Doing Less to do more

Our men’s group is studying Exodus 18 tonight. The story is a classic case in problem-solving. It opens with the back-story; how God had developed Moses’ the Leader. Then it moves to the crisis; the kind of crisis that most see, but nobody calls out. The final act is the resolution; it comes through a visit from the past that alters the future.

Act One:

Moses and the Israelites are out of reach of Egypt, free, and at the rendezvous point God pointed them toward earlier. The Hebrew count is at 600,000 men plus the women and children. It’s a crowd.

While they camp in the desert near the Mountain of God, Moses gets a visit from someone out of his past – Jethro, his father-in-law, the man whose sheep he watched for close to forty years. He comes for one purpose – the bring Moses’ family back now that they were free – but is surprised and used for another.

They throw a party and Moses tells the whole story, perhaps for the first time to one “outside the camp.” Moses the Leader had been God’s instrument to deliver the people. The Egyptian oppression was over; the people were alive and free.

Act Two:

Jethro gets an inside look into Moses the Leader and how his day-to-day work progressed, now that he (and 600,000 of his closest friends) were free. He sits down before all those with problems or disputes and hears them one-by-one, to infinity and beyond. All day and into the evening.

Three issues he faced that I see:

First, Moses created the mess he was in. He assumed the leadership God had given him was for him alone. That left him with long lines of complaints and issues, and little time to settle it all.

Second, Moses solved problems for others because that’s the way he’d always done it (remember the murdered Egyptian?) He kept doing it the same way because it had worked for him so far. At least, from where he sat.

Third, Moses led by himself. And leaders who lead alone lead blind. They don’t see what others see. Sure, he listened to the problems and bickering for hours on end; but he must have missed what the people had to endure, standing around, reliving everyone’s problems. And waiting.

Act Three:

Jethro reveals what Moses hadn’t seen before. The conversation seems a bit heated, or at least very honest. He presents the resolution – put leaders in place over 1000’s, 100’s, 50’s and 10’s and let them listen, negotiate, judge, and lead – and like a good problem-solver, leaves it in the hands of the leader; in this case, Moses. The timing was right and, after the sting of Jethro’s rebuke lessened, he began the process of raising up judges, and letting leaders lead. He no longer had to listen to every dispute – he just got the big ones; and the people had leaders they could turn to.

I have heard or read a bunch of teaching on this chapter. It’s a discipleship strategy. It’s a business model. It’s an organizational plan. But, mainly it was a rescue operation. Moses was in a fix. He was heading toward burn-out; so were the people.

Here are some applications:

1) Leading alone can be dangerous, no matter your organization. Jethro’s warning was four-fold:

  • It’s not good (as in, the plan won’t work in the long run.)
  • It will wear you and everyone else out (each hour will make you more and more tired.)
  • It is to heavy for you (the burden of everyone’s problems is too much for one set of shoulders.)
  • You can’t do it alone (you need some new levels of problem-solving to ease the burden.)

So, if you are leading alone, begin with one or two who are godly and honest, and train them up (how to live, how to behave, and how to wisely make decisions.)

2) Don’t fear the new voice. Someone with wisdom, humility and seeing things differently than “from where you sit” can take things to a new place. A new set of eyes can see the big picture and help pull the threads of a resolution together. In fact, though the visit was brief, Jethro changed the future for God’s people.

3) Raise the bar high, but not beyond reach. Let leaders lead. But don’t put a “50’s” leader over “1000.” Give them room to exercise their gifts, develop their leadership voice, and even make mistakes. But, give them a safety net. Be nearby, but don’t hover. They don’t need a daddy or mommy; they need a mentor.

The best part of the story, though, often gets lost. Jethro, already a priest from Midian, took the God of the Hebrews as Lord. He heard the good news of the deliverance, and declared with his voice and sacrifice, that the Lord is God above all gods. That should be the outcome of our own leadership.

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The Apostle and the Congressman

The Apostle:

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Philippians chapter 4:4-9. When the Apostle Paul wrote this to the church that gathered in the city of Philippi, he was in prison for preaching the Good News about Jesus.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What a great way to approach life –1) Focus on good things of life – noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. 2) Practice the right things we learn from Scripture and pass it along to others. 3) Don’t worry; but pray and trust God. And Paul includes, as he writes from his cell, do this with thanksgiving.

He certainly was learning how to do this in prison. But, he knew that it’s only when our faith is tested that we really get to put this into practice.

The verses before this passage tell us what the Philippians were facing. Two of the ladies in the church were having problems with each other. And not just two ladies; but two who had worked diligently right alongside Paul and other leaders in their church.

Euodia, whose name means “good journey” and Syntyche, whose name means “pleasant friend” – were absolutely not being pleasant and good. They were not getting along – and it was causing problems.

Paul encouraged them: to remember who you are, remember who you represent, and to work things out with the help of God. And directly after this – to change what you think about, change who your examples are, and change how you pray.

From the first settlers, when the Pilgrims survived their first winter in the new land, America was where people came who were oppressed for their faith. And for a century, Congregationalists, Baptists, Puritans, Presbyterians, and others settled in different colonies.

The Congressman:

A hundred years later, after the end of the Revolutionary War and during the establishing of the United States, the new President of this new nation named George Washington faced his own set of problems. America’s new Bill of Rights was barely three days old. It was the same Bill of Rights that guaranteed “free exercise of religion.”

And Washington knew he had thirteen states, with different dialects, different economics, different expectations, and different styles of worship. They didn’t get along and they weren’t sure this new government would work.

Washington’s good friend, Elias Boudinot, stood before Congress with a proposal he thought would unite the States in a stronger way. Boudinot, barely remembered today, was famous in his day for his strong faith, his belief that all people were created equal, his passion for everyone to hear the Good News, and even later for his outspoken defense for the rights of blacks and for Native Americans.

He proposed the first National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving under the new government of the United States of America – “ a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”

The House of Representative, the Senate, and the President agree to call the whole nation to prayer on the final Thursday of the following month of November. It was to be a day of repentance and a plea that the new nation would be “a blessing to all the people” – that the leaders of this new nation would “faithfully execute…the wise, just and constitutional laws” of the new land. And, it would be a day to “promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue.”

In other words, this Day of Thanksgiving was to encourage this new nation to remember who you are, remember who you represent, and works things out with the powerful help of God.

And just like Paul reminded the church in Philippi, and the two ladies in the church, this Day of Thanksgiving was a day to focus on the good things of life, practice the right things we have learned from God’s Word, and pray with faith and with Thanksgiving.

Remembering —

 

 

Now that I’m 60 – what am I committed to:

There is something about entering a “new decade of years” that calls me to reconcile my experience with my values. As a reminder to myself more than anyone else, I am committed more than ever…

…to worshiping and serving Christ Jesus increasingly with my gifts, skills, time, and resources.

…to loving and honoring my wife till death separates us.

…to encouraging and influencing my son and daughters (and grandkids, when they show up for God’s purposes) toward loving and serving God with their lives.

…to loving what God says He is in love with: the lost, the broken, the lonely, the refugee, the hurting, the confused, the poor, the homeless, the enslaved, the imprisoned.

… to loving and lifting up the church local and global through my prayer, encouragement, time, presence and resources.

…to doing life with a small group of men and women for mutual encouragement, personal growth, and lifestyle ministry.

…to meeting with 2-3 men for discipleship on a regular basis to stay pure, live on target with my promises, and encourage each other toward a fruitful Christian life.

…to living a richer and riskier life in my finishing years by saying yes to each opportunity to give myself away, pour into others, explore new relationships, and influence my world toward Christ.

Tough Crowd

Preachers and worship leaders can read a room, so I’m informed. We stand before the crowd and can tell if they are tracking with us, indifferent, or just don’t like us (not that the third option ever happens in church!) Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s house (read Luke 14) and the place was filled with an audience not-so-favorable toward him or the message of the Kingdom. My guess would be to not expect much from a dinner party crowd like this (maybe like going to a Hillary rally wearing a Feel the Bern tee.)

Jesus turned the Sunday dinner soiree into a masterful time of teaching – about not living for crowd approval (he was experienced with this,) about humility and the urge to seek honor from others (don’t take the box seat unless it’s offered), and about lifting up those who can’t improve one’s status or power (toss to pre-approved invitation list and bring in the hurting, blind and invisible.)

And, he healed a man with a visible case of renal failure (his arms and legs were swollen with fluid.) Jesus noted the man’s illness and asked the crowd if he should heal him, even though it was the Sabbath. (I’m sure the host was asking, “who let this guy in? Next time, screen for dropsy!)

Of course, the crowd of Pharisees refused to answer – and of course, Jesus healed him.

But the next exchange is what grabs me. Jesus addresses the room and  asked, “Who here doesn’t do some kind of work on Sunday? Fix a tire? Empty the trash? Rescue a cow? Really?”  Silence from the room. (Cue the crickets.) And they couldn’t answer.

Not “refused” or “chose not” to answer. They couldn’t. Their world view simply would not give space for a reasonable answer. They were so entitled to their Sabbath day, that they couldn’t answer. The rules that governed their Sabbath ruled out their ability to speak aloud what was true and made sense. That God desired healing on their holy-day couldn’t penetrate their dogma … or their faith.

What we’ve experienced, good and bad, and what we’ve clung to that seems culturally acceptable might be exactly what stops us from believing … and being healed.

Comedians can read an audience, too. I read that some entertainers choose to beg off shows at colleges – they say it’s too dangerous. What they say is always under scrutiny. And being recorded.

What a shame that dogma might stop the laughter. And everyone needs a good laugh.

 

Lavish Grace

I revisited the parable of the seeds today, and I expected a rerun. Hey, I can be lame when I read the same passage. The farmer scatters seeds; then it falls first on rocky, then shallow, thorny, and finally fertile soil. The seed and ensuing sprout, in turn, is stolen, burns in the sun, dies from strangulation, and grows to produce fruit.

Preachers have outlined this passage mnemonically starting with nearly every letter of the alphabet (I had a friend who embarked on alliterating the Bible in “P”s – I think he’s somewhere committed now.)

I choose “W.”

But, when I read this, it’s the soil that has issues and not the seed. God’s Word is consistently powerful. We have problems with our soil.

The first soil is “without defense.” The enemy steals it like pigeons at a Central Park seed-fest.

The second soil is “without depth.” The heat of temptation and the pressure of tests can be brutal, like the Amazon sun.

The third soil is “without devotion.” Sin strangles and cuts off the life like a thick and thorny greenbrier.

The fourth soil that Jesus points to is “with dedication.” It’s a good word the means devotion and declaration. A tree full of fruit says, “come and get me.” (To quote one of my movie heroes.)

But two things stand out in the parable.

The first is that God is lavish with his Word… and with his invitation to life. Today’s farmers would say foolish. He throws the seed to the wind, and everyone gets a chance to embrace it, and grow to full spiritual potential. Jesus is extravagant with grace and gives it away even to those who reject it.

The second is what follows in Luke. Another metaphor called the parable of the lamp. “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made know to all.” (8:17) Real fruit can’t be faked. Let that seed sink down deep.

Enjoy the sunlight.

Rick

 

Some look for a Wild Time; I’m looking for a Wild Place

When our kids were growing up, they were fascinated by a series of books (maybe more so, their dad) called “Where’s Waldo?” (Christian book fans, you may remember the “Seeking Sammy” series – I’m guessing it was the Biblical Sammy the Prophet.)

In case you don’t recall spending hours searching through the red and white minutiae for the scarf and ski cap bedecked Waldo, These colorful books opened to panoramic scenes of tiny people in public places, and stuck in the crowd was “Waldo.” The winner found him.

At times, I feel the same way about Jesus. Where’s Jesus? In all the minutiae of life, where is He? Sometimes life’s details hide or push out the right stuff.

Luke 5 is a busy time in Jesus’ life. But it has an interesting aside. Jesus is in the midst of gathering a group of friends and he’s performing miracles (while already avoiding arrest, it seems). And Luke says, “Jesus would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” I imagine that, in their travels, the guys got up, rolled their backpacks, and someone would say, “Where’s Jesus now?”

Oh, he must have found a wild place.

Jesus was regularly taking time from the wild press of people and their needs, and drawn to seek a place to be alone with His Father. Is there a connection between a wild place, the alone-ness, and God’s presence? Maybe our willingness to go to a wild place can helps us see God’s hand and presence more readily? And it might be the questions become more real in a wild place?

Three things about a wild place: 1)It’s not a quiet place (the noise is different, but still there. 2) It’s not a normal place (we have to choose to go there; the “beaten path” and a wild place are exact opposites.) 3) It’s not a safe place. (Wild places have critters. And the dangers can refocus one’s mind.)

When I find a wild place – a place off the beaten path – to spend time with the Father, I expect that my life will be refocused, on Him and His purposes for me and for His world. And that can be dangerous.

Two-degrees and roundabouts

One of my favorite quirks about living in Italy was the roundabout (la rotonda). Just between my house and the nearest real city, there were seventeen. The reasoning of the Italiani, why use stop signs when you can create a circle everybody can use at once? I loved the dance that happened in urban roundabouts when there were four lanes circling a statue dedicated to The Fallen … and five entry points. Ahh, the adventure and the danger!

When we left northern Italy to return to America, we felt the weight of a complete life turn-around – it was like a roundabout we chose to enter and knew it would spill out back toward America and, specifically, my hometown of Myrtle Beach. And it did.

After a conversation with a good friend, I realized that, with the return, much of my library is still in Italy, in the hands of fellow missional’s. One of the books was a John Trent title – The Two-degree Difference. This was one of many “only read the first two chapters” books; the premise is simple. Make two-degree adjustments in your actions, posture, life direction, habits, etc., and before long, you’re heading the right way.

While I agree that we need to make right choices and move toward health – spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and otherwise – it may take a greater act. Adjusting actions by small degrees is the way we are told to replace bad habits, but how boring is that!

I like what Jesus said, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Not two-degrees. More like 180-degrees.

There is incredible power in the simple act of turning around. An about-face unleashes God’s power to change. The get the presence of God’s Kingdom face-to-face with the act of turning.

What about the two-degree principle? It may be that in our act of repenting God reveals the next thing to change, or it may be that we have gotten “out of habit” with the practices that make life richer, and by all means are worth restoring. But if it’s sin, it deserves more than 2-degrees. It deserves the full 180!

I like what Jesus said to Peter even though he knew there was a major fail in his future: “I have prayed for your Simon, that your faith will not fail, and when you have turned back (read: repent), strengthen your brothers.”

Turn from sin. Yearn for God. Return to the things that matter.

From the Rotonda,

Rick

Day One – Architect: Foundations, Spans, and Lanterns

Mark 1 – “This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah…”

Of all the forms of art and kinds of artist, the one that gets to “play big” most often is the Architect. He may start with pen and charts (or CAD-CAM.) But, the medium of choice is often big…very Big! Space, acreage, height, square footage all call for a grand imagination and vision. No matter how large the vision is or how tall the building designed by the architect grows, one feature remains essential. The Foundation.

In 1418, the city of Florence, or more specific the guilds, commissioned through competition the design and building of what was to become the largest dome to ever top a basilica. The cathedral building itself had been rising slowly over more than a century at the site of a crumbling and much smaller 5th Century church. The foundation had been set 118 years previously.

Filippo Brunelleschi, a watchmaker and goldsmith, won the commission. He beat out a dozen other architect plans and set in motion the building of a structure that called for scaffolding, machines, and techniques never before invented.

No matter the project, the architect as artist works with the same basic elements: lines, angles, curves. Brunelleschi faced the enormous challenge of spanning 143 feet diameter with an octagonal dome that reached twenty-seven stories high.

But, building high wasn’t the problem; concrete walls can go higher. He needed to be able to go high and curve inward; the pressure straight down was complicated by the weight of 37,000 tons pushing outward.

He had to account for hoop stress. Like the pressure of two hands pushing an inflated balloon, each level he completed had to distribute the weight of the next level, or it would “balloon” outward. He needed all of the weight above to sit on a strong foundation.

Out of the Comfort Zone:

1 Try this for a fun application. Hand out decks of cards and have a competition to build the biggest “house of cards” using the most cards. Give awards for the tallest and the one with the most cards.

2 What have you built in your lifetime? What was the foundation like?

3. If you were to name one main thing in your personal or family life that needs a good foundation to support its weight, what would that be? What presses you in this area and causes “hoop stress?”

4. What kinds of elements make up your spiritual foundation? Is it deep? Is it deeper or wider? What reinforces it?

Keep building what no one else can – your extraordinary life of faith!

Day One – Mathematician and Faith

Most people don’t place mathematics with the Creative Arts – mainly because of traumatic algebra tests or unmemorized theorems. But the classical studies planted arithmetic squarely in the midst of seven primary liberal arts. Medieval philosophers so valued numbers that they declared “arithmetic to be pure numbers, geometry to be numbers in space, music to be numbers in time, and astronomy to be numbers in space and time.”

Boethius, a Roman during the last throes of the Empire, popularized math as a coveted discipline through his writing while waiting on death row as a political prisoner in the 6th Century. Though all he had to work with was the cumbersome Latin letter/numbers, he showed the West the value of studying arithmetic for it’s on value. Math became more than a tool for counting things; it became an art that influenced all the other disciplines.

Math and Church don’t mix well. Numbers equal counting, and counting (nickels and noses, especially) gets in the way of real Christianity. Christ-followers don’t think of faith in terms of numbers. but Jesus certainly did. Some of his best promises were math equations.

Read Mark 4:8-9. He promises that, if we keep our soil (Jesus says this represents us and the texture of our lives) supple and yielding to His Word, it will multiply in our lives and into the lives of others around us. It’s math.

Now, read the whole story (from verses 1-9). My ears hear what I shouldn’t do – no rocks, no weeds, no shallowness. I get the shouldn’t’s.  In math terms, we should add soil where we are shallow, subtract the weeds that distract us, and divide the rocks from our good soil.

But the promise is multiplication. Every truth I let sink through the crusty surface impacts my life in Kingdom benefits thirty or more times.

Out of the Comfort Zone:

1)Plan a game night with study – one with math involved like dominoes or Uno. Discuss the questions below during the game.

2)What truth from this chapter is God trying to get you to trust in?

3)Where in your life will you begin to apply this truth right away?

4)Who will your faithfulness impact?

And let God bring math back to your faith.

Day One: Painter – Unlimited Beauty, Unlimited Palette

Piero lived in the 1400’s  and spent nearly every day at a desk writing contracts and signing off on legal documents in an obscure village outside of the city of Florence. He would not even have made the history books except that, instead of retiring to his home after work,  he spent his nights with a peasant girl named Catarina. She gave birth to a baby that she and Piero named Leonardo. The village was called Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci was given a general education in math and science in his early years. But, Piero came into a fortunate position with the di Medici family and connected his son with the best training possible through mentoring. He became the apprentice of a goldsmith of fame called Verrochio (meaning “true eye,” necessary for a master artist.) Leonardo was mentored in the arts and sciences, as well as the broad sweep of techniques in sculpting, casting, and painting. He soon surpassed his teachers, and began creating new ways to span rivers, irrigate fields, and do battle. But is passion was painting.

Mark 2:13-14 records that, “Jesus went out to the lakeshore again and taught the crowds that were coming to him. 14As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at his tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me and be my disciple,’ Jesus said to him. So Levi got up and followed him.”

A businessman with plenty of means like Levi (called Matthew in most places) would be content, satisfied with his good fortune. But, Levi was wondering, searching, and waiting for what would fill his inner emptiness. We know this by what he did soon after meeting Jesus.

Read Mark 2:15-18 Why did Levi think having a party with Jesus mattered to his friends? What did he hope to accomplish? How do  you think Jesus responded to this type of party?

We likely didn’t get a personal verbal invite from Jesus of Nazareth like Levi did. But, like his friends who got the party invite from their tax-collector friend, he uses those who know him to introduce others to Jesus. If you are his follower, someone introduced you to Jesus. He speaks to each of us through the compassionate invitation of others.

Out of the Comfort Zone:

1. Consider your place at the party table. Who invited you? Send him/her a letter or email. Better yet, make a phone call. If that’s not possible, journal a letter you would want to write to him/her.

2. At church this Sunday, be intentional about bringing people to the party table. Look for a person, couple or family who needs a personal invite into your life in Christ. Ask them to lunch or schedule a time to meet, just for the benefit of “hang out time.”

3. Find a neighbor in your circle of people who needs a party. If it’s someone who needs your forgiveness, extend it. If it’s someone who is hurting or without something, provide it. Do something for someone that builds a bridge you can send a party invitation across.

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