American Beastly Leadership (1 of 5)– #13 in Series

The last 12 posts contrasted beastly and servant leadership, using scripture illustrations to show a great war wages for our allegiance. One side pulls individuals and nations toward evil and beastly leadership, characterized by lots of speaking, limited or poor listening, stubborn blindness, lying, coercion, and murder. That side practices a leadership approach of “lording” it over others.

The other side, lead by God, established in the work of Christ, actively revealed by the Spirit, works for good as a servant. The Godhead and their followers are characterized by mutual submission, service, sacrifice and operate with the belief ALL (human and cosmic) will be held accountable in a final judgment. While God is literally and sacrificially working for the redemption of all, specifically his enemies, “he will not clear the guilty” who cling to their resistance (Ex 34:7). Repentance is the door into this better kingdom with better leadership.

In the next 5 posts, I extend this discussion of  “THE WAR” over leadership styles to two communities I love dearly and try to serve: America and Adventism.

I use five resources to unpack how this conflict might play out within these communities:

  1. In this post, I use Revelation 10-14 to show the prophetic frame that sets the stage for this modern conflict.
  2. In post 14, I use Ellen White’s chapter on “God’s Law Immutable” in her book The Great Controversy (the chapter is also labeled in some version as “America in Prophecy”) to focus on specific approaches to “law” and “liberty” that will separate the beasts from servants.
  3. In post 15, I use Clifford Goldstein’s The Day of the Dragon: How Current Events Have Set the Stage for America’ Prophetic Transformation to nuance further details on how Adventism and America are on a trajectory of conflict.
  4. In post 16 and 17, I use Nick Miller’s The Reformation and the Remnant to nuance even further how liberty and law can be used to demarcate those who follow God and those who reject Him.
  5. Various Adventist writers on divine leadership will be used throughout to strengthen my arguments. I especially find Gyeongchun Choi’s work to be the best theological critique of beastly systems and explanation of servant leadership (his critique of Korean culture is very insightful).

Revelation 10-14

I recommend you read Revelation 10-14  and draw your own conclusion before I share mine.

I use prophecy for its power to reveal, a power more characterized by the ability to diagnosis and make prognosis than merely to predict the future or even to give a fiat about the future.

Prophecies’ predictive diagnosis and prognosis powers are evident when Jesus, on the night of his death, foretold Peter would deny Him three times. Peter told Jesus this would never ever happen. Jesus knew it would. He prophesied it would. Some get distorted about prophecy as if Jesus was dictating what Peter had to decide. This is a distorted view of prophecy arising from a distorted view of God’s sovereignty. The fact that God will repent of a prophecy or change generational outcomes (Jer 18, Ezekiel 18; Jonah) shows that most prophecy is more like a medical diagnosis and prognosis than a fiat.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

Jesus knew Peter was not converted nor open to the challenges of that night. Peter was not yet able to fully embrace the deep servant leadership model of Christ: mutual submission, service, sacrifice, and eventual final judgment. Jesus knew Peter wouldn’t make the right choice that day. This was Jesus prognosis.

So with that understanding of prophecy we plunge into Revelation 10 where we see a vision of an awesome looking angel standing on water and sea, referencing the creative power of God who “created heaven and the things in it” (v 6) and holding a small book speaking hidden thunders. Chapter 10 is short and the book it refers to is small.

Adventist’s believe the little book referenced here is Daniel and several indications. Key among these is the increased focus on time prophecies based on this “opening” of the little book. Adventist see in the revival of interest in the book of Daniel to late 1700s and early 1800s, culminating in the Millerite movement of the 1830s, a fulfillment of this prophecy.

As we continue reading Revelation 10 and 11, several additional themes emerge that further confirm this passage as not only referring to the Book of Daniel but to several themes that would become deeply associated with Adventists:

1) CREATION (10:6,)

2) BOOK OF DANIEL (10:2, 8, 10)

As well as….

3) GLOBALIZATION of a message (10:2, 11), 4)

4) God’s SANCTUARY (11:1, 2, 19),

5) the witness of OIL and LAMP (11:3-7, believed to be a focus on the Bible as enlivened by the Holy Spirit that would foster new truths, progressive truths)

6) the LAW of GOD (11:19),

7) God’s JUDGMENT (11:18),

8) the GREAT WAR between Christ and Satan (throughout Rev 11-14)

9) the lingering presence of several FALSE RELIGIONS (Sodom, Egypt, “Jerusalem” 11:8),

10) repeated “WOES” coming on the earth (throughout).

We believe all these details show up in the last two centuries of the 1800s and 1900s.

Most of these themes are discovered, carried, and proclaimed by Adventists in their global movement stressing God’s creation, redemption, law (and Sabbath), judgment hour gospel and his soon return.

The judgment is especially strong in this section:

“the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” ….. And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Rev 11: 15-18).

In this scene Jesus “takes over” the world, and nations get angry.

The fact that nations still are around to get angry means something more than the second coming is referred here. I could be referring to two other significant “taking of kingdoms:” the cross and the coming into judgment (which Adventist correctly see from the time prophecies of Daniel as occurring in 1844, another nod to the little book).

“the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, and to destroy those who destroy the earth.”

Into this time of judgment comes what appears to be a “new” revelation: “temple of God which is in heaven was opened; and the ark of His covenant appeared in His temple” (Rev 11:19).

Adventists believe they were raised up to refocus the world on God’s judgment and the importance of his law (“ark of His covenant”) in that judgment.

From this passage, we move into Revelation 12 and 13 which again cycles back to the war between the Dragon and his beasts against Jesus and his people:

“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; and she was with child; and she cried out, being in labor and in pain to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. And his tail swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.”

This cycling back and forth, from past to present and again back to past, is used to show the ongoing and continual presence of the great controversy–war–between Jesus and Satan in all that is happening on earth. But the strong showing of this war is also something that the Adventist church has especially focused on.

Dragon was  “enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 12: 17).

Adventists have used this passage to both talk about themselves and also to talk about the persecution the remnant will receive from false religion, nasty state powers and others who serve the Dragon (Satan).

Into this “great war” theme, grows a new “entity” in Revelation 13:

“Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb and he spoke as a dragon. He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who *had the wound of the sword and has come to life.  And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed.  And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, 17 and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for the number is that of a man; and his number is six hundred and sixty-six” (Rev 13:11-18).

This new beast starts with lamblike qualities and then deteriorates quickly into beastly abusive talk, teaming up with the “first beast” “he makes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed” (v 12).

I share the deep “diagnostic” belief with many Adventist that this passage refers to the growth of America as a nurturing source for God’s truth, then a dominant power, and finally one that succumbs to the temptation of all nations…. to move toward beastly leadership.

America was the birthing place for religious liberty, and gave many the opportunity to worship God as they saw best. This freedom allowed the Millerites and later Adventists a place to grow. Adventism now covers the earth.

But the diagnostic/prognostic power of prophecy also here suggests a showdown between Adventism and America.

While Adventists celebrate and have greatly been blessed under America’s culture of religious liberty  … see https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.html …. we have used this passage to predict American will eventually buy into a beastly leadership style and ultimately succumb to its nasty practices.

Next time we unpack how that might happen.

P.S. For further analysis of this passage of Revelation, see George Knight’s wonderful Australian 2009 lectures (I can no longer could find the link online) which is summarized well in this Adventist Review article later and more fully detailed in his book on the Neutering of Adventism.

Post 12-Review of Servant and Beastly Leadership Series

American and Adventist leadership will be our next focus in this long series contrasting servants and beasts.

As a review, the last 11 posts covered:

  1. Resisting Beastly Leadership: Flowers in the Darkest Hours contrasted Jesus’ representation of God’s leadership on the night of his farcical trial before pagan abusive Roman and false religious leaders. Their lack of due process and principled leadership contrasts to His sacrificial love. Jesus decided to die, they decided to kill. He was planning how to do the most help and service. They tried to inflict the most harm. Different philosophies and vastly different leadership styles. Like the crowd at his trial, we today face the same decision:who will be our king. Many select the abusive strong-man, Barabbas, but true Christians are drawn to the Lamb.
  2. Crucified and Risen Leadership continues on to the Cross where the stark contrast of God’s love exposes the deep selfish, assertive, aggressive, and brutal nature of Satan and our own hearts in relationship to God’s style of leadership. I introduce a few Adventist author’s who have helped me see a better type of leadership and eschew Satanic leadership style of “lording” it over others. I also introduce the secular article by Kuronen and Huhtinen (2016) Unwilling is Un-Leading: Leadership as Beastly Desire, which inspire me to do this long series on servant vs beastly leadership.
  3. Servant Leadership in Beastly Places underscores the message of leadership Jesus tried to teach his disciples: Serving not Lording it over others. He taught it as well as demonstrated it. He then commissioned those who followed him to live that leadership and make more disciples who bought into that worldview and practice.
  4. Daniel: Servant to Beastly Kingdoms  discusses how Daniel shows how servant leadership can operate in a places with beastly leadership, like King Nebuchadnezzar’s beastly kingdom. We show how servant leadership can driven by a prophetic understanding, rely on prayer and faithfulness and hinges on a belief that God intervenes, when he sees fit, over beastly actions.
  5. In Four Acts of Divine Leadership I try to characterize the main qualities of servant leadership manifested in God’s internal relation as the Trinity and in their relationship to their creation. Those acts are mutual submission, service, sacrifice and summative judgment.
  6. In Plan B: God’s Glorious Reinstatment of Humans as Co-Leaders I look at God’s work to recreate and lead humans back to the original plan he had to position them with the godhead as co-rulers and co-leaders with him. The fact he wanted to share his leadership with us humans, and the fact he is still working on that goal, dispels Satan’s argument God hordes leadership and control. He wants us to experience and then engage in the Four Acts of Divine Leadership. We are called to share the throne with him by responding to mutual submission, service, sacrifice and to experience and respond to the call of the final judgment message of God.
  7. In Beastly Powers, Delusions and Ethics I review Kuronen and Huhtinen (2016) Unwilling is Un-Leading: Leadership as Beastly Desire.  They helped me see how people can reject servant leadership, preferring beastly leaders who places leaders and leadership beyond principles of ethical accountability. Although this is a secular article I believe these authors have identified an active mechanism at work in out times that the Bible recognized long ago and prophesied. I believe the modern system fails to accept the reality of God’s final judgment–the ultimate accountability call–and because of that have created cultures ripe for false religious and political leaders who practice distorted “image-driven” leadership.  By rejecting the need to hold leaders accountable to law, social order and ethics, many will embrace lawlessness and select Barabbas-like leaders.
  8. In John and Beastly Powers, I use the Apostle John as an example of one who intimately lived through a vivid contrast between religious beastly leadership with Pagan Roman abuse verse Christ’s loving leadership and the welcoming church he sought to create. He choose love over hate and his life is a call to examine our own painful encounters with beastly leadership and select the better way, Jesus and his leadership style.
  9. The Etiology of Beastly Powers uses Jesus’ diagnosis of Satan’s main approach to leading–lying and murdering and its manifestation in the Pharisees–to look at the core etiology of beastly leadership. Satan was blinded by his own deceptive character and could not see God’s true nature. Satan projected his false image of God to others. Humans, made in God’s image, were a creative act that would dispel that lie. Jesus brought to light God’s full character. Those who partner with Satan resist that light and reject truth and shut them off from a better hope. They are then plunged into lawlessness and deception. “Listening” and “seeing” are ways to unravel Satan’s deceptive hold. Christ and the Holy Spirit are engaged in this work.
  10. Brides–Shining from His Light— moves from our analysis of Jesus and Satan as examples of servant vs beastly leadership to their followers as carriers of the contrasting approach to change.  The bride of the lamb operates from free will and out of love while the beasts and whores eschew voluntary love and faithfulness through law, and relate by abuse, fear and deception.
  11. Bethlehem’s Mourning: Herod the “Not-So” Great uses one event in Jesus early life on earth to add more contrast between “the beast” vs “servant leadership.” Herod is not one of the wise men nor a true worshiper. He does not find Jesus worth loving but hating. The wisemen from the East came because of knowledge and were able to worship a “foreign” King, while Herod, fully embibing Satan’s leadership approach, remained clueless to the majesty of Jesus. He was a Jew in name only not in faith, not looking for the messiah. We see contrasted the baby Jesus to the beastly rule of King Herod. Herod deceived, lied, and killed. Jesus was incarnational—visiting his people as a servant, to reveal their father. The wisemen got it. Herod and the religious leaders didn’t. I believe the same is happening again today in the world.

My goal has been to contrast the character, actions and basic ethos of these two approaches to leadership.

As one who studies, writes and teaches on ethical leadership, I have found no better pattern than Jesus’ servant leadership approach and no worse pattern than the abusive, although at times subtle, beastly leadership Satan patterns for and foists on his minions and many systems in the world.

The remaining blogs in this series focus on my beloved country America (as in USA) as it relates to my beloved denomination, Adventism (as in SDA).

American servant leadership or Adventist servant leadership brings good but when either one of them get beastly leadership bad happens. I hope to contrast the difference in those communities.

 

Bethlehem’s Mourning: Herod the “Not-So” Great

Christmas celebrates God’s great love to the world.

The gift of Bethlehem’s Morning was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. Jesus, Immanuel. God with Us. The King of the Universe stepped down to save his subjects. Jesus would win his way into our imaginations and hearts and give birth to a better understanding of God’s servant love and of leadership in general.

Those who follow him in truth and spirit are still singing “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.”

But not everyone would experience that song of Bethlehem at Jesus birth.

Another song would soon arise. A real Bethlehem Mourning, a gift of another false Jewish King: King Herod the Great.

Matthew 2 sets the context:

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed…..”

Who is this disturbed King Herod the Great?

Wiki tells us he was appointed in his 20s as a ruler over Galilee by his father, a Edomite of Jewish faith, who had secured a political leadership role in the Roman government. Several skirmishes later and Herod was appointed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate. He then used threats, abuse, lies and murder to stay in power and become “sole ruler of Judea and the title of basileus (Βασιλεύς, “king”) for himself, ushering in the Herodian Dynasty.”

“Herod’s family were converts to Judaism” but throughout his reign his faith was obviously questioned by many for a very good reason: he didn’t embrace the best of Judiasm.

So Herod was a religio-political leader but one who would more and more come to demonstrate the worst in beastly power.

We pick up the story again in Matthew 2. “Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Herod played the deceptive role well. He had not intention of worship the new baby of the Jews. We see that from the rest of Matthew 2 and from the New Testament as a whole.

Herod is our focus in this 11th of 12 part posts on beastly leadership because he is a stunning example of what beastly powers do.  As we have posted in the past 10 blogs about beastly leadership, this form of leadership grows in proportion to the inability of leaders to listen to the needs of others, to deny truth, to avoid transparency and ends with the desire to gain control using two main strategies: lying and murdering.

Back to Matthew 2:

“After they [the magi] had heard the king [Herod], they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

The Magi worshiped Jesus as God and Savior. But sadly, they were still deceived by Herod.

God HAD to warn his faithful Magi in a dream not to return to the false King of the Jews.

Then he had to protect his young Joseph-Mary-Christ family.

“When they [the magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”[d]

King Herod, King of the Jews, was no Abrahamic  faith. He did not know what Peace on Earth was, like the Magi and shepherds had learned. He sought power, lies, murder and abuse.

How did the Jewish nation deteriorate so badly that it would see King Herod as exemplifying either Roman or Jewish rule.

Even historians seem to have been deceived by Herod. Back to Wiki:

“The study of Herod’s reign includes polarizing opinions on the man himself. His critics have described him as “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis“,[83] “the evil genius of the Judean nation”,[84] and as one who would be “prepared to commit any crime in order to gratify his unbounded ambition.”[85] His extraordinary spending spree is cited as one of the causes of the serious impoverishment of the people he ruled, adding to the opinion that his reign was exclusively negative.[86] Herod’s religious policies gained a mixed response from the Jewish populace…..”

“However, he was also praised for his work, being called “the greatest builder in Jewish history,”[83] and one who “knew his place and followed [the] rules.”[88] In fact, what is left of his building ventures are now popular tourist attractions in the Middle East, which many have come to cherish as both a historical and religious area.[89]

Despite the opinions historians have on Herod, the New Testament is clear. Herod was not the King of the Jews. Jesus was.

The contrast couldn’t have been more stunning. But still, deceived and deceiver have worked to portray Herod as Great and Jesus as a failure. Only the true followers of Christ would know otherwise.

In our next and last post on beastly leadership, we use King Herod’s Jewish -Roman amalgamation to discuss Adventist prophetic teaching about beastly powers. We see King Herod as a type for the religio-political power that will rise in the USA and resist both the best in our democratic republic and in our Christian heritage, once again, forming a beastly image of leadership.

Prayer: God help us see as the Magi and hear the call of Peace on Earth, Good Will to Humans. Help us not to be deceived by those who operate like King Herod the Not-So Great. Greatness is service not Lording it over others! Greatness is following the Lamb wherever he leads.

Brides–Shining from His Light

We should anticipate that the “spouse” of the Lamb and the “spouse” of the Beast to reflect the approach of each of their spouses. And for the most part, they do.

The Bride of the Lamb reflects the light of the Son of Righteousness.

The Beast however nurtures the heart and spirit of a Harlot or Whore.

The Book of Revelation spends significant space contrasting these two.

A bride is a woman who chooses her husband with love, volunteering in her new role. She is treated as an equal. She reflects the love she receives.

A whore is one who doesn’t love the man she is with but fakes it for the sake of security, social pressure or fear of abuse. A bride makes her own choices. A whore gets her choices forced on her. One operates as an equal, the other as an abused and controlled individual.

There is a lot of ways to unpack this Bride and Harlot contrast and connect it to our series on servant leadership and beastly powers.

Here I focus on the role of the bride to reflect light. If the major disease of beastly power, as my last post noted, is lying and murdering that grows out of resistance to hear and see the Light and Truth, the characteristic of the bride is she lives in the light and truth of God, operates without force and voluntarily serves the Lamb and others.

While the defining characteristic of a bride is this voluntary love and commitment it grows out of a love and commitment one has experienced from God, a God who operates in truth, transparency and service.

The followers of Christ have freely chosen to follow Him. They are not forced into this role. They select it based on evidence and truth.

AND for that reason, they will be like Christ.

And like Christ, they will be loved or hated.

They will be disliked by those who reject light and preferred darkness and evil.

A follower of Christ “who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3 v 12). As evil people and systems treated Christ so they will treat his faithful bride. They will grow more loving and that will be contrasted to those who follow Satan: evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (v 13).

More candor and transparency characterizes the bride’s relationship to her husband, Christ. She is empowered more. She is given keys to heaven and hell. She is treated soooooo much better and therefore treats others sooooo much better.

Truth dispels deception in the relationship between Christ and his bride.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (v 14, 15).

Believing, knowing, learning  and following truth factors as a major characteristic of followers of Christs, His bride.

The whore doesn’t have that insight, understanding, and learning. She prefers to stay with her deceptions.

The whore stays attracted to beastly rule and its fear and use of deception.

The bride reflect the light of God–the openness, freedom producing qualities that make up his transparent and “servant leadership” kingdom.

The vivid reality is that the more we become like Christ, the more we experience the liberty of His character and the truthfulness and learning that operates in his system, the more we voluntarily say yes to God.

And that makes the beastly powers of force and deception and lying so much more repulsive to us.

We shun deception. We embrace freedom. We reflect light, like the moon on a dark night.

Prayer: God help us on our journey to be brides not whores. Help us to be soaked in a deep understanding of your grace and peace and liberty and faithfulness and glory and wisdom.

The Etiology of Beastly Power

This is post 9 in a 12-part series contrasting servant and beastly leadership.

This post reviews two symptoms common in beastly powers–lying and murdering. These symptoms are outward manifestations of a deeper disease process. We discuss those symptoms and the disease process (its etiology).

Jesus, the great physician, knew how disease operated because he knew how it eroded the life he created humans and this planet to enjoy. He could see how the disease invaded body, mind, soul and society.

He understood sin better than those most infected by it, just as those who aren’t drunk can discern those who are. He came to heal that sickness.

At Jesus’ birth, the impact of sin was rampant. Political powers were abusive. Rich did not help the poor. Ethnic and economic differences divided communities. Leaders lorded it over others instead of serving them. Hate ran strong even in the blood of God’s chosen people Israel.

Satan, had by Jesus’ first advent, left the world in moral and spiritual coldness and darkness. His rebellion had deteriorated not only his mind and view of God and his ability to understand and hear God’s voice, but this delusion he now spread to most of the world’s citizens.

That is why the apostle John when scrambling to find a powerful metaphor to convey what the gospel does to heal people embraced the story of Jesus as LIGHT into darkness and the WORD of TRUTH into the deception.

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:5, NASB).

Again,  “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

The gospels were designed to open eyes to see and ears to hear.

Herein lies the etiology of evil, beastly powers. They can’t comprehend light and work to keep people in the dark. They can’t hear words of truth and seek to fill the air with lies or silence.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus brings healing understanding of God’s character. It opens eyes to see and ears to hear the truth about God.

As I point out elsewhere, John 8 is one of my favorite passages of gospel truth. It is a Jesus judgment scene. Not only is our Rabbi called to judge a woman caught in adultery but he uses that to heal her and show the men who didn’t get healed the deep state of their disease.

I pick up the story after Jesus has liberated the woman, and she is free. Jesus is now in conversation with those who are not. They left in the heat of the judgment before they could have also been healed.

“As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God…..

…… “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.  Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” John 8:40-47.

Lying and murdering, the opposite of truth and loving, are the most natural activities of beastly powers. All other activities they engage in as deception to allow them to lie and murder.

However, the etiology of those two actions shows a deeper disease: it is in the closing down of the mind and heart to God and others.

The core of the beastly disease is summed up in the line: “you are unable to hear what I say.

Satan resisted the truth about God and that resistance left him to deeper estrangement and inability to hear and see. That unable to appreciate and see the light and truth about God leads him to ultimate destruction. Their internal darkness fosters delusions and murders are the inevitable outcome.

Deception kills is carriers.

“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day [Christ’s coming] will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

….For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work….And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12, NIV).

When we turn off the light, close the ears, and turn down the truth to an ever quieter whisper, we seek our own destruction.

Eventually only delusion will survive and when people carry truth, if Satan can not deceive he will move to kill them as evidence he can’t handle.

God help us avoid these beastly processes that shut us up from listening and submitting to God and others.

Moses

John and Beastly Powers

The Apostle John knew something about the contrast between service and lordship, love and hate, divine leadership and beastly powers. He intimately experienced both styles of leadership.

First, his family of origin had “beastly” ways of relating. He and his brother James were known as Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17), probably because they talked aggressively (both too much and with anger). In Luke 9:54 they wanted to call fire down from heaven on the Samaritans who had disrespected Jesus before Jesus puts his cool hands on their hot heads. Jesus, like God, could handle disrespect as leaders without retaliating. Beastly powers can’t!!!

Where did James and John learn to speak so aggressively and hate? It appears from a more soft-spoken but equally beastly influence: their mom.

In Matthew 20:20-28  mom tries to position her sons as top two executives in Jesus’ new kingdom. This was before Jesus revealed just how much sacrifice was involved in his form of leadership. She thought Jesus was positioning himself to be a power of the other powers. He had the popularity, now he just needed to exert his authority. He did, but she would take awhile to soak into what authority in God’s kingdom looks like. He was to reveal how  love and sacrifice overcomes the beasts within and without.

Although apparently humble in her request to Jesus, she was nonetheless stuck in a beastly mindset of a lordship in leadership. The interchange between her, Jesus and all the disciples is a reminder that a mother’s love can carry “beastly” constructs and that followers of Christ, even after years of commitment to and faithfulness to Jesus, can still be nursing a distorted view of leadership. Without a daily experience of the cross, the pervasive and lingering influence of beastly thinking will creep into all our relationships, especially our close ones.

But John had also experienced a different family. He had been with Jesus three years and that family lived as servants and lovers. It had made an influence on his teenage mind. This contrast reaches its highest level at the cross:  “When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household” (John 19:26,27, NIV).

In addition to the contrast in family systems, John saw vividly the contrast of servant and beastly leadership the night Jesus was betrayed, tried and crucified.  As a family friend of Caiaphas he got close access (John 18:15) to a travesty of justice. In that night of deception, he was forever relieved of any lingering respect for beastly leadership.  Oh, how deeply the contrast must have been pained the heart of this teenager.  John saw Jesus belittled and maligned and punished by his own family relationships in Caiaphas. What view of beastly leadership was forever seen as loathsome as John saw Herod use his position of authority against innocent Jesus instead of for Jesus? What was learned about beastly powers of fickleness in Pilot compared to the steadfast love of Jesus? What burned deep into John’s psyche?

Thirdly, a few years later the intense contrast would be felt again. In his early twenties, John saw James, his older brother, become a martyr. Herod “had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” Herod felt great success and joy from what must have devasted John’s heart.  “Seeing that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter” and would have likely beheaded him had not God interviewed (Acts 12:2, 3). What a contrast between beastly and lamblike leadership by his early twenties John had experience!

What does a young disciple feel about beastly powers after watching his beloved Jesus and brother both get falsely accused and killed by beastly powers?

Oddly enough, love.

Beastly power had lost is appeal as even a way to respond to beastly power.

The Cross had been followed by a Resurrection. John was growing a different worldview.  Jesus was seated on the throne of God ministering the Holy Spirit. The better kingdom was not in retreat. Love was winning and would win and in that John sunk his trust.

And later, fourth, John would see yet more contrast between servant leadership and beastly power in the visions he received on Patmos that make up the book of Revelation. That book is nothing less than one vivid contrast between godly lamb-like leadership and beastly powers, and one reminder after another that ultimately servant and lamblike leadership wins despite the apparent temporary success of beastly powers.

So why, bring this up? Why, at this time of Christmas cheer, bring up bloody and beastly leadership!

Three reasons:

First, this is the message of Christmas. All who see God’s leadership in a distorted way–as blood thirsty–need to gaze closer into the face of God seen in the incarnation of baby Jesus. His helpless and defenseless form reminds us that at the heart of this universe is not a beastly god fabricated by false religion but a God of love. God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son, that whoever would believe that truth–his truth–would have eternal life (see John 3:16). Jesus never loses his baby face. We see it when he was a pre-teen, as a carpenter, as healer, as a teacher as the lamb on the cross, and now as the lamb on the throne (Revelation 7:17). He serves. That is who He is and what God is like.

Second, as beastly powers get more and more active in ALL nations, we need to remember who we serve.  Jesus warned us: “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matthew 24:9).  I no longer believe we can trust ANY nation to support the servant leadership model Christ promotes. Yes, there will be better or worse systems, nations that practice closer to the ideal, and organizations who keep servant leadership more prominent, and even church systems who are more faithful, but ultimately it will only be a remnant who follow the lamb in this approach to living and leading. We need to ask God to keep us faithful to this faithful group.

Finally, we all need daily reminders not to “lord” it over our families or others. We are constantly reminded of the temptation toward beastly control. In Jesus, we see a different leadership–shared, distributed, flattened, and incarnational. We see it serving the needs of all.

Leadership is forever liberated from hate, grounded in the heart of love and distributed to all.

We no longer are attracted to beastly kings. We have lost our appetite to 1 Sam 8 requests for a king. It doesn’t work. We don’t want that in our DNA, our families, our organizations or our nations.

We accept the strong medicine of I John 2:15 “…when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you.”

With the Love of God in our hearts, beastly powers will grow “strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

Beastly Powers, Delusions and Ethics

For the several posts I have been using  Kuronen, T. and Huhtinen, A. (2016). Un-willing is un-leading: Leadership as beastly desire. Leadership and the Humanities, 4(2), 92-107. I have used their work to explain the difference between good (lamb) and bad (beastly) leadership. Beastly leadership–appealing to our animal natures–sees leaders as operating best when driven by passion and not necessarily principles. This I have contrasted with Servant leadership like Daniel demonstrated in the midst of beastly powers and other servant leaders  have manifest. 

Beastly leaders doesn’t let morality bother them. Lamb leadership upholds the best of morality by servant and moral leadership.

I also looked at how individuals can flourish despite beastly leadership by selecting Christ’s way instead of Barabbas’s approach when living in the midst of unethical behavior. Barabbas tried to make reform and change happen through “killing” and “deceiving.” This “beastly” approach to leadership works only temporarily and even backfires from the start with dangerous side effects for both leaders and followers. Only when leaders are deeply shaped or even shaken by the pathos and tremendous gift of Christ on Calvary for sinners do they welcome a new type of leadership that is gentle but firm, truthful but redemptive. 

In this post, I apply this article to concern about unrestrained political power that resists due-processes and social and moral order.

As one who specializes in ethical leadership, I have grown concerned about a growing “lust” of leaders to work unrestrained and to reject due process. They often believe they are being decisive in the name of good or God but do not use the insights and sympathies of others and resist natural laws that act as safeguards against abuse.

Some even hope their leaders are liberated to operate “beyond” moral expectations. They think that frees them up to get things done. I see my calling as one to help leaders find joy in restraints and see due process not as a curse but as a blessing.

Some are tempted to admire individuals who misuse moral codes like some admire the rich who misuse tax codes to get out of social obligations.

Morality calls us to share and support the communities and nations that we have been blessed by.

Kuronen and Huhtinen have helped me see how this distortion takes root and then grows and can even be promoted by followers. Followers are re- conceptualizing leaders and putting them on pedestals instead of within accountability networks. These leaders are supported by naive followers and leaders are formed unanchored to the “herd” and created by distancing media representations. Then they become beyond human community and then we think they need to operate outside social and moral expectations to get things done. They conclude that from a “social perspective, the society that elevates someone to be at the helm of things makes its call for sovereignty precisely because it wants that someone to be beyond good and evil – above the vice of morality – and the herd instinct in man” (p. 104).

They see the “desire or ‘desirefulness’” of a leader as the main criteria in this new matrix of successful leadership. These leaders are relational but without moral principles. I admit that some emotional and relational processes help make leaders worth following. But throwing out shared morality as a necessary function of healthy community is dangerous…for leaders and followers.

This non-moral approach “makes leadership a business of gathering and displaying excess.”

Kuronen and Huhtinen then use “two micro-biographies of contemporary charismatic leaders, Silvio Berlusconi of Italy and Vladimir Putin of Russia….to highlight the aspect of leadership that is charismatic, effective and unethical” (p. 93).

They make their point. Many want and even celebrate unethical leaders.

I don’t buy into the deception that leaders are, by their title and position, better able to lead when placed beyond the law, ethics and social norms. I am not saying that leaders should never challenge the status quo. I am just concerned when we want leaders to operate unrestrained by moral and social expectations, we actually want abuse, slavery, and to “drink to our own death.”

Do we want our President, Supreme Court Justices, and Congress operating apart from the U.S. Constitution and moral norms? They should be informed by these guidelines even as they work to improve them. But all along, their is a process, a moral and social order that leaders and followers must be responsive to.

Otherwise, we fall back into the “divine right of kings” OR THE RICH PERSON has the only claim to RULE or the most powerful earns the right to lead.  The West has spent 500 YEARS systematically dismantling such a bad view of leadership and political self-determination.

The article  is more nuanced than I have time here to unpack here. But one long quote is worth my space:

“Leaders are not only ‘gods’ to their followers (Gabriel 1997), but the more elevated their social status, the more symbolised, uncontested and taken-for-granted they appear to be” Thus, the extent of their detachment from the ethical register enhances the veneer of their charisma. In effect, leaders are symbols for their followers (and quite often nothing else) – when their seats are vacated, they have to be filled, as Gilles Deleuze (1983, p. 151, quoting from Heidegger 1977, p. 69) suggests:

or another one:

Why would man have killed God, if not to take his still warm seat? Heidegger remarks, commenting on Nietzsche, ‘if God … has disappeared from his authoritative position in the suprasensory world, then this authoritative place itself is still always preserved … the emptyplace demands to be occupied anew and to have the god now vanished from it replaced by something else.’ (Kuronen and Huhtinen 2016, citing p. 93)

This idea of leaders as gods is not new nor necessarily troubling to me. It is biblical as the bible seems open to the connection and several times refer to humans or leaders as gods (Ps 82; John 10 are two I use here).

Jesus tried to cool the hot temper of the Jewish leaders who wanted to stone him for blasphemy when talking about his divinity so he cited Psalms 82: “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”‘? (John10:34).

The dignity and high standing scripture gives to humans is encouraging. But it is not an invitation to debauchery but to holiness and morality. We are made in His Image (Genesis 1:27) and should judge as such. Again, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” How much more the things of this life! (1 Cor 6:3).

He designed us with a high status and now works to reinstate us.

The work of education, redemption and ethics are all one: to restore in man the Image of His maker (see Ellen White’s book Education)

Because he supports us in this work of restoration, he can hold all accountable, especially leaders, who fail to foster such redemptive living.

In Psalms 82:

“God presides in the great assembly;
he renders judgment among the “gods”:

“How long will you defend the unjust
and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

“The ‘gods’ know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

(for those who want a great discussion on Psalms 82 as a passage of accountability see Martin Buber’s Good and Evil’s chapter on “judgment of the Judges”  or read it online at a number of downloadable places).

Having a view of God’s work to restore, and his plan to hold all accountable, creates a culture of judgment that allows us to critique our leaders.

Holding leaders accountable now and later is good for them and us.

All leaders who want to operate outside a social and moral order promise to plunge themselves and their followers into anarchy and chaos. I resist such a view of leadership and ethics.

Yes, my moralism invites the leader back into the “herd.” We call it shared leadership.

I wouldn’t want it any other way, for myself, for my leaders or for my God.

Plan B — God’s Glorious Reinstatement of Humans as Co-Leaders

“They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb.” Revelation 14:

God created humans with his divine image imprinted and implanted in us. And that was just the start. He had amazing plans for us.

He placed us in a Garden where, under his care, we would grow even more and more like him.

It was THE Plan. It was a Glorious Plan. We were to be joint heirs with Christ.

That original plan is well captured by the song Glorious by www.Meetthemormons.com  “Its like a symphony. Just keep listening. And pretty soon you’ll start figuring out your part. Everyone plays a piece in their own melodies and each one of us is glorious.”

Amazing. High Five’s of Angels. Everyone is happy.

Except the Snake….the big one, not the small one.

Satan tempted Eve in order to get to Adam and Adam’s poor choice disrupted that plan.

That is to put in mild. It slashed and burned God’s Plan. Things become non-glorious very quickly. Adam and Eve’s son killed their other son.

So much for Glorious. Glorious is only an option now because of the CROSS.

It got so bad so quickly that God  had only two options: Kill the who Plan or Start Plan B.

God is too creative, too resilient, too persistent and too loving not to have a Plan B.

He would put enemity between that snake and us. Genesis 3:15 was Plan B.

That Plan B also including driving humans “out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.” (Gen 3:24).

Plan B included his sacrifice: “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world” (Rev 13:8).

No glorious without the sacrifice!!! “The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22).

In this Plan B, we have the only way God can work his plan in and through us. He will reinstate us!!

“Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt 19:28).

As Paul reminded Timothy,

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Tim 1: 12-16).

By faith, we grasp the Plan B. We repent. He forgives and cleanses from unrighteousness.

The new garden is the church, a hospital for recovering sinners. A place of Grace and healing.

The Holy Spirit works on us to bring us into His image.

We become like him.

We enter into his Four Acts of Leadership I outlined last time.

We enter his submission, we practice mutual submission with one another and with God.

We enter his service, expressing our love in gifts of time, talent, and tenderness to others.

We enter his sacrifice, not as a lamb for our sins (there is only one lamb and forever paid for at the Cross) but as one carved with love. We learn to bless when cursed, thank when reviled, do good when despised, and pray for those who persecute us. He gives us that strength!!!

And finally, we live in the believe in his summative work of judgment. Those who repent, he can justly forgive and those who don’t he can justly destroy.

Plan A was best. But Plan B is only what will work now.

In Plan B, we are reinstated with Him in heavenly places.

In Plan B, we are made eager to serve those in the world.

In Plan B, we embrace sacrifice as a way to reach those who, like us, were so long blinded by Satan.

In Plan B, we enter into his judgment hour work

That is glorious!

Duane

P.S. you can download David Archuleta’s “Glorious” from Meet the Mormons

Just remember, we can sing it ONLY because of Plan B. Plan A is no longer an option.

Four Acts of Divine Leadership

God leads.

That is my deep belief.

He acts on his creation in love.

That is my deep experience.

God leads in more ways than we will ever fully be aware.

Much of our ignorance of his ways to lead are because he humbly works behind the scenes or because he will always have a mysterious way about him.

But some of our ignorance lies in our own desire to stay crippled by the fall and deceived by the cunning lies foisted on us by the false leader of the world, Satan.

Shadows steal our vision. Satan’s roaring interloping actions feeds our evil desires and shadows our minds. We want beastly leadership. We want it now, so we can lord it over others. We want it so we can force our spouses or kids to do what we want them to do. We want such leadership so we can to stop our enemies voices or even their lives. We want it because we want to get our way.

We don’t understand what we are wanting.

God presents a different vision and action of leadership.

I have tried to discuss this contrast between God’s leadership and beastly leadership in my last four posts. I have discussed the call to Resisting Beastly Leadership, and then contrasted that to Christ’s crucified leadership style.  I invited us to see servant leadership as the only safe place for us to do our leading. I presented Daniel as a servant leader who learned how to work under beastly leaders.

Our good God who alone would make happy followers has to figure out how to attract us away from beastly leadership to his better leadership.

He works to reveal himself to us. He invites us and desires us to see him as he truly is.

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord,

“and my servant whom I have chosen,

so that you may know and believe me

and understand that I am he.

Before me no god was formed,

nor will there be one after me.

I, even I, am the Lord,

and apart from me there is no savior.

I have revealed and saved and proclaimed—

I, and not some foreign god among you.

You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God.

Yes, and from ancient days I am he.

No one can deliver out of my hand.

When I act, who can reverse it?”

Is 43:10-13

As I pointed out in another blog about my four callings in life, this passage was my first calling-promise from God when I was 16. In my difficult journey as a teen to understand religion, Adventism and follow God, this passage spoke directly to my heart. God wanted me to know him and to live in that loving leadership.

It was an honoring invitation. It was a sobering invitation.

God has kept his promise to me and I want to keep my promise to him.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32

How can I help you dear reader (the few of you who read this) to see this wonderful Leader for Who He Is?

I am encouraged by Jesus confidence expressed as he was headed to the cross:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27

He knows he is good for us and he knows many of us will catch on to that goodness.

I see God engaged in Four Acts of Divine Leadership.

Submission—God’s interaction with peers

“I and the father are One.” John 10:30

“Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.” Eph 4:31

God is three in one. This is monotheism in Christianity. It means they have three different person’s able to work as one. True Friendship and Marriage gives us a taste of the power of submission in leading one another. It is a marvelous vortex of following and leading simultaneously. Satan will never know the joy of that process because the pain of submission is too hard for him to handle. What a joy he is missing out on!!!

Service—God’s activity for those in need and all creatures.

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

“The greatest among you will be your servant.” Matt 23:11

God spends all his time outside of submitting to the “three in one” in activity towards his whole creation as the MOST ACTIVE SERVANT OF ALL. He is not Lording it over us. He is actively working out his will to take care of the universe and us.

Sacrifice—God response to those who hurt him and others.

In his service, he has had wayward children, starting with Satan. God has had to deeply sacrifice to try to reach all his fallen creatures. Satan has not responded, but humans, though fallen, are responding in droves to this new face of God’s leadership. He sacrifices for us even though we are the one’s who wronged him.

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

Summative Act—God’s work for those who reject or accept submission, service, & sacrifice.

“So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:28 NIV

“The LORD will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim, he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon– to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task.” Is 28:21

“Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Rev 20:15

God is love in leadership. However, those who reject that love–reject the view of their God engaged in mutual submission, his service, his sacrifice–and resist the call to follow in that leadership–will face the summative act of God with sorrow and gnashing of teeth. Those who accept the vision of God–and accept the invitation to sacrifice (“bless those who curse you”), to serve and find the joy to submit, they will hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Thanks God for being God.

Duane

P.S. This is my 100th blog. I promised God I would do 100 blogs, regardless of how rustic and primitive they would be. It was my desire to “witness” for him and respond to his call to me at 16. I also set this as a goal, that once hit, I needed to start working on my other neglected second calling, to write books.

My goal is now to do that. First, I plan to work with an editor to 1) delete some of my worse blogs, 2) lightly edit some of the best blogs, and 3) move the mediocre ones to better blogs. Then I will use those to launch a book about Adventist ethics.

This is pending God and my mutual submission. It is what I would like to do. But I have learned his will is so much better than mine. Thanks be to God.

 

Daniel: Servants to Beastly Kingdoms

Daniel was sent as a servant-slave to Babylon.

Daniel’s nation, Israel, had been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, but the real ruin started centuries earlier when they rejected God as a leader and asked Samuel to find them a king.

“And the LORD told [Samuel]: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (1 Samuel 8:7).

As a result they got what they wanted…. Wow, did that turn out poorly!!!

I imagine Daniel, on his long journey from Jerusalem to Babylon, had a long time to rehearse the details of their story. He was struggling to connect the dots.

When the people asked Samuel for a king, they were not just rejecting Samuel as a person, they were rejecting God as a leader….

But even more, the were rejecting two other deeps truths: God as a servant and themselves as co-leaders.

Kingly structures distort responsibilities. They dethrone God as one who serves and they strip from followers the responsibility as co-leaders.

Wanting a king rejects the creation story, because it rejects the truth of why God created a place for Adam and Even and it distorts the identity we have for dominion.

But still more oddly, as Daniel trudged his way from Jerusalem to Babylon, he was not only ruminating about his past and his nation servant-king distortions, but he was also probably thinking about his future as he was headed to a kingdom that had the “king disease” even worse than Israel had.

King Nebuchadnezzar was a despot. Babylon was a dog-eat dog culture, a hierarchy if ever there was!

And even more confusing, was Jeremiah’s advice that I am sure was ringing in Daniel’s ears:

“Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations…. and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” Jer 25:8-11

And again…

“‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Tell this to your masters: With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him.” Jer 27:4-7

And then a final caveat:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease….. “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. ….and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jer 29:4-13).

Daniel had a lot to think about.

I believe God was guiding his thinking with the love of a heavenly father, and the wisdom of a teacher.

God was still the greatest servant, and in that, was the greatest leader.

Daniel’s name showed the hope in all this, that God, the servant God, who saw all and knew all was leading and that He, Daniel, could be his servant, and as such a slave-leader to the nation he was headed.

A servant leader exemplified by Samuel.

And that is what he became.

I see three events I see this profoundly, showing the servant characteristics that suggest that was what he did:

  1. Daniel 1. He didn’t want to eat food offered to idols. He wanted to show allegiance to God above the kingly powers. But even then, being right was not enough. It never is. He sought to be righteous—respect the positions and face of others. He requested when others commanded. He offered a plan to his captors, an experiment. He was exercising his authority while acknowledging Gods and accepted the authority of those around him.
  2. Daniel 1, 2, 6–He stayed in communion and collaborative. He had friends and he depended on them. He prayed often to God. He stayed in a vortex of relationships with others.
  3. Daniel, 2, 4, and 5. He spoke truth to power but in a submissive way and at the right time. Followers can just as easily try to lord it over leaders. But Daniel, when called upon, as a follower, spoke truth as a way of bringing God’s judgments to light.

Daniel was in a place to try something different. He could serve.

He would later at time be elevated to leadership, but at other times, be thrown to the Lions.

The issue was that he could serve and that God could decide as His judge what was best.

What Greenleaf (1977,) said of Leo, a character in a book Journey to the East, can be said of Daniel, and even more of Christ and by extension God:  “the great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness….he was servant first because that was what he was, deep down inside. Leadership was bestowed upon a man who was by nature a servant. It was something given, or assumed, that could be taken away. His servant nature was the real man, not bestowed, not assumed, and not taken away. He was servant first” (pp. 7, 8)

“The natural servant, the person who is servant first, is more likely to persevere and refine a particular hypothesis on what serves another’s highest priority needs than is the person who is leader first and who later serves out of promptings of conscience or in conformity with normative expectations” (p. 14).

Leadership happens only well when it is safely encased in servant hood.

When it gets outside of that, it becomes satanic, selfish, self-aggrandizing.

I believe Daniel had learned that from Israel’s history.

But would it work in Babylon?

Who will believes it will work today?

“A new moral principle is emerging which holds that the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader in response to, and in protection to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader” (p. 10).

Servant Leadership in Beastly Places

Greenleaf’s 1977 classic Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness reminds us that the most important characteristic about anything—a cell phone, a boss, even a God– is service.

Without good service none of them are worth keeping.

This is especially true of leadership.

It is not merely that we need more leadership in the world. It is that we need a certain type of leadership. Servant leadership.

Jesus repeatedly made that point. In Matthew 20 we read:

“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

“What is it you want?” he asked.

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:20-28 (NIV).

This passage shows two aspects of Jesus work to teach us how to lead.  First, it shows he constantly expressed concern that his followers get the fundamental truth of service deep into their DNA as his community.

Second, he seemed, oddly confident we would get this truth. This last point amazes me most. While heading up the hill of Golgotha, no one was following. No One!!! And yet he kept saying confidently, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27).

And then, we see what he believed as slowing his disciples gathered at the cross:

“But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.” (John 19: 25-27).

He made his point, as the very next verse clearly notes:

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished…”

He did it. He gave his life as a ransom and served our needs and he was right his disciples got it.

He didn’t want leaders, or followers, to get that nasty “Lord it Over” habit that characterizes worldly leadership.

He had a different understanding.

I want that understanding!

Looking at the Lamb seems to be the only safe place to really talk about leadership. It squeezes out the puss of our ambition, even our religious ambition. It trims the horns off that dragon which constantly sprout up when leaders show up to control.

Leadership is not to dominate someone; to direct and control someone.

It is to serve.

Jesus would act as Lord, judge, and the ultimate door to heaven or hell, precisely because he was a lamb….Even when roaring like a lion.

“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6, NIV).

He lived what he has called us to live: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” Matthew 5:44

Even one of the most Lording over personalities, the Apostle Paul, would eventually get it:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge….”

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

Romans 12

This is servant leadership in beastly places.

Wow. Our LEADER CHRIST knew what he was doing!!!!

(Next time: Daniel’s lessons on living as a servant in beastly places).

Crucified and Risen Leadership

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Trembling is an overwhelming, almost uncontrollable, “natural” response to deep cold, fear, emotional exhaustion, or a vivid experience or image of a traumatic event.

We tremble when our body and our psyche huddle together against an excruciating reality.

This old hymn invites us to tremble at the reality of His cross: a combined realization of our sinfulness and his glorious righteousness.

There we see a reality like none other. God is forever revealed as pure sacrifice, true servant and best leader. We are also seen as valuable to Him, despite we are exposed as part of the brutally beastly systems. Our hearts appear as they are: selfish, assertive, aggressive, and brutal.

At the cross, the Satan of this world and of our hearts is unmasked. We see how small he is in his thinking and how deceived we have become.

We see our desire to play Satan’s stupid game to dethrone Christ. We see both Satan’s subtle and abusive words. We feel what God has had to put up with for so many millenniums. The bitter words, the abusive taunts, the constant resistance to the plans of God. The breaking of trust.

We are overwhelmed with God’s patience with Satan and with us.

Our bodies convulse with enmity to Satan and love to God. Genesis 3:15 gets fulfilled in us.

We lay trembling in submission, not cowering, but trembling in a deep confident submission, that this Lamb is our Lord.

Satan is cast out, he falls from heaven and from our own heart’s throne.

In that trembling, we see Barabbas and Satan as counterfeit leaders: never worthy of our worship.

We also get catapulted forward to our present time. We see that we will come to another momember of showdown: Armageddon.

The Lamb and Satan will again be positioned as the two great choices.

One leader and system promises freedom and gives it. The other promises freedom and tramples it with beastly control.

Several Adventist authors have helped me connect the Cross and Christ to modern leadership practices.

Stan Patterson’s work and lectures have helped me see the grab of beastly and kingly power that can influence even the church.

Dr. Gyeongchun Choi’s dissertation “Theological and missiological implications of supra-cultural leadership principles revealed in the revelation” has cemented in my mind a contrast between true and false leadership as seen in the lamb and beastly powers of revelation.

When we are tempted to cling to control, to lord it over, to use the status quo to abuse and not serve others; when we disregard the poor and needy, we are not doing it right. We need to relook to Jesus, bending over me, helping me, leading me, serving me and see in that the leadership toward others.

What Greenleaf (1977, Servant Leadership) said of Leo, a character in a book Journey to the East, can better be said of Christ, “the great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness….he was servant first because that was what he was, deep down inside. Leadership was bestowed upon a man who was by nature a servant. It was something given, or assumed, that could be taken away. His servant nature was the real man, not bestowed, not assumed, and not taken away. He was servant first” (pp. 7, 8)

Throughout the many posts in this 12-15 part series on beastly leadership I will use another non-Adventist resource to contrast servant and beastly leadership: Kuronen and Huhtinen (2016)  article Unwilling is Un-Leading: Leadership as Beastly Desire.

This “secular” article has helped me see that the desire for “beastly” leadership comes often from our own hearts desire and the “crowds” who want to form an “image” to a beastly desire, one that appeals to our corrupt and corrupting desires, to be beyond law and ethics, outside human experience.

There analysis is disturbing but I think mostly true. For most in the world “leadership is–deep down–a matter of meta-ethics. From the social perspective, the society that elevates someone to be at the helm of things makes its call for sovereignty precisely because it wants that someone to be beyond good and evil–above the vice of morality–and the herd instinct in man” (p. 104).

Oddly, Satan plays into that, toward corruption. Jesus, on the other hand, becomes one with the herd, but in so doing, rescues us from the law of sin and death.

“Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Revelation 5:6; see also Rev 13:8).

Skillful in his submission and sacrifice, his incarnational leadership brings a triumphant movement of love.

With a clear vision of the Cross, we are able to see the power of the Resurrection. Jesus’ gift was accepted and we forever have a servant working on our behalf, as part of the herd.

We lose our appetite for the Barabbas and Satan style of leadership.

We accept a new type of authority based on the Cross and revealed in His work after the resurrection:

” Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20).

My Prayer: “Jesus, be my leader. Oh feeble knees, respond to His authority of Love and Grace. But not trust in flesh or in Satanic lies.”

Resisting Beastly Leadership: Jesus Flowering in Dark Places

Bad leaders have several ways to lead people astray but there may be only one good way to prevent that from happening.

One way leaders lead us astray is when they appear “good” or “strong” but lack moral character and values to foster a moral vision of better place to take their followers. They only keep us circling our own mediocre ruts.

Another way bad leadership operates is to directly appeal to fears and hates in themselves or in us.

In essence both approaches fail to foster a moral compass that keeps leaders and followers headed a better direction.

Kuronen and Huhtinen’s (2016) fascinating study of our attraction to “beastly” leadership suggests ways this can happen in leadership selection.

Their critique of leadership scholarship is that it spreads an assumption that people want moral leaders. They suggest many people don’t want moral leaders but. They give two modern examples, Vladimir Putin in Russia and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. They explain that people see leaders as accomplishing more if those leaders can remain flexible in the face of moral claims. Their assessment is that beastly desire–a leader’s raw desire for followers and a followers’ raw desire for unconventional leaders–makes us eager to move beyond morality in selecting and following leaders.

Their legitimate hypothesis especially seems to occur when selecting national and executive leaders. Often when leaders are closes to us we want morality back in the selection mix.

But I believe even with executive selection there is a pervasive need for some type of moral accounting. It is still lurking in most communities and in ways we evaluate a leader, even God.

With human leadership, this is where another deception of bad leadership shows itself. Eventually, even those who abandon moral ideals or appeal to hate and fear, have to come back fill justification, clean up their chosen leaders moral story (and thus their own selection of that leader), often rewriting their morality to include some moral values but often in a skewed way.

This universal temptation Jesus seemed to realize when it was noted: “But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like.” (John 2:24, 25, NLT)

A reading of scripture shows avoiding true moral and spiritual accountability and the temptation to back-filling with self-justifications is the human approach will all share with ADAM, who started the process. It characterizes our rush to neglect the moral factor in human leadership selection. The desire for a king like Saul rather than a servant like Samuel (1 Sam 8), the infighting of the disciplines all show our natural default to this type of leadership process are just a few examples of this from scripture.

The most poignant evidence that this method is prevalent but costly is in the rejection of Jesus as a king/leader, and the selection of Barabbas, instead.

We pick up aspects of Jesus trial from all the gospels, but John 18: 37-40 positions it in the context of leadership.

“You are a king [leader] then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews….. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising” (NIV).

There is so much bad happening that night it is difficult to tease it all out. But the main bad is the process of selection and the distorted view of leadership.

First, bad choices grow at night–a night without sleep, a night of fear, a night of shadowy truth and rushed witnesses. Nothing was good at this trial for Jesus. He got a bad trial.

The abandonment of due process is everywhere and the lack of references to his goodness is most evident. Jesus’ point to his accusers was legitimate:

“Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour–when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53).

“The Saviour contrasted His own manner of work with the methods of His accusers. For months they had hunted Him, striving to entrap Him and bring Him before a secret tribunal, where they might obtain by perjury what it was impossible to gain by fair means. Now they were carrying out their purpose. The midnight seizure by a mob, the mockery and abuse before He was condemned, or even accused, was their manner of work, not His. Their action was in violation of the law. Their own rules declared that every man should be treated as innocent until proved guilty. By their own rules the priests stood condemned.” (White, Desire of Ages, p. 699).

They–and we–often decide not in the light of Jesus’ love and character, but with a desire for accumulating power, getting personal gain and wanting control as our guiding moral values.

But what can save us from this fascination with self-justified leadership, with “stsrong” leaders who really have flimsy moral backbone and self moral motives? How can we avoid deceptive positioning of bad leaders?

Ultimately, it is seeing and reflecting upon the contrast. The fundamental contrast of Jesus to Barabbas, of God to Satan, seems to be the shock most need to discern servant leadership as better than beastly leadership.

They wanted Barabbas who was lawless, because they wanted to be lawless. They had become accustomed to leaders like that, Herod and nasty religious leaders on one hand or weak and fickle leaders like Pilot on the other hand. Pilot couldn’t even follow simple procedural processes nor his own words of authority.

Sadly, we find our own natural idolatrous natures at work in our selection of leaders. We want them to have the power we most covet. Because, if we did select servants to lead us, we would have to follow.

But, leaders who fail to “render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace” (Zechariah 8:16) will ultimately fail and be held accountable by God (Psalms 82).

Our only hope, is that we sober to through this dark evening  and like the crusty old centurion, in a glance at real leadership, we lose a passion for power mongers and instead find a passion to serve others better.

“And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39, NIV)

What made that night the darkest was not just the false trial, but the deep revelation that we want Barabbas or Roman or False Religious (Pharicaical) leadership rather than one guided by moral order, love and God’s spirit.

The truth about beastly leadership is that it shows the deep soul’s estrangement from God and Good.

“Christ suffered keenly under abuse and insult. At the hands of the beings whom He had created, and for whom He was making an infinite sacrifice, He received every indignity.” (White, p. 700). We didn’t want His character.

Like a lover who calls out another person’s name in the intimate act of love, so we have shown our hearts to be wandering away from Jesus’ ideal both in our own leadership and in our assessment of others.

Only the Cross and the trickling but pervasive love of the Spirit into our dark minds could shake the deep lust we have for Barabbas and beastly leadership.

 

Jesus tried to point a way out of this. He even tried to wake the High Priest from their deep delusion:

“Hereafter,” said Jesus, “shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” In these words Christ presented the reverse of the scene then taking place. He, the Lord of life and glory, would be seated at God’s right hand. He would be the judge of all the earth… Then every secret thing would be set in the light of God’s countenance, and judgment be passed upon every man according to his deeds.

The words of Christ startled the high priest. The thought that there was to be a resurrection of the dead, when all would stand at the bar of God, to be rewarded according to their works, was a thought of terror to Caiaphas. He did not wish to believe that in future he would receive sentence according to his works. ” (White, Desire of Ages, p. 707-708).

Christians have always had to re-decide that core leadership question: will it be Jesus, the sacrificial servant we want to be most like or Barabbas. Do we want God or prefer Satan.

Lord, we accept that in the darkness you will give us your light to see the better leadership for you spoke truth when you said: “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness” (John 12:46, NIV). Shine on us so the light we need to be flowers in dark spaces.

Church Leadership: In Season or Out

When Presidents come and go, the church needs to be the church.

When Parties come and go, the church needs to be the church.

When Nations rise or fall, the church needs to be the church.

When Good Times lull virtue into excess, the church needs to be the church.

When bad times squeeze people into fear, the church needs to be the church.

In Season or Out, when popular or hated, the church needs to be the church.

When cultural values shift, when divisions run high, and when civil war is one fist fight away, the church needs to be the church.

And what does it mean to be the church… It is to love in all times….

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35.

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” Philippians 1:9-11.

“That I may gain Christ,  and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith,  that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:9-11

“Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…” Philippians 2: 2-5

Love, Joy, Faith, and Hope give the church the advantage it needs against all odds and all powers and all distortions. These spiritual virtues quicken the heart and mind of the church and will always strengthen it for what Peterson called “a long obedience in the same direction” or what I call in the right direction.

The invisible and at times visible church–the true followers of Christ wherever they hang out– will stand like Daniel…regardless of what nation is in power, or what king is in charge.

This love is not passive but active. It lives out the leadership it has experience in God’s leadership. It knows that God is the ultimate Judge of All Things. He will sweep whole nations and leaders into his crucible called the judgment hour and hold each accountable for his command to “vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked” (read Psalms 82 as that judgment hour).

The church lives the truth and love she has experienced under the care of Christ. His leading has made her a different leader.

She remains the salt and light at all times. Her actions and words testify that their are two moral ditches every person and leader must avoid to succeed … Daniel 4:27   “Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

Disciplined selflessness manifest in humble, fiscally and morally wise lifestyle combined with graciousness and active attention to those in need will always be the leadership the church recognizes, first in God, second in its self, and finally the vision of leadership it will hold others accountable to.

This is her mission, in season or out, near the throne or in exile! It has always been her calling.

Called and Sprawled into Leadership: Lessons from DeVos Urban Leadership

I experienced the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative this week. This training experience serves 50 urban faith based youth leaders from across the country with leadership development events and coaching.  It helps them find sanity, refocus on trusting God, and create development plans that not only help them lead better but empower followers and those they serve to do their own leading.

I went to learn what they do as a way to improve our Department of Leadership development programs at Andrews University.

In reality, my biggest take away was how messed up my own leadership is. I kinda knew that going there but it was reinforced in that truth but oddly found a solace in that reality.

The last 18 months have been very difficult for me. I took on a role I have resisted for decades: I became department chair. I have resisted this for several simple reasons: I love teaching and writing/research. I loath and flee conflict. I have an unsystematic way of being an academic that got me promoted but is horrible way to do leadership. Plus, 15 years ago I was baptized with the reality of my severe limits as a thinking person. I just can’t trust my own thinking! ever again!!!

While it is hard enough to live life without trusting my own mind, it is nearly impossible to create a convincing vision that others feel confidence in, especially when I can never really have confidence in it. I just can’t trust flesh—especially my own! How do you get people to follow a vision when you know your mind (and theirs) are debilitated by self-deception?

Basically, DeVos reinforced just how bad it is: went spent most of the week on self-deption.

I was encouraged to learn that I wasn’t alone. And from the ashes we could find a shared community of grace where the broken pieces of our thinking can be knit together by the Holy Spirit to create a better vision.

Our bad leadership is deeply messed up….way down past bad behaviors to deeply estranged from God and reality.

So we all had a lot of catharsis and I have a list of people to contact and work through my discovery that my self-deception is even worse than I thought.

I guess that is helpful. Kind of just more of the same.

Self-deceived followers lead by self-deceived leaders into self-deceived visions.

Yes, leadership development that starts in a very depressing place.

Kind of the same place Joshua started his leadership journey.

We see his calling and his sprawling in Joshua 1.

“Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise…”

Joshua is sprawled out. He was a great assistant to Moses, but there is a whole lot different to lead. And with Moses being dead, it is basically just well…..overwhelming.
Being sprawled out as well as called out is a very painful leadership place.
The online dictionary tells us  Sprawl means to: 1. to be stretched or spread out in an unnatural or ungraceful manner
 
Contorted and distorted and confused and yet….. clearly told what to do.
cross this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses.”
With such reassurance, it should have been a piece of cake for Joshua. Get up, and just start stepping everywhere you can….God has given you a blank check of success.
So why is he sprawled out.
It is because God is going to develop Joshua as he needs him to be developed along the way.
We don’t get trained any other way but as you walk….
“do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Oddly, the unnatural sprawl of Joshua needed to become a natural experience. He was inadequate but in that role he would find a natural place of receiving–instruction, courage, and power.
Oddly, that is the second definition of sprawl… “2. to sit or lie in a relaxed position with the limbs spread out carelessly or ungracefully.”

So, as unnatural and ungraceful as it was, it was to be both awkward and relaxed.
The third definition is even more powerful:  “3.to spread out, extend, or be distributed in a straggling or irregular manner” and “4. to crawl awkwardly with the aid of all the limbs; scramble.”
Most leaders want to soar or at least run, but walking and crawling seems a better place form which to lead.

This is Allender’s argument in Leading with a Limp a book I review elsewhere on this blog. See my Acts 15 blog or search my archives.

My biggest insight was….so what. So what if I am overwhelmed. So what if I am inadequate. So what I am totally incapable of leading like an eagle or running like a pro. I have to get used to crawling. Sprawling is a great place to start a new race type of leadership race….the race of crawling along with Jesus.

But who follows a crawling leader?

 

8 Areas or Ways to Improve Your Teaching and Learning

We can improve learning, ours and others. We can!!!!

As an Adventist university teacher I feel deeply my inadequacy to teach and to learn. I get overwhelmed with how little I have learned and how limited the development of those I help is because I lack some of the skills, structures, and attitudes needed to really teach well.

I then throw myself on Christ’ strength to help me at least take baby steps in my teaching and learning.

There are 8 areas I see as ways to leverage the small that I have into the great learning God can provide:

  1. Increase choice.  I can chose between options and improve my own learning. I can help others (children, students, colleagues) decide between alternatives, and thus strengthen the will needed to make learning happen. In my classes, I can let them pick between alternative assignments, or even let them create their own innovative assignments.  I can let them pick books to read or eliminate some I wanted them to read. Giving students more options gives them more of the steering wheel–the steering “will”–of learning. I can do that for those I live and work with. “Where the spirit of Jesus is, there is liberty” (2 Cor 3:17).
  2. Ask more than tell. I repeatedly make this mistake and realize too late I am trapped again by the temptation to see teaching as telling and talking instead of asking and encouraging discovery. Edgar Schein’s book Humble Inquiry really can help us figure out how to turn teaching into more than telling so that students will be asking tough questions that pull and push them into a deep learning dynamic. Co-discovery works best with a culture of questions coming from everyone…. THEN, WE ARE LEARNING AND TEACHING TOGETHER AND LEARNING THINGS WE WOULD HAVE NEVER THOUGHT OF BY OURSELVES!
  3. Faith integration. Connecting a new concept or discipline or knowledge base or practice to a God’s character, a kingdom principle or a spiritual lesson helps both the new learning stick deep into our soul but it also renews and maybe even reinvents our spiritual understanding. Things get anchored deeper with faith integration. However, its THEIR faith integration that is the focus. What is their faith? How is it different than yours? Back to asking instead of telling. Ask them how to build the deeper connections.
  4. Reflection. Connections are made in requiring, or at least encouraging, reflection, especially reflection that is written down. What did you learn and how? How does that learning improve your life and the lives of others? Where and why did you fail? What do you want to do next? Why? How?
  5. Diversify, diversify, diversify.  I love books. My temptation is to make book learning and lectures to important. I must force myself to diversify my learning modes and I can also help others add spice to their learning by making it more individualized for them.  See Kolb Learning Styles process to help with this. I have blogged about Kolb as it relates to ethical leadership and development.
  6. Keep Service/Application a central focus. How will the students use this classes experiences and learning to help someone at their school, home, or preferably, the community.
  7. Increase feedback time, loops and groups. Most effective teaching occurs when students (and teachers) receive feedback about their performance that is timely, provided in systematic ways (loops) and come from various groups (not just the teacher).
  8. Improve assessment processes. Teaching is part of a system of learning and the whole system needs monitoring and a feedback process. Curriculum maps can start the journey and then regular syllabus and class audits and updating can improve the process, but ultimately collecting data and reflecting about it the way the whole school or program process can improve.

God, help me to learn better and to teach like you do!!!

Conversation, Community and the Creativity that Cares

“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Gen 1:26, NIV

Creation grows out of a sustained conversation that breeds a community that focuses outward in care.

While we understandably focus on Genesis 1:1–“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” as a starting point, in reality, the whole creation story is the tip of and outgrowth from a longer conversation and deeper community. Creation is always anchored in a continuum of conversation.

The Creation story is action but based on reflection and dialogue. It not just an event or an act or even a starting point per se. It is an outgrowth of God–a three in one reality–that breed a community that in Genesis 1 and 2 expresses itself in the joy and care of and for others.

For trinity believing individuals, the Creation story of Genesis 1 and 2 is a buzz of activity because it was first a buzz of conversation which grew out of epic’s of community.

Talk is essential to creation, which is why entrepreneurs have to work to cultivate their voice. But talk itself is a community invention as one talks to be heard and one can be heard because the voice of the talk arises from community.

Individuals need to hear and own their voice, but they do so best in conversation with others. This is the mystery of individuality in community. One voice is never enough for this creativity stuff to happen. It is essential but not sufficient.

Creation is a community experience where voices hammer out the  created order. And the created order invites new people to that community of creativity.

We have evidence that creativity invites more to the community in the creation story…be fruitful and multiple.

Care drives creativity from the future and conversation sustains it in the present and community anchors from the past.

That is the story operating within Christianity’s view of Creation. That the three–Father, Son and Holy Spirit– in ageless conversation and a deep community developed together this view of extending the dynamic of creativity in this Earth and Humankind experience.

And the pattern they used for this was themselves.

Community breeds creativity. Individuality is present, but always in the context of community.

Too often we get a distorted view that creativity is merely an individual action. This would be a monotheism without a trinitarian correction. Individuality is a shared reality. Someone gave it to us.

But it is ours once we have it. And this is what makes community so creativity.

Creativity’s sustaining engine is not individuality or individual expression but individual expression within a community.

So, there are three voices I believe at work in human community that feed creativity.

Mine

Yours

Theirs

The first voice listed here (although not the first voice we experience), is that of the individual.

“Every human being, created in the image of God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator—individuality, power to think and to do. The men in whom this power is developed are the men who bear responsibilities, who are leaders in enterprise, and who influence character. It is the work of true education to develop this power, to train the youth to be thinkers, and not mere reflectors of other men’s thought. Instead of confining their study to that which men have said or written, let students be directed to the sources of truth, to the vast fields opened for research in nature and revelation. Let them contemplate the great facts of duty and destiny, and the mind will expand and strengthen.” (Ellen White, Education, p. 17)

However, if one only has one’s own thinking and voice, this is insufficient–for creativity ultimately needs reinforcement to remain creativity and a care to pull them forward into the future.

Conversation not only reinforces but challenges and in that tension, creativity grows stronger.

That is where “your” voice is added to “mine” and in that space, a deeper vision and better view of reality emerges.

But it is only care–care for something that is not yet, care for the other that is outside of the you and I circle that pulls us forward into the vortex of creativity.

What can motivate the dazzling speed of creation but the longing to care and to create others who care about creation.

So it is with the creation story.

We see this dynamic when Jesus became flesh and stayed in conversation and community with us. We see his sustained care. We become part of that care culture that finds new solutions to the people in community with us.

We see the dynamic that sustained conversation and community left in the wake of Christianity’s creation…healing, understanding, learning, better social systems, and even the hope of the ultimate political system–the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. The engine of change.

Jesus could do this because he was in conversation and community. He knew his voice, he heard his father’s voice and he listened deeply to ours, and gave some of us back the ability to listen and to speak and thus become part of community.

If we are only listening, we won’t create. If we are only speaking, we won’t care, and therefore won’t create more than we already have.

Creativity is never far from the call to care and is always an outgrowth of conversation and community.

That is what I hope to experience today with the innovative  http://www.fruitionlab.org/

May God continue their creativity work and may we all experience the community of God.

 

Judgment’s Cure for Judgmentalism

Somewhere in my teens I developed a deep judgmentalism.

I can’t blame my family. My parents gave us lots of freedom, were very non-judgmental and their positions as a teacher and a nurse, gave them skills of nurturing. I can’t blame my brothers either.

By my late teens I got hard and strict on myself and others. I slid into a distortion, disease and deep captivity to a nasty and self-defeating judgmentalism.

It was a horrible time in my journey…with God, myself and others. Part of it came from my church, which was divided and in a bitter schism. Most of it came from the nastiness of the “world” that practices little patience and forgiveness to each other.

This disease, by God’s and my churches help, went in remission. Although not cured, it stays in remission… most of the time…through my encounter of Jesus’ deep and wonderful acceptance and activity and agency on my behalf. I trust he will help me survive it.

Ethics and leadership, two major callings on my life, have played both aggravating and alleviating roles in this remission process.

My 6th grade teacher, Mr. Yoshikawa got me started in ethics. He invited our class to figure out the right and wrong in cases he read to us each afternoon. As I report elsewhere, it was the first time I felt empowered as a learner. I realized I needed to figure out my own answers, not look in the back of the book for an answer or to my teacher. I needed to KNOW for myself.

But ethics can easily feed judgmentalism if it doesn’t get positioned proportionally in our world of judgment. If the goal of ethics is to find the best way, the right way, or better yet, the most redemptive way, it can be a great help. But ethics—the search for truth– makes a horrible God. It must remain a tool of redemption in the hands of God’s greater redemptive work.

I am not suggesting that thinking about right and wrong causes judgmentalism. Knowing and thinking are not the cause of judgmentalism. Its part of its cure.  Judgmentalism looks like a truth seeker but it really is a blame caster.

Ethics operating under the shadow of the Almighty, within a deep acceptance of God’s love, and within a deep trust in of God’s redemptive agency for humans and the whole universe, can be very helpful.

Leadership, is similar. Leadership, the influence of one upon another, can be a great tool for redemption. But it can be a judgmental, abusive, and distorting influence. I know that as a leader. I know that as a follower. I have had to apologize many times for my judgmentalism. I have had to forgive many abusive and judgmental leaders.

Two “frames” have helped me keep ethics and leadership on the redemptive side and kept judgmentalism in remission. The first frame is a deep appreciation for a higher view of ethics captured succinctly in 1 John 1:9 and Micah 7:9.

“I will bear the indignation of the LORD Because I have sinned against Him, Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me out to the light, And I will see His righteousness.”

While Micah 6:8 teaches us the need for mercy, justice, and humility. That is great.

Micah 7:9 invites us deeper. It brings us through to a “righteousness apart from the law” (Romans 3:21). This righteousness is seeing the moral wonderfulness of how God treats those who violate morality and His very nature.

This higher level of moral experience, the transcendence of righteousness over even the right, doesn’t negate the need to figure out what is right, but it places it in subordination to redemption. It incorporates judgment.

Which brings me to the greatest cure for judgmentalism….God’s judgment.

In my journey to avoid moralism and keep judgmentalism in remission, Micah 7:9 has not only helped me see righteousness in ethics but the role of judgment in coming to that “light.”

Nothing keeps my soul from souring to God, myself and others than a deep taste, understanding, and experience of His hour judgment (Revelation 14).

Micah 7:9 frames the difference between right and righteousness. It does so within judgment. Right is figuring out what should be done and how. Righteousness is seeing and experiencing God’s activity when we mis that mark of right.

A growing understanding of Adventist teaching on the  judgment can take away judgmentalism.

At least it has keep it in remission in my life.

“Jesus, please judge anew today. I love your sweet words to me. They are pure judgment.

Love, your wayward son….but still your son.”

Democratic Republics need Educated Citizens and Wise Leadership

The Influence of Democratic Republics on Morality

Democracy has shaped the moral landscape of the west for centuries. It has led many to throw off monarchies and lose their interest in dictators. It has made the WEST suspicious when power is given or accumulated to a few (in politics or business). It has given liberty and freedom strong moral currency in our ethical decisions and our public justifications.

But the U.S. founders divined a weakness to democracy. It needed both internal and external checks and balances to keep it effective. Crowds, in rabid pursuit of liberty, could be just as despotic as kings. The founders formed a republican form of government–a democracy with constitutional protections of minorities. This “principled” and “rights” approach promised to be more lasting.

This republic innovation and solution to shared governance, moved past monarchy rule, past even theocracies and elite rule to a more egalitarian approach useful in managing pluralism. It proved more effective than the lawlessness create by the French Revolution or even the compromised forms of government in England and Spain that let kingly power and elite indulgence/rule continue.

This constitutional and republican form of democracy has proven to be a fairly effective but very difficult to replicate in other nations.

The Influence of Morality on Democratic Republics

As Woodberry has shown, the most effective exporting of democracy has from the work of conversionary Protestants (protestants who believe in adult conversion based on education and informed decisions). His work shows that democracy took root better in places these Protestant missionaries went than it did in other places. He linked it to their renewed social ethic that worked for increased literacy and education, freedom of speech and press, and better egalitarian solutions. Only then could the power of the elite be challenged by the needs of the nation and the poor.  See Christianity Today simplified review of Woodberry’s work.

Nick Miller highlights similar basic spiritual and practical elements needed for democratic rule in his book on the Religious Roots of the First Amendment. Central among these is the right of private judgment. Central to that judgment is the individuals spiritual and intellectual development.

I believe it takes these qualities not only to start a democratic republic but to keep it running.

What will make America Great?

I believe the U.S. is running the risk of a deep erosion to the values and process basic to democratic republican rule. Without a certain buy-in to basic human rights and constitutional and civil principles, we could easily deteriorate into a non-egalitarian, capitalistically driven, police state.

While I leave it to wise political scientists like Woodberry or constitutional lawyers and historians like Nick Miller for the best guidance on the political and legal aspects of keeping a democracy vital, my activity in leadership and education has made me interested in their role in making strong nations or leading to the demise of nations.

The Role of Good Education and Leadership in National Welfare

As a member of the Department of Leadership in a School of Education within a Christian Adventist University, I am especially attracted to the role of education and leadership in church and national greatness.

That interest has lead me to look for solutions to social arrangements (a type of social ethics)  in “unusual places.”

One such place has been in understanding the transition of leadership from Samuel to Saul in ancient Israel. It believe it was not just a change in persons, but a change in systems, principled guided education and shared leadership that made this a step backward for Israel. I believe the U.S. and maybe even the SDA church can be tempted by similar mis-steps.

The connection has become more evident to recently as I noticed Ellen White’s book Patriarchs and Prophets put two chapters side by side that gave me a new respect for the connection between education and leadership: “The Schools of the Prophets” and “The First King of Israel” shows God’s step to strengthen the nation and some “leaders” move to weaken it.

“The schools of the prophets were founded by Samuel to serve as a barrier against the widespread corruption, to provide for the moral and spiritual welfare of the youth, and to promote the future prosperity of the nation by furnishing it with men qualified to act in the fear of God as leaders and counselors” (p. 593).

Samuel may have started this system because he saw how much he needed such a system in his own home. He had problems developing his own sons as leaders. “When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders…But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:1-3, NIV).

It is the lack of effective education, in the home or school, that weaken individuals ability to bear the cost of share leadership, a cost basic to the success of democracy. A distorted view of leadership as self-serving quickly moves into centralized views of leadership and governmental control.  Such self-serving views of leadership make dictators seem normal, even desirable.

While I hope to write more about this in the coming weeks, here I just share my deep concerns and ask you to examine the elements that keep a democratic republic strong and the role of education and shared leadership in that process.

To help, I recommend reading chapters ch. 58 and 59 from Ellen White’s Patriarchs and Prophets https://text.egwwritings.org/publicationtoc.php?bookCode=PP&lang=en

I also recommend doing an internet study on the Schools of the Prophet and their role in Ancient Israel and in the early days of the U.S. college system.

Our democracy depends on our strengthened view of effective education and leadership, ultimately letting God and His moral government be our standard of practice in education and especially in leadership.

Do we really want to go back to kings, pharaohs, and dictators?

Prophets and Politics

If you live in the United States it is hard to avoid the vitriolic moral wars that characterize this year’s U.S. Presidential race.

The police shootings of black men and the shooting of police has fueled an added moral fear and hand-wringing that has intensified how candidates frame the candidacy’s moral vision.

Politicians often play on people’s fears and commandeer them into distorted beliefs and misjudgments that then suggest the candidate has the moral solutions. This can be with direct moral claims or more subtle as political parties propose moral, legal and social fixes they promise to bring moral solutions and order to the chaos.

The result is that discussions and dialogue often suffer asreasonableness gets marginalized by moral positioning, impulsivity and reactionary rhetoric.

We should have and cultivate moral impulses but when these substitute for a comprehesive moral judgment, it is easy for us to silence those who oppose us.

Groups start only hearing their own moral rhetoric and start aggregating their moral fears into a self-righteousness that is blind to the moral wisdom of opponents and the wrong hiding behind their own rightness.

As Adventist leader Randy Roberts noted: “We do most of our sinning when we’re right!”

To avoid moral impulsivity some run to an equally dangerous approach of moral relativism or apathy. That is also in abundance in the U.S.

Both impulsivity and apathy/relativism by-pass the necessary labor of moral deliberation and judgment, where the moral views of others temper our moral impulses into more accurate analysis and better long-term solutions.

Adventists have several religious teachings and social experiences that help avoid moral impulsivity and apathy and invite us to moral judgment. Our Adventist community has:

  • a deep understanding and respect for the moral government of God revealed in the Great Controversy teaching. This teaching saves us from two extremes: antinomianism that has no respect for natural law and moral order and God’s authority. It also makes us respectful of freedom that leads us to resist authoritarian acts that put human laws above God’s. This teaching fosters a genuine respect for the religious freedom God has made essential for true obedience. Law and freedom are married well in the character of God that gives rise to the moral government of God.  This teaching provides the necessary checks to relativism and to impulsivity.
  • a prophetic impulse for continual reform is also central to SDA teaching. The prophetic spirit is a progressive spirit of continual reform, often toward more egalitarian actions that serve the poor and needy, but also toward more alignment with the character of God and his government.
  • a settled and resting belief we are in the Hour of His judgment and that his work of judgment should inform our own judgments: individually and corporately.

I have written in these at different points in this blog.

Lately, I have been more tempted than usually to jump into the fray of presidential politics and challenge the many one-sided moral claims I hear and even reflect on which canidate is a better moral leader (my area of research).

When tempted, I try to merely retreat back to what I believe…about the Great Controversy, our progressive prophetic role, and the deep belief in the sober and redemptive work of judgment.

Daniel’s ability to handle political leaders by staying close to these three ideas has been encouragin.

Daniel’s faithful companionship with God helped him to honor leaders and avoid judgmentalism even as he had to “speak truth to power” many times.

In Daniel 1, he does the truth sharing as a social and nutritional test, subtle and inviting. In Daniel 2 he is asked to share more directly. In Daniel 5, his judgment is also invited but reaches a more direct level of condemnation as the debauched Belshazzar needed to hear a sober truth and God’s final judgment on his leadership.

Daniel’s cool headed approach in dealing with varied leaders from two regimes is a good lesson for us.

I believe Daniel’s council to King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4:27 stands as the best general advice we can give to most political leaders and parties.

“Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”

All political leaders and parties face moral blindspots we all must face: avoiding lavish living, sexual sin, debauchery and laziness–the sin of licentiousness, or the sin of too much and not the right lifestyle but at the same time the sin of rightness that marginalizes the poor.

The prophetic people have to foster Daniel’s cool headed approach and his willingness to speak up to power. His steady service to many varied leaders and two regimes remind us how to speak to kings.

Ben Carson, our Adventist brother, tried to speak moral words at the 2016 Republican Convention and I applaud him as he reached a level of influence to be able to do that. What I found lacking is how he quickly abandoned the two-sided moral wisdom Daniel was ready to remind what makes a great leader or a great nation : a  “clean” lifestyle with propriety and purity and a gracious eye to the poor and disenfranchised.

I fear that political parties in the U.S. often get fixated on only one side of two prong moral vision of great leadership and great nations. I hope Adventist don’t.

We need to keep being salt and light during this difficult time.

The very elect often are most susceptible to deception when a promise of increased morality is made. The temptation to moral rightness that stalls the engine of moral growth is one that neglects the long-view of God’s moral government: sobriety and sensitivity to the marginalized still exalts a leader and a nation.

7 Rests Worth Entering

I had one of those four and a half hour nights recently. I was running low on energy and high on bad attitude the next day. The next night was different. 7-8 hours of sleep does wonders for me. It calms my emotions and improves my confidence—neither too low nor unwisely high. It makes me listen better but also I feel I share and talk more appropriately.

I woke re-freshed, realizing how important it was to “enter” into rest.

Entering is a mystery. Yes, we know things that can help get us to get illusive sleep but the actual mechanism of entering are amazingly complex.

The top six things that have helped me get enter more often than not:

  1. No media for the last hour before bed and absolutely no TV, Radio or electronic technology in our bedroom.
  2. No big meal after 6pm and preferably no water or even light food after 7pm, to allow both the bladder and stomach to be empty by bedtime.
  3. No heavy exercise after 7pm either. It heats my system too much. However a stroll works wonders to relax my muscles, circulate blood and calm my thoughts. Walking around my neighborhood, with its trees and homes and people, also make for rewarding conversations.
  4. Work out conflict if possible with others, even if you just decide to disagree for a while.
  5. Waking up within the same hour or 90 minutes every day (yes, including weekends and holidays) has been shown to get your body in a rhythm. A nap can help or hurt that rhythm. If you need one, try it before lunch or at least before 3pm to avoid off-setting the process of “entering” that evening.
  6. Prayer, as family or couple or personal helps us enter that rest. I still enjoy the resting process in this classic prayer of surrender: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I prayer the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Or the more rousing ending, If I should live another day, I pray the Lord to guide my way. Amen.”

This daily rest is crucial, but not the only rest I have come to see as essential for life. I believer their our seven others that have a similar process od entering.

  1. The Chill out rest: the hourly or moment by moment decision to relax strolling into “enter” into belief that God is for you not against you. We come into his PROVIDENCE. Just chill out Duane!!!
  2. The Night rest: the one I just discussed as daily 7-9 hours of restful sleep. This is soooo important. If you are not getting this, get help.
  3. The Weekly rest: this is the one Adventists focus on for a good reason. This is crucial for relationships—with God and man; and with our world. We celebrate from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. Which allows us to triple rest—chill out, move into the night rest and start a Sabbath rest all together.
  4. The Yearly rest—Three times a year individuals in the Old Testament were to go up for feasts—spiritual and nutritional healing times, with time to talk to God and each other.
  5. The Spiritual rest—entering the gospel is probably the most important of all these rests. It is a living in the light of the gospel of God’s great love and provision for us. We rest from our works realizing he has and will do all we need done. We lean on His agency of working out in us this mystery of entering and resting.
  6. The Judgment rest—Yom Kippur was the most important day of rest for the Jewish nation. Adventist believe we are now in the judgment. We can enter this rest in a very powerful way outlined by Micah 7:9; John 8 and John 9. Revelation 14 reminds us this judgment message is not into addition to the gospel, it IS part of the everlasting gospel.
  7. The Final Rest—one day there will be a restful place for all in a heavenly places that doesn’t need nights to get a good rest.

I hope you can enter these rests also.

Next time we will look at the rest robbing issues and even false rest.

Authority in Ethics 4: Satan’s Power, Jesus’ Incarnation

We are in the middle of a 7 part series on power and authority in Christian Adventist Ethics.

I first introduced power as the ability to influence and move people or things and authority as legitimate power. I argued authority is central in ethics. Ethics must appeal to authoritative reference points to suggest moral actions and present its moral justifications.

I then discussed Matthew’s presentation of Jesus’ power and authority. Jesus lead by focusing on human need and clarifying the Fathers care for others. This was in contrast to the abusive power manifest by Roman, Greek, and Jewish leaders who lorded it over others.

In post 3, I used Matthew 21 and Mathew 3 to suggest Jesus constructed His authority from both human and divine experiences and evidence.

The Jewish leaders questioned where Jesus got his authority. Jesus asked them where they thought John the Baptist got his authority. The Jewish leaders refused to answer because they felt trapped between two answers. If they said John got authority from God, they would then show their hypocrisy as they claimed to follow God but didn’t follow John who had his authority from God. Yet that didn’t want to say his authority was only from the people, as the people had followed John precisely because they felt John was from God.

Ouch. They were stuck. They were trapped by their own failed view of authority.

The best answer was both. John was called from God, and by following, the people gave him authority over their lives.

The dialogue Jesus tried to create, this godly interchange hinted at the response he had hoped the leaders would embrace. Ultimate lasting authority is established by mutual agreement. Because these leaders has refused to submit to John and the voice from God he was sharing, they could not enter the authority of the Father. Followers enter and establish authority in a crucial way in the New order of authority Jesus was trying to establish.

The Jewish leaders could not embrace this new authority because mutuality would have destroyed their monopoly of control. They would have to follow and not just lead.

Had the leaders freely accepted John or even accepted the people’s response to John as they struggled through the humiliation and submission process, they would have have shown a willingness to be lead by others and entered into a new a better way of authority. This trinitarian mutuality alone sustains an authority fundamental to the survival of the world and universe.

Authority—in Christian perspective and community—is ultimately guided by choice which is informed by knowledge which is received or rejected by a listener. We can say no deep within our minds. We have a choice of receiving the authority of another or rejecting it.

Authority received by choice is superior to authority that must be forced or even coerced by persuasion or deception.

Authority with a mutuality lands different into the heart. As such, it requires an act of the person, a sort of cognitive relinquishing that is an act of following and submitting that is nurtured in us by a choice and a receptivity.

The delicate task of getting into our hearts this type of submission to authority is the greatest mystery of God’s great work of redemption.

John’s authority was received by many people. As such, they were ready to receive Jesus’ authority. And that was good, because Jesus’ approach was even quieter, subtler, and even more self-effacing and self-denying than John’s.  This contrasted to other leaders in Jesus’ day who established their authority by demanding it, conscripting it, deceiving and manipulating to get it or fomenting a lot of fear mongering.

I believe most of the leaders of Jesus’ day and many in our day would find this approach to fostering authority too tedious, built on too difficult a platform to create and ultimately too fragile of a foundation for running a home, community, nation or universe.

It is fragile in the sense that those who are given the opportunity to enter this authority can reject the still soft voice, the simple reason, the delicate formulation of truth. And to continue to reject the invitation makes it harder for God to help people through the submission process.

But praise God, he does not give up and in His Son he has created the winsome appeal to this new authority.

I believe this mutuality of authority is captured best in the incarnation of Jesus.

In this post, I use Matthew 4 to deepen look at the incarnational nature of Christian authority by focusing on Jesus’ response to Satan in the desert temptations recorded in Matthew 4. While Satan often worked through pawns—Herod, Jewish leaders, Roman authorities, Judas —at times Satan worked directly. This is one such place. The contrast between the two superpowers–Satan and Jesus–are marked but subtle.

Jesus has been “led” into the dessert by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 4:1). This transaction alone reminds us of the mutuality that framed Jesus’ authority.  He is going into the wilderness on his own choice but in response to invitation and community and leadership. He is following even as he is leading. He is following the Spirit, who will be evidently also subject to Jesus’ authority as evident elsewhere in the New Testament.

Jesus was NOT kidnapped nor forced into the dessert but lead, invited and winsomely compelled by the Spirit’s community. I belabor the point as it sets up the scene very well. The 40 days of fasting and prayer, the deep self-denial and later deprivation, appear to many as a sort of solitary confinement. This was not completely accurate. It was first and foremost a retreat and communion with God. Jesus’ divine nature had extensive  experiences throughout eternity with such intense communion. Now, in his human form, he comes to this event. The deep communion, a community exchange, means for Jesus this is about interdependency not independence.

For millennium, I fear this episode has been distorted to justify remoteness instead of interdependence.  Calls to monasteries or more recently calls to “get of the grid” or escape cities as a claim to participant in more righteous living can exalt self-sufficiency to a detriment. I think this mindset has fostered a bizainterdependency. They have erroneously twisted this into self-denial over communion.

Notwithstanding, it is true, this experience leads to great self-denial. But this self-denial is one of communion. Herein lies the beauty of this passage to understanding authority. It is the denial of self, within community, that establishes an authority based on mutuality.

As such, Jesus, as a man within this intense devotion and communion, not only finds spiritual power, but as a man, physically exhaustion. He becomes emaciated within the dynamic of communion.

Satan sees his opportunity. As an angel disguised in health and light he shows up when Jesus is most physically exhausted.

Depravity is contrasted to strength in a remarkably clear way between the two. The contrast will spill over into understanding authority.

“The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Or in the NASB “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

While food might appear to be the “natural” focus of the conversation and temptation, in reality the main issue is Jesus’ identity and authority.

Doubt frames the conversation from the start. “IF” is the word that indicates the more dominant players dismissal of the other persons right of identity. The deep challenge is made to Jesus’ fundamental authority: that which arises from his identity.

But if that seems like the bullet to avoid, in reality, it is the second “shot” from Satan’s mouth that is the most troubling to me. It is in the word TELL. TELL these stones. As the NASB captures it: COMMAND.

Telling and commanding are the most common phrases most associate with authority. People are in authority when they can tell and command and then things happen. It is how we have come to expect authority to get demonstrated, especially if a God is involved.

Yes, we have reason to think this. God spoke and the world’s were created. God’s Word rallies angels. It makes things happen. It is natural to associate the ability to command with authority. Jesus is God and has the creative power to create bread from rocks.

If he just did that, it would settle Jesus’ authority once and for all.

Or would it.

Jesus answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

Jesus does two things that are counter intuitive in his discussion and debate with Satan. When asked to assert his divinity, Jesus now identifies with his humanity.

“Man shall not…..”

“I am human,” is how Jesus responds to the question of his divinity. That doesn’t help his defense, or does it?

In grabbing his identity as a man and not asserting it as the Son of God moves the conversation of authority to a different place.

Then he does the second important shift, by moving the TELLING to a frame of listening.

Humans must depend on every word that proceeds from God’s mouth. But this is not from a God who is always telling but a God in conversation. We are listening, Jesus is listening, because he is responsive.

He asserts a human dependency on God in both his reference to being human and his “waiting on every word.”

When tempted to usurp a divine prerogative—to speak as he did at creation to bring forth life-giving forms—he instead invokes human dependence.

Herein lies the mystery of a godliness that views authority from a frame of dependence, communion, dialogue, and deep mutuality. The invitation to mutuality is different then the invitation to command and tell.

Satan can’t enter that authority. Satan has twisted truth because he himself has become twisted. His own thinking has got the best of him. He doesn’t really understand God and Jesus, and their authority over and with others.

But Satan recognizes enough to see Jesus has made an appeal to dependency.

So then, he pushes to the other extreme, sacrilegiously grabs some scripture from his mind invites Jesus to deep interdepency—throw yourself over this cleft—a free fall of dependence—and let God catch you.

This is a distortion number two about authority. It is always a mutuality that invites the other to use their brain. Humans must live by dependence on God and must respond to His word, but not deny the reason and reasonableness God has given them. They have authority to in the mutual relationship with God.

Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (NASB)

On the other hand is marker of dialogue, of discussion, of even debate that suggest a richer judgment of reality from mutuality.

Satan is pushing always to extremes because he himself has no longer an ability to anchor in the mutuality of God’s authority. He can no longer appreciate the dynamic authority crafted in divine-human relationships, which allows each a voice, but finds in submission a wonder of ascribed authority.

He has lost dialogue with God, dialogue that Jesus is fresh off the the last 40 days of experiencing. Dialogue that submits to authority of the other even as one’s own authority is preserved.

“Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory;  and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.”

Satan can’t break the bond between Jesus and God because the bond is one of mutuality, interdependency, and delighted submission.

Satan can neither understand that approach to “worship” nor conjole it out of others.  It is mixed with affection and allegiance, the type that only comes from authority established by mutuality.

Satan can force, carry people up to mountains, try to sweeten offers of great fame and fortune, but he won’t or can’t take the way to the heart.

Herein lies the authority of Christianity.

In the next three posts, I will try to showcase how and why that mutuality approach to authority is so essential in understanding Adventist ethics.

Education and Redemption are One

Jesus and I are in the same line of work: redemption. At least that is the implication of Ellen White: “Education and redemption are one” (Education, 1903, p. 30).

There are several ways people interpret that “oneness.”

SAME: Jesus was a teacher and so am I. I believe that. However, seeing his life as only that of teaching can distort what is meant by “one.” Viewing the act of the Cross and the emotion and intensity of its experience and investment as the same as a professor grading papers or a kindergarten teacher explaining colors reduces redemption to a painfully low level. Christ’s work on the cross is qualitatively not just quantitatively different. Yes, they are all teaching moments, but His was more than just a longer lecture with a bigger lab demonstration. Seeing “one” as the “same” is a sacrilegious reduction of redemption. Granted, it is an aggressive and progressive view of teaching but a numbing and dumbing view of redemption. The cross was too radical to be classified as a teaching moment. It is too radical to be classified in any other professional genre: too powerful to be understood merely as healing, too costly to be economically reduced to “paying a price” (as if our “tab” could be calculated), too radical for even the legal terms of justification and acquital. It is beyond category. We can just look at this event, straining through our metaphors to appreciate aspects of it, and then bow in horror mixed with joy to value this horrendous and beautiful Event and Person. Let’s not reduce that reality to a drab sameness.

SIMILAR: Similar is better than same at understanding White’s “one.” It doesn’t conflate the two acts of redemption and education. It suggests overlapping characteristics between the two, but invites us to make a checklist of similarities without the need to conflate the two.  My twin brother and I are similar, at least we look similar. But he lives in the West, I live in the East. He has two sons. I have two daughters. He is a physical therapist and I teach and blog. My daughters and I also have some similarities. We both live in the same town. We eat similar food. We both go to the same church and university. But they are female and I am male. I am old and they are young. I have a college degree and they are working on theirs. Similar is nice word as it creates a checklist of comparison. But if “same” implies too much overlap, similar implies too little.  I think there is more at work in Whites view of education and redemption as one.

SYNERGY. This is the word I prefer to use when thinking about how education and redemption are ONE. It suggests a working together, very closely for the same goal. That goal is simply the uplifting of individuals and by association the WHOLE human race. God is reconciling each and all of us to himself. It this process I play a part as a teacher. Learning is the tool that I bring to the dynamic work of Christ and the Spirit of teaching others all things that are in Christ.

Redemption and education are basically both about human development. The value Jesus gives to humans and to their development is profound. Just look at the Cross. It is an overwhelming declaration of God’s heart toward us as humans in need of rescuing.  The full recovery and full restoration and full dignity of all humans is assured in that one act. But it is not yet realized in all of us. That is how education–teaching and learning–can help.  Christ DID and IS DOING that work. He called me to work with him, and equipped me as a teacher to cooperate.

Those who partner with God in developing humans are co-workers with God for the betterment of others. God created people for an amazing potential for development. Sin has not changed his goal, just some of the means by which He has to reach that goal. He has asked educators to partner with him. God and we educators are in a partnership. It is what makes God and I at odds with Satan.

Satan is about debilitating people. He hates the human race and schemes all the time on how to keep people depressed, suppressed, and oppressed.

But God and I are are working against Satan’s schemes. We are on the opposite team, the winning side, for human development.

I hope in a future blog to talk about the key method I have discovered for human development: leadership development.

But until then, I end fwith words of Ellen White:

“By sin man was shut out from God. Except for the plan of redemption, eternal separation from God, the darkness of unending night, would have been his. Through the Saviour’s sacrifice, communion with God is again made possible…..

“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, . . . full of grace and truth.” “In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.” John 1:14, R.V.; 1:4. The life and the death of Christ, the price of our redemption, are not only to us the promise and pledge of life, not only the means of opening again to us the treasures of wisdom: they are a broader, higher revelation of His character than even the holy ones of Eden knew.

And while Christ opens heaven to man, the life which He imparts opens the heart of man to heaven. Sin not only shuts us away from God, but destroys in the human soul both the desire and the capacity for knowing Him. All this work of evil it is Christ’s mission to undo. The faculties of the soul, paralyzed by sin, the darkened mind, the perverted will, He has power to invigorate and to restore. He opens to us the riches of the universe, and by Him the power to discern and to appropriate these treasures is imparted.

…. As through Christ every human being has life, so also through Him every soul receives some ray of divine light. Not only intellectual but spiritual power, a perception of right, a desire for goodness, exists in every heart. But against these principles there is struggling an antagonistic power…. To withstand this force, to attain that ideal which in his inmost soul he accepts as alone worthy, he can find help in but one power. That power is Christ. Co-operation with that power is man’s greatest need. In all educational effort should not this co-operation be the highest aim?

The true teacher is not satisfied with second-rate work. He is not satisfied with directing his students to a standard lower than the highest which it is possible for them to attain. He cannot be content with imparting to them only technical knowledge, with making them merely clever accountants, skillful artisans, successful tradesmen. It is his ambition to inspire them with principles of truth, obedience, honor, integrity, and purity–principles that will make them a positive force” (Education, 1903, p. 29, 30).

Why wouldn’t more people want to scramble into careers in education?

Next time, let’s talk about the power of leadership development.

Authority & Ethics 3: Jesus’ Baptism

This 7 part series is looking at authority in Christian ethics.

My first post reviewed power, authority, and the disdain for both and the how ethics needs authority to makes its claims.

Second, I used select passages in Matthew to show he presented Jesus’ power and authority in contrast to and superior to Roman political power and distorted Jewish spiritual power.

In this 3rd post, I use Matthew 3, to add another layer to Jesus’ authority: how it is both self-authored but also derived and shared. I suggest you read these passages first to form your own ideas before I try to convince you of mine.

I come to this passage through a particular window: Matthew 21:23-27, where the Jewish leaders “ask” Jesus about His authority.

“Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’  But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Why did Jesus use John as the reference point for such a serious discussion of Jesus’ authority? Why did he leave their question up another response from them? The short answer: because the ultimate question of authority is always left up to the individual.

The long answer follows:

At this point in his ministry, Jesus had a lot of evidence he could have referenced to underscore his power and authority. He had the stories of his miraculous birth, he had direct fulfillment of scriptures he could have listed off (as he later would do to the truth seekers on the way to Emmaus), he had hundreds of lectures and irrefutable teachings he could list. He could have added appeals to his genuine love of the people or reminded them about voice from heaven that spoke at his baptism and later on the mountain (God said Jesus was His Son, shouldn’t that have settled it?).

If all that evidence was too ethereal, the pragmatists could have used the thousands of healings and amazing success with diseases like palsy, leprosy, blindness, deafness, and even death, to validate Jesus power and authority. And then they could have added evidence about his power over storms and miraculously feeding just to cap off the witnesses to his power.

However, much of that would have had to come as a witness from others. Which may be the sore spot for these leaders.

The deluge of evidence about Jesus’ authority wasn’t getting to these leaders. They were blind to it.

Jesus’ appealed to John’s authority shows us where this blindness started.

Which takes us to Matthew 3, where John is presented as the forerunner of Christ, preparing people. His job is to get them ready for Jesus. He is calling people to repentance and “initiating” and “authenticating” into THE “prepared” group by requiring them to be baptised.

Matthew reports and seems to agree with the people’s view: John’s ministry was received as a fulfillment of prophecy and “authored” from God.

People flocked to him in droves, responded to him, and listened to his “command” for water baptism?

Did John make up that requirement?

No, not really. Washing, and at times, full body washing, was practiced in several temple related cleansing acts, especially during Yom Kippur. Even Naaman’s washing seven times shows the association of water with cleansing, renewal and change. Full immersion baptism was instituted for converts to Judiasm (see Tevilah and Jewish full water cleansing).

John just gave it a new urgency, a special authority.

He did not have a lot of proof text to justify this “new” emphasis on baptism, but the people saw in it, enough tradition combined with the reliability of John’s teaching to accredit it to God.

They responded. They believe. For them, John had authority. Because they did, they were ready to receive Jesus.

The Pharisees had trouble with John’s power and authority.

They were attracted to it, but not subject or submitted to it. That is evident when John challenged them: “who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?… bear fruits of repentance….the ax is coming.” They could have let the evidence convict them. There resistence would make it easier for them to resist Jesus’ authority when he did even greater things than John the Baptist.

Where the Pharisee’s were unwilling to conceded John’s work was from God those who did, received the prophet’s blessings (of trust and obedience) and prepared themselves for the Next authority that would follow.

This acceptance of authority is crucial:

“But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” (Matthew 17:12). The disciples get the link: “Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist.” (13). Notice how even in this dialogue, Jesus didn’t directly tell them John was the fulfillment of the prophecy. They had to close the loop. Belief is here called for. Closing the circle on authority requires evidence and belief. The Jewish leaders refused to accept the evidence because they didn’t want to have to believe John’s authority, and as such were unprepared to accept Jesus’.

The Jewish leaders could have responded to the evidence of John’s authority. It all added up: John’s dad and his temple encounter, the oddity of John’s life, the parallel between John and what old-testament prophets did, the fulfillment of prophecy in John’s life, and the prima facia evidence of the powerful impact of his ministry.

By the time Jesus comes along, we have all the authority that John had: the life stories with magi, stars, shepphards and angry Herod, the connection to prophecy, more amazing teaching, but even more….the more powerful healing and forgiveness of sins and John’s own testimony that Jesus was the Lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world.

Which leads me to the essential passage in Matthew 3 about authority.

Jesus ask’s John to for baptism.

Why would Jesus ask John for baptism? Why would the greater seek to be blessed by the lesser? Was Jesus, like the Pharisees, just getting in on John’s bandwagon of religious success?

John, the most powerful and leading religious authority at the time, quickly, naturally, instantly demurs to the greater authority, Jesus, with a simple observation– “You should baptize me.”

John demurs because he should. Jesus insists because he knows something better is a play.

This is needed to fulfill righteousness.

What righteousness, or better yet, whose?

Wiersbe gives three reasons for Jesus to be baptized. “First, His baptism gave approval to John’s ministry. Second He identified Himself with publicans and sinners, the very people He came to save. But mainly, His baptism pictured His future baptism on the cross” (Be Loyal, p. 24.”

I see three additional reasons: Jesus did this as an example for the followers who would follow. For two thousand years this tradition would initiate billions into “the Way.” Many, like Anabaptists, Baptists, and Adventists would be persecuted by both pagans and apostate Christian churches for their full-immersion practice. These would find great courage in what Jesus did.

Second, Jesus not only gave approval to John’s ministry, but his accepted John’s authority. The other religious leaders did not come to the point of submission. Jesus was already in that position. That position of mutual submission would charactize “his righteousness.” Jesus was saying YES to both John and God’s authority.

Third, the response of the Trinity. What unfolds as Jesus comes out of the water is a sort of transfiguration: The Spirit as a dove and the Father as a voice confirm what others have already accepted: this is the Son of God.

I don’t know how the Holy Spirit and God add up in your list of authoritative beings, but in most theology, they are at the top. What they say, goes. But notice, they speak last in this seen.

And when Jesus is later locked in debate about his authority, it is not to the Dove and Voice that he appeals but to John’s Baptism: was it from man or God?

Welcome to the authority in the kingdom of God works: it is mutual, other seeking, deferential, and ascribes to the other the authority due it. God was letting others express their authoritative view of the situation before he entered the space.

I see in Christ, in the trinity, in all that is happening here, a new and emerging understanding of authority, a deepening of what it means to establish legitimacy.

Fulfilling righteous is all about authority but it is driven by a mutuality of responsiveness. You have to get into the dance. No one will force you, in God’s kingdom, to believe.

This will become even more evident as we move to Matthew 4, where a showdown with Satan shows their contrasting uses of authority.

Judgment: Event, Experience & Person

Our pastor, Dwight Nelson, gave a wonderful sermon yesterday, January 30, 2016. It was on the Judge of the Judgment.

For those who have heard him before, it should be no surprise that it was uplifting, biblical and well-delivered.  All his sermons are worth your time. See them at https://www.pmchurch.tv/

As those who read my blog know, I am drawn to the power of the judgment as an avenue to understand better God’s relationship to us, and experience the deep love and redemptive work he is engaged in FOR us. Properly understood, the teaching about judgment is really the everlasting gospel and the experience of the event is really an experience of Christ which is so much different than Satan has portrayed the person and the event to be.

As such, I see the judgment as a very useful foundation for processing our understanding of Christian ethics.

In this pages and elsewhere, I have wrestled through Judgment as an EVENT. I have come to see the Adventist view of the date, 1844, as a significant marker for a profound change in understanding Christ’s work of redemption. I don’t understand why this date or all the aspects of it, but I do see it as a significant date helping us move forward the judgment teaching.  However, I know this 1844 and judgment teaching is a hangup for a lot of our Christians so I have spent most of my time trying to understand and explain the EXPERIENCE. I figure if we can agree on the experience, the date won’t divide us as much from other Christians.

Thanks to Dwight, I see better that if we focus on the PERSON of the judge, it gets us even closer to deep place for a wonderful dialogue with other Christians.

Thanks Dwight for taking more scales off my eyes. Jesus as judge makes Judgment the everlasting gospel message because the everlasting gospel is Jesus.

Please watch his sermon or listen to his pod cast. It can really make you happy about the judgment,  because you will want more of Christ, the judge.

Micah 7:9 continues to be my go to passage for understanding the untwisting God does in the gospel judgment:

You don’t need to be working under the weight of judgment!!!! You don’t!!!! It will be a great experience for you because you can have JESUS!!! You come just as your are and let him take you through the process with his charms!!!!!

“I will bear the indignation of the Lord Because I have sinned against Him, Until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me out to the light, And I will see His righteousness.” NASB

“Don’t, enemy, crow over me. I’m down, but I’m not out. I’m sitting in the dark right now, but God is my light. I can take God’s punishing rage. I deserve it—I sinned. But it’s not forever. He’s on my side and is going to get me out of this. He’ll turn on the lights and show me his ways. I’ll see the whole picture and how right he is. And my enemy will see it, too, and be discredited—yes, disgraced! This enemy who kept taunting, “So where is this God of yours?” I’m going to see it with these, my own eyes— my enemy disgraced, trash in the gutter.” MSG
Love the Judge–Love the Judgment

Authority in Ethics (2): Matthew’s Better King

This second post in our 7 part series on Authority in Ethics uses Matthew’s gospel to discuss Jesus’ authority, the main authority in Christian ethics.

The last post discussed power (ability to influence something or someone) and authority (legitimate power) and widespread suspicion about both. I see ethics as the task of weaving a threaded argument for or against something by connecting aspects of a situation (case, policy or decision) to an authority. That authority can be a command from an acknowledged authority, a principle, a prior practice, a tradition or community more, or a religious or Biblical reference. Attempts can also be made to weave it from the values inherent in the situation or to a future outcome. That process is a moral justification.

Christian ethics weaves its moral claims from, with and to Christ. That is why Christian ethics is needed in Christian schools. While we respect and learn from philosophical ethics, even situational ethics, and there are many legitimate reference points of power and authority we all share with others, the ultimate authority for a Christian is Christ.

Matthew’s gospel focuses on Jesus’ power and authority, as the true king, worthy of being followed, a choice Matthew had made. Matthew in a single moment abandoned his tax booth one day to follow Jesus as the Christ. The Jews had already hated Matthew for tax collecting and now he would surely have had to endure the wrath and punishment of Rome for leaving his post. Matthew’s gospel, is both a witness and a personal testimony about why Christ was worth the choice.

Matthew, the other gospels and the whole New Testament, is an attempt to juxtapose the authority of Jesus with the Jewish religious leaders, the abusive Roman authorities and the foolish wisdom of Greek mythology. It is at times a subtle contrast and at other times boldly obvious.

I will highlight only a few passages in Matthew although there are several dozen that directly showcase Jesus’ power and authority. I encourage you to spend several hours reading through Matthew looking all the issues related to power and authority in Matthew.

Wiersbe, in his commentary on Matthew, Be Loyal, notes that Matthew was probably the most used book of the early church as the early church wrestled with how to keep believing in Jesus’ authority in the face of Roman, Greek, and Jewish power.

The first authority we see is in Jesus lineage (1:1-17). Establishing patriarchal authority in Jesus lineage to Abraham through to David and to Joseph, his non-biological father, was important for that time period and for the later prophecies the gospels invoke to establish Jesus’ authority. While distant from modern thinking about authority, it would have been a necessary, although not sufficient, point of authority.

Matthews wisemen at Jesus’ birth (2:1-12) take this to a new level. It shows Jesus, from birth, is recognized by educated individuals from other nations as The King. The fact they followed an astronomical sign in the heaves was added confirmation of Jesus’ unique authority.

Fast forwarding to Matthew 8, the centurion’s encounter with Jesus to come and heal his servant speaks to Jesus authority. When Jesus agrees to come to heal the servant personally, the Centurion seems shocked in two ways: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.” (8:8).

The story shares an understanding of authority and expressed through the centurion: “For I also am a man UNDER authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘do this,’ and he does it.” (8:9).

Jesus profusely praises this act of faith as greater than any other in Israel, and uses it as a time to reprimand “the sons of the kingdom” that will be left in “darkness.”

Faith in and unworthiness and humility are blended into an expression of authority. This is a Roman accustomed to authority as getting one’s way because one has a right and this expresses a subtle difference. Authority is connected to position, but based on meeting the needs of someone. In this case, the Centurion is trying to meet the needs of a servant. He has probably tried but could not. He is desperate. He finds someone with more expertise and more authority. He goes personally to request of a Jewish peasant-rabbi help. It is a request not a command. Jesus is impressed that a pagan centurion used to warfare and killing and violence has a deeper understanding of God’s authority than anyone else.

I am sure the disciples had pulled back with the Centurion had come to Jesus, out of spite, out of fear, out of distrust. But Jesus elevates the Centurion as a great example of faith. This is a man that could have cut Jesus in pieces—he had that power and authority to do so, but instead comes in the same authority Jesus comes—out of request to fill a need.

Later, we get a contrast to this view of authority when the Jewish leaders “came to test Jesus, demanding that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority” (Matthew 16:1, NLT). This is similar to Matthew 4’s record of Satan’s faithless “IF” temptation of Jesus to show his authority by COMMANDING the rocks to be bread. The Jewish leaders, with their strong command approach to authority, is in stark contrast to the Centurion trust and faith and believing understanding of authority. There is a difference in the command both are referring to. One is out of faith and trust, the other is out of doubt, faithlessness, and force.

The contrast would have hit the first century question with confusion. The Pagan Centurion had a better understanding of Christ’s fundamental authority than the Jewish leaders.

Jesus rebukes the leaders and says the only sign they will get is the miracle of his death: a mind shattering challenge to all views of kingly authority. Why would a king die for others when they are born to kill others? It would only make sense if He had a different type of authority, one in which you die for the other because it meets a deep need. He had to heal us and his authority in the cross is the authority the Centurion understood but the Jewish leaders missed.

Then he fast forwards to the judgment scene where he pictures people who will condemn these religious leaders in the judgment “for indeed a greater than Solomon is here.” (v 42).

This passage speaks to the need for acceptance as the basis of authority. While the people of Ninevah and the Queen of the South were willing to change their views of power and authority, the Jewish people were resisting Jesus’ authority.

There are dozens of stories in Matthew that can show this “new King” and his vast power but his new type of authority. Two more points to close this blog:

Transferred authority: Jesus is ready to share authority: “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. I also tell you this: if two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you” (Matthew 18:18, 19). Earthly kings have a hard time transferring authority to others. King Jesus speaks of a father who is more eager to share authority than to grasp it.

But this is contrasted with the fact that some authority is not shared:

“Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your spiritual Father. 10 And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you must be a servant. 12 But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matthew 23: 8-12).

This last statement reminds us of the Centurion (humble and servant are key words here). This constant use of deference with power is evident in Matthew’s presentation of Jesus. It also shows us the servant attitude that should characterize our view of Christ’s authority. Jesus does away with the teacher “lording it over” authority over students, and since he was the greatest teacher, his example is ours in teacher student relations.

Finally, a centurion—the daily representation to Jews of what power and authority looks like—shows up again at the cross. After Jesus final show of his authority—to meet human need—the centurion bows down at the cross, acknowledging “truly this was the Son of God” (Mt 27 :54) as a statement of deep worship. That phrase was reserved for Caesar only, and by acknowledging it the Centurion was shifting his allegiance from the Roman power to Christ. Those entrenched in power—like the centurions and Matthew, attracted to taxes and to that power, have seen something better in Christ. That is Christ’s authority.

In this short review of only 10% of the passages in Matthew about Jesus’ authority we see a new understanding of the authority Christ can bring to us and to doing a Christian ethic. Oddly, Jesus’ authority is over other authority not because he trumps other authority (as Donald Trump would have us think authority is), but because of the faith of the hearers in the humility and service attitude that pervades that authority.

Gone is the authoritarianism that often dominates fundamentalist understanding of God’s authority. The ultimate authority in the life, death, resurrection and on-going ministry of Christ, is anchored in the greater sacrificing for the least, the desire to serve needs, and the desire to lay down your life for even your enemies.

No wonder Matthew had no regrets leaving his tax office, and the Centurion had no regrets confessing something that probably later got him killed. This was the Son of God—he had the enduring authority that commanded a deeper allegiance precisely because it wasn’t commanded.

At the time the stories recorded in Matthew occurred, Rome was the dominant political and economic power (although weakened by its excesses), the Greek mindset was the dominant mental power in culture, arts and mystical ideas, and Jewish religious leaders were trying to carve out their own power center between these two “pagan” influences by creating a “I-am-better-than-you” aloofness with a power center based on spiritual minutia, rules and practices.

Jesus’ life was a fresh invitation to power over sickness, estrangement, confusion, and abuse. It was a new day, a new kingdom, a new way to life.

When Matthew was written, the other dominant powers were still vying for control but a small group, Jesus’ disciples, full of people like former tax—collectors, former Centurions, and religious zealots—had experienced Jesus as a new and better type of authority. There was no going back. Matthew was written to help these followers, who under great torment and torture were persecuted deeply for their faithfulness to a new authority.

In the next post, I return to Matthew 3 and 4, where a showdown of authority can help us see a new side of how Christ can guide Christian ethics.

Authority in Ethics–Introduction (1)

The word “authority” does not usually breed warm feelings. People picture a prickly boss or government official rigidly applying a law or abusing power. Most fear freedoms will be taken away and rights violated when the “trump” card of authority is played.

Ranchers recently took over a federal building on an eastern Oregon wildlife reserve to protest federal land claims. The Oregon ranchers are not alone.  Several states are resisting federal ownership of land, many local governments want to sue state governments over land claims and then there is century old debate about the fundamental claim of Native American to land held in the United States. These issues of authority come to my mind whenever I sing “this land is your land, this land is my land, from the….”

Whose land is it? Who has the right to claim any authority? What makes a claim valid? Law? Military power? Money?

The next seven blogs on Authority in Ethics will address these issues. This first introductory blog defines power and authority, frames resistance to authority and connections it to ethics, specifically Christian ethics.

Authority is “legitimate use of power.” Power is an energy or ability to move something or someone. In the material world, we have solar, electrical, hydro, chemical, and other forms of power. In relational circles, we also have various forms of human energy that influence us. Humans use physical power to create change. Sometimes we increase physical power by using tools that leverage that power, from appliances to knives or guns or bombs to change others behaviors. We also use verbal power in thew ords we say, text, tweet, email or write in blogs and books. There is gender or sexual power, knowledge, expertise, skills, education, age and many other forms of human influence. Leadership, at its core, is about influence. There are even more forms of power in teams, groups or communities: control of resources, positional power, the power of setting agendas, power of teamwork, the power even in taking minutes and notes can frame history and influence thinking. There is a lot of power in human relationship.

When power is used in a “legitimate” way we frame it as authority. But who decides what is proper use of power?

“We do” is probably the best general response. But we will see why that varies based on several factors.

To simplify the socialization of individuals into appropriate power, communities and cultures have developed holding tanks of authority which sociologists call social institutions. These are broad social structures-physical and emotional boxes-that help people see expectations, roles, mores, ethics, values, etc. See Stanford’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

The social institutions I learned at UC Riverside from people like Maryanski and Turner, were:

  1. kinship (how we define and experience family, marriages, parenting, etc),
  2. religion (how we should understand and relate to the divine or supernatural),
  3. business/economics (our ways of production and exchanging services and goods, trading, working, hiring, promoting, firing),
  4. politics (the way we manage scarce shared resources when conflicting values and priorities exist, the way we structure and boundary nations, states, towns, etc.).
  5. law (what we require of citizens and what we do when they don’t comply),
  6. and other emerging social institutions of media (how we share news and communication), healthcare (how we define sickness and manage it) and sports/entertainment (what is acceptable sport both to do and to watch).

Since the modern reformations and revolutions (Protestant, U.S., French, etc.), ancient and medieval authority has been widely challenged and new structures have emerged–specifically strong nation states–that have expressed and maintained authority by force, law or cultural supports (schooling, propaganda, etc.). Even then, the boundaries of nation-states and even the role of states in our lives, has been challenged and redefined. In essence, the modern landscape can best be seen as a continual remapping of authority.

Especially over the last five decades, since the countercultural response to constant world war, two of the oldest and strongest social institutions (family and religion), have been challenged, (specifically the fidelity of heterosexual marriage and the role of organized religion). This has created deep ambivalence and ambiguities about what authority should guide human life and how and why.

Into a vacuum of authority has come personal preference, self-authority, and popular preference marketed as either social norm or even as personal preference. This new locus of authority has worked to de-legitimate some forms of power or others. There is a growing suspicion about external and eternal authority in the modern mind.

As a result, it is understandable that where is widespread caution and resistance to authority. I see both healthy and not so health factors feeding this.

First, resistance to authority is part of the confusion and chaos created in what Adventist call the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan. Doubt about God has trickled down to doubt about all persons or regimes that claim authority over us. Satan questions authority even as he abusively uses his power and Adventist, me included, believe this frames the whole frame of human existence.

But we don’t need to blame the devil for all of this resistance. We each have our own deep resistance to God, others and truth. It is called the sin problem. We want something but can’t or shouldn’t have it and we resist and war for it. Selfishness is the biggest resistance to authority.

Granted, we can’t blame only Satan’s rebellion and our own for our pervasive anti-authority spirit. The abuse of power by others, makes us cautious. In fact, some social institutions established in the West show how we take sin in others very seriously by creating protective structures: Free Press and governmental accountability. Our government is a labyrinth of “checks and balances” between branches of governments and also between levels of governments—federal, state, local (that is why they can sue each other). Media—the power to expose potential abuse in other power centers: the rich, organized crime, governments, schools, businesses, etc. has also become a check to authority (even as it has become another source of abuse).

So in the West, we pride ourselves that we have structures to resist Kings and despots and this “anti-authority” ethos runs deep.

There is another reasons for resistance to authority and it is natural and God designed, hardwired into each human. This stems from “a power akin to that of the creator,” authority extended to us from God as children of God. We are “created in the image of God,” and have been “endowed with a power” of “individuality, power to think and to do” (Ellen White, Education, p. 17). Individuality is not a anti-authority word but rather a self-authority word. God designed us like himself, to take initiative and to follow up to make what is in our minds or hearts a reality. It is self-authorship. It is a basic challenge to all external authority, even his own.

So naturally and institutionally legitimate resistance to authority exist. So the huge challenge in social community is managing this process.

Which brings us to ethics: Ethics is especially concerned with authority. Weaving THE OUGHT and THE SHOULD requires appeals to authority.

Ethicists connect local or current oughts to larger more anchored oughts. Ethics is the art and science of authority referencing. From either past practice or from “value reference points” we craft a link back and forth between the authority and the issues. Some even seek authority in desired consequences that appeal to a group as an ideal outcome and map backwards to what needs to be done.

Having varying sources and paths of authority to appeal to makes ethics a complicated process, but very rewarding as the creativity is very expansive. I first got hooked on ethics by my public school 6th grade teacher Mr. Yoshikawa and trained more formally in it at Loma Linda University when I got my MA in Religion. I love this discipline.

Which brings us to Christian ethics. If the ethicist must show the trail of justification from the current situation to authority, the Christian ethicist must ultimately reference to Christ’ authority. But Christ is both historical (past), present, and future. He speaks to us in the Bible and by the Holy Spirit he has sent. Weaving a moral rationale: a moral argument, appeal and ethical justification—to Christ is also multifaceted (and also very creative and fulfilling as we track Christ Lordship in our world).

Tracking this trail of authority is why ethicists write such long prose (like this blog). The creative engineering of connections is required to validate the path of authority in our appeal for right thought and action. It is a creative process that has to appeal to the reader.

Given the central role of authority in Christian ethics, this blog on Adventist ethics has wrestled with many layers of this process: Ascribed authority and the relationship of moral justification to moral authority and power and the role of discipline and harshness in expressing authority and the process of church authority in Acts 15. I have also discussed many times Haidt’s controversial work on innate moral senses—six of them—especial the one on authority that conservatives often do a better job of framing than liberals.

In the next 5-7 blogs, I will discuss  Christ authority and Biblical authority in Adventist ethics.

Post 2 will look at Matthew’s portrayal of Christ as the ultimate authority.

Post 3 will look at Matthew’s unique attempt to show Christ’ use of multiple source of authority to justify his own, and why that is crucial in our understanding of authority.

Post 4 will use Matthew 4 to contrast Jesus’ reference to God’s authority as different from Satan’s.

Post 5 will bring discussion on authority in Christian ethics to the issue of biblical authority and the role of bible in our lives.

Post 6 will bring me to the place of self-authority as a key understanding of Adventist ethics, especially as it relates to education and modern practices.

In Post 7, I raise a caution about how we synthesize all these sources of authority and about the need ultimately to orchestrate our own response to authority in a way that we “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” I will then bring this to the issue of two extremes in Adventism and in Adventist ethics now playing out in North America and some parts of the world church related to state and church authority.

I invite you on this journey as a way to love God more. I believe many who struggle with God’s moral authority don’t get past the first hurdle of that struggle–is there a God, because of an anticipated fear that if they found there to be a God, he would abusively tell them what to do.  I wonder if people would have an easier time accepting and working with God if they had a better understanding and experience of how he frames authority. I hope this journey will help us all understand God’s authority, the authority of others, and our own, and how those are to relate.

Judgment or Hiding

A lot of people fear divine judgment.

It is because they have a distorted view of God and what He can do on the way to and through judgment by his work of redemption.

There is no option to avoiding divine judgment. It is inevitable according to many passages of scripture (Acts 17:28-31 “he will judge the world”; 2 Cor 5:10 and Romans 14:10 “all stand before the judgment seat of Christ; etc.)

But there is an approach we can take to this.

We can try to hide or we can trust the love of God and face our judgment.

When Adam tried to hide from judgment in the garden in Genesis 3, he made a horrible mistake that cost the human race a lot of wasted time, lots of social and emotional suffering, and a huge amount of distorted living. He should have come clean and faced divine judgment and he would have been treated like the woman caught in adultery (John 8), who, by the grace of God, received NO CONDEMNATION. Adam had to hide and then get stuck in the blame game when he could have had a much better outcome to his poor and sinful choices.

So, as a sinner, the distorted view is to hide from judgment. It takes faith to face judgment….faith in God’s reasonable and radical love.

The message of the SDA church is that judgment is now and judgment is inevitable. If you try to hide, your approach to the judgment hour message is to “call for the rocks and

“They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!” Revelation 6:16

Or again…

“Then “‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!”‘
 Luke 23:30

Not a good choice. It is a choice that shows we don’t understand God and don’t understand judgment.

The SDA church has been given an opposite message. IT IS THE HOUR OF HIS JUDGMENT. COME AND WORSHIP.

Worship is to come to God in faith, knowing that despite our sinfulness he is able to save us. It is not hiding, excusing, blaming others. It is facing the music of our stupidity and requesting God to help us as only true love could.

As I have repeatedly argued throughout this blog, I see a judgment ethic for the Adventist church that is deeper than just a wholistic health ethic or even a sabbath ethic, although those are part of this judgment based ethic. But at our core, our contribution is to present a judgment view of ethics based on God’s redemptive work of love. Divine judgment, rightly understood, is the GOSPEL. The judgment is the goodnews for our time of what God is like and what he can do for sinners.

My two favorite stories of judgment–John 8 and John 9— and my two favorite passages connecting gospel (light) and judgment–1 John 1:9 and Micah 7:9 –all point to the powerful redemptive core engine of a biblical teaching on judgment.

There is no non-judgment option. There are just two:

Judgment and Hide.

or

Judgment and Worship.

Can the SDA church shed its legalistic views of God and His judgment and show the light of Micah 7:9 which is a powerful call to worship BECAUSE of HIS JUDGMENT!!

Prayer: God help us say yes to His judgment Hour!!!

 

And All the Multitude was Silent

Our university department trains leaders. We mentor leaders who face difficult and contentious conflict and have to make tough decisions. We have to train them to confront but also to find safe places to duck into. A safe place gives them time to process emotions and information. Sometimes a safe place is a bathroom—a stop in a stall. Sometimes it is ducking into a previously planned meeting. Most of the time, it is ducking into a place of silence.

Contentions are normal in all relationships. Couples have them even when they love each other. Groups have them even when everyone wants to reach the same goals. We see things differently and have different solutions to problems. A “difference” can lead a group to a new way or third way of thinking. It can cut a path both of compromise and fulfillment.  But it takes some time and space and quietness to do that. What most do is let “differences” fester into debate and then debate into deep discord and then destructive behaviors and finally disaster. The impetus to find a “third way,” may be secular, as in third way economics, or born of political and social reform movements as with the broader socioeconomic approach or with a more Gandhian Satyagraha third way.  These searches for an alternative path turn contention toward solutions.  The big difference is how we manage processes. Good processes guide us toward shared learning. Bad process exacerbate contentions into heated warfare.

Acts 15 shows us how to handle contention. As I pointed out in my blog about Acts 15, there was a lot at stake as the early church came to grips with continuing a millennium old practice of circumcision. How does a church stop a practice that old with such a clearly divine origin? Not easily.

In the middle of heated contention, something happened.

“And All the Multitude was Silent” (see verses 12, 13).

Apparently without provocation, all present felt a shared need to be quiet. It may have come from a Jewish practice–a sort of Roberts Rules of Order. It may have been out of exhaustion after a period of long and hard debate. Whatever the reason the unthinkable happened—each of them fell silent—an individual choice—that created a shared social space that created a quiet place for finding a third way.

It created the space they needed for a spiritual decision.

It worked. It says they then listened and then James spoke. The church moved forward.

As I noted in my last blog, the book of Acts is all about Jesus helping his new church learn to listen to the Holy Spirit. The early church had to get used to a new dynamic of teaching and learning. Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. Figuring out how that worked does some practice. You couldn’t just believe everything you hear that was new, nor could you necessary stay stuck with everything that you had believed in the past. Learning is finding new paths from old trails, but also creating whole new trails of thought and practice. It would take a listening ear–not just an individual listening, but a whole community–voicing each of their concerns and the group hearing it and deciding what should be done.

This was God developing in his people nuanced thinking and careful listening and church that judged well.

Silence is crucial in all this. It stops our routines of speaking. It is similar to fasting and waiting. All three of these–fasting, waiting and silence–break up three routines that come natural to our life —eating, working, speaking. Eating, working and speaking are not bad. In fact, they are essential. But routines become ruts and ruts keep us thinking and doing the same thing. That is why Jesus warned them that in working with the Holy Spirit, they would have to engage in waiting, fasting, and silence. That was the only way to learn new ways.

These three actions counteract a natural aggressiveness and the force of tradition and the lethargy of past momentum and rutted habit that press us toward rigid “stuckness” that can prevent us from finding better ways to live our Christian life.

Leaders–the ones most in need of new learning– are often the most at risk of not having the time nor emotional space to learn. Everyone expects them to know and decide instantly. They especially need to find safe places to duck into and silence can give them time to think and find a third way through the thicket.

I really really struggle with this as I pointed out on my blog on listening. Creating silence is hard when your mouth is moving all the time. Group silence is even harder. It involves not only personal activity but shared work… socially creating shared space for each of us to learn.

In Acts 2, they had to wait and then received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 13, they fasted and prayed and sent Barnabus and Paul on their Holy Spirit directed mission. In Acts 15 , they stayed silent long enough for all accept new learning.

Maybe its time we all duck into some silence.

I believe my church will learn what I learned the hard way a few months ago. I was trying to administratively intervene on an issue where I thought my power to do right was needed. I had most of the story right and I had good reasons to intervene to protect policy and some individuals. What I failed to consider was that my good colleagues who disagreed with me meant well and had different approaches to the situation. I eventually backed off the issue. I lost my aggressiveness for doing what I thought was right and decided to instead go with the wisdom of the group. The passage that rang in my ears: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17.

So, we should add freedom—granted to others— to our list of ways to increase learning. Freedom is to the will what fasting, waiting, and silence are to the routines that grind us into ruts. It creates space for learning.

Prayer: God, help me out of my rut! Help me to grant freedom to others as you have to me. Bring the freedom and silence we need to channel our current church contention into better resolutions.

Does God Yell? Listening

Yesterday, I heard a prompt from the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t on a major issue but it was wise advice that if received and heeded my day would have gone better.

By the end of the day, I wished the Holy Spirit would have yelled. But does God yell? Should He yell? Does yelling even work? Was the problem with Him or with me?

Listening has become a great focus of mine over the last several years. Personally, I have been a talker most my life. I see now how damaging it has been to exercise my mouth more than my ears. I have robbed others and missed my own learning.

I have been going through the book of Acts and see the role of listening is everywhere. The early Christian community was active in waiting and listening, waiting, and then acting on their prompts. I need that experience.

I also noticed that the “world” has the louder ones–evil spirits shrieking out truth but in a wrong way, bad leaders breathing out threats to Christians, shrieking mobs that need to be quieted, or the constant barrage of distorted messages. (Kinda sounds like our times!)

How can I be a person who listens, learns and does what I am taught be God.

Sometimes I wonder how the Holy Spirit decides what volume to use on us. He has to have some volume. Why is the still small voice more effective? Why not just blast the words and ideas and truth into people ears so. Maybe, like a good classroom teacher, He knows the act of learning starts by leaning into the words, lives and heart of others. Maybe he knows its based on the truth: “A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

I don’t deny that at times the Holy Spirit’s work is intense–when Ananias and Sapphira drop dead for lying against the Holy Spirit; when Saul is confronted on the road to Damascus, but we don’t see yelling.

I guess I should be learning something from that technique for my own listening and also for the way I teach.

In Acts 27, when Paul is at the lowest status-a prisoner stuck on a boat he can’t control–the call to listen gets quietly but profoundly strong:

“So Paul warned them, “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.”

But the “decision makers” didn’t listen to Paul. They listened to the owner, the pilot and weather and sailed on….into disaster.

Paul later chides them for not listening to him but, in his gracious way, reassures them that if they NOW listened and obeyed, despite their past poor choices and a shredded ship, the people would not be lost.

Edgar Schein’s Humble Inquiry: The Gentile Art of Asking Instead of Telling has helped me see the need to have a “receiving” spirit toward others. Asking prompts our curiosity more and draws our will away from our ruts of thinking and believing and seeks new tracks to think in. It activates our pre-frontal cortex and invites us to the judgment process, which is more about listening then talking. Judgmental processes seek to speak before they hear. Judgment listens first and foremost and then and only then speaks.

There-in is the challenge of the Holy Spirit and church community. How can bull-headed, self-absorbed and fixated minds be drawn off their rutted thinking into better understanding?

Paul describes us all: “who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them…. so that people are without excuse…but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts ….They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”

One of Paul’s last warnings (Acts 28:25-28) is about this issue: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:

“‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”

Prayer: Oh, gentle Holy Spirit. Forgive me for not hearing your soft counsel to me . I know you still stayed with me and I eventually heard and heeded, but oh, how much better to heed the still small voice then to have to shipwreck so badly. As Andy Stanley reminds me, let me heed the guardrails of life you have created to hear, know, and follow your words.