National Recovery, part 3 - Keys to Transformational Leadership
Today in our series on National Recovery we are zeroing in on leadership. What does it take to lead a nation out of the mess and into greatness? As we’ve noted in the previous two weeks, there’s much we Christians have to own in the process. After all, one thing our elected officials have in common is this: they were all elected by us. We can yell and scream and rant and rave about our elected officials, but in the end, we’ve got to own some of the problems because we elected them.
Going forward, then, what should we be looking for in leaders worthy to be elected that could lead our nation to recovery? And for that, we open the bible to a story that might just be the best example of transformational leadership ever. This account has very real and very practical implications for us nationally, and, if we would just absorb them, it would prove a tremendous step toward righting our country.
And everyone seems to agree that righting our country is needed. Maybe you saw the fascinating results from a huge national poll that just came out earlier in September sponsored by SurveyMonkey and the Washington Post. That poll concluded two things about which Republicans and Democrats are agreed as the presidential election looms: (1) No matter who wins the election, it will do nothing to unite this country; and (2), 72% of both Republicans and Democrats say that this nation reflects their values less than it did in the past. What kind of leader is required to get things fixed around here? It’s largely contained in this Old Testament account.
Before we dip headlong into that account, let me give you some background. In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, king of the then-superpower Babylonian Empire, having conquered most of the known world, sets his sights on Israel. He takes it and the capital city, Jerusalem, handily and carts off the best and brightest to exile to Babylon. Fifty years later, we find the Babylonians are no more, supplanted by the new Big Man on Campus, the Persians and Medes, led by their king, Cyrus. Cyrus decided things might go better empire-wise to get many of those exiles back to their homeland—happier people are more productive people, and more productive people generate more tax dollars. And from his decree, 50,000 Jews head back to Israel. You can read about this first tranche who head home in the book of Ezra.
Back home, however, things don’t go very well for those Israelites. They build a new temple, nothing nearly as grand as Solomon’s original, but never get around to restoring the walls and gates of the city. So, no security from unfriendlies nearby. Ultimately, the economy tanks, and the people end up borrowing from neighboring countries to make ends meet. That goes badly for them. Eventually, most of their homes and property are owned by others, and even family members are forced into servitude to work off the debts.
Time goes by. . .a new Persian king, Artaexerxes, comes onto the scene. He continues the policy of resettling exiles. He also has a respected Jew named Nehemiah in his employ as cup-bearer. Nehemiah’s brother pays him a visit after a trip to Jerusalem. He describes for Nehemiah the dire circumstances there. Nehemiah is heartbroken, and he determines to seek the king’s permission for a leave of absence to return home and lead his people to recovery. Amazingly, the king agrees, giving Nehemiah all manner of money and supplies to get jump-started. That’s good, but there was more. The king also declares Nehemiah the governor of the whole region and hands him letters to pick up any additional goods and supplies from everyone he might meet along the 600-mile journey home—all to ensure that, when he gets there, he’ll have what he needs to get the job done.
Nehemiah gathers a bunch of his fellow countrymen, and they head out. When they get to Jerusalem, Nehemiah, under the cover of darkness, wanders around the city to get a bead on the situation. He eventually calls the people to a meeting and casts this great vision: We’re going to rebuild the walls, reestablish our security, fix this economy, and stop being the laughingstock in the region. Everyone is pumped to get to it. But, wait! A problem. Everyone is in hock and constantly in fear of losing their houses, land, and families. So, Nehemiah takes a bold step—and you can decide whether you’ve seen any of this kind of leadership in America lately. He uses his own personal wealth to pay off the debts of the people, requiring them only to make building that wall a priority. And excitement reigns supreme, the work gets underway, and everything’s going great. . . until. . . well, wealthy Jews conspired to get the poorer Jews to borrow more money, this time from them, at high interest rates. Their calculation: "No problem for us if these people can’t pay. They’ll whine and all, but ol’ moneybags Nehemiah will come to the rescue. He’s good for it. We’ll make a mint.” I think they misjudged Nehemiah a tad. See for yourself out of Nehemiah, chapter 5, as Nehemiah gets wind of the cries of those about to lose their homes and land again.
Nehemiah 5:6-13 I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words. I took counsel with myself, and I brought charges against the nobles and the officials. I said to them, "You are exacting interest, each from his brother." And I held a great assembly against them and said to them, "We, as far as we are able, have bought back our Jewish brothers who have been sold to the nations, but you even sell your brothers that they may be sold to us!" They were silent and could not find a word to say. So I said, "The thing that you are doing is not good. Ought you not to walk in the fear of our God to prevent the taunts of the nations our enemies? Moreover, I and my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Let us abandon this exacting of interest. Return to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them." Then they said, "We will restore these and require nothing from them. We will do as you say." And I called the priests and made them swear to do as they had promised. I also shook out the fold of my garment and said, "So may God shake out every man from his house and from his labor who does not keep this promise. So may he be shaken out and emptied." And all the assembly said "Amen" and praised the Lord. And the people did as they had promised.
He calls a meeting to read these shysters the riot act, but, interestingly, he begins the meeting talking about how he himself has dealt with the people. He says, “ Look, I paid off their debts myself, and you guys have operated to take advantage of them. Even now, there are people in need, and when I see that, I simply loan them what they need. I don’ t charge interest—they simply pay back that amount when they can." And we’re told an amazing thing: These loan sharks hear Nehemiah and were ashamed. They didn’t even try to make a defense.
Nehemiah says, “Look, I know you guys have been operating this way for generations, but that doesn’t make it right.” See, when God established Israel, He made it clear that the nation was to be a people that owned, not borrowed. And if people in the nation needed something, the nation was to make that available to them at no interest. However, Nehemiah now tells them because of their duplicity, what was needed at the present moment was something more drastic: Give them the titles back to their land and houses, cancel their debt outright, and return any interest you have collected. And because of Nehemiah’s own personal integrity, the con artists agreed to do just as Nehemiah said.
Let’s ask this question. Can you imagine the President of the United States or the US Congress successfully facing down business leaders, bankers, or anyone who has ripped people off and getting this kind of response? Yeah, me, neither.
In fact, I tuned into to some of the Congressional hearings this past week that grilled the pharmaceutical company, Mylar, over the dramatic increase of the price of an EpiPen to over $600. Interestingly, I didn’t hear anything that resembled what Nehemiah heard from company representatives. “Oh, no, we’re not getting rich off of price gouging and hurting people who depend on these pens to live. We’re not make any money at all. Maybe it’s some unidentified middle man, somewhere out there in the ether, that’s to blame. But surely not us, surely not me.” And I’m thinking to myself, “Where is the shame? Where are the heads hung low, unwilling to even look into the face of their accusers? Where is the humility?” It didn’t exist. Remember the sub-prime mortgages that toppled the housing market back in 2008? Instead of letting the shysters pay, largely the US responded by printing more money to bail them out.
We have to ask, “Why is this?” Well, I think the Nehemiah story holds a clue, because it turns out he had something that apparently the President of the United States and Congress does not possess, something that could lead people to the shame and the resultant actions that shame should produce. And we find that as we continue reading in chapter 5. See if you can spot it.
Nehemiah 5: 14-19 Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor. The former governors who were before me laid heavy burdens on the people and took from them for their daily ration forty shekels of silver. Even their servants lorded it over the people. But I did not do so, because of the fear of God. I also persevered in the work on this wall, and we acquired no land, and all my servants were gathered there for the work. Moreover, there were at my table 150 men, Jews and officials, besides those who came to us from the nations that were around us. Now what was prepared at my expense for each day was one ox and six choice sheep and birds, and every ten days all kinds of wine in abundance. Yet for all this I did not demand the food allowance of the governor, because the service was too heavy on this people. Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people.
Nehemiah clearly had something in his quiver that POTUS and Congressional leaders did not possess, something that took him 12 long years to develop, something that went beyond just the power and authority that came with his position as governor of the region. Something that led him to speak and shame the guilty into coming clean and making things right.
What was it? Moral authority. For those 12 years, Nehemiah purposely did not take all the goodies that came with the title “governor.” He was focused exclusively on what was needed to build the wall, to get the job done. So, he was unwilling to make life more difficult for the average family, unwilling to take the food, money, land for himself and his crew that came from Persia. In fact, he even forbade any of his guys to buy land. We’re not here to get rich off this assignment. We’re here to build the wall. And it cost him. He had to pay for a lot of the activities out of his own resources. He apparently didn’t care about building up a huge nest egg for himself.
Someone with moral authority has a ton of clout way beyond just their position. It’s that authority that can get people to line up behind you, inspired by your leadership to sign on to take the hill that seems insurmountable. Because you’re not looking to use or abuse them, you’re not asking them to do something you haven’t. You’ve risked it all for the cause, and they know there’s not a duplicitous bone in your body. You’re not out for you; you’re out for getting the job done.
So, why don’t we have Nehemiah’s to vote for around here? One reason is that I believe we have decided as a nation that it’s OK for a person to have a major disconnect between their private and public personas. Who cares anymore if someone says “X” but then does “Y”? Oh, yeah, we care when it’s someone from that other party, the one we don’t like. We want accountability then. But when it’s someone from our side of the street, well, it’s not that big a deal.
We’ve been trying to encourage ourselves to view our politics through our faith, not the other way around. And didn’t we just see from Nehemiah that really leading a people to recovery, out of horrific circumstances, takes not just having a position—or winning an election—but the moral authority to inspire people to make the sacrifices necessary for the good of the nation? And that inspiration comes, in large part, because they have witnessed that person sacrificing for the good of the nation. If national leaders want to have credibility to lead us to recovery, they’ve got to have moral authority. The term in the bible for this is “beyond reproach”—a rigorous investigation into a life that reveals no degree of separation from what is said and what is actually done.
So, politicians running for election, if you’re up to something that, if found out, would embarrass you, your family, your constituents, just walk away now. If you’re leveraging your position to get things, do things, the average bear can’t get or do, just walk away now. Save us all the heartache later when it comes out. If you’re an alcoholic or abuser of any substance, just get out of politics. We can’t afford more of your shoddy leadership, not with our country needing recovery. If you’ve used your position to build up your bank account, your network, your opportunities, rather than to get the job done you were elected to do, just step aside, please.
I’ve come to the conclusion that, were Nehemiahs from any party to be elected, they would be able to work together to solve things around here. I mean, if they are sincerely devoted to one thing—getting the wall built—they would be able to figure it out. I’d rather vote for a Nehemiah in a party I don’t normally vote for than one lacking in moral authority from my normal party of choice.
Maybe you conclude that our nation is in the kind of mess where we don’t have a Nehemiah to cast a vote for. Maybe it’s time we began to pray that God would send us such candidates in the future and help us endure the lack of good choices until He does.
Make sure you tune in next week, because we are going to discover just how much hangs, not on the masses out there, but on the seriousness of Christians who claim to be followers of Christ. Those people getting their act together literally determine everything about the future of our nation. So, hope reigns, but it doesn’t come cheap.
Last week we saw that National Recovery starts with “we” and not “they.” Our need to correct things has to start somewhere surprising. We need to admit that we actually look a whole lot like the political leaders we love to hate.
Do you know how many world changing revolutions started with a small group of committed people decided to do things differently?
All of them.
So it starts with us – and in keeping with the recovery theme, step 4 of the twelve step program is this:
We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
We need to quit rationalizing, to quit blaming, to quit talking about our parents and look in the mirror. Christians believe that when sin came into the world it broke everything. I’m messed up and you are messed up. We could all hold hands with Congress and say we are messed up; we’re broken. And part of our brokenness and part of the human condition make it very difficult to own and to embrace our responsibilities for some of the decisions that we’ve made, especially if somebody else comes along and gives us a good excuse to use and to replay for the rest of our lives.
Our current obsession with tolerance isn’t about love, it’s about moral cowardice. I don’t want to face my own sin, or the things I do that are just wrong and I need to own it and work to change it. But if I adopt a philosophy that says – you do whatever you want, just try not to hurt anyone… then I can have my pet evil and ask you to leave me alone about it. Maybe I can even lie to myself.
But God has something else to say here. There’s a really important verse of scripture, in the book of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 17:9 -The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
The context for this verse is a series of bewildering and ill-conceived uprisings by the Jews against the Empire of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar. Those rebellions ended about like you would expect them to, with the Israelites crushed and Jerusalem in flames. It made no sense. And, like Israel, our greed and ambition and self-destruction often seem crazy in hindsight.
The heart of man is deceitful and it is beyond cure. It is natural for you, it is natural for me, it is instinct for me, it is instinct for you not to do a fearless, moral inventory. It is natural; it is instinctive to me to create a story so I can bypass the truth about me like you bypass the truth about you.
The first step to a way out is a fearless moral inventory. How can we be forgiven unless we admit fault? How can we repent of something we’re not honest about in the first place?
The good news (literally) is that God did something amazing. He announced forgiveness in advance. When we understand grace… and know that God will cover us no matter what we’ve done, there’s nothing we can’t bring to Him. We don’t need to hide with Adam in the garden. We can be transparent and honest with God and with ourselves, and that starts us on the road to recovery.
It’s time to stop hiding… to be fearless in owning our mistakes in transparency before God and honesty with ourselves. How can we repent from something if we never really own it enough to admit it? It’s scary to really do this. But it’s also incredibly liberating. Real forgiveness and freedom is right on the other side of the door.
National Recovery Part 1 - We The People
We have watched what can only be described as the surreal political season leading to the US presidential election this coming November. The level of irritation, frustration, anger, discouragement, and fear led us to jettison our fall teaching schedule to speak to how we Christians might, even ought, to respond in this political season. The thinking is this: perhaps there is more that we can do to right this country than merely cast a vote for one of the least popular candidates in US history to win their party’s nominations. If so, what might God tell us about how we are to think and act when all around us seems to be falling apart. This is the executive summary of part 1 of a series we’re calling National Recovery.
How did we get into this mess? How is it possible that our country is riding records levels of national debt? How is it that we are like Terrell Owens, who made $80 million in his NFL career, but was broke within a few years of retiring? We don’t seem to be any better than Sbarro or Circuit City or Lehman Brothers or Republic Airways—seemingly rock-solid, well-known businesses that went belly up. Isn’t it true that none of believe that we’d be those people whose lives fall completely apart after winning the lottery? Yeah, no way we’d be those people. But, we’re living in a nation that’s headed there.
Do we really have a financial problem in America, a lack of resources? Or, are we like all these individuals or companies that went bankrupt, not because of financial resources, but because of mismanagement of those resources? Yeah, our problem isn’t the lack of resources. It’s the wholesale squandering of the nation’s prosperity. Like with individuals, when we scratch below the surface, what we find isn’t financial, but some addiction that finally surfaces for all to see when the money runs out. My wife and I have a relative who should be set for life, but recently approached us for a $30,000 gift under the mistaken impression that we just had that sitting around. And since it was just sitting around, she should have access to it. Well, scratch below the surface and what do you find? Not a financial resource issue at all, but a gambling addiction that shows up as a financial issue.
If America’s issues really aren’t financial, but something else, perhaps we need to scratch below the surface and work on solutions to those issues rather than print more money. Here’s what I found when scratching below the surface. See if you don’t agree:
— A country that doesn’t like to hear “No.” So, we leverage the future to get what we want and get it now. If someone tells us “No,” we get rid of them and elect someone else.
— A country that has a greed problem. How do I know? Easy. The more money you make in this country, the less, percentage-wise, you give away. The poorer you are, the more generous you are, percentage-wise. Our assumption as a people, is that if it lands in our hands, it is there for our consumption, pure and simple. Greed is an abuse of our national prosperity.
— A country with a failure of nerve. Leaders with failure of nerve look at a situation, see what needs to be done, and back down from doing. We too much like the parent who decides it’s easier to let that toddler stay up an extra hour than do the hard work of ensuring he or she goes down to sleep on time.
— A country who places too much trust in a political party to right the ship of state. Even as I share this message with my congregation, the tendency is to look at these issues I’ve mentioned through the lens of political party. Republicans believes they are not the problem. It’s those Democrats. Democrats feel the same way about Republicans. Independents feel the same way about Republics and Democrats. Bernie Sanders Socialists feel the same way about capitalists, ignoring the fact that history has proven that the new Socialist man is just as evil and corrupt and the capitalist one.
It’s into this fray that Jesus speaks, and He does what He does—He comes at this in way that surprises, even stuns, us. Stunning because we all, regardless of our political perspective, are absolutely convinced Jesus is going to line up with us against the other guys. If you were with us when we taught through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount earlier this year, it will be something you’ve heard before
Matt. 7:3 - Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
What in the world?? How dare He? Well, the answer to your question is because I’m certain I’m right and they are wrong. But isn’t this every one of us? I mean, not one of us adheres to a view that we are certain is wrong, do we? We all think we’re right. Jesus knows we’re going to go there, so He hits us with the question again.
Matt. 7:4 - How can you say, “Let me take that speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
OK, Jesus, you’re serious about this, aren’t you? OK, then, here is the answer. I’m focused on them because I was not aware I had a plank sticking out of my eye. Finally, He gets the answer that doesn’t surprise Him, and he comes back with this.
Matt. 7:5 - You hypocrite
OK, this is just getting irritating. See, what we think Jesus was saying from His question was that we ought to be slow to whack on others because we all have some issues. But that’s not His point. See, you can’t be hypocrite unless you are banging on others to stop or start doing something that you yourself are refusing to stop or start. It’s got to be the same issue or it’s not hypocritical. A politician who is against abortion isn’t being hypocritical if he want to close US borders to immigration. Why? Different issues. You may think he’s stupid, but he’s not being hypocritical. Hypocritical is this: He’s opposed to abortion, but when his own daughter gets pregnant, he secretly encourages her to get an abortion to avoid a scandal that might hurt his political career. It’s the disconnect on the same issue that makes him a hypocrite. You see that?
Jesus is saying that when we are all agitated about someone from that other political party, we need to be careful to look in the mirror, because that agitation just might signal that there’s something of that in us that’s driving our ire. And we hate this, because no lifelong Republican believes there’s even an ounce of anything in them that Democrats have. We want to forget us and drive to show them how wrong they are. And into this tendency, Jesus speaks.
Matt. 7:5 - First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly. . .
"You want recovery? You want to see things get fixed?” Jesus asks. Simple, start first and foremost with this: Zero in on you and get the plank or planks out. If you do, you will see clearly. Our problem is that we think we already see clearly. It’s the other guy who doesn’t see clearly. And Jesus merely tells us that we’re wrong. But if we’ll take Him at His word, we find that He makes us a promise—that we will see clearly, maybe for the first time.
So, our first principle in national recovery is this: it all begins with we, not them. So, we’ll close with this that you can use to see if you have a plank. There aren’t all the issues. Just some possible planks to ponder:
— Are you undisciplined with your money? Are you spending up to the edge of your income? Do you have consumer debt, owe money on credit cards? If you’ve been irresponsible with your own money, don’t you lose leverage in wagging your finger at the government for being irresponsible with taxpayer’s money? They are just doing what you are doing.
— Are you greedy? Does 98% of what comes into your hands get used up on your lifestyle? If so, that’s greed. If every Christian would just be a 10% percentage giver, imagine how that would transform communities and schools. But if your greedy, how can you utter a complaint about the rich being greedy? They are just doing what you’re doing.
--Are you paying your taxes or are you stealing?
— Are you men taking responsibility for the children you brought into this world? Are you paying child support or alimony when you should. If not, you’re a major reason for the poverty afflicting this nation. And you’ve lost all your right to say anything about the problem of poverty here.
--Parents, are you living beneath your means to sock money away for your kids’ college so they don’t have to have student loan debt? If not, you are counting on welfare--in the form of government-back loans at significantly discounted rates—and you have lost all leverage in any debates related to those who should or shouldn’t be getting welfare dollars?
--Are there things in your family that should be addressed, but you have a failure of nerve. You afraid of your toddler? Your teen? Your husband? Your wife? You know there’s an issue, you know there needs to be a solution, and you know what it needs to be, but you calculate the potential consequences, and you back down. If so, you have zero credibility to criticize any leader when he or she does the very same thing with the tough decisions they face.
— You stealing from your employer? Exaggerating your expense reports? Yep, you’ve got nothing you should be saying about financial malfeasance on the part of any elected leader.
— You watching pornography? You’re contributing to the abuse of men, women, teens, and children. You’ve got no right to comment on anything anyone else is doing.
And, listen, these are not political party issues. People in every political party engage in these things. But what if we Christians took the time to look in the mirror, spot the planks, the hypocrisy, and worked to get rid it in our lives? Well, Jesus says that, if we do, then we’ll see clearly, and we’ll have the credibility to help others deal with their planks. Lacking that, all we can do with the planks in our eyes is probably help put someone else’s eyes out. Not a good deal. But if we do take action, then maybe we can find that the national recovery doesn’t begin in Washington, but right here at The Surge, right here in your family, right here in your neighborhood, right here in your place of employment, right here in your school. Because national recovery, if Jesus is correct, begins with we, not they.
Let’s get to it!
We're going through biblical warnings about “How the Good Go Bad” with the point being, to do better... and to finish well. This week we're talking about family issues and we'll look at three stories, those of Eli, Samuel and David. We’ll pull three warnings from these stories, and then we'll consider 4 myths about children and families. Don’t have kids? You still have influence on the next generation… so as we explore God's word here, think about people that you can invest in.
First Warning: Don’t Put Your Kids Above God
1 Sam 2:29 Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?'
That word “honor” in the Hebrew means “to be heavy” or “ to weight.” And God is asking, “Why did you give more weight to what your sons wanted than to what I wanted?”
Because of the amount of time we work, the things we do, there is a danger to give more weight to what our kids want than to what God wants. The pull is to give more weight to their activities and not to push them toward the things of God. Like Eli, we can err on the side of going to church and making church about us, rather than making church about God. And somehow his boys got that message. For them church was a place for financial gain and sexual exploits and Eli allowed it happen. Let's take a different path!
Second Warning: God’s relationship with us is firsthand
1 Sam. 8:1-5 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, "Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations."
Samuel's sons didn’t have the relationship with God that Samuel did. It’s not a given. Our sons and daughters have to experience God’s grace firsthand, they can’t borrow our calling – they have to find their own. If we don’t encourage the next generation to seek God on their own, they might make their own way and sometimes that will go very badly. God’s relationship with us is always firsthand – we don’t borrow someone else’s grace.
Third Warning, Don’t wait too long to confront or correct
2 Sam. 13:20-25 And her brother Absalom said to her, "Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart." So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom's house. When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar. After two full years…
David is angry, but he doesn’t do anything for two full years! He doesn’t move to correct or to judge or to heal. And granted, it’s a hard conversation to have. But David had experienced sexual sin and had committed murder in trying to cover it up. The way to deal with sin is not to ignore it and hide from it. The only way to deal with it is to own it, to seek God and repentance – and to face the consequences.
But he doesn’t. And Absalom ends up killing Amnon, in anger over Tamar, and then stages a coup and tries to become king himself. In that struggle, Absalom ends up being killed as a result of the conflict.
David doesn’t act… and Amnon is killed, Absalom is killed, Tamar is desolate and the consequences are nothing but tragic.
Don’t hide from the hard conversation (even the hardest conversation) when it comes to family or people you are close to. The most unloving thing we can do is to fail to confront, to hide and ignore circumstances and hope the bad situation goes away.
That path leads to death, sometimes literally. It will never be fun and there are no guarantees that people will listen. But do everything you can… don’t wait too long to confront and correct when something terrible happens.
We also talked about four myths related to kids and the next generation…
Myth 1: Going to church produces authentic spirituality. Sitting on a grill doesn’t make you a hamburger. And bringing kids to the hospital once a week doesn’t automatically make them doctors. In the same way, church attendance doesn't guarantee a relationship with God. I think it helps.
But we have to go deeper than that. Eli’s sons grew up in the temple… Samuel’s sons saw him working God’s will on a national level all their lives, but they ended up in a bad place. We have to encourage our kids to pursue God themselves and not think that a church service can do this for us.
Myth 2: Kids need to make their own choices. Sure. But people are people and sometimes people make incredibly bad and destructive choices. Don’t give up your influence here! Don’t be David related to Amnon and Tamar – don’t check out and wait a few years for things to settle down. Scripture gives us the responsibility to be our brother’s keeper… and to help the next generation in any way we can. Don’t seek to control or distort, but at the same time, don’t leave them on their own – if you can help – don’t withhold it!
Myth 3: Sunday’s message will trump Tuesday’s message. The sense here is related to the first myth: that we can live our lives any way we want and then what we experience Sunday will fix it, or correct it. It won’t. It can help, but it isn't enough in isolation. Scripture tells us to surround our kids with the word of God, in the rhythm and natural course of life. When we go out and when we come in…
If we don’t honor God on Tuesday, or Wednesday, that message delivers loud and clear. Let our lives be lived in a way that honors God everyday – and our kids and the people we influence will get the message loud and clear.
Myth 4 : Great kids naturally come from good homes. It’s not automatic. Certainly not for Samuel or David and they are heroes of the faith! We have to be intentional, investing in the next generation deeply – this takes time. It takes time.
This is important and the reason it's important is actually really simple.
God delights in working through families and the people close to us in life.
When it was time for Jesus to come, God could have put on a parade, or fireworks, or something with big fanfare. He could have started a university, or a corporation, or a government, and put Jesus right in the middle of it. The marketing plan would be amazing.
Instead, He brought us Christ, through a humble family, just beginning to form with Mary’s engagement to Joseph. That tender and vulnerable beginning was God’s path to bless all of humanity. A first century family was the soil that God used to bring us a Savior.
And while Jesus didn’t have a wife and children, He invested in His disciples through relationships. He lived with them and ate with them. He encouraged them and challenged them – and confronted them directly when He needed to. In that way, in His love and in His grace, be the person that will invest deeply in your families and in the people that God is raising up in the next generation. It is a key to His best will for us and it is God’s heart that we learn from How the Good Go Bad to do better. God help us learn how to finish well.
How The Good Go Bad - King Saul
Things were strange for the nation of Israel after they entered the long-awaited Promised Land. They had God behind them to take command of all the territory, with each of the 12 tribes responsible for controlling the specific land assigned to each. They did manage to get themselves situated in the land, but they did not all follow through on ridding the land of the previous inhabitants whom God had directed they thrust out. As a result, Israel ended up in a seemingly endless cycle—they would fall away from worshiping God; God would raise up one of these evil nations to rise up and take control of Israel; Israel would realize the oppression was the result of their disobedience and repent and return to God; God would then raise up a leader to rally the forces to push the invaders back; things would go well until that leader died; the nation would fall away again; and the cycle would repeat. This went on for 400 years. Pretty dismal circumstances.
Eventually, the people of Israel concluded that having their own king—like these other nations--would be the ticket to breaking this cycle. Little did they know how wrong this would be, but their persistence led God to give them what they wanted, even though He warned them how bad this would be for them as a people. God selects as Israel’s first king a man by the name of Saul. Well, Saul was a specimen, no doubt about that. He stood a full foot taller than anyone else in the country. The people were overjoyed because this fellow looked like the kind of dude who could lead the nation.
And for a while, he was. Things went oh-so well, in large part because Saul began with an enormous amount of humility. For example, when the old leader, Samuel, that God used to tell Saul he was the chosen one, Saul’s knee-jerk response was to ask, “Why me? I am from the least significant tribe, and the least significant clan in that tribe, and the least significant family in that tribe. Surely, there’s been a mistake.” But it was probably that humility that God saw that made Saul appealing. Perhaps he would be the kind of king that would follow God and not lead the people astray. Saul started out with the view that he could not do this job, so he depended on God for instructions. And God responded by giving Saul great victories. He crushed the Ammonites to Israel’s east, united the 12 tribes, and began to secure the nation’s borders. The prospect for prosperity and safety was high.
But this is, after all, a series about How The Good Go Bad, so you might presume things go off the rails—and if you did, you’d be right. For that part of the story, we pick up the action in 1 Samuel 15.
1 Sam. 15:1-3 - And Samuel said to Saul, "The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'"
Wow! This, from a loving God? What in the world is up with this? Well, we have to remember Daniel 2:21, which tells us that there are times and seasons, and that God Himself raises up kings and disposes of them. Nations and empires can reach the point of wickedness from which there is no return, and God moves to take them out. We all know that history is strewn with the carcasses of once-thriving cultures and nations. Where are the Hittites? The Assyrians? The Babylonians? The Roman Empire? Gone, plain and simple. History tells us they were once here and now they are no more, but it is scripture that informs us that it is God Himself who has moved to make their disappearances occur.
If you want to read more about the Amalekites, check out Deuteronomy 25 and Exodus 17. The Amalekites were the first nation that attacked Israel as it wandered in the desert, having been rescued from slavery in Egypt. As the Israelites snaked through the wilderness in a line of some 1-2 million, the Amalekites would descend on the back of the line, where the weak and the slow and the challenged and the pregnant and the nursing moms would gravitate. They will kill everyone, grab everything valuable and disappear before the front of the line knew what happened.
The Amalekites have had some 450 years or so to continue their evil ways, but God now decrees that it is coming to an end. And God makes it very clear that this is not a get-rich quick scheme for Israel. It is God’s judgment on a wicked and evil people. Kill everything and destroy all their stuff. Take no spoils whatsoever. Saul masses 210,000 troops and heads up in obedience to the command. He finds some friendlies in the Amalekite camp, Kenites, a nomadic tribe that would go from place to place offering their services. Saul gets word to them to get out of town, lest they be wiped out, too. Once they leave, Saul attacks. Here’s what happened.
1 Samuel 15:7-9 - And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction.
Can you say, “Uh-oh?” Great start. Not a great finish. God’s response is swift.
1 Samuel 15:10-12 - The word of the Lord came to Samuel: "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments." And Samuel was angry, and he cried to the Lord all night. And Samuel rose early to meet Saul in the morning. And it was told Samuel, "Saul came to Carmel, and behold, he set up a monument for himself and turned and passed on and went down to Gilgal.”
Two things. Saul did not obey the command to destroy everything and everyone and take nothing. Beyond this, it appears the humility that once marked Saul is gone. Samuel hears about a monument Saul has erected in honor of himself. And if you think God doesn’t have a bit of a sense of humor, just keep reading as the confrontation between Samuel and Saul heats up.
1 Samuel 15:13-15 - And Samuel came to Saul, and Saul said to him, "Blessed be you to the Lord. I have performed the commandment of the Lord." And Samuel said, "What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of the oxen that I hear?" Saul said, "They have brought them from the Amalekites, for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen to sacrifice to the Lord your God, and the rest we have devoted to destruction.”
Saul is seemingly clueless about the deep doo-doo he is in. “Oh, Samuel, blessings to ya, buddy. I’m back, having done everything God wanted. It’s a great day, ain’t it?” Samuel’s response? “Well, if that’s the case, why am I stepping in cow pies? Why do I hear the noises of sheep and cows?” Saul’s defense? “Oh, all that stuff? I didn’t bring that back. The people did. You know people, right? Who can control ‘em? So, you can see that none of that is my fault, so we’re good here.” He’s about to find out that things are not good. In fact, he’s about to find out that the good has gone bad.
1 Samuel 15:16-19 - Then Samuel said to Saul, "Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me this night." And he said to him, "Speak." And Samuel said, "Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And the Lord sent you on a mission and said, 'Go, devote to destruction the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.' Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you pounce on the spoil and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”
Samuel has heard enough. He tells Saul to just stop talking because he’s dug himself enough of a grave already. Remember, Saul, when you were once small in your own eyes, when you were certain you could not do this job, when you depended entirely on God, and He came through for you? Have you forgotten that God’s the One in charge, not you? Have you gotten too big for your britches? Why didn’t you just obey the very clear instructions. You blame the people, but we both know you pounced on the spoil for yourself. Despite what you think you did right, what God sees is simply disobedience. You have hidden your rebellion behind all the good things you think you pulled off. Your real heart in this matter is revealed not in the things you did right, but in those corrals over there with the sheep and the oxen and in the tents over there with the spoils, and in your new buddy, Agag.
And I actually believe that Saul is flabbergasted. I think he has convinced himself that he is 100% in the right. It comes out in his continued attempt to defend himself.
1 Samuel 15:20-23 - And Saul said to Samuel, "I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me. I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have devoted the Amalekites to destruction. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal." And Samuel said, "Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,he has also rejected you from being king.”
Saul doesn’t even realize that his defense condemns him. “I obeyed. If you don’t believe me that I destroyed everyone, just ask King Agag over there. He’ll tell you.” Problem? King Agag is still breathing. He’s just the most visible sign that Saul was disobedient. And here’s where we struggle a little bit. I mean, Saul probably scored about 98% on the test. He killed everyone except Agag. Yeah, he grabbed some spoils. He wasn’t 100%, but still, 98's a pretty good grade, don’t you think? Yet, God calls it evil and rejects Saul as king. Man, this is tough love at its toughest. And for a moment, it seems maybe Saul might come out of this intact. He acknowledges his sin. But he quickly reverts to type, as we’ll see in this next exchange.
1 Samuel 15:24-25;30 - Saul said to Samuel, "I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.”. . . Then he said, "I have sinned; yet honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may bow before the Lord your God."
OK, yes, I get it that I sinned. And the reason I did it was because I feared the people and not God. I figured my popularity would go down if I didn’t let them keep the spoils of the victory. And here’s the rub. With everything Saul says after this, it’s clear that his concern isn’t for his sin or his relationship with God as much as it is in how he’s seen by the people. Notice that Saul’s references aren’t to his God, but to Samuel’s God. Samuel, you go with me to church, OK? Show me honor by just being with me and the people will still think highly of me. Because it’s the people I’m concerned about. It’s the people whose opinions matter to me. Not God. And God declares He’s finished with Saul. And for the rest of Saul’s reign, God never speaks to him again. And Saul begins a descent into depression, rage, jealousy, and madness.
A couple of final points for us, because this isn’t just a cute story. It’s an account God put down for us to learn from. First point is this: partial obedience is really just disobedience. And our problem is this: If it takes 100%, or we’re evil, what hope do we have. Because none of us are going to hit 100%. I sure don’t. Ah, that leads us to our second point.
God is more concerned with our direction than our perfection. The Christian life is not about being perfect. I don’t want anyone reading this today thinking, “Wow, I’ve got to be perfect. Otherwise, I’m evil and God has found me useless.” God is concerned about our hearts and our direction. Let me illustrate this quickly by the guy God picks next as king. A fellow you’ve heard of named David. A guy who has an affair with his neighbor, gets her pregnant, and kills her husband to cover it up. That wasn’t all. David had some major blunders—probably about 4 of them where he blew it big time. But listen, every time, when called on the carpet for those things, he did something Saul never did. David dropped to his knees and said, “God, I have sinned against you and you alone. Forgive me. God, create in me a new heart. God, show me what it’s like to follow you with my whole heart and soul and mind and strength and help me to do that.
How different from Saul’s prayer, which was, “Help me look good in front of the people.” But this isn’t a story where God says, “If you are a child of mine you have to be absolutely perfect.” This is a story where God says, “If you are a child of mine, you will want to be perfect, knowing you can’t get there on your own, knowing that Jesus already paid the price for your mess ups. So, with the new heart God gives you, you’ll will strive from your love for him to be obedient. and when you fail--and you will fail, just like me--at being obedient. When that is brought to our attention, children of God say this: “God, this is not something I will accept, this is not something I am willing to condone, this is not something I am willing to excuse, this is not something I will hold on to. I will change my mind about that. I will repent. I will turn and head in a new direction You have set for me. Teach me how to battle it and move on.”
People who aren’t children of God do this: "God, I know what you say about sexuality, I know what you say about marriage, I know what you say about raising kids, and finances and loving others, especially those that don’t love us back. I know what you say about serving and giving and dying to ourselves to live for you. I know all that. But listen, God, I think I’m doing 98%. But everyone’s got a little stash, and surely you recognize that being obedient right now is really bad timing for me, right?" See, there’s always a reason, an excuse. And if that’s our stand, don’t be surprised if God shows up and says, “Well, if that’s your stand, feel free to use all the God talk you want, but I’m done with you. Can’t use you. I’ll find someone else to pick up the mantle you should be carrying.
And that’s what happened to the first sheriff of Israel, and it’s how the good go bad.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.