Leading a motley crew

I Samuel 22:1-2  1 David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. 2 All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him.

It’s natural to want the best team possible.  If you were ever chosen as a team leader, you know what I am talking about.  You want the best.  I remember  in college the big thing was to make us do projects in a group.  Oh the joys of teamwork.  Inevitably there would be someone chosen as the project manager and if it was you… please God, help me have a good team.  Because nobody wants the motley crew.

It seems, however, that the motley crew is who God often  gives us to lead. Here in 1 Samuel 22, we see that the people David (the anointed future king of Israel) led were people in distress, in debt, or discontent.  Likely many were all three.  And this was his first leadership assignment.  They probably whined and complained and caused him all sorts of grief.  They were far from perfect and required his molding and influence.  But they craved his leadership and they actually followed him.

So it goes with us.  While we are waiting around to be great leaders of talented superhumans, God asks us to lead the ones who have issues.  He gives us imperfect people and asks us to care for them, to heal them, to help them.  He asks us to lead in less than ideal conditions with an army of less than ideal soldiers.  But it works, because God is in it.  So if you desire to be a leader today, begin leading who God calls you to.  Don’t wait for the perfect team falls in place, because the perfect team might already be right in front of your face.

A Working Man

Ruth 3:1-2 1 One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her [Ruth], “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? 2 Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

In today’s passage, we have quite the unique marriage proposal.  When I proposed to my wife, I knelt down on one knee and asked her to marry me.  Ruth uncovered Boaz’ feet.  Does this seem strange to anyone but me?  Apparently it wasn’t strange in those times.  In fact, uncovering a man’s feet while he was sleeping was a customary way to ask him to marry you.  Okay, then. So Ruth proposes to Boaz.  As fascinating as this is, I was struck today not by what she asked him, but by what he was doing and where he was at.

First let me tell you a little story from my past.  I used to work in retail management.  I had lots of people that worked for me.  In fact, I was second in charge at the stores I worked at.  So when a dirty job needed to be done, I had plenty of people to ask.   One evening, it was reported to me that someone had thrown up in the men’s restroom. (Note to self: don’t blog while eating breakfast).  There was a young lady, a high school student, on duty that night and I asked her to clean up the mess in the men’s restroom.  That instruction alone freaked her out so she timidly approached the scene.  When she arrived, it was her worst nightmare – vomit.  She had a very sensitive gag reflex and just about added to the mess on the floor.  She came to me with all due respect and said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do it.”  She said she understood if I had to ask her to quit her job for not following instructions, but she just couldn’t do it.  Now what?  Well, I decided to just clean it up myself.

That story came to mind today as I was reading this passage.  I didn’t do anything special or extraordinary.  I just did what a leader should do, which is be willing to participate in the hard work.  And this is what struck me about Boaz today.  He had lots of people working for him.  He had workers and he had servants.  Yet he was out winnowing the barley with his own hands.  He was there not just to give instructions, but he was there to work.  He was there to serve.

It’s the same thing that Jesus did.  He came not just to give instructions; he came to work.  He came to get a job done.  He came to serve.  And He did all that He came to do.  He ministered to the most unlovable – he healed the sick and served the poor.  He washed His disciples stinky feet.  He labored on the cross and defeated the powers of darkness, all  with His own two hands.  Yes, Jesus was a working man.  He still is a working man.  And I am ever thankful that He is still working on me.

Neanderthals

Judges 21:23-25   23 So that is what the Benjamites did. While the girls were dancing, each man caught one and carried her off to be his wife. Then they returned to their inheritance and rebuilt the towns and settled in them.  24 At that time the Israelites left that place and went home to their tribes and clans, each to his own inheritance.  25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. 

In the last chapter of Judges, the Israelites come to the conclusion that they have made the mistake of almost wiping out one of the tribes of Israel.  I guess you would call this “killer’s remorse.”  They are stuck now trying to figure out how to repopulate the tribe of Benjamin.  The problem is: they swore to God that they would not give their daughters in marriage to this tribe who did these evil things.  Now what?

Apparently the best solution was to think and act like a bunch of neanderthals.  Seriously, these guys make the Geico cavemen look like geniuses.  Their first bright idea is to figure out who didn’t show up for the mandatory assembly and kill all the people in that town except for the virgin women.  Then they forced those 400 women to marry the Benjamite men.  Oh, but there weren’t enough women to go around.  Now what?

I’ll tell you now what – more stupidity. It went something like this: “Alright guys, hide in those them fields over there.  When you see some dancing girls, snatch one up and take ‘er for yer wife.  Just smile at her real big with ‘yer toothless grin and she’ll surely fall in love.  Trust us, it will work.”  Isn’t this a bit meat-headed?  Is this the best they could come up with?  Neanderthals, I tell you.

Which leads to the “aha” statement of the entire book of Judges.  It is a statement that has been repeated many times over and is so appropriate to follow this last story.  The statement: In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.  Which reminds me why leadership is so important.  When everyone does as they see fit, we end up with all kinds of crazy stories like the ones found in Judges.  We find ourselves doing bone-headed things like these guys.  I, for one, am thankful for Godly leadership.  I am thankful for the Holy Spirit to lead me and convict me.  Many people think that ultimate freedom is complete unrestraint and independence.  However, the ultimate freedom comes when one is safely being led.  It comes with the right authority.  When we are safely being led, we are free to be.  And I am thankful for this leadership in my life.  Because the last thing I want to do is act like a neanderthal. 

What happens in the absence of leadership?

Judges 19:29-30  29 When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel. 30 Everyone who saw it said, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it! Consider it! Tell us what to do!”

I did NOT want to write about this chapter today, mainly because I was disturbed.  Here you have the story of a Levite and his concubine (kind of like a wife, but considered purely property).  She runs away, he goes after her, and they journey back home.  On the way home, the men of a village want to have sex with the man – okay gross.  Instead, they take his concubine and completely rape and abuse her to death.  I can’t even fathom this whole scenario.  It is disgusting and vile and every other wicked word you can come up with.

So when the Levite gets home, he cuts his dead concubine up into 12 pieces and mails them to all the tribes in Israel.  I have received a lot of packages in the mail, but imagine receiving a leg or an arm.  That’s just plain wrong!  So why did he do it?  What drove him to this extreme thing?  The first verse of the chapter gives us a clue.  It said that Israel had no king; they had no leadership.  And without leadership, lawlessness prevails.  That’s partly what led to the horrific thing done to this concubine.  But it’s also what led the man to this odd mass mailing.  He had no leader to appeal to for justice.  He had no judge, no supreme court.  So he appealed to the entire nation and I guess he thought this was the best way to get their attention.  He didn’t have email, twitter, or the local news to get the word out.  He had to rely solely on himself.

Which makes me grateful for leadership.  It makes me grateful for order.  Without leadership in our lives, we are forced to figure out on our own what is right.  Without leadership, we don’t have anyone to hold us accountable for our actions, and the depravity of the human condition will emerge in a leaderless society.  So we need to be led, whether we like it or not.  That’s why I value leadership so much.  There are times where I think it would be easier to be out there on my own not having to answer to anyone, but I recognize the danger in that kind of thinking.  So I surround myself with accountability and leadership over my life.  And it starts with God.  We must first let Him lead and from there allow Godly leadership into our lives.  Because once we venture out on our own, we will eventually find ourselves in danger with no one to cry out to.

It’s important how you start

Judges 9:1-6  1 Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, 2 “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”  3 When the brothers repeated all this to the citizens of Shechem, they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” 4 They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelech used it to hire reckless adventurers, who became his followers. 5 He went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal. But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding. 6 Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelech king.

Holy smokes this is a brutal chapter of the Bible.  Talk about your ultimate case of sibling rivalry.  Here’s the scenario: Gideon has 70 sons, which to me seems a bit excessive.  One son, Abimelech decided he should be in charge around here so he convinces the people to help him.  Now you should now that Abimelech’s mother was a slave of Gideon (first problem: sleeping with your slave), so his relatives were a different people group than the other sons.  He convinces his relatives that he should be the only one in charge.  After all, a throne with 70 guys on it gets a little crowded.   Well, they agree with him and he beginning days of his leadership aren’t something to be proud of.   And his choices at the beginning of his leadership defined the remainder of his days.

Abimelech made three horrible choices at the beginning of his rulership: 1. He accepted money from the temple of a false God.  He essentially used dirty money to launch his authority.  2. He hired fun, free-spirited, reckless adventurers for his team.  There are two problems with this – buying his followers and selecting a bunch of trouble causers.  3. He killed people to gain authority.

Now this last one seems like an obvious no-no, but let’s also take a look at the other two.  Because I see these same things happening in our world today.  Number one, people are offered dirty money to get ahead.  Examples of this are bribes, stolen money, and sketchy business deals.  Number two, surrounding oneself with people who flatter them and are willing to do what you say as long as you pay them to say the right stuff.  Number three, stepping on whoever is necessary to get ahead.

This is corporate America, people!  This is the way of the world.  And it always works and it never works.  It always seems to work out in the short-term.  It provides instant results, but it usually catches up with the person in the long run.  They may later be exposed for their incompetency and it is discovered that they cheated their way to the top.  They may later crack under the pressure because they don’t have the skill set necessary to lead.  No matter the cause, leadership that starts off corrupt usually ends with poor results.

This is why it is so important to start things the right way.  Abimelech’s life was ended in a miserable, shameful way – a lady dropped a brick on his head.  The decisions he made at he beginning of his rulership followed him.  He became defined by how he started.  He started a cheater, so he led like a cheater.  He started a murderer, he led like a murderer.  He couldn’t escape it.  (Well he could have escaped it by repenting and turning to God, but he didn’t.)  He chose the way he would be defined.  We, too, choose the way that we are defined.  We get to decide how we start things.  We can hold integrity as a high standard and follow the ways of the Lord or we can lie, cheat, and steal our way into power.  We just have to keep in mind that whatever path we choose will define our leadership.  It will stick with us.  So let’s choose to have ethics that we can be proud of.  Let’s start things with the right motives in the right way.

The real boss

Judges 8:22-23  22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.”  23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.”

Today’s passage gets to the very heart of why Gideon was successful.  In this chapter we see a different Gideon – we see a confident Gideon.  He destroys anyone in his path with such great confidence that it is terrifying.  The scared wimpy Gideon of the past is gone and the mighty warrior of God has arrived at the scene.  And the best part about it is that he realizes why he is different.  He recognizes the change in identity and purpose.  The difference is the changing power of God in his life.

So when the Israelites come to him and ask him to rule over them, he simply responds to them with the truth.  He says that he will not rule over them, but the Lord will rule over them.  The thing is: Gideon did rule over them.  He was the big boss; he ruled the nation.  But Gideon pointed toward God with his leadership.  He told them that God was the real boss.  God was the CEO, the CFO, and the COO.  He was the real one in charge.

It’s the most effective way to lead really, God through us.  With God, all of your shortcomings become a non-issue.  With God, all of your wisdom is trumped by all of His.  So when we lead our homes, our kids, our friends, or our companies, we should remember Gideon.  We should remember that it is the Lord who is truly leading.  Let’s just make sure that when we say that, we are really letting Him lead.  Doing so will produce the greatest success anyone’s ever known.

Famous last words

Joshua 24:14-15 14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

I wonder what my last words will be when I get old.  I wonder if it will be profound, touching, or something cranky like “get out of my room!”  Here’s a list of famous last words that I don’t want to say:

“Hey, watch this.”

“Are you sure the power is off?”

“I can pass this guy.”

“What does this button do?”

“Does it bite?”

Now, who wants to have something stupid be what they are remembered for?  Not me.

Fortunately, Joshua had much better last words than any of those.  Here in chapter 24, Joshua is giving his final charge to the people of Israel.  He first reminds them of all that God has done for them.  He walks them through history recalling the greatness of God.  After all the buildup he says, “well I guess if you don’t really feel like serving God go ahead and do your own thing. But my household will be marked by serving the Lord.”  Of course the people respond that they will serve God forever and ever, which they don’t.  Joshua calls it too – he tells them they don’t have the capacity to serve a Holy God.  (Thank goodness for Jesus, huh?)

Back to these famous words of Joshua: as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. Joshua was about to die.  He wasn’t talking about his household serving God for the next few weeks.  He was talking about the legacy that he intended to leave behind.  He was marking the generations to come with a seal of their inheritance in the Lord.  Leaving a legacy requires leading today and preparing tomorrow’s leaders to lead tomorrow. You see, Joshua wouldn’t be able to make such a statement unless he had already trained up his sons and daughters to live for the Lord.  It takes work, but it’s work that I am willing to do.  I, too, want to be able to say that my household will serve the Lord for generations to come.