Tag Archives: Leadership

King, or Not?

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.

Deborah, the Leader

Deborah, the Leader (CaD Jud 5) Wayfarer

Villagers in Israel would not fight;
    they held back until I, Deborah, arose,
    until I arose, a mother in Israel.

Judges 5:7 (NIV)

Wendy and I just returned from spending a few days at the lake with our youngest daughter and her husband. It was so good to catch up with them. As always, the slow pace of life at the lake allowed for a lot of great conversation.

One of the topics of conversation was about struggles that each of them had with their own local gathering of Jesus followers. To their credit, they scheduled a meeting to share their feelings with leaders rather than continue to sit and stew in their frustration.

Our daughter shared her frustration with the lack of opportunities that women had in leadership. As she discussed her feelings, she referenced the strong female leaders she’d grown up with and the positive impact that they had on her and others. In contrast, what she was experiencing felt like suppression; She knew from experience the advantages and blessings of having gifted women leaders.

I couldn’t help but think of those conversations as I read today’s chapter, which is a victory song that Deborah and her colleague Barak sang after their victory over Sisera and the Canaanite forces. Deborah, “mother of Israel,” arose to lead them to victory.

Along my own life journey, my own thoughts and perceptions have been transformed, as God has surrounded me with strong, gifted women. There are clear waypoints along my path in which my own errant thinking has been brought to light. I’ve been so blessed by women who have led me in various ways and taught me things about God, life, and myself. And, listening to our daughter’s story, they have also been role models to her.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminiscing and picturing some of the amazing women who’ve impacted my life, who have capably led me, and for whom I am so grateful to call teacher, director, boss, pastor, partner, and friend. I love the story of Deborah and the 3,000-year-old example that God provides me of the strong, capable leadership of a woman.

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

Success(ion) and Failure

Success(ion) and Failure (CaD Jos 23) Wayfarer

“Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.”
Joshua 23:14 (NIV)

When I was a young man, I was part of an organization that had enjoyed strong leadership for a number of years. In fact, it was one of the strong leaders who invited me to participate. It was obvious that over time the organization had grown, enjoyed repeated success, and became increasingly influential. I learned a tremendous amount in my first few years. Some of the lessons have helped me throughout my entire life.

Then the senior leadership left the organization.

It was one of the first experiences in my journey (there have been others) in which a change in leadership completely changed the system for the worse. In this case, the new leadership was tragically unprepared for the role they’d been given. Over the course of a few years, I watched the entire system implode.

In today’s chapter, we’re reaching the end of Joshua’s life. Since Moses showed up to lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt, the tribes have benefitted from having a strong leader in charge. Moses led them out of Egypt to the Promised Land then Joshua led them to conquer the land and settle in it. Having finished the task, Joshua knows that his earthly journey is nearing its end. He calls the nation together to deliver a final message to them.

We’re on the verge of a massive change in leadership.

Joshua structures his message to the people as nations in that day structured treaties with one another. In presenting this treaty, Joshua assumes the role of God’s representative who is making a treaty with the nation. The people are reminded of all that God has done for them, reminded of God’s command to have no other gods, and warned that failure to keep those commands will have disastrous consequences. Just as God has kept his promises, Joshua explains, He will also make good on His warnings should they fail to keep their end of the covenant.

There is a major issue looming in the background as we approach the end of the Joshua administration. There’s no succession plan.

The fledgling Hebrew nation is made up of millions of people, scattered into twelve tribes, each made up of numerous family clans. Think of it as the 48 contiguous states in America with no central federal government. What’s going to keep them together? What happens to the small tribes when there are no checks and balances on the power and influence of the larger tribes? How do you keep tribal relationships from breaking down into feuds and civil wars?

Humanity is still in the toddler stage of development and relationship with God. Today’s chapter reads like a parent laying down the law with a three-year-old: “Do what I tell you because I know what’s good for you and have your best interests at heart. If you don’t do what I tell you, there will be consequences you’re not going to like.” Having parented a couple of three-year-olds, I can tell you confidently that eventually there will be willfulness, disobedience, attitude, stubbornness, and tantrums. There are always tantrums.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself recalling some of the best leaders I’ve worked with along my life journey and the things I learned from them. I’m whispering prayers of gratitude for all that I’ve learned through both relationship and example. As I have trekked along this life journey, I have learned that for the good of the group I’m leading, it’s important to try and have a succession plan, whenever I knew I would be leaving a leadership position. I’ve experienced both success and failure in that department.

And, I’m thinking about the Hebrew tribes, about to lose their central leadership with no succession plan. The next stage in their national development is not going to be pretty.

There will be tantrums.

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

Succession

Succession (CaD Jos 1) Wayfarer

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Joshua 1:8 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I’ve learned that one of the most strategically vital, and yet infinitely tricky, aspects of the long-term success of any human organization is succession. The longer and more successful a leader’s tenure has been at the top of an organization, the more critical and precarious the succession becomes.

Joshua 1:8 was the first verse I memorized as a follower of Jesus when I was fifteen years old. I memorized it at the instruction of a man who was my boss in an afterschool job. He discipled me for two years, intently teaching me the basics of studying the Great Story, and the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fellowship, being a witness. He and his wife later started a company. I began working for the company in 1994, became a partner in 2005. My boss and mentor died in 2015. I became the company’s President in 2018.

I’ve experienced first-hand how tricky succession can be, and ours is a relatively small organization with relatively few entanglements. The larger the organization, the more complex it gets.

Today, this chapter-a-day journey begins a trek through the book of Joshua which begins with the end of Moses’ story. Moses led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. Through Moses, God established a rule of Law, a religious sacrificial system, and an organizational structure for governing their 12 tribes. Moses led the Hebrew people for 40 years of wandering through the Sinai wilderness. Moses is the only leader the Hebrews have known for more than a generation.

Moses is dead, and the Hebrew people are facing the most monumental task they’ve faced as a people. They are looking across the Jordan River at the land God had promised them. They are to cross and conquer. They will need a strong leader.

As I read the chapter this morning, I couldn’t help but feel for Joshua. In terms of succession, Joshua is in an almost impossible position. Moses has been his mentor. Moses was the miracle man, the savior, and God’s undisputed leader. I know the self-doubt. I know the feelings of expectation. I know the angst that comes with stepping into shoes that feel as if they were forever ordained to be worn by the original wearer, and will always seem a few sizes too big for your own feet.

I took particular note that it was God who spoke to Joshua in this morning’s opening chapter. It was God who gave assurances, made promises, and instructed Joshua regarding the task at hand. It was God who gave this fledgling leader the mantra “Be strong and courageous.” Why?

These are God’s people, not Moses’.
This is God’s story, not Moses’.
It is God’s ultimate purpose to which Joshua is being called, not Moses’.
Joshua is ultimately God’s person for the job, not Moses’.

Some mornings I find that the chapter has such direct correlation to my own life journey as to be profound. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that God’s purposes are ultimately at work in my own life and journey. Therefore, like Joshua, my own experiences with change and succession are ultimately about God’s purposes for me and the business to which I happen to have been given a position of leadership. Like Joshua, I’m called to be faithful, obedient, mindful, strong, and courageous. Like Joshua, I’m to trust God’s promises and not my leadership prowess. Like Joshua, I’m to recognize God’s constant presence and ultimate purposes, whatever that purpose might ultimately turn out to be.

Time for me to get to work.

Have a great day.

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

Proven Character

Proven Character (CaD Ruth 3) Wayfarer

“And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”
Ruth 3:11 (NIV)

At the suggestion of a friend, Wendy and I have been listening to the podcast, The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill which chronicles the story of a megachurch in Seattle that became one of the largest and most influential churches in America, and then disappeared almost over night. In telling the story of Mars Hill, the podcast also shares a larger story about the history of megachurches in America and their pastors, including Willowcreek in Chicago, where I attended regularly during my college years.

One of the most fascinating common themes of these stories is that of the talented, charismatic pastors who rose to positions of incredible prominence and celebrity status, then had their own very personal and public descent into scandal. The stories reveal a pattern. Very talented and charismatic young men who rocketed into positions of power and leadership in their 20s and 30s, arguably before their characters were fully formed through the process of experience. And, these were churches they themselves started, so the systems that grew up around them protected them and allowed them to fire, threaten, minimize, harass, shame, or marginalize anyone within the system who they didn’t trust or deemed personally disloyal. One said it plainly : “We value loyalty over honesty.”

In today’s chapter, we find Ruth, the widowed foreigner, boldly taking the initiative with Boaz. With suggestions and instructions from her mother-in-law Naomi, Ruth dresses herself up in her best outfit and puts on her best perfume. After Boaz has feasted and made merry with this servants in celebration of the harvest, he goes with the other men to sleep by the grain pile to protect it from robbers. Ruth uncovers the feet of Boaz and lies next to him. When he wakes up and asks who is lying there, Ruth asks him to “spread your garment over me” which was a request for Boaz to marry her in fulfillment of his obligation as a guardian-redeemer. Similar customs are still practiced in some middle east cultures today.

Boaz, whom the author has already established as a man of faith and good character, then observes that Ruth has proven herself to be a woman of “noble character” and everyone in the community knows it. What’s interesting is that the Hebrew word for “noble character” is the same that is used in the famous passage of Proverbs 31 which describes an ideal, godly woman. The phrase is the only used three times in the Old Testament: Ruth 3:11, Proverbs 31:10, and Proverbs 12:4.

Boaz then tells Ruth that there is a potential glitch in the matrix. There is an unnamed kinsman-redeemer who is closer in relation. Boaz must defer if the closer relative wishes to redeem Ruth and marry her. He vows to settle the issue immediately, and sends Ruth back to Naomi with a gift of more grain.

One of the themes of this tender story is that each of the main characters behave with proven character. Naomi, in her emptiness tries to do right by her daugthers-in-law. Ruth does right by Naomi and behaves honorably so that an entire community sees her as a woman of “noble character” despite being a foreigner and a widow. Boaz is a man of faith, kindness, generosity, and handles Ruth’s bold request honestly and honorably.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the believers in Rome who were facing persecution:

…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

There is a spiritual maturation process that happens in facing trials, difficulties, and suffering in life. Character is not a spiritual gift, nor is it cheaply acquired. Character is developed by walking through the valleys on this life journey, persevering, pressing on, and learning the harsh lessons experience. Boaz is not a young man. Neither is Naomi. Naomi and Ruth are walking through a long, dark valley on life’s road. Each of them is a person of genuine character.

Which brings me back to The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, and the observation it makes regarding the character issues of young pastors who found themselves in positions of prominence and power relatively early in their life journeys before experience, trial, perseverance, and wisdom could fully develop character which led to tragic ends. I confess that as a young man I admired and was envious of some of these individuals and their success. Looking back from my current waypoint on life’s road, there is no doubt in my mind that had I been in their shoes I would have met a similar, scandalous crash-and-burn. Believe me, I had to experience my own character-honing failures, mistakes, and tragedies in those years. I just didn’t have millions of people watching. And for that, I’m grateful.

“There, but for the grace of God…”

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

A “New” Command

A "New" Command (CaD John 13) Wayfarer

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
John 13:34-35 (NIV)

The other day I was in a video conference with my business colleagues. We were meeting a new vendor for the first time. At the end of the meeting our vendor made a statement that struck me.

“It’s obvious you guys have a really good synergy.” he said. “I do a lot of these meetings and it’s amazing how often people don’t talk to one another or don’t seem to like each other. You clearly have a good thing going. I like it.”

It made my day.

Todays chapter marks a way-point. We are two-thirds of the way through John’s biography of Jesus, which means that over one-third of his biography focus on roughly 43 days of Jesus earthly journey. The night before His crucifixion. The day of His crucifixion. His resurrection, and His appearances over 40 days.

As today’s chapter begins, it is Thursday night. Jesus and The Twelve have a private Passover meal. Even in the telling, John carefully chooses the elements of the events that he wants to share. As I’ve noticed throughout the book thus far, the elements John chooses are connected. The thread that connects them is Jesus’ foreknowledge of what will happen, and His driving of the events. He is not a helpless victim of circumstance. Jesus is a man on a mission.

The first event described is that of Jesus washing the feet of The Twelve. In dusty, hot Judea at a time when everyone wore sandals or went barefoot, one was bound to have dirty feet. Washing the feet was an act of hospitality and it was performed by lowly servants, which is why Peter balked at having the “Master” washing their feet. Jesus then tells the boys that He had done this as an example of what He expected them to do for each other.

Jesus knows He’s leaving them. He also knows that even that week they were having incessant arguments about which of them is the greatest and who was top dog in the pecking order. He provides them a word picture to remember: “If you want to lead, you have to serve those you’re leading.”

At the end of the chapter, after Judas’ departure, Jesus tells The Twelve Eleven, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

What’s “new” about it?” Jesus has been talking about love His entire ministry. He’s talked about loving others, loving your enemies, blessing those who persecute you, loving outcasts, loving the sick and poor…love has been central to all of Jesus’ teaching. So what’s “new” about this command?

He’s talking about them directly. Peter the brash one. James and John the angry “Sons of Thunder” whose mother tried to arrange places of honor in Jesus’ administration. Simon the right-wing, militia member. Matthew, the left-wing Roman collaborator. Thomas the cynic. This rag-tag team of largely uneducated men, who have always been more-or-less at one another’s throats, who have constantly been playing “king of the mountain” with their egos, are going to be left to carry out Jesus’ mission. If it’s going to work, they must love one another and serve one another.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed that there is a spiritual contrast between good and evil. Good is willing to humbly sacrifice self for others and the good of the whole. Evil demands its way until it eats its own.

I’m reminded of a client who became a follower of Jesus during the stretch of life’s journey when our company worked for his. He later told my colleague that it was the way our team members treated each other that led him to seek out what motivated us to treat one another with such love, respect, and service towards each other. “It was obvious to everyone,” he said. “People at work would talk about it.”

I think that’s what Jesus was getting at with the “new” command He gave The Twelve Eleven. If they were to succeed at their mission, they had to stop devouring one another, and start serving one another with humility.

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

More Than Words

More Than Words (CaD Ps 101) Wayfarer

I will conduct the affairs of my house with a blameless heart.
I will not look with approval on anything that is vile.
Psalm 101: 2b-3a (NIV)

The liner notes of today’s chapter, Psalm 101, attribute the lyrics to King David. The song is the king’s personal, public pledge to carry out his office and his reign in a blameless and upright manner. In the Hebrew, the song is structured in seven couplets. Since the Hebrews identified seven as the number of completeness, it is a concise pledge to the people that the king will be completely honorable and just.

To the ancient Hebrews, the heart and the eyes were of primary importance in determining one’s ultimate actions. The condition of the heart was important because the motivation of your heart fuels one’s actions. If my heart is greedy, then I’m going to act to get as much as I can for myself. If my heart is generous, then I’m going to be content with my lot and give freely to those in need.

The eyes were also important because what I spend my time looking at, taking in, and feeding to my brain, will influence the focus of my thoughts which will then affect my actions and relationships.

This combination of heart and eyes is mentioned twice in the lyrics, first in the King’s pledge which I spotlighted at the top of the post. The second time it is mentioned in contrast to the wicked person in the second half of verse five:

“Whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
I will not tolerate.”

As I meditated on this in the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think about one of the most fateful moments of David’s story:

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful….
2 Samuel 11:1-2 (NIV)

David, the warrior king, chooses not to march out and lead his army on their spring campaign. This is a stark contrast to the strong military leader David had been his whole life. David was always leading on the battlefield, fighting next to his men, and getting his boots dirty in the field. Why did he choose to stay in his palace that spring? It suggests to me that there had been a shift in David’s heart.

The very next verse David looks at the beautiful Bathsheba, bathing. What would follow David’s wayward eyes was a chain-reaction of choices and circumstances that would threaten his reign and would forever stain his reputation.

In the quiet this morning I am reminded of two things. First, even the greatest of leaders have their blind spots. I write this looking back on the stains of my own story. This is both a sobering reminder to keep guarding my own heart as well as a challenge to be gracious with the shortcomings of others.

Second, I can’t help but wonder if the lyrics of Psalm 101 were a new king’s inauguration pledge that was slowly forgotten just like Charles Foster Kane’s journalistic principles in Citizen Kane. This is a reminder to me that this faith journey is a long trek. To make a pledge is easy. To live it out faithfully requires more than words.

Unraveling

Unraveling (CaD Ps 64) Wayfarer

Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
    protect my life from the threat of the enemy.

Psalm 64:1 (NIV)

Stepping up and into the spotlight of leadership always makes one an easy target. In virtually every position of leadership I’ve ever held, I’ve heard the sharp words of detractors. Typically, they come in the form of second-hand whispers or passive-aggressive remarks. The higher the position of leadership, the worse it gets. The positions of leadership I’ve held along my life journey are incredibly minor in the grand scheme of things. I may have faced challenges leading a small-town Iowa community theatre and a rural gathering of Jesus followers, but I can’t imagine how bad it gets leading a nation.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 64, is a lament of King David as he feels the sharp threats of conspiracy and the plots of his political enemies. One lesson every good leader knows is that you can’t control the thoughts, words, or actions of others. Trying to chase down and confront every critic or perceived antagonist is a recipe for disaster on several levels. David appears to have understood this well. The lyrics of this song stand as a testament to the fact that when it came to the twisted plots and the conspiratorial attacks of his enemies, David went to God.

Knowing that he had no control over his critics or their schemes, David gave them over to the only one he could count on in the situation.

Lying beneath the surface of the lyrics, David hid a creative, poetic image. Most of it survives the translation into English, but it’s seen with clarity in Hebrew, David’s native language. David uses specific words to metaphorically describe those twisted plots of his enemy:

evildoers (vs. 2)
tongues (vs. 3)
shoot (vs. 4)
suddenly (vs. 4)

In the second half of the song, as his lyrics describe God defending him and unraveling those twisted plots, he uses the same words in reverse order:

suddenly (vs. 7)
shoot (vs. 7)
tongues (vs. 8)
works of God (vs. 9)

The same words used in reverse order are a hidden metaphor. David is entrusting God to unravel the conspiracy, untwist the plots, and protect David from those enemies he can’t control.

In the quiet this morning I find myself, in a small way, identifying with David’s plight. I’ve learned in this life journey that all I can do is to keep pressing on, asking for God’s guidance, seeking God’s purposes for me, and knocking on the door of every opportunity I have to grow in love, grace, and mercy. There will be obstacles, burdens, critics, detractors, and attacks. Those are all part of the journey. I will never be able to completely avoid, nor control them.

So every time those obstacles, burdens, critics, detractors, and attacks have my heart and mind twisted up in anxious knots, I have Psalm 64 to remind me what David did. He gave them over to God like Wendy handing me a necklace that’s hopelessly knotted up.

“Here, unravel this.”

The Perplexing Mystery

The Perplexing Mystery (CaD Ps 10) Wayfarer

The Lord is king forever and ever;
    the nations shall perish from his land.
O Lord, you will hear the desire of the meek;
    you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
    so that those from earth may strike terror no more.

Psalm 10:16-18 (NRSVCE)

We don’t talk much about evil anymore. It gets used as a weapon-word fired at the political “other” in the empty, name-calling wars on social media. It is referenced in conversations about acts so heinous that everyone agrees that they reached a depth of depravity so dark as to be inhuman. I observed, however, that even people of faith are dismissive of the notion that evil is set up in active conflict against good in the spiritual realm of this world.

Again, the devil took [Jesus] to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Matthew 4:8-9

The evil one was able to offer Jesus the kingdoms of this world and their splendor because this Level 3 world is where evil holds dominion until the final chapters of the Great Story. At every level of the socio-economic ladder from the grade school playground to Wall Street and Washington D.C. are those who will exploit anyone to advance their personal power base and portfolio of wealth. Unlike Jesus, they have knelt before the evil one and taken him up on his offer. These are the ones David writes about in the lyrics of today’s psalm.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, today’s psalm is connected to yesterday’s. Like We Will Rock You and We are the Champions by Queen, or Journey’s Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezing and City of the Angels the two songs are were meant to go together. One of the common conventions of Hebrew songs and poems that is lost in translation to English is the fact that each line begins with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet in order just as if you wrote a poem and each line began with A, B, C, D, and etc., Psalm 10 picks up with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet where Psalm 9 left off. In addition, there is no header or title to Psalm 10 like there has been for every other psalm we’ve read since Psalm 1. Psalms 9 and 10 go together.

With that in mind, King David is writing both psalms from his position as King of Israel. The thing I find most fascinating is that he is writing from a position of power. He’s at the top of the food chain. He holds more power in the kingdom than anyone else, and he is lamenting the wicked highway robbers who oppress the poor in the rural villages of his own country. He’s complaining about the wealthy brokers of power in his own kingdom who “prosper all the time” and establish their legacy for their descendants.

Why doesn’t he do something about it?

Along my journey I’ve observed that there is only so much that one can do in a world where evil has dominion. Not that I shouldn’t do everything that I can to act in the circles of influence in which I operate. I should. Nevertheless, I have witnessed good people, followers of Jesus, who have ascended the ladder of earthly power and influence only to find that there is only so much that they can do.

That’s the point I believe King David is getting to in his songs that read like a leader’s lament. His position of ultimate power in his kingdom cannot stop the wickedness of every rural bully bent on taking advantage of poor villagers. Even as King he is surrounded by the wealthy and powerful who have their own personal kingdoms built to oppose him.

It’s interesting that towards the end of today’s psalm David appeals to God as “King forever and ever.” At the end of his personal, earthly power that has fallen short of bringing justice to everyone, David appeals to God as the only higher authority who can step in and do something about it.

Welcome to one of the most perplexing spiritual mysteries of the Great Story. Jesus comes to earth and refuses to operate in worldly systems of the evil one’s dominion where injustice and wickedness reign and oppress the poor and the weak.

Why didn’t he do something about it?

Instead of confronting evil on earthly terms, Jesus goes instead to the rural, the poor, and the simple. He reaches out to individuals, encourages the personal transformation of individuals from self-centered evil to a life of self-sacrificing service to others. He triumphs not over earthly kingdoms but over Death. He wages war not against flesh-and-blood but against principalities, powers, and forces of spiritual darkness behind flesh-and-blood power. It leads me to consider that ultimately, the Great Story is not about this Earth. It’s not about this world. It’s not just about this 20,000 to 40,000 days I will spend journeying through this lifetime. It’s about something greater, something deeper, something more eternal.

In the quiet this morning I find myself identifying with David’s lament. At the end of the song, David expresses his trust that God sees the acts of evil and hears the cries of the oppressed. He entrusts the King of all with ultimately making things right. I have to do the best I can as an ambassador of God’s Kingdom on this earth in the circles of influence I’ve been given. Beyond that, I can only make an appeal to the King forever, and trust He will see this Great Story to its conclusion, joyfully ever-after.

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