A failure of leadership
Nehemiah 13: I was angry, really angry.
Having accomplished his mission of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and having had a unanimous agreement from the Jews there to live according to God’s Law, it’s time for Nehemiah to return to Babylon. He leaves things in the hands of those who are to keep things organized and on track. However, Nehemiah’s heart is now in Jerusalem, so he once again asks Artaxerxes for permission to return there. When he arrives he’s greeted with all kinds of bad news. One man has made a deal with one of the old enemies of the Jews, Tobiah, who he’s allowed to use the Temple storerooms. The worship leaders were left unpaid and have had to leave the Temple to earn a living. The civic leaders have forgotten the Sabbath and are allowing that day to be a time when business as usual is being conducted. And, the Jews are again intermarrying with the idol worshiping people of the area. Nehemiah is “really angry” about all this and immediately goes to work repairing all this damage. I can’t help but wonder where all those declaration signers are, or even more, where Ezra the priest of God is at this time. That’s a mystery the Bible doesn’t solve for us. However, the rest of it is pretty easy to understand. Nehemiah’s a strong leader and when he leaves it creates a void that no one steps in to fill. One of the dynamics of the human race is that people, even well-meaning people, need leaders who not only cast a vision and oversee the pursuit of that vision, but, even after the fact, provide a compass that keeps things moving in the right direction. This doesn’t excuse those civic and other leaders for their failure, in fact, they should have provided some of that “God-centered” energy themselves. Reading this story is a real life lesson in leadership. It also reminds me of the importance of my staying focused, even when the biggest part of the project has already been done.
Take Away: Even when the biggest part of the work is done there remains the danger of losing focus and giving up gains that have been made.
Passing the vision along
1 Chronicles 22: I wanted in the worst way to build a sanctuary to honor my God. But God prevented me.
It was years earlier that David envisioned building a great House of Worship. The Lord blessed David for having that vision but he told David, “no.” David obediently yielded but the vision never faded. Now, late in his life David begins stockpiling materials for the great Temple project. There’s now a huge store of gold and silver and other precious building materials. David has also identified gifted stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and artisans. He’s still on the throne but he’s preparing for the day when his son Solomon ascends to leadership in Israel. The King has a father-son chat with his son, expressing his great disappointment in not being allowed to build the Temple, but also describing for Solomon all the preparations he’s made for its construction. Obviously, David wants Solomon to be infected with his vision. Worthwhile visions are, indeed, infectious. My enthusiasm is passed on to others who may actually accomplish more with it than I ever could. Also, David’s preparation efforts did a lot to assure that it would come to pass. David did more than dream of a Temple; he also did everything he could to prepare for its construction. Without that key ingredient all we have is good intentions. Visionary thinking includes not only thinking big, it includes real life preparation, and an intentional effort at vision casting.
Take Away: All the vision in the world is worthless without real life application.
A lesson on leadership
Exodus 32: Moses said to Aaron, “What on Earth did these people ever do to you that you involved them in this huge sin?” Aaron said, “Master, don’t be angry. You know this people and how set on evil they are.”
Aaron is left in charge while Moses is up on the mountain meeting with God. Just as the Lord said, there’s an idol-centered orgy going on. Moses demands an explanation from his brother who responds that these people are just bad people and there’s nothing he can do. Aaron is supposed to be the leader here, but he’s a spectacular failure. Leaders must have vision and be skilled in organizing and persuading people to work toward the fulfillment of that vision. Aaron’s view of leadership is to help the people do what they want to do already. His excuse to Moses is, “that’s just how these people are.” His error is huge and because of it he fails his people, Moses, and God. Genuine leaders don’t wring their hands as people do the wrong thing. Neither is it testing the political winds and “leading” the people to do what they already want to do, right or wrong. In fact, leadership can be lonely and occasionally it is practically suicidal. Aaron should have stood for God’s way even if it meant that the people just ran over him to do what they wanted in the first place. Moses understands leadership. He takes a position away from the goings on and calls for those who are on God’s side to join him. He’s going to make things right no matter what the cost. That’s leadership.
Take Away: Leadership is more than helping people do what they would do anyway.
Big events with small beginnings
Exodus 5: Does this look like rescue to you?
The journey from slavery to freedom will not come without a struggle. Pharaoh’s known as the leader of a country with a world class economy and he intends to keep his free labor force. He also likes getting his own way. Mix all that with his having a hard, dispassionate disposition and we have a recipe for a long struggle. Moses eases into the negotiations by asking that the people be given three days off for worship and Pharaoh responds by increasing the workload on the people. The result is that Moses is disappointed and the Hebrew people are upset with him for making life harder on them than it was before. Of course, this is the first step in what will be an epic deliverance. For now though, the whole thing feels like a pitiful failure. The thing is that most great events have less than stellar beginnings. For instance, there’s the story of the founding of my own nation which is filled with several “one step forward and two steps back” situations. Or consider the story of the Wright brothers and human flight. A person watching their early efforts might have concluded that they were crazy rather than visionary. In the passage before us today, Moses appears to have totally failed in his mission. However, he has one thing going for him that assures a positive outcome: the Lord is with him. What has happened thus far may not look like much of a rescue mission, but the Lord is just getting started.
Take Away: Great miracles often begin with what seems to be pitiful failure.
The Nebuchadnezzar school of leadership
Daniel 3: Anyone who does not kneel and worship shall be thrown…into a…furnace.
Any pollster will agree that an opinion freely given is more valuable than one that starts with, “If you don’t say this I’ll kill you.” One response of Nebuchadnezzar to his dream is to build a statue of himself and then command everyone to worship it. Can’t you imagine him watching this show and commenting, “See how they love me!” The truth of the matter is that there’s a lot more self-preservation than love going on in that event. This is leadership at its worst. A boss who says, “Do it or I’ll fire you” or a parent who says, “Do it or I’ll whip you” or a pastor who says, “Do it or God will get you” is a graduate of Nebuchadnezzar’s school of leadership. In this case, what the king wants is wrong in the first place, but even if what he wanted people to do was clearly the right thing he’s going about it in the wrong way. Real leaders lead by vision and example. People follow because they’ve made that vision their own and believe that the leader is the person who can help them get there. Jesus doesn’t say, “Follow me or you’re going to hell.” Instead, he says, “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.”
Take Away: Real leaders lead by vision and example.