Tag Archives: Influence

The Spiritual Barometer of Comfort

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
2 Chronicles 16:9 (NIV)

A friend dropped by for coffee yesterday and we enjoyed a long discussion. One of the slivers of conversation was around a class that is being offered in our community in the near future. The premise of the class is that some of history’s most influential people had their most productive and years after the age of 70. The class is intended to encourage adults in the back stretch of life’s journey to consider shunning the traditional view of retirement. Instead of moving somewhere warm and sitting by a pool, the class encourages people to consider how their final stretch of life’s journey might be their most productive and influential.

I thought about that this morning as I read today’s chapter and contemplated the story of King Asa. In yesterday’s post, the prophet Azariah encouraged Asa to “be strong and not give up” but the stretch of life journey that Asa was entering was not one of struggle. Asa’s major challenge and climactic fight was behind him. He was entering a time of extended peace. Thirty-five years of peace and rest. And that’s when he blew it.

Thirty-five years of relatively easy sledding finds King Asa has changed, but not in a good way. He forgot the lesson he learned in his war with the Cushites. He forgot how his faith had led to good things. He forgot Azariah’s admonishment. Thirty-five years of peace and comfort turned Asa into a hard-hearted, self-centric old man. It was the good times and life of relative ease that revealed the true nature of Asa’s heart. A seer named Hanani confronts Asa, but it only confirms and seals Asa’s bitterness (and lands Hanani in the stocks).

This morning I’m thinking about my current waypoint on this life journey. I often think that it’s the tough stretches of pain, tragedy, and difficulty that reveal the true nature of our hearts. Perhaps it is the stretches of comfort and ease that are a better barometer of my spirit.

The Letter of Our Lives

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.
2 Corinthians 3:1-2 (NIV)

Wherever you find kindness, love, and generosity you will find those willing to take advantage of that kindness, love, and generosity. In the day that Paul was writing his letter to believers in Corinth, the followers of Jesus had gained a reputation for being generous toward those marginalized by the society of that day including lepers, widows, and orphans. They also had a reputation of taking up collections for traveling teachers like Paul.

It wasn’t long before con men and teachers with selfish intent began making the rounds. The result of being swindled was that these local gatherings of Jesus’ followers would expect traveling teachers to bring a letter of recommendation from someone they knew and trusted. Eventually the con men began forging those letters of recommendation and it became an on-going problem.

Paul picks up on this situation and uses these required “letters of recommendation” as a word picture. The believers of Corinth were his letter of recommendation, Paul argued. The “proof” of Paul’s ministry was the changed hearts, the transformed lives, and the growing spiritual maturity of those in Corinth in whom Paul had invested his time, teaching, and mentoring.

This morning I’m pondering this metaphor of our very lives, and the outcomes of our lives, being a letter read by everyone around us. When people look at the outcomes of my life, my words, my actions, and my relationships what are they reading? What does my life “recommend” to others? And what’s does my influence on others “recommend?”

Yesterday I went on site with our client and ran into a young man who’d started on the front line of their sales and customer service department. I trained him from his first days on the phone and coached him for a number of years. He was promoted to another team I worked with and then got a promotion to field sales. I haven’t seen him for years. He happened to be in the home office yesterday and when he saw me his face lit up. Unexpectedly he came over and gave me a big hug. It made my day. It was rewarding to know that my coaching has made a small contribution to his success.

I sit here in my hotel room prepping for another day of coaching. I’m reminded of the “letter” I’m writing in myself and others today. I want it to be a positive letter of recommendation.

Time to Grow Up

“…so that you may not be mixed with these nations left here among you, or make mention of the names of their gods, or swear by them, or serve them, or bow yourselves down to them, but hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have done to this day.”
Joshua 22:7-8 (NRSV)

There are different stages in life. What may be good and appropriate for one stage of life may change and evolve as we grow and mature. This is natural. It is a part of the journey. It is how God designed it.

When I was a child there were boys that my parents did not want me hanging out with. My parents saw that they had different values. They were older. There was every possibility that they would have drawn me into trouble. My parents didn’t say these were “bad” kids. They simply told me to steer clear.

As I got older my parents stopped warning me about people. They sent me off to work, to college, to the mission field, and to the broader world. They wanted me to explore, to meet people, to learn, to grow, and to influence the world around me. They trusted me to be wise and discerning regarding my relationships.

I have come to believe that the relationship between God and man in history parallels the stages of human life. In today’s chapter, humanity is in its early childhood years. The people of God have become aware of their place in the world. They are learning about interacting with others. Their heavenly father warns them to steer clear of those who might have an unhealthy influence on them. Just like my parents did at that age.

Along life’s road I’ve known many followers of Jesus who still cling to this early childhood attitude of fear and suspicion towards others. They insulate themselves from their neighbors. They fear contact with others who are not like them and who don’t believe the same ways. It is as if they fear contamination should they associate with anyone who is not a part of their insular church family. They might even use Joshua’s words in today’s chapter to justify it.

Jesus’ death and resurrection was a rite of passage in the relationship between God and man. It was relational graduation into adulthood of sorts. Holy Spirit was poured out into the hearts and lives of those who believe. Jesus now sent His followers out into the world. No more hanging with the homeys behind locked doors. No more keeping to yourself. Jesus said, “Go….” Heavenly Father was kicking His children out of the nest. You’re old enough. You’re wise enough. I’ve prepared you and equipped you and it’s time for you to get out there an influence your world.

Today, I’m thinking about stages of life. There was a time when I was a child and I needed to be wary of others influencing me. Now I’m a man, and if I still live with that fear then there’s something that has short circuited in the maturation process. As Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in the city of Corinth: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.”

At some point, it’s time for every one of us to grow up, go out into the world into strange places among people who are new to us and influence those we meet with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

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featured image: shenamt via Flickr

Justice (and therefore Wisdom) Needed

You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.
Deuteronomy 16:19 (NRSV)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I’m sure we all had that question when we were young. Like most people, I think the answer changed for me a time or two. Growing up with the Apollo lunar missions, I think astronaut was on my mind in my earliest years. There came a time later in my childhood when I became enamored with the idea of running for political office.  Growing up in Iowa, we are inundated with the Presidential races every four years and that probably had an influence on my thinking.

As I got older, the idyllic visions I had of political office gave way to the harsh realities. At the highest levels the political game is about money. You generally can’t win the office without money, and to get money you have to put your hand out to big donors and special interests who will expect favors for their “donation.” By the way, corruption is an equal opportunity consequence. It is found in every political camp. That’s just the reality of it.

To stay in office, I watch lawmakers rig rules and pad their war chests. They shun term limits to extend their power and influence. They make sketchy deals and look out for each other and their own.

Somewhere along the way I realized that I didn’t think I could be a part of all that and keep my soul healthy. My political aspirations gave way to other things.

Today I am reminded that from the very beginning God has desired justice, honesty, and impartiality from His people. I didn’t pursue public office, but I still find myself in positions of leadership and authority. God’s call is the same for me in those positions as it was for the judges in Moses day. God desires that I make right and just decisions for the good of the whole. Even in my relatively minor spheres of influence, I continue to need wisdom and a generous measure of grace for that.

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The Problem of Power

source: allen brewer via flickr
source: allen brewer via flickr

Her leaders judge for a bribe,
    her priests teach for a price,
    and her prophets tell fortunes for money.
Yet they look for the Lord’s support and say,
    “Is not the Lord among us?
    No disaster will come upon us.”
Micah 3:11 (NIV)

As I write this the next Presidential election here in the States is 16 months off, but already the candidates are queueing up and the political machinations have begun. We had a family gathering at Wendy’s folks yesterday afternoon and casual conversation has already turned to be all about elections. It’s going to be a long one, I’m afraid. It’s times like this that I wish life had a fast forward button.

I am glad I live in a land with free elections and representative republic. As a lover of history, however, I’m constantly reminded that political power is a corrupting force. As Lord Acton observed, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Even in a system with checks and balances, I’ve observed that political offices (both elected and appointed) become places from which individuals and parties make rules to entrench their position and take advantage for themselves and their friends.

In the days of the prophet Micah, the situation was no different, as Micah observes in today’s chapter. God’s Message teaches that we live in a fallen world. Our sin leads us, despite our best altruistic efforts to the contrary, to make self-centric decisions for ourselves and our own. The more powerful and influential position we yield the more difficult it becomes to succumb.

Today, I’m feeling a bit cynical, but I’ve got plenty of evidence from events past and present to justify my cynicism. Perhaps that is why God’s Message exhorts us so directly to pray for our leaders and those in power. At the same time that I’m pointing the finger at politicians, I’m also mindful that power’s corrupting force is present in any human system from families to churches to companies to neighborhoods and service organizations. In my admittedly meager positions of influence I am aware of the negative affects power can have on me if I am not aggressively mindful, humble and accountable.

Inevitable Corruption

English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stea...
English: Painting, 1856, by Junius Brutus Stearns, Washington at Constitutional Convention of 1787, signing of U.S. Constitution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They also cast lots, just as their relatives the descendants of Aaron did, in the presence of King David and of Zadok, Ahimelek, and the heads of families of the priests and of the Levites. The families of the oldest brother were treated the same as those of the youngest. 1 Chronicles 24:31 (NIV)

Wherever there is power there is corruption. It is as true in a church as it is in politics. When there is a lot of money involved, it happens faster and runs deeper.

I have seen this very thing at work in churches, where large donors influence decisions and control circumstances behind closed doors. As a young man I worked in a county office building and I watched the corruption and power of a political machine and the union doing whatever they wanted despite what was legal. Even in my quaint, small, town with its scrubbed streets and squeaky clean religious legacy I have seen individuals and families who are power brokers, wielding tremendous influence from behind the scenes.

I find it interesting that in the selection of priests for the new temple, David made a legitimate effort to keep things equitable. The casting of lots (think of it like drawing straws) was an ancient practice of letting fate or God decide things. Like all societies there were prominent families, and less prominent ones. There were those with more wealth than others. The casting of lots was meant to keep anyone from influencing their role in the temple.

It was a nice thought.

As time went on, corruption took over. There was money to be made. Whoever controlled the priesthood controlled the temple and with it all of the food, supplies, stores, and money that was offered daily. By the time Jesus would appear on the scene a millennia later, the temple leadership had become reminiscent of a mafia family running a religious racket, which is what Jesus was really addressing when he drove the moneychangers out of the temple (twice).

I am reminded this morning that there is little I can do against human corruption which is at work in almost every human endeavor. It cannot be avoided because sin is at work in all of us, and sin will always lead human beings to grab after power and control. David tried. It’s the same with the framers of the U.S. Constitution who separated powers so that there would be checks and balances between the branches of government. They were trying to stave off the corruption that they saw in every other system of government. I read the headlines daily and begin to feel that they were no more successful than David.

So what can I do? I can work to keep my own heart pure, avoid corruption in my own spheres if influence, confront corruption where I see it, and exercise wisdom in knowing when to speak and when to be silent.

Witness in the Spotlight of Leadership

photo by smjbk via Flickr
photo by smjbk via Flickr

The Lord will vindicate me;
    your love, Lord, endures forever—
    do not abandon the works of your hands.
Psalm 138:8 (NIV)

David was a leader. After his miraculous victory over Goliath in his youth, David had been thrust into the spotlight and he never left the spotlight. David was warrior, field general, outlaw, ancient Robin Hood, spy, ruler of Judah, and King of Israel. He knew that others were constantly observing him.

What I found interesting about David’s lyrics in Psalm 138 is that he is well aware that many eyes are on him:

  • When David bows down to God, he does so in full sight of the pantheon of regional pagan gods and their followers.
  • Other kings are watching, and David knows that he has influence with them as he desires that they all exalt God as he does.
  • His foes are watching and he acknowledges that God’s protection and preservation of him stands as a testimony.

Today, I’m thinking about the role of being a leader and the ways I find myself in positions of influence. Like David, I hope and pray that as others see me in various spotlights of leadership my life, words, actions are a positive witness of God’s love, grace, forgiveness and Life giving power.

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