Sunday, March 30, 2014

The joy of the loud and proud

While I’m not a huge college basketball fan (not an anti-fan, just don’t really get remotely interested until March Madness), I do find it fun to watch particularly during the tournament.  Primarily because, probably even more than college football, you see the intensity of each team’s following during this time of the year.  Just this morning I read about 15 University of Arizona students that were arrested last night after rioting in connection with the Wildcats’ defeat to Wisconsin yesterday.  The fanaticism isn’t limited to U of A, to this year, or even to hoops for that matter.  But in that incredible passion we see in sports fans we can focus a mirror on ourselves and our faith.


My reading this week included Exodus 33 – 39, Psalms 83 – 89, and 2 Samuel 3 – 9.  In 2 Samuel chapter 6 an interesting event occurs where we see what David was passionate about and I think we can use that to evaluate ourselves a bit.

Remember that the ark of the covenant had previously been taken by the Philistines and eventually recovered but still hadn’t been moved back to Jerusalem, the city of David.  Until now … we pick up the sequence of events in verse 16 …

But as the Ark of the Lord entered the City of David, Michal, the daughter of Saul, looked down from her window. When she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she was filled with contempt for him.  They brought the Ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the special tent David had prepared for it. And David sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings to the Lord.  When he had finished his sacrifices, David blessed the people in the name of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.  Then he gave to every Israelite man and woman in the crowd a loaf of bread, a cake of dates, and a cake of raisins.  Then all the people returned to their homes.  When David returned home to bless his own family, Michal, the daughter of Saul, came out to meet him. She said in disgust, “How distinguished the king of Israel looked today, shamelessly exposing himself to the servant girls like any vulgar person might do!”  David retorted to Michal, “I was dancing before the Lord, who chose me above your father and all his family! He appointed me as the leader of Israel, the people of the Lord, so I celebrate before the Lord.  Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes!  But those servant girls you mentioned will indeed think I am distinguished!”

Now despite any aspect of David’s dancing that might have been vulgar (I think we can chalk that up to the standards at the time, plus Michal’s predisposition against David), we have behavior here that we can use as a model for ourselves.

Note that having the Ark in Jerusalem was cause for unimaginable celebration.  David, king, leader, model, example, let’s the joy he felt be seen and heard.  His joy, of course, was the direct consequence of the Lord’s provision and deliverance of the Ark into its rightful possession and residence.  David is said to have leapt and danced before the Lord.  He was unconcerned about appearances … after all, he was the king of Israel and one could certainly assert that he should have behaved in a regal way.  But not David, a writer of many of the Psalms wherein his love for and closeness to the Lord is quite apparent even in the times of dismay that he experienced.

The question for us is, what are we like in our recognition of the Lord’s provision, victory, love, etc.?  Are we the type of Christians that will sing in church but wouldn’t be imagined to show passion or emotion outside it?  Are we those who talk about “believing” it but wouldn’t want to be scene “living” it?  Are we worried that someone might … as was Michal … be put off or “filled with contempt” because we are unfettered in acknowledging we have a faith in the God of the Bible?  I’m not talking about going out on the street and preaching to strangers (though I believe there IS a time and place for that), or forcing our beliefs into the faces of those who have expressed disinterest in hearing us.  Those behaviors can quickly progress beyond passion to obnoxiousness … as with everything in our faith, a fervent but measured balance is best.

But as David was unabashed in his joy in and gratefulness to God, so must we be.  Again, there’s a fine line between being impassioned and insufferable, but if we’re open and honest in recognizing what God has done for us through His Son Jesus, I think a very understandable response is elation of the type that David expressed.

Truth be told, I don’t of course always portray this type of exuberance.  There are sometimes … Lord forgive me … that I just don’t feel like being in a good mood, and I can often just drag others down.  I think we all have moments like this, in our humanity.  One technique I use (when I am open enough to it) is to put on music.  That’s one thing king David and I share is a love for music … albeit I’m sure David and my idea of music would differ (though I’m convinced he, too, would have loved country music … hee haw!).  Particularly during my new commute of 120 miles per day, my joyfulness can get sapped.  To gut-check myself, I’ve put together a music playlist that I can play either during my drive or at other times … songs of praise to God that have the right vibe and lyrics and remind me of how immensely grateful I should be.  And if you’ve ever driven behind or around me … my apologies but when I’m praising, you’ll see me bouncing, waving my hands, and singing … LOUDLY.

My devotions in the morning are another way that I remind myself.  God’s Word never fails to prompt me about all the ways God has provided for Helen, the kids and me … loved us … forgiven us … sustained us … blessed us.  And at least for me, that’s reason to leap and dance and sing.  And it’s enough to fortify me in not worrying in the least what the Michals of the world think.

In my view, that’s the attitude we should have at all times.  David’s attitude.  Remember the cross of Christ and what He saved us from.  That alone should make us sing and dance.

Let’s pray this week and ask our Father to reveal to us what it is that holds us back.  Of course, as noted earlier we need to be mindful of being appropriate to situations and circumstances but we should act as if we really are grateful.  Our joy should be evident to all.  We should revel in the moments that warrant celebration, knowing that God is the source of the celebration.   Like Jesus says in Matthew 5 … “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.”  Let’s be evident.  Let’s give credit to God where it’s due.  But let’s be joyful.  And yeah, if it means once in a while you need to jump and sing and dance … go for it.   It’s a blast and I’m pretty sure God loves it!

Be blessed this week!


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Face the music

In today’s society it’s interesting to see how people handle the consequences of their bad decisions.  Let’s face it, we are bombarded daily with evidence of poor choices, but what’s more telling is how those that make those poor choices address the realities of being found out.  Think about it … we hear of celebrities dealing with substance abuse, legal issues, broken marriages, etc.  The same is true with professional athletes, educators who attack pro-life protestors (just as an example), business executives … there seems to be a common thread in how they address getting caught.  Rarely, is it by taking personal responsibility.  It seems it’s always someone else’s fault.  Don’t get me wrong … it’s not just famous (or infamous) people … it’s us.  We’re talking about a human condition that goes all the way back to the garden of Eden when Adam told God, essentially, “the woman that YOU gave me made me do it!”

While reading through my Old Testament passages for the week (Exodus 26 – 32, Psalm 76 – 82, 1 Samuel 27 – 31, and 2 Samuel 1 – 2), a relatively familiar story was included, along with perhaps a not-so-well-known element to it.

Remember that when the Israelites were on the exodus from Egypt that they came into the Sinai wilderness.  When Moses goes up on Mt. Sinai to meet with God, the people got restless and began to push on Aaron to fill the leadership void … Exodus 32:1-3 set up the situation …

When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”  So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”  All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron.  Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf.  When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

It’s one thing for a mass of people to begin to lose perspective (I’m in no way excusing it … but we see more than ample instances where the Israelites make really poor decisions, this being one), but for Aaron, who led them away from Pharaoh, and saw firsthand virtually ALL the miracles the Lord did to help free them, his capitulation is bewildering at best.  Now of course we don’t want to read anything into the texts, but at least as conveyed in writing we see not even a moment’s hesitation or push-back from Aaron.  He just says, “okay, uh, let’s pile all your gold in this fire and we’ll make a god for ourselves.”  Dumb decision.

So the people see this new god they crafted, and begin to worship it and revel in the moment, ultimately getting drunk and completely letting the proverbial train run off the tracks.  Moses is up on the mountain with God, receiving the ten commandments (remember what the first of those commandments says???), and God says, basically, “you need to get down the mountain and stop your people from the deplorable acts they’re committing before I destroy every single one of them.”  So, Moses and Joshua hustle down the mountain … Exodus 32:19-23 pick up the story from there …

When they came near the camp, Moses saw the calf and the dancing, and he burned with anger. He threw the stone tablets to the ground, smashing them at the foot of the mountain.  He took the calf they had made and burned it. Then he ground it into powder, threw it into the water, and forced the people to drink it.  Finally, he turned to Aaron and demanded, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?”  “Don’t get so upset, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know how evil these people are.  They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.’  

I stop here just because the next verse is so utterly baffling as to make me wonder if God is joking around by having it in His Word … of course, I know He isn’t, but you have to literally scratch your head in wonderment … verse 24 (Aaron continues the incredibly horrible justification of his poor actions) …

So I told them, ‘Whoever has gold jewelry, take it off.’ When they brought it to me, I simply threw it into the fire—and out came this calf!”

Huh???  Aaron, you threw the stuff in the fire and out came a calf?  Are you for real???

As ridiculous as it sounds … and we can all agree it sounds really ridiculous … let’s not get too outwardly focused in our ire for the dumb answer he offered.  That’s because we are equally as prone to the same, albeit most of the time less outrageous, behavior.

Our normal reaction to being caught doing the wrong thing is rarely to say … “you know what, I just blew it.   My bad.”  We look to anyone else and to anything else we can and try to point the finger away from ourselves.  Of course, as the old adage goes, when we point one finger away there are still four remaining ones pointing right back at us!  It’s true.  We can’t escape the blame for our actions, and yet we spend an awful lot of time and energy trying to do so, and geometrically increase the damage in the process … to those we hurt to begin with, or to others collaterally.

In truth, all our offenses have been paid for by Jesus on the cross and as the Bible says, when we accept salvation through Him, our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west.  From an eternal perspective, then, we have no fear for our poor choices.  However, we’re not absolved from the consequences of those actions and ironically those earthly, temporal consequences are what we try so hard to avoid … when the most significant (and eternal) consequences are inordinately more crucial.

As Christians and leaders, we must remember the inescapable fact … our choices are our own, and our consequences are (like taxes) payable whether we like it or not.  No one and nothing else is to blame for the decisions and choices we make.  Of course, we all have previous experiences and baggage amassed through life that have unavoidable influence, but they do not negate the ownership we have for behaviors that only we control.  Given that, it’s best to own them, fess up to them and face the consequences like a man (or woman) … head up, bracing for impact.  Imagine the example we could be to others when we do.  Let’s not hide behind false facades that we are more than we really are … broken, but forgiven, people who make dumb choices all the time.  Of course, let’s try to minimize those, but when we inevitably blow it, let’s own it, and take our lumps if necessary.

This week, let’s ask our loving Father to show us places where perhaps we haven’t fully taken ownership of our gaffes and to give us His courage so that we can do so, righting what’s been made wrong as a result.  Truthfulness, courage, love and God-honoring behavior require no less, and our Lord will honor us in return, while perhaps still allowing the consequences that He alone can use to allow us to grow in turn.

Blessings in Christ!


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Looking out for (the REAL) number one ...

The most successful leaders choose to forfeit the prerogative to be self-centered.  Whether we choose to realize it or not, as leaders our responsibility shifts from doing what’s right for “number one” to doing what’s right regardless of “number one.”  One of the most powerful elements of reading through the Old Testament is reading about so many leaders (kings, prophets, priests, judges, etc.) who can teach us as much by how we shouldn’t lead as how we should.

One such example popped up to me this week as I read through Exodus 19 – 25, Psalms 69 – 75, and 1 Samuel 20 – 26.  In particular, some of the examples of King Saul are telling.  In 1 Samuel 23 we get a sense of some of Saul’s shortcomings, and a warning for us as leaders about some attributes to avoid.

In 1 Samuel 23:15 – 24a we can see one glaring example that’s all too common today …

One day near Horesh, David received the news that Saul was on the way to Ziph to search for him and kill him.  Jonathan went to find David and encouraged him to stay strong in his faith in God.  “Don’t be afraid,” Jonathan reassured him. “My father will never find you! You are going to be the king of Israel, and I will be next to you, as my father, Saul, is well aware.”  So the two of them renewed their solemn pact before the Lord. Then Jonathan returned home, while David stayed at Horesh.  But now the men of Ziph went to Saul in Gibeah and betrayed David to him. “We know where David is hiding,” they said. “He is in the strongholds of Horesh on the hill of Hakilah, which is in the southern part of Jeshimon.  Come down whenever you’re ready, O king, and we will catch him and hand him over to you!”  “The Lord bless you,” Saul said. “At last someone is concerned about me!  Go and check again to be sure of where he is staying and who has seen him there, for I know that he is very crafty.  Discover his hiding places, and come back when you are sure. Then I’ll go with you. And if he is in the area at all, I’ll track him down, even if I have to search every hiding place in Judah!”  So the men of Ziph returned home ahead of Saul.

Saul says, “at last someone is concerned about me.”  Can’t you just hear the whiny little way those words must have come out?  From a king, no less.  Seriously?

Let’s delve into a little context here first … realize that Saul had long before this decided to hunt down and kill David.  Why?  Purely and simply, jealousy and fear.  Saul had seen David succeed in some key battles and watched as the Israelites celebrated David’s success.  The people sang songs about Saul and David’s battle victories, but in doing so elevated David’s successes above Saul’s.  Saul couldn’t take that and immediately distrusted David, trying several times to use David as the spear equivalent of a pin cushion.

David’s response?  Only respect for the king and his position as God’s anointed.  David had multiple opportunities to kill Saul and was encouraged by his David’s colleagues, but David refused, noting that Saul was God’s man until God decided he wasn’t any longer.

With that, let’s get back to Saul’s issue … because I maintain it’s quite like one that most, if not all, of us contend with day-in and day-out.  But before we do … a little grounding is needed.  You might say, “well, I’m not really a leader so why do I care how this all plays out for those in leadership roles?”  Let me correct you … we are ALL leaders in some way.  There is someone out there for EACH of us who is looking at us for an example, for direction, for guidance … whether we realize it or not.  If you’re a parent, you have kids.   If you’re an athlete you have your teammates and observers around you.  If you’re a student, you have younger classmates or schoolmates monitoring your actions constantly.  It’s an unavoidable reality … we don’t get to choose it … so we have to just deal with it.

As I said earlier, Saul’s issue was self-centeredness and fear.  He was so overly worried about himself that he lost focus on others around him whom God placed in Saul’s care as king.  Not only had that stimulated this burning-hot obsession for Saul to kill David, but it clouded and interfered with nearly every decision Saul made.  It separated Saul from God (in fact, the Bible tells us that because of Saul’s actions … motivated by his selfishness … that God’s spirit left Saul and God ceased answering Saul’s prayers).  In the end, it destroyed him … let me restate that … Saul destroyed himself.  The cause of death?   The cancer of self-centeredness.

We have the same issue.  When we are solely focused on ourselves we will make shortsighted, poor decisions, driven by the most feeble of motivations.  We alienate others, who begin to lose trust in us and refuse to subject themselves to a relationship that might only expose them to harm.  The fact is, when we’re overly focused on us, we can’t focus on others … so no surprise that others run for cover from us.  Additionally, God won’t honor us and our decisions if we seek Him out in selfish ways … this is the very antithesis of His desire for us.  The Bible is clear that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (not a self-centered orientation), to serve one another, support one another, etc.  All of these are self-denying, not self-promoting.  Ultimately, and ironically, an overly self-centered orientation is self-defeating … and self-destroying.

So, what’s the answer?  In my former company, the leadership team aptly created a culture based on servant leadership principles.  The premise … that even up in the proverbial “executive suite” we were expected to put the needs of others ahead of our own needs.  In other words, instead of being self-centered, we were to be other-centered.  The commitment of individuals to this framework … a framework I believe God calls all of us to whether in business, school, family or whatever … accomplished something profound.  When I worry foundationally about the needs of others, and they in turn focus on meeting my needs, everyone’s needs are addressed and no one goes lacking.  That’s God’s intention for relationship within His people and His church.  No doubt it takes strength and trust and sacrifice – mostly sacrifice – but like an investment in the stock market, you can’t make profits if you don’t first let go of something (namely in that case, funds).

Think of it this way … when we look in a mirror, who do we see looking back?  Us, right?   What if when we looked in the mirror God displayed back to us the reflection of others who we need to serve, support, help, etc.?  What would that do to our daily interactions and behaviors?  No doubt it would be a constant reminder of who is number one in our lives.  Frankly, the Bible says God is Number One, and He says that all His people are to be number one to us as well.

This week, when we look into a mirror or window or other object that reflects our true image back, let’s ask God to give us a visual … even an imaginary one … of others that we should be focused on serving.   It could be our spouse, our friends, a parent, a family member in need, or even a complete stranger to whom we might be the only tangible evidence of God that day or ever.  We need to see differently in order to act differently, and that needs to start with how we see ourselves.

Go serve someone in an other-centered way!

To Christ (not to ourselves) be all the glory!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Let HIM work!

Why is it that we tend to think … when things don’t go the way we think they should … that God needs our help?  That, somehow, He must be confused and must not “get it”.  He obviously needs us to step in and redirect Him.

This was what stood out to me as I read through the passages in my plan this week.  That included Exodus 12 – 18, Psalms 62 – 68, and 1 Samuel 13 – 19, but the particular section that grabbed my attention is found in 1 Samuel 13 (verses 7b – 14).  The Israelites had begged for a king, like the nations around them (most of which, interestingly, were their enemies), and finally the Lord allowed Saul to be selected.  At the very start of his reign, God enabled the Israelites to successfully battle the Philistines, destroying them in overwhelming fashion.  This only served to enrage the Philistines, creating a burning motivation for them to attack and defeat the Israelites.  Israel starts to lose confidence in the battle and its warriors begin to flee and hide.

We pick it up midway through verse 7 …

Meanwhile, Saul stayed at Gilgal, and his men were trembling with fear.  Saul waited there seven days for Samuel, as Samuel had instructed him earlier, but Samuel still didn’t come. Saul realized that his troops were rapidly slipping away.  So he demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself.  Just as Saul was finishing with the burnt offering, Samuel arrived. Saul went out to meet and welcome him, but Samuel said, “What is this you have done?”  Saul replied, “I saw my men scattering from me, and you didn’t arrive when you said you would, and the Philistines are at Micmash ready for battle.   So I said, ‘The Philistines are ready to march against us at Gilgal, and I haven’t even asked for the Lord’s help!’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering myself before you came.”  “How foolish!” Samuel exclaimed. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. Had you kept it, the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.   But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”

Talk about a major flame-out!  Saul is king for an incredibly short time and fumbles his blessing from God away.  Before we get too terribly judgmental of him in this situation, let’s evaluate what happened a little more.

What was so wrong with Saul’s actions?  Seemingly, nothing when you consider that all he did was try to care for his warriors, made a sacrifice to the Lord, and as he said, he realized he hadn’t “even asked for the Lord’s help!”  It seems like a reasonable set of actions given what was going on, and probably seems to us like what we would have done under the same circumstances.


Just after Saul was anointed king, Samuel gave him a very clear set of instructions (1 Samuel 10:8) for once Saul arrives in Gilgal.  Those instructions specifically entailed waiting on God’s prophets, listening for God’s leading, and for Saul to “Then go down to Gilgal ahead of me. I will join you there to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. You must wait for seven days until I arrive and give you further instructions.

These instructions in chapter 10 were not very far separated from what happened in chapter 13, time-wise.  But nevertheless, Saul did what a lot of us do when things don’t go the way we assume they will, or the way we think they should.  We panic.  We assume God isn’t paying attention.  We figure He must not be able to handle things the way we know they need to be handled.  Clearly if He would just ask us, we could tell Him what He needs to do.

We rationalize our actions … like Saul did.  He said, “my men were all running away from the battle.  I needed to do something to stop them.”  Or, “hey, Samuel, you were late … you didn’t get here when you told me you would.”  Or, “Samuel, you were going to come and make the sacrifices … but the Philistines were getting staged for battle and someone needed to do the sacrifice, even though you are a priest and are the only rightful person to do the sacrifice.”

We talk to God in the same way.  We say, “God, things aren’t going how I want them to, so I’m going to jump in and make sure I change things.”  Or, “God, I prayed about this, and You’re not answering yet.  You must not be listening … I can’t wait any longer … it’s time for me to act without you.”  Or, “God, if I just pray a certain way, or do certain things, you sort of owe me,” like Saul was basically saying when he willy-nilly threw together a sacrifice so that God would sort of be like a genie in a bottle … doing the sacrifice is like rubbing the bottle, with God obligated to grant your wishes.

What’s wrong with these points of view?

First, God has a plan that doesn’t have to and rarely ever does correspond to our plan.  But, His plan is always way better than ours.  Just because the Israelites were dismayed and running away didn’t mean that God wouldn’t serve the Philistines into Saul’s hands.  In fact, it could very well have been exactly the way God wanted to show Saul His power … by defeating the Philistines (again) on behalf of the Israelites.  Saul stepping in robbed God of the ability to possibly supernaturally deliver the Philistines into the Israelites’ hands.

Second, just because God hasn’t answered YET, doesn’t mean He’s not going to answer EVER.  As the saying goes, God is rarely on time, but He is NEVER late.  His timing is not our timing, but His timing is perfect.  We just have to allow Him time to let His plan develop in the way He intends for it to.

Finally, God doesn’t want us to pray in certain ways, and He certainly doesn’t want us to do something in exchange for Him to do something … in the extreme, that’s called extortion.  God wants our faithfulness, surrender, obedience and trust.  He’s not obligated to do awesome things for us because of and in exchange for these things, but our lives tend to align better to His plan when we do.

The problem is, just like Saul, we get in the way.  When God doesn’t act in predictable ways or ways that we (in our, er, infinite wisdom) expect He should, our natural reaction is to jump in and “help.”

God doesn’t need our help.  We just need to let Him work.  Give him time and let His plan carry out.  The best we can do is get in the way of what He is trying to do.  We mess it up, like someone that walks right in front of you when you’re trying to take a picture.

Let’s seek out God’s help in prayer this week, to ask Him for the strength, fortitude and trust in all things, but particularly let’s ask Him to identify areas where we are jumping in to “help” Him, where we’d be better off trusting the outcome He intends, in the time He intends it, in the way He lets it get carried out.

Praising God for you!