Tag Archives: Power

Cardiac Self-Examination

Cardiac Self-Examination (CaD 2 Ki 10) Wayfarer

Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart.
2 Kings 10:31a (NIV)

Much of human history is a violent, bloody affair. Pull back from the minutiae and look at it from a distance and the vast majority of it is the story of tribes and empires violently competing for power, wealth, and dominance, then clinging to that power against the next tribe or empire seeking to ascend to power in humanity’s never-ending game of King of the Mountain.

The story of Jehu the usurper in yesterday’s and today’s chapters is a microcosm of this violent game of tribes and empires. He’s a fascinating character because he was “The Son of Nobody” who was at the right place at the right time to seize a rare opportunity to ascend the political system of his tribe and to become King of the Mountain.

Being a military officer, Jehu had a front-row seat to witness and participate in the violent oppression with which Ahab and Jezebel had ruled the nation. Who knows how many atrocities Jehu had committed or overseen himself at their behest. Jehu had been told by the prophet to “destroy the house of Ahab” which certainly meant ensuring there were no male heirs left to claim the throne. Jehu, however, goes even further. He kills the King of Judah, who was Ahab and Jezebel’s son-in-law. He kills their friends, their cronies, their officials, and their known associates. He kills off all of the prophets and priests of Ahab and Jezebel’s patron pagan god, Baal, and turns the temple of Baal into a community latrine. The story is a perfect example of Jesus’ warning to Peter and His followers that violence begets violence. Ahab and Jezebel violently lived and ruled by the sword, and they violently died by it.

Jehu’s vengeance against the house of Ahab and Jezebel was beyond complete. Jehu’s devotion to God wasn’t. Jehu destroyed the worship of Ahab and Jezebel’s patron god out of vengeance against Ahab and Jezebel, not out of devotion to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. His heart wasn’t devoted to God, it was devoted to vengeance and seizing the opportunity to grab power for himself and his family. As I meditate on the story of Jehu, I consider him to be an example of one who does the right thing (ridding the nation of an evil regime) for the wrong reasons (personal gain).

So, in the quiet, that leaves me ending this week in introspection. Is there a disconnect between my heart and my actions? Do I, like Jehu, do the right things for self-centered reasons? Jehu and David were both soldiers and warriors. They were both violent men who spilled a lot of blood. God used both of them in the grand scheme of the Great Story. The difference between the two lies in their hearts. David was called “a man after God’s own heart” while Jehu’s heart seems to have been after Jehu’s own self-interest. How much of my heart is truly about God’s desires and how much is just Tom’s self-interest?

As I contemplated these questions, the Spirit reminded me of Proverbs 21:2:

A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.

I head into this weekend with a cardiac self-examination.

I want to be a David, not a Jehu (or a Yahoo).

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

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.

Life’s Slideshow

Life's Slideshow (CaD 1 Ki 21) Wayfarer

There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife.
1 Kings 21:25 (NIV)

Wendy and I purchased a digital photo frame for my mother as a Christmas gift. It allows my dad, my siblings, and our children the ability to upload photos right to the frame from anywhere. My mother, who is now entering the more advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, moved into Memory Care just before Thanksgiving.

So, I and my loved ones have been sending photos to mom’s frame. When my folks moved into a retirement community several years ago, I ended up with the giant tub of old family photos which I’ve been slowly scanning and archiving. I’ve been going through old photos of mom and loading those into her frame hoping they might spark her waning synapses of memory and give her even a fleeting moment of joy.

The other day I visited mom in her room. She was sitting on her sofa, the room was dark with the lights out and the shades drawn. I sat down next to her and together we watched the photos in the frame. There were photos of her childhood, her years as a mother, family vacations and gatherings, and photos of her great-grandchildren. She said very little. We just sat silently holding hands. She began stroking my hand softly as we watched her life scroll by.

Many people who have had near-death experiences (NDEs) speak of being taken through a review of their life on earth like a slideshow. The specific details vary, but the “life review” is a common element of most NDEs. I thought about that, and about my mother’s life, as we watched it pass before our eyes there on the digital frame.

In today’s chapter, King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, conspire to steal a vineyard of a man named Naboth. Ahab simply wanted it because it was conveniently located near his palace. Naboth explained that it was his family’s land, allotted to them since the division of the land under Joshua, and they would never sell it. Jezebel uses her worldly power as Queen to create a scheme to have Naboth brought up on trumped-up charges and stoned to death along with his male heirs by her political cronies. I couldn’t help but think that Jezebel and Ahab’s actions are not unlike King David using his power to have Uriah the Hittite killed in order to marry Bathsheba.

Not unlike God sending the prophet Nathan to confront David about his sin, God sends Elijah to confront Ahab about his sin. Elijah states, and the author of Kings repeats that Ahab had “sold himself” to do evil in the eyes of the Lord. That was the summary statement of Ahab’s earthly life. The slideshow of Ahab’s life would show over and over again that he surrendered himself to whatever would make him rich and powerful, even if that meant surrendering himself to pagan gods and practices. The framing and killing of Naboth and his sons merely because Ahab coveted his garden perfectly encapsulated Ahab’s life.

In the quiet this morning, I found myself thinking about my mother’s digital life review that we watched the other day. The photographic evidence revealed a woman is loved and beloved by her husband, her children, and her family. It revealed a woman who worked hard, along with her husband, to create a life that was lovingly centered around faith and family, joy and laughter.

What a contrast to what the slideshow of Ahab’s life review must have looked like according to Elijah’s description.

And, that begs the question. What about the slideshow of my life review? What will it reveal? To what have I “sold myself” and surrendered on my life journey?

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

Power and Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bashaa reigns 24 years and dies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I adore that.

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

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

Settling the Family’s Accounts

Settling the Family Accounts (1 Ki 2) Wayfarer

When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son.
1 Kings 2:1 (NIV)

There was a time many years ago that I was asked to serve on a team, and agreed to do so. After my first meeting, the team leader called me aside and called me out for some of the opinions I’d expressed in the meeting. It was one of the more surreal experiences I’ve had along my life journey. I was quickly informed that my services on the team were no longer required, and the whole experience made me grateful to walk away.

I thought about that experience as I pondered today’s chapter. It’s actually a very interesting conversation that begins with David on his deathbed, telling his successor, Solomon, to be obedient to God and keep the Law of Moses. David then immediately tells Solomon to “settle a few of the family accounts” Godfather style.

David tells Solomon to have two men killed:

Joab, David’s powerful military general, had committed a number of disloyal acts including killing Absalom without David’s consent and participating in Adonijah’s rebellion.

Shimei, a member of Saul’s family who had cursed David publicly during Absalom’s rebellion. David had let him live, but now wants Solomon to exact revenge.

Solomon also goes on to kill Adonijah his brother, who attempts to conspire with Bathsheba to make Abishag his wife. Abishag was the virgin who had been made part of the king’s harem so as to sleep with David and keep him warm. Adonijah’s request to marry a member of his father’s harem, was a disrespectful insult of Solomon’s authority and would have subtly established Adonijah’s right to the throne. Sleeping with one of your father’s harem in that culture established the son was his father’s successor. The request told Solomon that his older brother will not give up his desire to be king.

Solomon also removes Abiathar the priest, who had sided with Adonijah, and sends him back to his home, stripping him of his priestly power.

From a historical perspective, what Solomon did was not unusual. In the game of thrones for ancient kingdoms, being the king or queen was a precarious position and there were always rivals, even among one’s own family, who would be happy to assassinate the one on the throne in order to seize power. The elimination of known rivals was one of the ways that ancient monarchs secured their position. I mentioned earlier that what Solomon did was Godfatheresque because it’s a very apt parallel. It’s exactly what Michael Corleone does when he takes out all his rivals.

From a leadership perspective, this is also not unusual. When politicians are elected, it’s customary for people in certain key positions to tender their resignation so that the incoming elected official can appoint his or her own people. It’s sometimes the same way in churches when a new pastor is hired or appointed and the staff is expected to offer their resignations. As I look back on the experience of getting fired from the team after my first meeting, it’s clear that the team leader did not trust that I would be a loyal and supportive member. Even if I could have been, their distrust of me would likely have eventually created problems. While I still scratch my head at the way it was done, I’ve always been grateful to have walked away.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself reminded that I can scarce imagine what life and culture were like back in David and Solomon’s day. It was a violent period of history. At the same time, there are lessons that I can glean about leadership and human systems in which I interact. As I ponder it, I realize that have a great deal of autonomy to choose in to our out of most of the systems and circles of influence with which I regularly interact. Some of the wisest choices I believe I’ve made along my life journey have been choices to choose out of dysfunctional systems or systems filled with crazymakers.

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

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones (CaD 1 Ki 1) Wayfarer

Now Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.” So he got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him.
1 Kings 1:5 (NIV)

Over the past few years, I have been watching multiple series set in the history of England. Both The Last Kingdom (Netflix) and Vikings (Prime) are set in the period when England was divided into several kingdoms and the Vikings from Norway and Denmark were regularly raiding the island. The BBC’s Hollow Crown series (PBS) are modern productions of seven of Shakespeare’s historical plays following English monarchs Richard II through Richard III. So, I’ve quite literally been entertained by the intrigues, plots, and schemes of people trying to ascend power in the game of thrones that is English history.

What is lost on many people is that much of what is called the Old Testament is the history of another, more ancient game of thrones. It is ancient Israel’s own version of it, and it has all of the intrigues, plots, schemes, and assassinations you find in the history of any human kingdom.

Having just followed the story of Israel’s ancient monarchy from King Saul through King David in the books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, this chapter-a-day journey is going to press on into the epic saga beginning with 1 Kings. At the end of the 2 Samuel, David has barely survived a coup d’èta by his son, Prince Absalom. Absalom was seeking revenge because his half-brother Prince Amnon (the favored oldest son) raped his half-sister (and Absalom’s full sister) Princess Tamar, and King David did nothing about it.

Picking up the story in today’s chapter, David is old and bed-ridden. The number of his days is waning and everyone knows it. Prince Solomon, the first-born son of the scandalous marriage between David and Bathsheba, has become David’s favorite whom David had promised would succeed him.

Enter Prince Adonijah, likely the eldest remaining son after Absalom murdered his brothers and potential rivals during his failed rebellion. With David bed-ridden, his power diminished, Adonijah decides to attempt a bloodless coup. He gets the backing of a high-priest and a couple of David’s most powerful right-hand men, then arranges to have the high-priest anoint him king at a sacred place just outside of Jerusalem. They then begin a feast to celebrate.

Hearing of this, Bathsheba and the prophet, Nathan go to King David to explain what has happened. David gives orders for another priest and those loyal to him to quickly anoint Solomon and place Solomon on David’s throne as David’s chosen successor. The crowds inside Jerusalem gather and hail their new king, Solomon.

Outside the city, the self-crowned Adonijah and his followers are wrapping up their coronation party when news arrives that King David has placed Solomon on his throne. Adonijah and his followers scatter in fear that King Solomon will exact quick revenge and have them all killed. Prince Adonijah himself flees to the temple where he takes hold of the altar, hoping that King Solomon will not kill him in such a holy place. Solomon in his first recorded act as King, promises not to kill his brother as long as Adonijah remains loyal, and sends him home.

In the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that almost every human system (families, committees, churches, councils, school administrations, community groups, businesses, and etc.) is a “game of thrones.” Wherever leaders have power and/or authority over others, members within that system will challenge it, criticize it, undermine it, usurp it, and rebel against it. It’s why the founding fathers of the United States divided governing power so widely. They knew from history that the game of thrones is inherently human. By spreading out the power across three different branches and two legislative houses, they sought to ensure that power was not concentrated on a single throne, but many for which there were checks and balances to make necessary corrections and hold individuals accountable for any misuse of power.

So where do I stand in the various human systems in which I operate? How well do I do with the authority and power I have in family, business, church, and community? How well do I submit to those who are in authority over me in those same systems? Where do my loyalties lie? What does it mean to live, speak, think, act, and relate in those systems as a disciple of Jesus? Are the fruits of God’s Spirit evident in the way I conduct myself in each system?

If Jesus is my Lord, as I profess Him to be, then I acknowledge Him as the one sitting on the throne of my heart and life. How well do I submit to His authority in every area of my own life?

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

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

A Lesson in Abner

A Lesson in Abner (CaD 2 Sam 3) Wayfarer

“May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” 2 Samuel 3:9-10 (NIV)

Abner is one of the most fascinating characters in the unfolding drama of the conflict between the houses of Saul and David. Abner was Saul’s general, and second in command. As such, Abner had amassed tremendous power and influence. With Saul’s well-known mental health issues, it was likely Abner who provided stability, respect, and fear in the chain of command. Upon Saul’s death, it was Abner who quickly propped up the weaker younger brother of Jonathan, Ish-bosheth, as his puppet to maintain control of the northern tribes.

Abner served Saul and his family faithfully, but his ultimate service was always about himself.

It struck me as I read this morning that Abner was well aware God had anointed David king of Israel. The way he worded his threat to Ish-bosheth it would seem he even believed that David’s ascent to the throne was a divinely appointed certainty. Yet, Abner spent two decades fighting faithfully for the house of Saul because that was where his bread was buttered.

Today’s chapter gives us a clear picture of Abner’s character. Abner seems to have enjoyed the fruits of his position. Now we see that he so disrespected his former master and the son of Saul he made into his political marionette, that he felt it was his right to feast on the forbidden fruit of Saul’s harem. After all, who was going to stop him? When Ish-bosheth finds the guts to stand up to Abner and call him to account, Abner does what all power brokers do: he makes a power play. As the game of thrones continues in determining who will be King of Israel, Ish-Bosheth plays the trump card he holds in his hand and vows to deliver the northern tribes to David wrapped up with a bow.

Abner is Judas. The inner-circle confidant who is secretly pilfering things for himself, and willing to betray his master if it suits his personal agenda. Abner is Iago, the 2nd in command whom the commander shouldn’t trust. Abner is the one who knows God’s truth, but never submits to it unless it happens to dovetail with his duplicitous purposes.

As I meditate in the quiet this morning, I can’t help but recognize the Abner in me. David wrote in the lyric of one of his songs: “search me God…and see if there is any offensive way in me.” I’m kind of feeling that same spirit this morning. I can see in my own life the perpendicular lines of God’s way and my way. Along my life journey, I confess that I have had my own duplicitous moments. I have, at times, served with selfish motives.

I am reminded by today’s chapter of the difference between the man I desire to be, and the man I sometimes prove to be by my own words and actions. I’m reminded that I have still not arrived. I am reminded that I’m still in process. God, examine my heart and help me be less like Abner and more of a man after your own heart.

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 April 2014.

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

Prophetic Pondering

Prophetic Pondering (CaD Rev 11) Wayfarer

The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over [the two dead prophets] and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth.
Revelation 11:10 (NIV)

I have been a follower of Jesus for just over 40 years, a period of time which is used in the Great Story as the number of years in a generation. So, I have spent time over the past couple of years pondering the changes I’ve observed in our society and our culture in one generation. In some ways, the changes seem startling to me.

A generation ago, I watched as Christian fundamentalists with groups like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition sought to force their religious doctrines on society through political power. What I observed in those days was that a judeo-christian world view was foundational in society around me. Virtually ever kid I knew grew up going to church of some kind. It was just what you did.

A generation later, I find it ironic to observe what I would consider woke fundamentalists who are seeking to force their doctrinal world-view on society through political power. Major institutions of media, business, and academia are offering full support. Meanwhile, my own local gathering of Jesus’ disciples has grown in the last couple of decades, not because new followers are joining the ranks but because so many other churches are dying and closing their doors. Churches are being burned and attacked, social media posts call for violence against Christians.

These are things that I would have never have believed would happen in one generation, just 40 years ago.

In today’s chapter, the interlude between the sixth and seventh “trumpet judgments” continues. Two prophets, or “witnesses” are raised up. They echo the ancient prophet Elijah whose prayers shut-off the rains and brought fire down from the heavens.

It’s important to remember that the picture John’s visions create is an Earth in which there are a mere 144,000 followers of God who are sealed and protected through this time of tribulation. Where are all the followers of Jesus? John’s Revelation does not seem to address this, though the letters of the apostles speak of a “rapture” of God’s people in which they are suddenly and unexpectedly snatched up to heaven in the twinkling of an eye. This leaves the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants who are described as unrepentantly anti-God. Therefore, when the two prophets are killed, the world celebrates their deaths and gloats over their bodies. People throw parties to feast the end of God’s messengers.

In the quiet this morning, I once again find myself pondering the changes I’ve observed in one generation. I could not fathom the anger, hatred, and calls for violence that I witness on both ends of the socio-political spectrum. Though, given the gross failings of institutional churches that I touched on in yesterday’s post, I can certainly empathize with those who were victimized and are crying out in anger.

There are mornings on this chapter-a-day journey when I feel as if I am left with more questions than answers; Mornings when I am more perplexed than inspired. I’ve come to believe that this is not a bad thing. The Twelve who followed Jesus in the flesh for three years were still confused and scratching their heads the night before He was crucified and the day He rose from the dead. Why should I be any different? Along my journey I’ve found that it is often the long stretches of pondering good questions that ultimately lead to new depths of spiritual understanding.

So, two thoughts I continue to ponder as I enter my day today:

First, it would be easy for me to over-dramatize the changes I’ve witnessed in a generation and conclude that the end-times are near. I don’t know that. The pendulum of socio-political thought swings back and forth sending individuals on either side of the spectrum into doomsday thoughts and predictions. What I have observed in the last forty years helps me to appreciate how the events and anti-God attitudes in John’s vision could, indeed, be possible, but that doesn’t equate to thinking they are probable in the near turn.

Second, the pendulum of social, cultural, political and religious thought does often swing back and forth. Some would argue that it is currently doing so. The social and political upheaval of the 60s ushered in a period of rebellion, violence, sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. The 70s then experienced a “Jesus People” movement when many people found themselves aimless and empty, searching for spiritual answers. I consider it possible that a generation of young children who are being asked to question fundamental biological truths about themselves (when they don’t even have the vocabulary or cognitive ability to process it) may very well find themselves confused about their identity and longing for a strong spiritual foothold to help them make sense out of life. This might even lead to a spiritual revival.

I’m posting this much later than norma this morning because I’ve been pondering how best to conclude. I’m still not sure, so I’m just going to leave it here, continuing to ponder.

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

Two Paths

Two Paths (CaD Jud 9) Wayfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think I’ll stick to this path.

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

The Contrast

The Contrast (CaD Matt 26) Wayfarer

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas…

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper…
Matthew 26:3,6 (NIV)

This past November, I gave a message among my local gathering of Jesus’ followers in which I shared a handful of personal lessons I learned about how the world works:

  • When a local union threatened and bullied me into quitting a part time job I’d taken for a season to save for college.
  • When a local political machine allowed their employees to smoke at work even though it was against the law for everyone else.
  • When a powerful businessman and donor of the church successfully twisted the arms of church leaders to wrongfully accuse the staff and force his will on the congregation.

The world has been having a conversation about systemic racism for the past few years, and it’s an important conversation to have. However, along my earthly journey, I’ve observed and experienced that systemic power exists in many forms and affects every person in one way or another. It’s woven into the human experience. Even Jesus was a victim of it.

I couldn’t help but notice this morning, the contrast Matthew presents between the religious power brokers at the pinnacle of the religious system, and Jesus with His followers.

The religious power brokers met in the high priest’s palace, while Jesus and His followers were guests at the home of a former leper whom He’d healed.

The religious power brokers in their palace schemed how to arrest Jesus secretly and kill Him. FYI: it was illegal to arrest someone secretly at night, and they had no legal authority to execute anyone. Meanwhile, Jesus quietly arranged to celebrate the Passover feast with His disciples in a borrowed room.

As the religious leaders broker a deal with Judas to betray Jesus in the middle of the night, Jesus assertively prepares for His fate in fellowship with His closest friends and in prayer. He has, three times in this chapter, demonstrated that He knows what is coming:

“As you know, the Passover is two days away — and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” (vs. 2)

“When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.” (vs. 12)

“Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” (vs. 21)

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but ponder the difference I see between Jesus and the religious system that killed Him and ponder Jesus’ words: “My Kingdom is not of this world.” What does that mean for me as I endeavor to follow Jesus every day of this earthly journey? As I ponder Jesus example in the chapter I come up with:

Live a life of surrender not of supremacy.
Invest in people, not possessions.
Live a life of giving, not of getting.
Always expect the Prince of this world to use the systemic power of this world to suppress the purposes of God’s kingdom on earth.

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