Search by Book
Tag Archives: leadership
Follow the Leader
Deuteronomy 31: Be strong. Take Courage. Don’t be intimidated…God is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.
There is a bit more to the book of Deuteronomy, but this is the conclusion of thirty chapters of preaching that makes up most of the book. As Moses preaches the people are looking across the Jordan to the Promised Land. They know who lives there and they know that their army isn’t ready to face the superior forces of Canaan. Beyond that, Moses, who is the only leader they’ve ever known, isn’t going with them. The new battles will be fought without their old leader. Well, not quite. Their real Leader is not only right there with them; he’s already confidently marching ahead of them preparing the way in places like Jericho. When Moses at 120 years of age breathes his last God will remain their strong leader. Even as Moses is about to commission his successor, Joshua, he reminds his listeners of God’s faithfulness to them. I thank God for people who have influenced my life by providing vital spiritual leadership along the way. Even more important, though, is the awesome steadiness of God. The finest, most dedicated person has their limits, but not the Lord. As Moses says, “He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.”
Take Away: The Lord is our faithful Leader and as we follow him, we can do so with confidence that he won’t let us down and he’ll never forsake us.
Deuteronomy 17: Make sure you get yourself a king whom God, your God, chooses.
I’ve read the Bible through several times in my life so I know I’ve read this passage, but it never occurred to me that when the people of Israel demand a king during Samuel’s life that provision was made for it in the giving of the Law. Apparently, wanting a human leader rather than living in a theocracy under the rule of God alone is just human nature. Here, we have the aged Moses going through the worship ground rules with his people and the topic of kings comes up. Moses doesn’t tell them they shouldn’t have a king but he does frame the issue. He says such as desire is the result of their wanting to be like the heathen nations around them. Then he sets up some ground rules for that eventuality. The king must be a part of Israel and he isn’t to spend the resources of Israel in building up a war machine. Nor is he to amass a large harem. He’s to have his own personal copy of the Books of Law that he keeps by his side all the time. The number one requirement is that God, himself, is to pick their king for them. Obviously, hundreds of years later when the people of Israel demand a king these guidelines are only loosely followed. Solomon, in particular, leads the way in building a large army and a large harem. I find it interesting that long before Saul becomes the first king of Israel the Lord, through Moses, gives directions that should have been followed. Had they been followed Israel would have been protected from a lot of the bad stuff we find in the books of the Kings and Chronicles of our Old Testaments. This passage reminds me that God knows what he’s doing and that his ways are best in every eventuality.
Take Away: We always pay a price when we neglect the Lord’s instructions for our lives.
Call to remember
Deuteronomy 1: How can I carry, all by myself, your troubles and burdens and quarrels?
The book of Deuteronomy is made up of a sermon or series of sermons by Moses, the man of God. In fact, the name of the book can be understood to mean “talks” or “words.” The occasion is the conclusion of his leadership (and life) and the pending entrance of God’s people into the Promised Land after 40 years in the wilderness. Moses wants to remind them of their history so that they will take their story with them into the new land. He also wants them to remember the mistakes of the past so that they won’t repeat them. Most importantly, he wants them to remember the gracious faithfulness of God who has been with them and will continue to be their God. It shouldn’t surprise us that this book has a lot of repeat material in it. After all, Moses is preaching to remind them of these things. Still, I see a somewhat different emphasis in this sermon as old stories are retold. In the passage that draws my attention today Moses remembers how he organized the leadership. It was his father-in-law who first suggested a division of leadership. Then, later on, it appears the plan had not been carried through and God reminded Moses of this approach. Now Moses remembers how overwhelmed he was as a solo leader. Alone, he couldn’t carry their burdens. This makes perfect sense. A leader who tries to do it all will do a poor job of all of it. It may make that leader feel important, even indispensable, but in the long run, his or her leadership will be a failed effort. The solution is to select the right people to help, to empower them, to continue to enhance their abilities, to keep them connected to the primary leadership, and to always remember that the Lord is our ultimate Leader. At 120 years of age and after 40 years of leadership we can be pretty sure Moses knows what he’s talking about.
Take Away: Leadership doesn’t mean doing everything.
Transition of leadership
Numbers 27: Set a man over this community to lead them.
The twenty-seventh chapter of Numbers feels a bit out of place. After it we get back to the details of the law and descriptions of battles fought by the Israelites on their wilderness journey. This chapter, though, is about dividing up the land once they arrive in Canaan and here in this passage we read of the mantle of leadership being passed from Moses to Joshua. This doesn’t diminish the story any, but it’s interesting that it feels as though we’re peeking ahead a bit. The Lord tells Aaron and Moses that the sun is setting on their lives. Because of their behavior at Meribeth they won’t enter into the Promised Land. The primary concern of Moses at this point is not that he’ll not set foot in Canaan but is rather that a new leader will have to be chosen. The natural selection for this job is the one the Lord makes. Joshua, an assistant of Moses will take up the responsibility of, and be granted the gifts for, leadership. A new generation will possess Canaan and their leader will be from that generation. This transition of power is one of the things that work right for the people of Israel. There’s no stubborn holding on by Moses (something I’m impressed with, considering he’s been in charge for forty years) and there’s no coop from Joshua. The people accept the change without dividing up into the “Moses did it better” and the “Joshua’s our guy” camps. I’m convinced that this is how things are supposed to work in the Kingdom of God. I also understand that it’s harder than it looks. It takes careful, intentional, grace-filled effort for one leader to step down and another to step up. When it works, as it does in this passage, it’s a beautiful thing.
Take Away: During times of transition we need a double portion of God’s grace.
Talking to rocks
Numbers 20: Speak to the rock…do we have to bring water out of this rock for you…slammed his staff against the rock.
We’re familiar with most of the big events in the life of Moses. We know about the bulrushes, the burning bush, the plagues, the Red Sea crossing, and Mount Sinai. Sadly, when the story of Moses is told his failure at Meribah has to be included. This is the blot on his life and, later on, this is what disqualifies him from entering the Promised Land. On the surface it seems like a minor infraction. God says to him, “Speak to the rock” and, instead, he “hits the rock.” As I read this and see the seriousness of God’s response I immediately think that there has to be more. I think the “more” is what Moses says before he strikes the rock. Moses’ leadership has been challenged before and each time he’s responded by pointing the people to the Lord. Moses’ entire case for leadership, his credentials, is that he’s God’s man. In this case as his leadership is being once again challenged, he takes matters into his own hands. He doesn’t say, “Listen, rebels! Watch what the Lord is going to do for you.” Instead, he says, “Listen, rebels! Do we have to bring water out of this rock for you?” The difference is profound. Instead of God getting the credit, Moses and Aaron are taking it. Remember, this is not the mistake of a young person in their first pastoral assignment. This is an intentional shifting of emphasis by a seasoned man of God who’s had many personal encounters with the Lord. God takes this intentional failure seriously. We see here that God expects gifted leaders to remember the source of their authority, to remember that they are stewards of his, and that they’re expected to always serve with that in mind. To do otherwise mars an otherwise exemplary ministry.
Take Away: The longer we walk with the Lord the more he expects of us.
Numbers 16: Earth opened its mouth and in one gulp swallowed them down.
In spite of the awesome encounters with the Almighty and his daily provision for them, and in spite of the progress that’s been made in the construction of the Tent of Worship as well as the organization of the hundreds of thousands of people, serious opposition is building in the camp. Many resent Moses’ assumption of authority and doubt his ability to lead them forward. Resentment and doubt fester and some step forward to seize the moment. They rally a collation to challenge Moses. Not once, but twice the entire nation is moments away from eradication due to the wrath of the Almighty. Moses calls for a contest of sorts. Representatives of both sides will come to burn incense before the Lord. God will choose who will lead his people. The contest is a brief one. No one can doubt the Lord’s answer as the earth opens to swallow up the rebels. The 250 who are offering incense to the Lord are struck dead by lightning. If that isn’t enough, the next day many throughout the camp complain, blaming Moses for all the death the previous day and the Lord responds by sending a plague that kills 14,700 people. Clearly, the Lord is intent on establishing, once and for all, Moses as the leader of the Israelites. Just as clear, is the realization that to this very day God expects his plans to be followed. Without doubt, I’m aware of the grace, mercy, patience and love the Lord has for us. I need to also be aware that none of this means the Lord will just go along with me when I challenge his purposes in the world. The result my rebellion may not be as dramatic as it was among these ancient Israelites but it will be just as serious. Challenging God is always serious business.
Take Away: Never doubt it: the Lord expects us to be obedient to his will.
All in the family
Numbers 12: God overheard their talk.
On the surface it’s a family squabble. Moses’ brother and sister, Miriam and Aaron, don’t like his wife. This isn’t especially earthshaking. There are many in-laws who don’t get along. In this case, though, Moses’ brother and sister go public with their family dispute, apparently undermining his leadership by pointing out that Moses is married to a non-Israelite. It’s here that we find this chilling sentence: “God overheard their talk.” Actually, this passage usually brings a smile to my face. The statement that Moses is the most humble man on the face of the earth is quite funny when we think of the tradition that Moses is the author of Numbers. Supposedly we have him describing himself here as the most humble man on earth! In spite of the smile, however, this is quite a serious passage. God doesn’t like it when people undermine the leadership he’s put in place. The issue here isn’t about disagreeing with leaders, questioning some decision they’ve made. Instead, it’s about undermining God-given authority. In this case, God doesn’t like what he hears and acts to shore up his chosen leader’s status by diminishing theirs. Surely there are times when church leaders need correction but if they need to be taken down a peg or two, we’d better be careful about our place in it.
Take Away: A God called leader remains human and prone to error but he or she also deserves respect as one set apart by the Lord.
The first thing about spiritual leadership
Numbers 11: Would that all God’s people were prophets. Would that God would put his Spirit on all of them.
There’s more going on in Numbers 11 than just Moses needing to organize with some key leaders. God intends to take some of the Spirit he’s given Moses and divide it up among those chosen to assist him. When seventy leaders are gathered to initiate this new approach something spiritual happens, and, in ways that cause us to think of the unique events on the Day of Pentecost, there are outward signs of this spiritual event. A couple of the chosen leaders miss the meeting and out there in the camp they too publicly prophesy. It’s this public display that concerns some. When word is brought to Moses he’s undisturbed. It’s okay with him for God to place his Spirit on them even though they missed the meeting. In fact, he wishes all God’s people were endowed for service. Here I see that beyond all the articles in “Leadership Magazine” and beyond all the good advice in “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, and beyond all the important leadership lessons to be learned is the fact that God gifts people for leadership. Leadership in the Kingdom is first, a spiritual act. Pastors and other church leaders must never forget that. Our authority is based on God putting his Spirit in us.
Take Away: Training is important but beyond that is the truth that God gifts some people for leadership.
Be quiet and eat your manna
Numbers 11: I’ll take some of the Spirit that is on you and place it on them.
There’s a problem with the manna. It still tastes fine and supplies, apparently, the recommended daily dietary needs. However, manna for breakfast, lunch, and supper seven days a week is boring. In Egypt they had meat, cucumbers and melons, onions and garlic. In the wilderness they have manna, manna, and more manna. In their dietary frustration they complain to God’s, man, Moses and for him this is the breaking moment. He’s angry with the people and he’s angry with God. In fact, he declares, if this is the way it has to be he would just as soon be dead. Moses has been burning the candle at both ends and now the fire has met in the middle. People, like Moses, who have performed admirably through the most difficult circumstances, hit the wall and suddenly some minor problem causes them to crash. Know what? I think it’s Moses’ own fault. His father-in-law, Jethro, told him he couldn’t do it all alone back in Exodus 18 and a plan was set up at that time. After that Moses spent time on the mountain with God, the terrible golden calf incident and some other things happened. I don’t know this for sure, but it looks like the plan Jethro suggested has dropped by the way and Moses is back to being “the guy” for everything. If this is true the result is predictable: Moses finds himself drowning in responsibility. Leaders need to remember that no matter how skillfully they organize things in the beginning and no matter how high the quality of leadership that’s brought on board, that they must continue to hold the plan in shape. Otherwise, things will unravel, and, over time everything will once again be propped up against them.
Take Away: Skillful leadership includes recognizing, training, and empowering others. It also includes the providing of constant maintenance.
Leviticus 9: Next Aaron presented the offerings of the people.
The sacrificial system has been explained, the priests ordained, and now it’s getting underway. Moses, God’s representative, puts everything into place and now Aaron, the newly anointed high priest initiates the first sacrifices. Before he presents the offerings of the people he has personal business to attend to. He makes offerings of his own in preparation for serving the people. The animals are killed and their blood is applied, a reflection of Precious Blood that will be shed many years in the future. It’s only after Aaron has done that that he turns his attention to the offerings of the people. This passage speaks to me as the leader of my congregation. I want to serve the people who are under my care but I must never forget that I have needs of my own. If I fail to bring them to the Lord I’m bound to fail my people. In addition, this is not a one time effort. In spite of what those outside the clergy think, we pastors stand in need of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness on an ongoing basis. Today, as I read about these events of long ago and regardless of the huge cultural and practical differences, I find myself identifying with these priests of old as they take care of their own business before they can serve their congregation.
Take Away: If we’re to help others we need to deal with the needs of our own lives first.