God Calling… Finishing Well

sunsetGideon’s story is a repeated through history.  It’s a story of the individual responding to God’s call, trusting Him beyond the visible, leaning only on His might, winning a victory that blesses many, and then riding off into the sunset a hero loved by all.

If only.

No, it doesn’t usually work that way.  The first part happens from time to time.  Folks respond to God’s call and lean on Him more than what their own eyes or hearts tell them.  But the last part is particularly tricky.  And few do it well.  I’m talking about finishing well; the “riding off into the sunset loved by all” part.

Let’s follow the giant steps leading to the sun collapsing on Gideon’s faith legacy.

Step 1 – He misuses a profit from the blessing.  Gideon says “no” to a request from a now adoring nation to rule over them.  Good boy.  But then he asks for a financial cut of the new economic boon.  His take is a little over a million dollars in today’s terms.  Then he takes that money and creates an ephod – an instrument of the high priestly role – and it becomes a snare to Gideon, his family and the nation.  He knew he was not called to rule.  But he couldn’t resist playing God just a little bit.  Good things never come from that.

Step 2 – He doesn’t keep it all in the family.  Gideon took a concubine in addition to his many wives.  This is a hard thing to work with in a time that has returned to a Genesis model of monogamy.  But in that day, many wives was typical, even for men after God’s own heart like David.  But like many, Gideon went a step further and had a concubine in an odd location – Shechem.  Makes you wonder if while he was away on business (God’s work chasing the remnants of the armies of the east) he engaged is something on the side that wasn’t God’s idea that had serious consequences – a son.  His name was Abimelech (meaning:  father of a king, or king is my father).  This side stepping of family faithfulness never goes well.  It’s a problem as old as Sarah and Hagar.  And it would bite Gideon big time.

Step 3 – He is victim to a fickle market.  People did then what they do now – forget the latest blessing as soon as its normal or boring.  While God blessed the nation with peace for forty years, the nation was busy prostituting themselves to a false god, forgetting the true God, and failing to show kindness to Gideon’s family.  So typical.  So shortsighted.  National dementia – it’s at epidemic proportions in our day too.

Step 4 – His own son rebels.  Abimelech, whom we introduced above, weasels his personal agenda into the political ears of his community and is funded to raise a small army of common thugs with a $1,000 from the temple of the false God.  Compare the $1,000 he got from temple funding through a false god with the $1,000,000 Gideon got from unofficial funding resulting from simple obedience.  His own son would rise and murder all of his other sons save one, and install himself as king.

From deliverer to sucker in less than a generation.  From Baal Fighter to Father of the Butchered in a few short verses.  And though this cycle repeated itself in the time of the Judges (and does throughout history), there seem to be some lessons worth learning…

  • First, obey God but don’t even think about taking his glory; not even a priestly garment’s worth
  • Second, unfaithfulness to your spouse, though glamorized and often served up buffet style, always hurts your legacy, even while doing God’s work
  • Third, remembering what’s important, requires the same rigorous discipline as most memorization
  • Fourth, one child, untended, undisciplined and unloved, can bring a nation to its knees

Most likely, you are somewhere in this cycle today.  If you’ve just finished something great, a major victory, review your next steps carefully.  Let Gideon’s story serve as a map so you can avoid his final ride rather than repeat it.

Sunsets can be glorious.

-Anthony

Houston, we have a problem…

One of history’s great understatements.

It comes of course from Apollo 13′s mission to the moon, and was made famous by history and Hollywood.  Though credited to James Lovell, the phrase was originally issued from John Swigert Jr. on April 14th, 1970. I’m not a space historian, but it would seem the conversation went something like this…

Swigert:  ‘Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.’

NASA (Houston):  ‘This is Houston. Say again please.’

Lovell:  ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.’

This doesn’t sound like a big thing.  But it was.  Lives were at stake; a mission was at risk.  And leadership had to emerge from both ends of the problem to create hope.  Both ends.

When situations forbid problem solving from multiples ends, missions will suffer, and lives could be lost.  It’s true in business, in families, and government (I know, if only…).  It’s true in the church as well.

Gaius (one of the most common names in the first century world) and his congregation had an all too common problem:  their mission of supporting those on mission was jeopardized by a self-commissioned leader.  His name was Diotrephes, meaning “suckled by Zeus” (no really… so I’ll just call him Mr. D.).  Mr. D’s leadership style was “me, me, and only me”.  3 John 9 states that he loved to be first and would have nothing to do with the Apostle John.

So… what happens in your head to reach the notion that you don’t require input from others on important issues, especially when it comes from one of the twelve apostles?  I mean, who else won’t you listen to?

This was common man versus uncommon delusion.

Mr. D. rejected other’s input, rejected apostolic authority, rejected those in need who we’re on mission for the Christ he claimed to serve, and rejected those who rejected him.  All in all, not a fun guy.

They had a problem.  How do you know if you have one?

John was a pretty simple fellow:  “Anyone who does what is good is from God.  Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.”  It’s the old “you’ll know a tree by its fruit” recast.  If leadership doesn’t listen, has no authority figure, has a loose tongue, is inhospitable, and rejects any/all who don’t agree, that’s bad leadership according to John.  I think it still is.  And just as the apostle pledged to call attention to the problem, you may need to call attention to yours.  Because so much is at stake.

If you are a leader, does a hard look in the mirror suggest any similarities between you and Mr. D?  Are you helping the “Gaiuses” of the world or making it hard for them?  If you were to interview Mr. D. he’d likely couch his actions within language such as “its best for the church” or “I really do love Gaius and his efforts, but these kinds of things are a waste of resources“.

John saw through that.  The problem with Mr. D. was simply this:  he loved to be first.

What do you love?  I hope it’s not to be first for two very important reasons:

  • first theological – Jesus taught that those wanting to be first should become last and take up the role of servant hood, just as He came to serve rather than to be served
  • second statistical – As one of my favorite de-motivational posters states:  “For every winner, there are dozens of losers.  Odds are you’re one of them.”

The lessons of 3 John are worth considering.  They suggest a gut-check regarding your consideration of others, your care of others, and your help of others.  And those are all leadership issues.

It’s doubtful you can be in first place and be successful at all three.  But then again, maybe first place isn’t really… first.

-Anthony

Inconceivable

That’s what Vizzini repeatedly exclaimed as the Dread Pirate Roberts advanced on his well-oiled kidnapping of the lovely Buttercup (The Princess Bride).  After the apparent incongruence of the word’s repetition and the obvious closing of the gap that existed between the two parties settled in, Inigo Montoya (the Spaniard Swordsman) finally responded – “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I think the same could be said for leadership.  There’s often an apparent gap between popular or “successful” leaders and good ones.  It can be frustrating to know who to follow; who to believe.

The residual questions remain… How do you influence others?  How do you guide through an ethical dilemma?  How do you urge redemptive progress in a deep canyon of unmovable circumstance?  How do you build reliable superstructure on the quicksand of poor decision making?

These are issues leaders constantly face (you may face them).  Some appear better than others.

Some seem to lead with a chainsaw (see Al Dunlap, ex-CEO of Sunbeam).  Others appear to lead with victory and diversion (see Lance Armstrong, ex-7 time winner of the Tour de France).  The fact of the matter is this – it’s often hard to tell a good leadership “engine” from a bad one until it’s got a lot of miles on it, and you have a chance to “pop the hood” and learn how it really works.

Time will tell.  Maybe we should be slower to emulate until we have time to extrapolate.

The Apostle Paul ranks pretty high on the historical leadership chart.  His “engine” acquired a lot of miles.  With the hood closed, you’d tend to see him as harsh, judgmental, and unforgiving… an emotional IQ of “0”.  If you like his level of success, it’d be easy to make that approach your own, thinking to yourself “if I’m the same way, I can get things done, move people, and change the world!”

Read Philemon first.

In it we find clues as to how the engine of Paul’s leadership really worked.  He found himself in between a run-away slave, an angry owner, the bizarre ethics of slavery as an accepted culture in the ancient Roman world, and a freshly minted follower of Christ in Onesimus – wondering if change mattered.

This letter ‘pops the hood’ and lets you see beneath the appearance of how Paul led to how he actually led.  You might be surprised at the differences.

Specifically, that he led with relationship – the letter is laced with the request of one man toward another based on partnership, friendship, fellowship, and gratitude.  Philemon wasn’t merely an employee or church member to Paul.  He was known by Paul.  And on that basis Paul requested cooperation and forgiveness on behalf of another.  Paul didn’t just know Philemon.  He had served Philemon.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… Who are you presently serving?

He also led with product – the heart of the letter concerns a run-away slave who’d been changed in a way most of us need to be changed: from “how can I escape?” to “how can I do what’s right?” Nothing helps a matter more than actual product.  Superior to marketing, diversion, and political pressure, true product influences.  Content is king.  Paul didn’t change the world with religious sleight-of-hand.  He changed it with reformed men.  His “product” wasn’t preaching.  His product was embedded in his message – the power of Christ to change lives from the inside out and alter character.  He could’ve tried to change the system.  Instead he focused on people who make and unmake the system.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… What are you relying on to create change?

And he led others with trust – Paul sends a transformed slave home to face the unknown; and it could have gone badly.  He sends him home with trust.  He extends confidence to a man who had a choice.  But he does so with trust that his request will be honored because of the relationship and the product.  He had confidence Philemon would do what he asked and more.  And I think he did just that.

So, who are you trying to lead?  Answer this first… What level of trust are you offering?

I’m thinking about the last picture above.  Could be you or me.  There are a lot of leaders out there; lots of models to choose from.  Choose wisely and change your world.  But some of the best leadership happens “under the hood” or behind the scenes.  So lead on… where it counts.

-Anthony