Tag Archives: Leadership

The Leadership Difference

The Leadership Difference (CaD 2 Ki 9) Wayfarer

Jehu said [to his fellow officers], “Here is what he told me: ‘This is what the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel.’”

They quickly took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”

2 Kings 9:12b-13 (NIV)

Decades from now, mystified scientists will gather to study the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, to try to figure out what they were all about—if they existed to compete in football, or merely to psychologically torment a population of loyal, long-suffering fans.”
-Jason Gay, Wall Street Journal

Jason Gay wrote these words earlier this week after Wendy and I joined the Vikings Nation in suffering another disappointing playoff loss. It was, however, one of the most interesting and entertaining seasons in history. If you’d suggested to experts and oddsmakers that the Vikings would go 13-4 this season, they’d have laughed in your face. Add to that going 11-0 in games decided by one score or less (I have no fingernails left), including the biggest comeback in NFL history (they were down 33-0 at halftime and won).

What’s even more fascinating about this year’s Vikings team is the larger story. Last year the owners fired the coach and general manager after another disappointing year in which the team failed to meet expectations. After the firings, the proceeded a flood of comments from players regarding how terrible the atmosphere had been in the locker room, how awful the leadership team had been, and how frustrating it was to play under them.

The owners then hired two very capable young men with integrity to take the helm of leadership.

I heard one anecdote regarding a former assistant coach now working for another team. When someone mentioned that the attitude of the Vikings going into this season was really positive, he replied “Of course it is. Satan left the building.”

Today’s chapter would make a fascinating and thrilling movie if it were done right. It’s all about leadership change in dramatic fashion. The prophets anoint an army officer as King of Israel and place on him the responsibility to rid Israel of the evil House of Ahab and Jezebel.

What stood out to me was how quickly everyone joined in the rebellion. The newly anointed Jehu seemed to consider his anointing as a joke until his soldiers and fellow officers quickly pledged their allegiance to them. They were desperate for change.

When Jehu confronts Jezebel in her upper story window in Jezreel, he simply suggests to the eunuchs in her service that they throw her out the window. They are eager and happy to oblige.

A wise man once said that the only thing to which evil responds is an overpowering force. It’s all that evil understands. Evil rules and holds sway through power, fear, intimidation, violence, and oppression.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve delivered a couple of messages in which I explored how different Jesus’ example and plans were for changing the world. Instead of top-down power, He exemplified and called his followers to live out a bottom-up, humble, love-powered service towards others that would transform other individuals from the inside out. Those individuals would then pay it forward by doing the same thing.

In the quiet this morning, I’m contemplating the difference that leadership makes on a football team, in a business, in a church, in a community, and in a family. When leadership is a top-down, authoritarian power play, those in the system become anxious for a change in leadership. When leadership is a humble, love-motivated mindset of serving those within the system, there is no limit on how much that system can flourish and accomplish.

It might even go 13-4, 11-1 in close games, and stage the greatest comeback in NFL history.

I can’t wait to see what happens next year.

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

Disloyalty and Criticism

The king then asked, “Where is your master’s grandson?”

Ziba said to him, “He is staying in Jerusalem, because he thinks, ‘Today the Israelites will restore to me my grandfather’s kingdom.’”

Then the king said to Ziba, “All that belonged to Mephibosheth is now yours.”
2 Samuel 16:3-4 (NIV)

I recently mentioned in a chapter-a-day post a gentleman whom I met who had served under five different U.S. presidents while working for the Department of Commerce. His favorite, he told me, was Harry Truman who always made a requested decision in a timely way and was always on top of the many details necessary to carry out the office well. His least favorite, he added, was Dwight Eisenhower whom he observed was on the golf course more than he was in the oval office and who seemed to avoid the politics and details the job required. His observations came to mind again this morning as I read the chapter.

As a history buff I’ve heard it said that military generals, with the exception of George Washington, make poor presidents. Politics is messier than the military. People don’t have to obey your every command. You can’t just give orders, you have to persuade and cajole those who disagree with you. U.S. Grant, who had the dogged determination to order his armies forward no matter the defeat, was the right man for the job in bringing the American Civil War to an end. He has been, however, generally regarded as one of the worst U.S. presidents in history.

As I read the story of David, I find it fascinating that this theme of difficulty moving from military command to political power appears to be apt, even in antiquity. David was a great military leader, but his leadership as a monarch reveals tragic flaws that echo the reflections of Eisenhower by my acquaintance. Absalom stole people’s hearts because he would take the time to listen to their cases and grievances while David avoided the responsibility and kept people waiting. Despite his genuine desire for God’s blessing on his people, David appears to have been more interested in personal pursuits than in national problems.

In today’s chapter, David is on the run for the second time in his life. This time, he’s fleeing his own son. David’s scandals have decimated his approval rating. He has few loyal followers left. As his monarchy collapses around him, people’s true feelings come to light and we see two examples of it in today’s text. I found the contrast between David’s response in the two confrontations found in today’s chapter interesting.

Mephibosheth, the handicapped son of Saul, had personally been shown favor by David. Now that David appears to have let the throne slip through his fingers, Mephibosheth repays David’s grace with disloyalty rather than gratitude. There is a power vacuum and Mephibosheth is going to try and make a play to grab power for himself. David responds by rescinding his former kindness and giving Saul’s holdings back to Saul’s servant, Ziba.

Shimei the Benjaminite lets out his frustrations with David in an annoying one-man protest in which he screams his disdain for David and hurls stones at the king. Unlike Mephibosheth’s disloyalty, which was a personal dishonoring of David’s kindness, Shimei’s verbal and stone assault comes from pent-up frustration with David’s leadership, scandals, and the resulting fallout. Perhaps David recognized the truth in Shimei’s criticism. David turns the other cheek and won’t even let his loyal guard force Shimei to be quiet.

Today I’m thinking and pondering the criticism and confrontations we all face. There is a difference between Mephibosheth’s selfish power grab and Shimei’s frontal assault. There’s a difference in David’s response. Nevertheless, Jesus never made such distinctions in his command to forgive others. His parables and Sermon on the Mount instruct me to forgive both hurtful verbal criticism and a very personal slap across the face. For the record, He experienced both.

In the quiet this morning, I’m taking a little inventory this morning of those who’ve been critical of me, and those who’ve caused me injury. I’m thinking about my own life, leadership and the blind spots that have given others good reason to be critical. I’m considering my own responses and searching my own heart to ask if I’ve truly forgiven them.

 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 taking 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
.

Today’s featured image created with Wonder A.I.

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

Blind Spots

Blind Spots (CaD 2 Sam 13) Wayfarer

When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.
2 Samuel 13:21 (NSRV)

I have been doing leadership development with the management team of one department of a client this week. It’s been both fascinating and a lot of fun as I spent time with each team member, learned their Enneagram Type, shadowed them as they went about their job, and observed them coaching their team members. Today, I get to sit with the team and review my observation and recommendations. They are great people and have a lot of potential but they also have a lot of challenges both individually and collectively.

David was a great warrior, a great general, and a great leader of men. Evidence leads me to believe that he was not, however, a great husband or father. As we’ve read David’s story he has slowly been amassing wives like the spoils of war and the result was many children. But, an army of children does not an army make. A family system and the complex relationships between birth order and gender can be difficult enough for a monogamous, nuclear family. I can’t imagine the exponential complexities that emerge when you have eight wives, ten concubines, and children with almost all of them.

As I read through these chapters I’ve noticed that I never read of David telling his children “no” nor do I read of him disciplining them for their behavior. David appears to have even had a reputation among his offspring for not refusing their requests. David’s daughter, Tamar, tells her half-brother Amnon that if he simply asks Dad she’s sure he’ll let them get married. When Amnon rapes Tamar instead and then turns her away we hear of David’s anger, but he doesn’t do anything about disciplining his beloved firstborn son. When Tamar’s full brother Absalom plots to kill their half-brother Amnon in revenge, Absalom goes to David and presses good ol’ dad until David relents and sends all the brothers on Absalom’s little fratricidal sheep-shearing retreat.

David has a blind spot. He can lead an army to endless victories but his record as leader of a family is a tragic string of failures and defeats.

I cannot point at David without three fingers pointing back at me. We all have our blind spots. The managers I’ve been mentoring this week have been learning that their Enneagram Type reveals their tremendous strengths, but also their core fears and weaknesses. If they are going to succeed as a team, they will have to embrace both within themselves and their team members. Our greatest strengths have their corollary weaknesses. We cannot escape this reality, but we can escape being enslaved to it. What we can do is be honest about our blind spots. We can choose to shine a light on them and invest time and attention in addressing them. We can surround ourselves with others who will graciously help us see them, work through them, and who will patiently love us as we do.

 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
.

The featured image on today’s post was created with Wonder A.I.

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

Waypoint Lessons

May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.
1 Samuel 25:33 (NIV)

Very early in my career, my boss and the founder of our company planted the seed that someday I would be an owner of the company and eventually lead it. That seed of vision he planted eventually bore fruit, though the process was almost thirty years in the making.

Along the way, I remember having one colleague who told me straight-up that they were glad I wasn’t leading the company. It was one of those comments that kind of stings at the moment. In my gut, however, I knew they were probably right, and in hindsight, I can affirm with certainty that they were right. Just recently, another colleague told me that they remembered when I wasn’t ready for the position of leadership, then affirmed that I am now. Along my life journey, God has used individuals to mark certain waypoints for me.

I mentioned the other day that David’s years in the wilderness are forging his God-given gifts and abilities into the tools of a true and experienced leader. In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel provides us a glimpse of this forging process. Yesterday’s episode of David sparing Saul’s life was an example of David doing everything right in God’s eyes. Today’s episode reveals that he’s still a leader in training.

Living in the wilderness, David and his men often came upon the shepherds and sheep herds of a local farmer named Nabal. They had multitudes of opportunities to kill and/or rob the shepherds. They could have rustled a sheep or two for food whenever they wanted. David, however, knew this was wrong. He ordered his men to protect Nabal’s shepherds from harm and never to touch Nabal’s sheep. Sheep shearing time was a time of celebration and abundance, much like a harvest festival for crop farmers. David sends a delegation asking Nabal if he wouldn’t share a little of his abundance with David and his men. Nabal, had he reputation of being a jerk, not only refused but did so in an insulting way.

David’s response is a stark contrast to yesterday’s episode with Saul. David humply spared the King’s life and withheld vengeange from the man who was hunting like an animal. In today’s episode, David is ready to take his entire band of warriors to vengefully kill a lowly sheep farmer and his entire household for refusing David’s request and insulting him.

David still has a few things to learn about himself, and leadership.

Nabal’s wife, Abigail, realizing her foolish husband’s mistake, quickly acts to intervene. She bring David and his men a donkey-load of food and wine. She then tells David that she is sure that he will one day be God’s king over the nation and that God will establish his throne. She then reminds David that he doesn’t want the bloodstains of petty vengeance on his hands when he places the crown on his head. “You’re better than this,” she’s saying. “Be the leader God’s making you to be.”

David hears Abigail’s message loud and clear. He sees God setting a waypoint on his path to leadership through Abigail’s wisdom. He relents. Within ten days Nabal dies of natural causes. God affirms for David that “Vengeance is mine. I will repay,” and David learns an important lesson on his journey toward destiny.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself whispering a prayer of gratitude for my own spiritual journey, for the people God has placed along the way to teach me invaluable “waypoint” lessons, and for the gifts of wisdom He delivered out of them. I’m also praying for the wisdom to perservere in pushing forward through the lessons that still lie ahead, until the journey’s end.

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.

A New Org Chart

If you fear the Lord and serve and obey him and do not rebel against his commands, and if both you and the king who reigns over you follow the Lord your God—good!
1 Samuel 12:14 (NIV)

One of the more fascinating parts of my job is getting to observe and experience many different company cultures. I have learned a lot about both leadership and how systems function from being in the trenches with many different companies large and small.

Once we were hired to help a company improve their customer satisfaction and customer service. Our survey of the company’s customers revealed a lot of room for improvement. Customer Satisfaction was low, and there were a few major things customers didn’t like. Our assessment of recorded phone calls between the company’s customers and the Customer Service team revealed that there were huge disparities in service quality between service reps, and some customers were getting such bad service experience as to make them detractors.

As we began working with the leadership team to address some of the issues, I quickly learned that the company was a mess internally. The long-time CEO of the company set an example of management by power, fear, and intimidation. The rest of the company followed suit. The org chart was a mess. Silos in the organization worked against one another. Front line managers directly reported to multiple superiors and simply answered the loudest threats each day.

The sign on the wall said that they were committed to exceptional customer service, but the entire organization was built in such a way as to make exceptional customer service an impossibility.

Today’s chapter is another key episode in the transition of the Hebrew system of government from a tribal theocracy to a national monarchy. The org chart is changing. In the old org chart, God was recognized as King. Then came a Judge (Samuel was the last) who was recognized as the one God had raised to lead and deliver the tribes along with a tribal council of elders. From there, each tribe had its own governance.

Today, Samuel lays out the new org chart. King Saul will now be at the top of the org chart and all the tribes will be ruled by him. Yet Samuel is quick to remind his people that God is still above King Saul on the org chart. The new monarchy will only work well if both the King and the people will serve the Lord with all their hearts and avoid the worship of idols.

As for Samuel? He makes it clear that there’s a new role on the org chart. He is giving up civil governance, but he’s taking up the mantel of spiritual leadership:

As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.

From this point forward, the nation would have prophets in the org chart who would directly report to God, and they will be God’s spiritual mouthpiece to both the King and the people. Future Kings would also assemble “yes men” prophets who would be subordinate to them and tell them what they want to hear, but God would ensure that His prophets would speak His words even if it wasn’t what the King wanted to hear.

One of the things I’ve learned in my career is that companies typically don’t make dramatic changes in corporate culture unless the person at the top of the org chart is driving it. The company I mentioned at the top of this post was a great example of that. The CEO had created a culture that worked against what they claimed to be the company values. If the CEO doesn’t change, the organization isn’t going to change either.

In the quiet this morning, I’m thinking about the org chart of my own life. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to make Jesus the Lord of my life. Like Samuel reminded Saul, God is at the top of the org chart. And yet, like the old Kings of Israel, I have the autonomy to either obediently submit myself to God’s authority or to pay lip service to God while I willfully do my own thing. I can also do a little of both.

That leads me to ask myself some tough questions here in the quiet. Where am I being obedient? Where am I simply paying lip service? Some days I need a fresh reminder that God is at the top of my life’s org chart.

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

Leaders are Not One-Size-Fits-All

Leaders are Not One-Size-Fits-All (CaD Jud 10) Wayfarer

The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, “Whoever will take the lead in attacking the Ammonites will be head over all who live in Gilead.”
Judges 10:18. (NIV)

Many years ago, I met a man who had lived a fascinating life. Having grown up in Iowa, he worked for a man who was politically connected and ended up being appointed to a position in the federal government. He was asked to accompany his boss to Washington D.C. as his assistant. He quickly rose to a top position within the Commerce Department and served six different presidents directly from FDR through Nixon.

Being a lover of history, I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with this gentleman. He had so many great stories. I asked him who his favorite and least favorite president to work for was. He didn’t hesitate to name both. He shared that Harry Truman was his favorite to work for because Truman was a decision-maker. “If we told Truman we needed a decision on this-or-that by Thursday morning we would always have his decision,” he said. Dwight Eisenhower, on the other hand, was his least favorite President to work under. “He may have been a good military general,” the man said, “but he didn’t do anything while President except bear the title. He was never around. We got no direction. He made no decisions. He was always playing golf.”

I thought of that conversation this morning as I read today’s chapter. Under oppression from their enemies, the Hebrews living in Gilead proclaim that whoever rises up to lead a military defeat of their enemies will become their undisputed leader. It was quite common in the ancient Near East for “kings” to simply be warlords, and the people of Gilead provide a great example of why it was so common. Survival was dependent on a strong military defense that could withstand the regular attacks of neighboring peoples and tribes. Strong military leaders quickly came to control everything.

That doesn’t mean, however, that good military leaders make good civic leaders. I have heard it consistently argued by historians that military generals who succeed at civic leadership tend to be the exceptions, not the rule. For every George Washington, who was successful at both, there is a handful of those who were less than successful being President, including Eisenhower, U.S. Grant, and Andrew Jackson. In fact, there are eight other Presidents I haven’t named who were military generals and I’ll bet you can’t name more than one or two.

Along my life journey, I’ve learned that there are different kinds of leadership, and that leadership is not one-size-fits-all. In the same way, there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, different kinds of talent, and different temperaments. Every human organization from families to businesses to churches and athletic teams requires having the right kind of leadership and having people in the right positions to utilize their gifts and talents in order for the system to function well.

At the same time, I’ve learned that it’s important for me to be in positions that fit my temperament, gifts, and abilities. Whenever I’ve found myself in a job, a position, or a role that is incongruent with the strengths of who I am and how I am wired, my entire life will eventually feel wonky. It’s critical for me to know myself and discern opportunities that are right for me, and those that are not; Not only for my well-being but also for the well-being of whatever human system in which I’m engaged.

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

King, or Not?

King, or Not? (CaD Jud 8) Wayfarer

The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us from the hand of Midian.”

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

Judges 8:22-23 (NIV)

The book of Judges tells the story of a very specific period of Hebrew history. I have found that understanding the context of this period of time is important in understanding the overarching Great Story. These twelve Hebrew tribes that settled in the Promised Land were a populous nation with no formal central government. Think of the contiguous United States as if each state were a tribe and there was no Federal government in Washington D.C. All around them, cities and small regions were ruled by the strong, central authority of monarchs, or kings. The Hebrews saw themselves as a theocracy, in which God was ultimately who led them and whom they served. This system had its challenges, which is what the book of Judges is all about. It sets the stage for the next chapter of the Great Story in which the Hebrew people will demand the establishment of a monarchy.

In today’s chapter, Gideon completes his military leadership in the defeat of the Midianites who had oppressed them. As a result, the people offer Gideon the opportunity to be their king. Gideon refuses, reminding the people that God alone rules over them. On the surface, Gideon appears to be saying the right thing, but the verses immediately following this proclamation (24-32) describe Gideon doing the exact opposite.

Gideon refuses to become king, but he embraces all of the privileges that a monarch would have claimed in that day. He takes a personal share of the spoil for himself. He creates a trophy commemorating his victory that the people worship in a cult-like fashion. He takes on a large harem and has many sons, one of them named Abimelek, meaning “my father is king.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about who rules over me. In the early Jesus Movement, followers of Jesus found themselves in difficult political circumstances. Their local governments were puppets of the Roman Empire. The Roman caesars claimed to be gods, but the followers of Jesus saw themselves, ultimately, as citizens of God’s Kingdom and ambassadors of that kingdom on earth.

In my mind, however, it becomes even more personal than that. In Gideon, I see a reflection of my own natural bent. As a disciple of Jesus, I am quick to say that I am not King or Lord of my life, but only Jesus is King and Lord of my life. However, I have to ask myself: “What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about the true Lord of my life?”

On this Monday morning, as I enter another work week, I find myself thinking about my life, my relationships, my work, my upcoming appointments, and my multiple task lists. I’m asking myself both what and who I am ultimately working for.

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

Willingness

Willingness (CaD Jud 6) Wayfarer

That same night the Lord said to [Gideon], “Take the second bull from your father’s herd, the one seven years old. Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it. Then build a proper kind of altar to the Lord your God on the top of this height. Using the wood of the Asherah pole that you cut down, offer the second bull as a burnt offering.”

So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.
Judges 6:25-27 (NIV)

I recently read the story of Angie Fenimore’s Near-Death Experience (NDE). Her body died and she descended to a hell-like place. This is an excerpt of her story:

I knew that I was in a state of hell, but this was not the typical fire and brimstone hell that I had learned about as a young child.

Men and women of all ages, but no children, were standing or squatting or wandering about on the realm. Some were mumbling to themselves. The darkness emanated from deep within and radiated from them in an aura I could feel. They were completely self-absorbed, every one of them too caught up in his or her own misery to engage in any mental or emotional exchange. They had the ability to connect with one another, but they were incapacitated by the darkness.

But worse was my growing sense of complete aloneness. Even hearing the brunt of someone’s anger, however unpleasant, is a form of tangible connection. But in this empty world, where no connections could be made, the solitude was terrifying.

Then I heard a voice of awesome power, not loud but crashing over me like a booming wave of sound; a voice that encompassed such ferocious anger that with one word it could destroy the universe, and that also encompassed such potent and unwavering love that, like the sun, it could coax life from the Earth. I cowered at its force and at its excruciating words:

“Is this what you really want?”

Suddenly I felt another presence with us, the same presence that had been with me when I first crossed over into death and who had reviewed my life with me. I recognized that he had been with us the whole time, but that I was only now becoming able to perceive him. What I could see were bits of light coming through the darkness. The rays of light penetrated me with incredible force, with the power of an all-consuming love.

I had to ask, why me? Why was it that I could see God while the vacant husk of a man next to me could not? Why was I absorbing light and being taught, while he was hunkering down in misery and darkness?

I was told that the reason is willingness.

Read or watch Angie’s complete story.

In today’s chapter, we have the beginning of the ancient story of Gideon in which God calls Gideon to lead the Hebrew tribes against their enemies. What struck me as I meditated on the chapter was the structure of the interchange between the Angel of the Lord, and Gideon:

  • Gideon expresses doubt that God is even around.
  • Gideon expresses doubt that God would call him, since Gideon is from the weakest clan in Manasseh’s tribe and Gideon is the “least” in his family.
  • Gideon asks for a sign.
  • God provides a sign and Gideon builds an altar in response
  • God tells Gideon to tear down his Father’s altar to the idol Baal and the idolatrous Asherah pole next to it, and then sacrifice a bull on the altar Gideon had built to the Lord.
  • Gideon does it, but for fear of his people, he does it at night.
  • When called out by his people for this deed, the Spirit of God comes upon Gideon and he calls his people to rise up against their enemies. Despite his doubts and fears, his people answer favorably.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.
  • Gideon expresses doubts and asks God for another sign. God answers.

Last year when I was making this chapter-a-day trek through the Psalms, I discussed the fact that the ancient Hebrews loved to plant metaphorical structure in their writing. In the Psalms, the central theme to the song lyrics is often at the very center, with corresponding or contrasting themes before or after.

Today’s chapter has similar symmetry if you outline the chapter. There are two episodes of Gideon’s doubt and a request for a sign that God answers. There is a command to tear down his father’s idols and offer a sacrifice to God, which Gideon does, despite his fears. Then God miraculously raises Gideon to a position of leadership and his people agree to follow. Then there are two more episodes of Gideon’s doubt and request for another sign.

In other words, the only thing that Gideon brought to this story was his willingness, despite his fears, to tear down the idols and make a sacrifice to God. This made me think of God telling Angie that the reason she was able to see His light in the darkness, and all the poor souls around her could not, was because she was willing to see Him.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think of myself and my own fearful doubts about the things to which God has called me. I am no different than Gideon. My journals are full of letters I’ve written to God expressing doubts, focusing on my weaknesses, recalling my many shortcomings, and asking for signs. I want to see the signs before I believe. God always reminds me, ironically, of “doubting Thomas” who refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw the nail holes from the crucifixion and the place where the Roman spear pierced his side. to whom Jesus answered his doubts as he did Gideon’s before saying, “Blessed are those who never see the sign, but still believe.”

And that is where I find myself standing at the beginning of this, a new day in the journey. Am I willing to step out in faith and pursue the things to which God has called me? Or, will I stand still, distract myself with other things, and wait for a sign?

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