myself pondering the simple contrast between Gideon and his son, Abimelek. Gideon wasn’t perfect, but his deference to God’s power and authority kept him from the tragic ends experienced by his son.

I’ve learned along my life journey that whatever positions of earthly power and/or leadership I might find myself should come because I am led to them, not because I seized them for myself. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to the path of humility and service to others. Looking back from my current waypoint on Life’s road, I can tell you that it is a path that has always led, not always to easy places, but ultimately to good places.

I think I’ll stick to this path.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Awareness and Ego

Awareness and Ego (CaD Jos 8) Wayfarer

Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.
Joshua 8:1 (NIV)

Along my life journey, and my spiritual journey, I’ve learned that there is wisdom and goodness in having sober self-awareness. This includes knowing my strengths, my abilities, my weaknesses, and my ego.

I grew up around music. I sang in choirs throughout my school years. I sang in small groups, in musicals, and taught myself to play guitar and bass. I also confess that my ego really wanted to be a great singer and musician. My ego wanted to be in a band and be a lead vocalist.

I was never that good, and any ego-fueled attempt I made to do something beyond my ability utterly failed. I learned to accept that I’m adequate when it comes to music. I can function on a team and positively contribute to the whole. I can adequately perform a solo in a musical on stage. However, I know gifted vocalists and musicians, and my ego eventually learned to accept that I’m not one of them.

There are, however, other things at which I’m gifted. In the flow of life, those are the things that God has continually given me opportunities to do, and they’ve been successful even if/when my ego wasn’t exactly excited about it.

In reading today’s chapter, it was the contrast to the previous chapter where I found the most fascinating lesson.

At the beginning of yesterday’s chapter, there was no mention of God being part of the preparations for or engagement in the battle. Joshua sent the spies. The spies gave their report and recommended action. Joshua acted on their recommendation and sent a small contingent to take the city. It failed.

At the beginning of today’s chapter, the Lord encourages Joshua, the Lord gives the command to attack, and the Lord provides the battle plan. It succeeds. And, having taught/learned the lesson at Jericho that everything belongs to God, the Lord shares the plunder of Ai with His people.

Joshua and the Hebrew tribes are learning a lesson similar to the one I’ve had to learn. In God’s silence, Joshua allowed his ego to take over. There’s no record that he even thought about asking God for direction. On the heels of a victory at Jericho, Joshua takes command, makes the strategy, and pulls the trigger to attack.

1500 years later, God would reveal that we are all like a body with Jesus as the head. We’re all connected. We each have certain gifts, abilities, and temperaments that allow us to positively contribute to the health, strength, and life of the whole body. Yet, just like our bodies, there are entire systems that function independently of one another yet no other system of the body can survive and thrive unless each system is doing the thing it’s made to do.

My ego might really want me to be part of a different system but there’s wholeness and peace in having the self-awareness to know where I fit and best contribute to the whole body. Beyond that, if I’m not functioning in the system in which I’m gifted and best contribute, the entire body suffers. Joshua made the easy mistake of thinking he was the brains of the operation, but only God occupies that position in the body. When Joshua was back in the position of being God’s mouthpiece taking orders from the brain, everything functioned as it should.

In the quiet this morning, I’m meditating on the reality that this lesson of self-awareness, humility, giftedness, and ego is not a flip-the-switch type of lesson that you learn once and then are done. Getting my ego out of the way and learning to know and understand myself are never-ending lessons on this earthly sojourn. The more I embrace and learn these lessons, the further I progress spiritually, and the more peace and joy I experience in my daily experiences.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.