Samuel said, “Why do you consult me, now that the Lord has departed from you and become your enemy? The Lord has done what he predicted through me. The Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hands and given it to one of your neighbors—to David. Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today.“ 1 Samuel 28:16-18
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” is a quote that has been misattributed to Albert Einstein for many years. Etymologists find no evidence of Einstein ever saying the words. It was fascinating for me to learn that the earliest documented uses of the quote are from the Twelve Step group Al-anon, particularly with regard to the second step: “We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”
If you go to a Twelve Step meeting, you’ll hear stories of lives that have become unmanageable. Individuals speak of addictive insanity that has brought them to the brink of death and lives that have completely self-destructed. That’s where I observe Saul being in today’s chapter, only Saul’s problem is not alcoholism or drug addiction. Saul is addicted to his own pride, greed, and envy.
When the Philistines line up for battle with Saul and his army, Saul becomes afraid. He seeks some word or sign from God of what will happen, but God is silent. Samuel is dead. The high-priest, Abiathar, has joined up with David. Saul has no prophet in his service. In desperation, Saul hires a medium to conjure up the spirit of Samuel even though he knows that such an act is against God’s law. It’s just like when Saul crossed the line and offered sacrifices that only a priest was allowed to make. His fear drives him to cross the line and do what he knows he shouldn’t do, just like he’s always done expecting a different outcome.
Samuel’s spirit does appear and reiterates the very thing he had told Saul before. Saul’s repeated disobedience and his refusal to admit that his own actions have led his life to become unmanageable and to submit to God, who could restore his sanity, his own actions and choices have sealed his fate. He will die in the upcoming battle, and David will succeed him as king just as had been prophesied.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself looking back on my own life journey and the times my life had become unmanageable because of my foolish choices. It’s easy to read Saul’s story and shake my head in judgment, except I can’t. There’s another famous quote that I can make my own: “There, but for the grace of God, goes Tom Vander Well.” Saul is a tragic figure. The best thing about tragedies, even the real ones I hear in a Twelve Step meeting, is that they can help inform my own life and my own choices.
I don’t want to be a Saul. I would rather be a David.
The determining factor is what I choose to do with my own decisions, actions, and words today.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
The Underdog & The Unprepared (CaD 1 Sam 22) –
“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?
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.
When Saul realized that the Lord was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days. 1 Samuel 18:28-29 (NIV)
The history of theatre traces its roots back to ancient Greece. The stories that the Greeks adapted for the stage were typically comedies or tragedies. Even Shakespeare’s plays are categorized as comedy, tragedy, or history. The iconic comedy and tragedy masks continue to symbolize the theatre to this day.
In all of the Great Story, Saul may arguably be the most tragic figure. Given the opportunity of a lifetime, his ego, pride, and envy lead him on an ongoing, downward spiral as he becomes obsessed with his anointed rival, David.
In today’s chapter, the author of 1 Samuel documents the stark contrast between David and Saul. David is humble and successful in everything he does. He’s a successful warrior, musician, leader, and lover. Five times in today’s chapter the author reminds us of David’s success and God’s favor towards him. Six times in today’s chapter, the author documents Saul’s anger, jealousy, envy, and rage.
To make matters worse, Saul appears to heed The Godfather’s advice: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” He intertwines his life with David to the extent that he can’t escape. David is always there. David is his minstrel. David is one of his best military officers. David is his son’s best friend. Jonathan treats David like a brother. David is the husband of his daughter. Michal is in love with the guy. Every decision Saul makes assures his self-destruction, while every decision David makes solidifies his success to Saul’s envious chagrin.
Along my life journey, I’ve observed individuals whose lives appear to be an echo of Saul’s. Their lives are one ongoing series of tragedies, the fruit of their own foolishness and cyclical poor choices. I’ve also observed those whose lives appear to be charmed like David. They succeed at everything they do and appear blessed in every way. In contrast, they appear to make routinely wise choices and enjoy a general sense of favor.
In the quiet this morning, there were two things that struck me as I meditated on the contrasting characters of Saul and David. First, I’ve learned along my spiritual journey that I have a nasty envious streak. Not surprisingly, it is the core weakness of an Enneagram Type Four (that’s me). It took me years to see the fulness of it in myself. I’m still in process of learning how to address it in a healthy way. So, I have to confess that I identify with Saul more than I care to admit.
The second thing that struck me is simply the cyclical and systemic pattern of Saul’s decline and David’s rise. The text states that God’s favor was with David and not with Saul, so there’s a spiritual component to it, but there is also the fact that Saul continuously made poor choices that ensured his failure, while David continuously acted with humility and made wise decisions. This leads me to consider my own choices – the choices I made yesterday, and the choices I will make today. Where am I making poor choices? Where am I making wise choices? How can I make fewer of the former and more of the latter?
David wasn’t perfect, by any means, but I’d prefer that my story look more like his than Saul’s.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Revelation 4:10-11 (NIV)
I was speaking at a business conference and struck up a conversation with a gentleman from a company for whom we’d written a proposal a year or two prior. In charge of that company’s Customer Experience operations, he told me how much he loved our proposal and how convinced he was that we could actually help them move the needle in “improving their serve.” When I asked why we lost out on the opportunity, his answer was telling: “My boss wasn’t really interested in actually improving anything. He just wanted a program that would make it look like he had accomplished something and that would provide plaques to hang on his office wall saying how good we were.”
There’s something innately human about wanting to win awards. Children participate in programs, like scouting, in which they earn merit badges and are recognized for their efforts. Children’s sports programs dole out trophies, ribbons, medals, and even championship rings. In adulthood, we often continue to chase some kind of tangible proof of our achievements by way of titles and awards. As children, we like to wear crowns and tiaras and pretend we’re kings and queens. As adults, we do the same thing it’s just that it’s usually less visible and obvious.
This human penchant came to mind as I read today’s chapter. Having completed dictating letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor, Jesus calls John “up” to the throne room of heaven in today’s chapter. It is from here that John will be given the visions of what is to come.
This “throne room” vision is not without precedent. Both the prophets Isaiah (Is 6) and Ezekiel (Ez 1) had similar visions of heaven’s throne complete with strangely described angels (also known as “cherubim” and “seraphim”) surrounding the throne with endless praise.
The praise in today’s chapter is motivated by God’s eternal nature (“was, and is, and is to come”) and in God being the “alpha point” of creation, from whom all things flow and have life and being. The visions provided in the rest of the book describe the “omega point” to which all things flow to the end (before a new beginning).
In this throne room, John describes 24 “elders.” There are numerous interpretations of who they are or represent. Jesus told his disciples at their last supper that they would “sit on thrones and judge the tribes of Israel” (Lk 22:30) so many believe the 24 thrones to represent the 12 tribal patriarchs and the 12 disciples. The bottom line is that John doesn’t identify them.
As I pondered this, I realized that the important thing is not who they are, but whose they are and what they do. They lay their crowns before the throne and offer praise to the One who sits on the throne.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about my own ego and penchant for awards and achievements because I have it too. I want to look good. I want to be a success. I want to be recognized for my hard work and accomplishments. And yet, one of the most simple and profound things about being a follower of Jesus is the fact that He calls me to consciously choose against my ego-centered human nature.
To carry out my faith quietly and personally – not for show. To worry more about treasure in heaven than awards on earth. To serve others more than I serve myself. To humble myself before God and others rather than play endless psychological and spiritual versions of “King of the Mountain.”
In other words: To surrender my crown and lay it before the only One worthy.
And so, I enter another work week this morning. I don’t know who the 24 elders are whom John saw in heaven’s throne room, but I know whose they are, and I know what they did. My goal this week is to do the same.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Take the whole army with you, and go up and attack Ai. For I have delivered into your hands the king of Ai, his people, his city and his land.“ Joshua 8:1 (NIV)
Along my life journey, and my spiritual journey, I’ve learned that there is wisdom and goodness in having sober self-awareness. This includes knowing my strengths, my abilities, my weaknesses, and my ego.
I grew up around music. I sang in choirs throughout my school years. I sang in small groups, in musicals, and taught myself to play guitar and bass. I also confess that my ego really wanted to be a great singer and musician. My ego wanted to be in a band and be a lead vocalist.
I was never that good, and any ego-fueled attempt I made to do something beyond my ability utterly failed. I learned to accept that I’m adequate when it comes to music. I can function on a team and positively contribute to the whole. I can adequately perform a solo in a musical on stage. However, I know gifted vocalists and musicians, and my ego eventually learned to accept that I’m not one of them.
There are, however, other things at which I’m gifted. In the flow of life, those are the things that God has continually given me opportunities to do, and they’ve been successful even if/when my ego wasn’t exactly excited about it.
In reading today’s chapter, it was the contrast to the previous chapter where I found the most fascinating lesson.
At the beginning of yesterday’s chapter, there was no mention of God being part of the preparations for or engagement in the battle. Joshua sent the spies. The spies gave their report and recommended action. Joshua acted on their recommendation and sent a small contingent to take the city. It failed.
At the beginning of today’s chapter, the Lord encourages Joshua, the Lord gives the command to attack, and the Lord provides the battle plan. It succeeds. And, having taught/learned the lesson at Jericho that everything belongs to God, the Lord shares the plunder of Ai with His people.
Joshua and the Hebrew tribes are learning a lesson similar to the one I’ve had to learn. In God’s silence, Joshua allowed his ego to take over. There’s no record that he even thought about asking God for direction. On the heels of a victory at Jericho, Joshua takes command, makes the strategy, and pulls the trigger to attack.
1500 years later, God would reveal that we are all like a body with Jesus as the head. We’re all connected. We each have certain gifts, abilities, and temperaments that allow us to positively contribute to the health, strength, and life of the whole body. Yet, just like our bodies, there are entire systems that function independently of one another yet no other system of the body can survive and thrive unless each system is doing the thing it’s made to do.
My ego might really want me to be part of a different system but there’s wholeness and peace in having the self-awareness to know where I fit and best contribute to the whole body. Beyond that, if I’m not functioning in the system in which I’m gifted and best contribute, the entire body suffers. Joshua made the easy mistake of thinking he was the brains of the operation, but only God occupies that position in the body. When Joshua was back in the position of being God’s mouthpiece taking orders from the brain, everything functioned as it should.
In the quiet this morning, I’m meditating on the reality that this lesson of self-awareness, humility, giftedness, and ego is not a flip-the-switch type of lesson that you learn once and then are done. Getting my ego out of the way and learning to know and understand myself are never-ending lessons on this earthly sojourn. The more I embrace and learn these lessons, the further I progress spiritually, and the more peace and joy I experience in my daily experiences.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. John 17:15-16 (NIV)
Earlier this year Wendy and I were on the back patio with friends late into the evening. One of the things we like to do in the dark of night is keep our eyes peeled for meteors, satellites, constellations, plants, and other interesting objects in the night sky. On that night I spotted a satellite, which basically looks like a moving star, trekking slowly from west to east. Then there was another one right behind it. I’d never seen two of them so close and moving in the same trajectory. Then came another, and another, and another, and another.
Pulling up the internet on my phone to find out what we were looking at, we learned that evening about the satellite train. The brainchild of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, it is a long string or “train” of 60 satellites that follow one another in orbit. SpaceX plan to eventually have 12,000 of them in low orbit to provide internet service everywhere from space. Fascinating.
It’s an amazing time to be alive and to make this earthly life journey. In the course of my lifetime, the world has arguably changed more rapidly and drastically than in any other time in human civilization. Advancements in technology and science are beginning to outpace our ability to comprehend the effects of all that it possible.
Along with the “progress” has come a sharp decline in the number of people who adhere to traditional Christian belief systems or attend institutional Christian churches. One of the things that I read consistently about this trend is the criticism that believers and churches in America haven’t done enough to address social justice issues and the problems of our world.
Today’s chapter is traditionally known in theological circles as “the high priestly prayer.” John records Jesus praying just before He was betrayed by Judas and arrested. In the prayer Jesus acknowledges two important things. First, that His followers are “not of this world.” In my experience, Jesus is acknowledging that those who follow Him have expanded their world-view beyond this earthly life to God’s eternal Kingdom. After acknowledging this, Jesus consciously chooses that His followers not be removed from this world, but protected from the same prince of this world that will see Jesus crucified within twelve hours of this prayer.
To quote Hamlet, “ay, there’s the rub.”
In this world, not of it. How do I, as a follower of Jesus, hold that tension?
That’s what my soul and mind are chewing on in the quiet this morning. And here are a few of my thoughts…
I confess that critics of Christianity are not wrong. Followers of Jesus and the institutional churches of history have not done enough adhere to personally fulfill Jesus’ mission of crossing social boundaries, loving the outcast, and caring for the poor. Mea culpa.
At the same time, history has taught me that revolutions and reformations typically paint complex realities with broad-brush generalizations, and then throw babies out with the bathwater. Despite the moans and wails of how awful of a state the world is in, here are a few undisputable facts:
In 1966 (the year I was born), 50% of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty. In 2017, that’s dropped to 9% despite population growth.
When my parents were young, average life expectancy was between 30-40 years. In two generations it’s risen to 72, and still climbing.
In 1975, 58% of children with cancer survived. By 2010, it was 80%.
In 1980, 22% of one-year-olds received at least one vaccination. In 2018 the percentage was 88%.
In 1970, 28% of the world’s population was undernourished. In 2015 that number had dropped to 11%.
In 1900, roughly 40% of children died before the age of five. By 2016 the percentage was down to 4%.
In 1980, 58% of the world’s population had access to a protected water source. By 2015 the number was 88% and climbing.
It’s easy to cast a stone at the institutional church, its members, and cast stones regarding all that it hasn’t done. I also know many believers in my own circles of influence who, led by their faith in Jesus and dedication to His mission, have given their lives to contribute to the numbers I’ve just quoted.
Scott and Marcia have helped mobilize native efforts in Eswatani Africa to care for unwanted babies, lower the spread of HIV, increase access to clean water, and improve agricultural yields to feed the local population.
Tim and an entire host of individuals in our local gathering of Jesus followers have done a similar work in Haiti. Learning from the mistakes of the past, they are helping native Haitians create sustainable and healthy life and community systems.
My college suitemate, Tim, has dedicated most of his career to helping care for impoverished children and single mothers around the globe. He’s now leading a non-profit to address the 12% of the world’s population that still need a protected water source.
I have long believed that with the technological age I may just be witnessing humanity’s next great attempt at building a tower of Babel. Instead of bricks and mortar, we’re using processors, fiber optics, CRISPR, and satellite trains. The goal is the same: nothing is impossible, and we ascend to be our own god. I find it fascinating to observe what I perceive to be “Babel 2.0” is that we largely still speak the same language but our transmission and translation are increasingly confused. What one intends to say, what they say, and what the other hears and interprets to have been said are incongruent. Language is hijacked and redefined in a moment by part of the population. New words are created, defined, and trend within one part of the population while everyone else in the population failed to notice. They are therefore ignorant and confused when they are discussed.
So what does this mean for me today? I don’t run an institution, nor do I want to. I am a follower of Jesus and, as such, I have a world-view that sees beyond this world and incorporates God’s Kingdom into my earthly existence. I seek to accomplish His mission of “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth” and I take that responsibility seriously. This earthly journey is not about biding my time until death and eternity, but rather trying to bring a Kingdom perspective into my every day intentions, choices, work, actions, and relationships.
I am in this world, a world which remains the dominion of the prince of this world, which is why Jesus prayed for my protection on that fateful night. Jesus asks me to affect this world with love, service, and generosity that He exemplified. He told His followers to be “shrewd as a serpent and gentle as a dove.”
And so, I enter another day of the journey with those intentions.
Note: Three messages have been added on the Messages page. Click here
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.
Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” Exodus 8:25 (NRSVCE)
The story of Pharaoh and the plagues is fascinating. Like many ancient cultures, the Egyptians believed that their leader, Pharaoh, was a god. At least, that’s what Pharaoh would have them believe. By raising themselves to the status of deity, leaders put themselves in a social class all by themselves. They could do no wrong and their actions could not be questioned.
Under the literal events in the text, there is a subtle battle going on between Pharaoh (a god, remember) and the God of the Hebrews. It was common for Pharaohs to claim that their deeds, successes, and victories in battle were done by Pharaoh’s “mighty hand.” Throughout the last few chapters, God through Moses and Aaron continues to claim to accomplish these plagues by God’s “mighty hand.” God even has Moses and Aaron “stretch out” their hand with the staff. In each case, this is a direct challenge to Pharaoh’s authority.
The repeated phrase about Pharaoh’s heart being “hardened” can also be interpreted as a challenge to the Egyptian ruler’s claim of being above reproach. According to the Egyptian “Book of the Dead,” the ancients believed that in the afterlife their heart would be weighed on a scale to determine if it is heavier than the metaphorical feather that they believed represented what was right and just. The “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart may be interpreted that with each turn it is getting heavier, and thus it is an indictment that the ruler is guilty, even by the Egyptians own religious beliefs, of not doing what is right and just by the Hebrew people that he’s enslaved.
What really struck me as I read today’s chapter was Pharaoh’s struggle. He refuses to let the Hebrews take three days to go into the wilderness and worship God. Then, Pharaoh promises to let the Hebrews go if Moses will pray to relieve Egypt of the plague, and then refuses to keep his promise. Then, Pharaoh promises to let them go but only if they do it on his terms by not going into the wilderness.
In the quiet this morning I find myself reminded that Christ asks me to humbly submit myself to God and to others. In fact, that was posture Jesus exemplified in becoming human and obediently suffering on the cross and sacrificing Himself for all. Following Jesus is about following that example, and humbly putting God and others ahead of myself.
In Pharaoh, I see an individual who is sitting on a throne both literal and metaphorical. Pharaoh is the poster child for pride, self-aggrandizement, and self-deception. He is desperately trying to save face and retain some sense of power and authority, but each time he does he continues to reveal that his pride is actually a weakness and a tragic flaw perpetually exposing the deception he’d created for himself.
As I exit the holiday weekend and enter another week, I find myself meditating on the contrast between Pharaoh and Jesus. I don’t have to look very hard to find ways that my thoughts, words, and actions appear more Pharaoh-like than Christ-like. That’s not the person I want to be. I’m reminded of Saul of Tarsus, the powerful and proud Hebrew who was transformed from Jesus’ most zealous enemy to Jesus’ most zealous follower. In the transformation, Paul discovered that weakness is actually strength:
…but [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. Luke 20:20 (NIV)
It’s been years, but I can still see their faces. The look on most of those faces is a scowl. Along my journey, I have been a member and have taught in many different churches of diverse denominational bents. I have found these individuals in almost every one of them.
They are the thought police, the guardians of tradition, and the Lord Protectors of the Orthodox Realm. They wear the mantel of righteousness, believing themselves responsible to strictly observe and question anything they perceive to seep outside the rigid box in which they hold their tradition and orthodoxy. They often believe themselves to be spiritual heirs of the first century Berean Jews who are described as follows:
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.
Acts 17:11 (NIV)
My experience, however, leads me to believe that “noble character” is not an apt description for most of these individuals. They don’t receive my message with eagerness and open examination but with skepticism and censure. I have come to believe that their motivation is often fear and or pride cloaked in religiosity. Their minds and spirits are not open but closed. The fruit of their words and actions is rarely love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, or gentleness. I have observed that the root of their words and actions lie in the soil of fear, pride, self-righteousness, and anger. The fruit of their words and actions is conflict, quarrels, division, and dissension.
The faces of these individuals came to mind today as I read Luke’s account of the final week of Jesus’ earthly journey. We find Jesus in Jerusalem teaching in the Temple courts. He is drawing large crowds. He is the talk of the town. And, the orthodox power system of that Temple is angry and afraid. Jesus threatens their lucrative religious racket that has amassed their wealth. Jesus threatens their power and social standing with the people whom they control through religious rule-keeping, condemnation, judgment, and shame. Their tradition is holding onto power and they are bent on taking Jesus down.
So these teachers of the law and religious authorities send people to question, to trap, and to report anything the upstart Nazarene says which might be used to make a case against Him. They are already trying to find a way to send Jesus to the Roman Governor, for under Roman occupation it is Pontius Pilate alone who can sentence one to death, and they want Jesus dead.
Don’t hear what I’m not saying. As a follower of Jesus, I firmly believe that I must be responsible to consider, weigh, and test the things said, written, and taught in the name of Jesus. At the same time, I am called upon to be both shrewd and gentle. I have been commanded to follow the law of love in all things. I have been told to reserve judgment for the One true Judge. I am not judge, jury, and executioner of orthodox justice with a Junior Holy Spirit badge pinned to my chest. What a sad way to live and be. It doesn’t seem like the “full life” Jesus wanted His followers to experience and live out.
Back to the faces and the individuals. I have learned along the way to always try responding thoughtfully, gently, and with self-control. If they are open to a sincere and kind conversation to explore and discuss, then wonderful! However, when a thoughtful and gentle reply is fruitless (and it typically is), then I endeavor to press forward on the path to which God has led me. I keep loving, keep praying, keep reading, keep seeking, keep asking, keep knocking, and I focus on the only things in my control: my intentions, thoughts, words, and actions. And, I pay as little attention to my scowling critics as is humanly possible.
Sometimes, the most loving thing I can do is to walk away.
And he said to me, “This is the curse that is going out over the whole land; for according to what it says on one side, every thief will be banished, and according to what it says on the other, everyone who swears falsely will be banished. Zechariah 5:3 (NIV)
Along my life journey, I’ve had the experience of being part of several different churches both large and small. One of the large churches I was a part of for a time announced that they were going to build a giant, new auditorium filled with extravagant features and opulent appointments. I observed over the course of the building campaign that there were multiple red flags hinting that this was not a wise choice. Nevertheless, the hubris of the leader pushed the project through. Within a few years, I watched as that church imploded from within, and the giant new auditorium became an albatross, and then an empty shell.
I contrast this with another church of which I was a part. It also decided to launch a building campaign. Given the story I related to you in the previous paragraph, I was admittedly skeptical. This time, however, I observed a different heart in the leadership of the congregation. The project was not driven by the ego of a leader, but was the culmination of years of corporate prayer and seeking what should be done. The project was completed, and I watched as it resulted in an abundance of blessings for the church, its people, and the community.
What a contrast.
In today’s chapter, the prophet Zechariah continues to have strange visions that, at first, may sound like he’s having an LSD trip. But God’s language is metaphor and the word pictures have specific meanings. that connect to the building project that Zech and several other key leaders have undertaken: to rebuild God’s Temple in Jerusalem. In previous chapters, the visions have been about the key players in the rebuilding project. Today’s vision is about key roadblocks in finishing it.
The first vision concerns those who would swear to pledge money to the project and then pull out (swearing falsely) and take money pledged to the project for use in other things (stealing). The second vision concerns the iniquities of those who might become a spiritual stumbling block for the project. In both of these cases, God is taking responsibility for removing the potential roadblocks and sending them packing through the friendly skies.
In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of a familiar verse from Solomon, the leader of God’s initial Temple project:
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
Psalm 127:1 (NIV)
The underlying theme of Zechariah’s prophetic writings thus far has been God’s divine leading in the rebuilding project, and God’s provision for the leadership needed, and the protection needed, to get the job done.
These lessons are not just about church projects and men with edifice complexes. Along my journey, I’ve come to realize that there are many projects, endeavors, and campaigns we personally embark upon in our own lives. The principle is the same. If my endeavors are about me, my self-centered desires, and/or my personal pride, then the results will ultimately be at best unsatisfying and at worst, disastrous. When I seek after God’s leading in my personal endeavors and follow where I am led, God has a way of blessing and expanding things in unexpected ways.
I’m reminded this morning that I don’t want to push into self-centric personal endeavors and then ask God to bless them. I want to be a part of what God endeavors for me on this journey.
Speaking of which, I’ve got a job to do today. Have a great day, my friend!
When Rehoboam arrived in Jerusalem, he mustered Judah and Benjamin—a hundred and eighty thousand able young men—to go to war against Israel and to regain the kingdom for Rehoboam. 2 Chronicles 11:1 (NIV)
As a follower of Jesus, I am aware that God is at work in my life and in the lives of those around me. “You are not your own,” Paul wrote to the Jesus followers in Corinth, “Therefore honor God.” The practical application of this is that I think about the life decisions Wendy and I make. I not only concern myself with what we want, but also with what we sense God doing in our lives and the lives of others.
I found it fascinating this morning that King Rehoboam of Judah, having experienced the humility of having ten of the tribes of Israel rebel against him, immediately musters is fighting men for war. This is such a classic male reaction. This is the stuff of boys on a playground. “You wanna fight about it?”
In describing Rehoboam’s reaction, the Chronicler is careful to also share with us Rehoboam’s motivation. Rehoboam wanted to regain the kingdom for whom? God? The legacy of his father and grandfather? Nope. Rehoboam wanted to regain the kingdom for himself.
What a contrast Rehoboam is to his grandfather David who, having been anointed King as a boy, refused to claim the throne for himself. David waited for God to arrange the circumstances and make it happen. David was all about honoring what God was doing and waiting for God to raise him up. Rehoboam was all about acting out of his momentary rage and humiliation to get what he himself wanted.
Do I want to be a Rehoboam, or do I want to be a David?
That’s the question I find myself asking in the quiet this morning. Of course, I choose the latter. I want what God wants for my life and the lives of my loved ones. It means that it’s not all about me and what I want, and that’s exactly what Jesus taught, to love others as I love myself and to treat others as I would want to be treated.