The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For

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The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For

Exodus 3:1–15

Moses at the Burning Bush1

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

The Divine Name Revealed

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I Am Who I Am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I Am has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:

This is my name forever,

and this my title for all generations.

Matthew 16:21–28

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection2

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

The Cross and Self-Denial3

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Many grade-school teachers claim that leadership begins blossoming at very young ages. Kindergarten classes, sometimes even Pre-schoolers begin to show some basic signs of taking charge and inspiring others. However, leadership is not genetic. Aspects of it may be biological, but there are too many exceptions, where nurture alters the course of nature.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of this is the number of times that leaders fail early on in their careers and lives. Hollywood is filled with child actors who did not make it through their teenage years. Boy Scouts and the military teach leadership, yet some of them end up in prison in their later adult years.

Those with a compulsion for leadership often feel irritable in times of training and following others. Their ambition pushes them to jump at the initiative, often before they have the skills and training they need to back up their natural gifts. They fret and fail, sometimes loudly, sometimes silently, and many will never get back up once they have fallen down. They see the failure as a denial of their gifts.

The best leaders are not those who never make mistakes. They are those who persevere and learn from them. Usually the first two lessons they learn are patience and the importance of learning. (I’m probably preaching to myself a little bit here.) Mastering those two things opens doors to many other opportunities down the road.

For every leader though, there comes a moment that requires action and initiative. Something that grabs our attention and calls us to action. The whole thing works best when we are responding to an external presence rather than reacting to our own internal compulsions and insecurities. Moses had a burning bush that put him back to work after his failing, and subsequent lessons in patience and opportunities to learn how to live and lead flocks of sheep in the wilderness of Sinai.

Usually our burning bush moments are not about an invitation to the limelight, it is an invitation to sacrifice.Tweet: Usually our burning bush moments are not about an invitation to the limelight, it is an invitation to sacrifice.

Jesus took up his call initially by being born into the world, and then again following His baptism. His call to leadership was more than just an invitation to death on the cross. It was a call to bring others with Him. He may have died alone on that first cross, but he would soon be joined by most of those who followed Him. As Bonhoeffer writes, the call to follow Christ is the call to come and die. That is not far from the call of leadership.

What kind of burning bush moments have you experienced?

What sacrifices are God calling you to make?

What sacrifices are you calling others to make with your leadership?

How do you honor those sacrifices?

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  1. (Ex 6:2–7:7; 11:1–4; 12:35–36)
  2. (Mk 8:31–33; Lk 9:21–22)
  3. (Mk 8:34–9:1; Lk 9:23–27)

Who Are My People?

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Who Are My People?

Exodus 2:15b–22

But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”

Matthew 26:6–13

The Anointing at Bethany1

Now while Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and she poured it on his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples saw it, they were angry and said, “Why this waste? For this ointment could have been sold for a large sum, and the money given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

We live in a tribal world, and Donald Trump is not the cause of it. The racial division in our nation goes back before our foundations… inherited from every nation that populated our country, including the Native Americans, some of whom engaged in tribal warfare even before European colonists gave them a common enemy. If there was one thing that the English, and perhaps the Spanish as well were able to do, it was to draw groups of people together, at least temporarily, under a common enemy. I say English and Spanish because up until the early 1900’s the Irish, Italian, Polish, etc. were not considered “white”. After WWI and WWII Germans were judged with much suspicion, even though it was their nation that helped market the idea of a superior “white” race. Scandinavians, French, and some of the Northern European cultures could pass in this country until they spoke, after which, their non-American, Non-British accent would give them away as a foreigner. So what we have called racism has really been more about hundreds and thousands of tribes that cannot seem to get along.

It goes even further when you factor in lifestyles. Economic status, job type, home neighborhood… these are all markers of identity by which we judge one another, and while someone from small-town Kansas might not care which part of New York City a person lived in, you better believe New Yorkers would. And they might judge the small-town Kansas person as being backward, unprogressive, and a whole line of prejudices that go along with it. Those outside our tribe are not always seen as a fully dignified human being, the way we consider our own people.Tweet: Those outside our tribe are not always seen as a fully dignified human being, the way we consider our own people.

Writers, musicians, and other artists celebrate this growing emergence of tribalism because it simplifies marketing and allows the artist to create and perform for their own chosen group, rather than diluting their work down to a more general appeal. Seth Godin makes a living teaching this very concept.

There is loads of tribalism in Scripture, and a lot of sin that stems from it going all the way back to Cain and Abel – brothers (or sisters) who cannot tolerate being part of the same family. Jesus retells the story as that of a family reunion… of every tribe gathering together to worship God.2 I don’t see an explicit condemnation of tribalism, certainly not enough to be consistently repeated. If anything, the prophets and Paul, in Romans 2 imply that God speaks to us in our own tribalistic language, letting us all know that we belong to the wrong tribe and need to come join His own group.

No, I think that our unique edges are something God celebrates. They are not wrong, but they are incomplete. We are all like puzzle pieces, and God is the only one who can see the big picture of how we all fit together. We can exist on our own, but we miss our true purpose. It makes us all like Peter Pan and the Lost Boys who never really grow up, wanting to stay just as we are forever, but after awhile we begin to see that it just means that we don’t really fit in anywhere but among ourselves.

God wants our tribes to grow up. The tribes of rich and poor, the tribes of political alliances, the tribes of ancestry and neighborhoods… we all need to figure out how we fit together. We need to learn from each other and we need to lift each other up, because I am convinced there will come a day when the truth will be revealed: that we need each other.

Who do you identify as your tribe?

What other tribes do you interact with?

How is God leading your tribe to bring others closer to Him?

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  1. (Mk 14:3–9; Jn 12:1–8)
  2. See Revelation 7:9 and Prodigal Son

Wrestling with a Name

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Wrestling with a Name

Genesis 29:31–30:24

When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren. Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also”; and she named him Simeon. Again she conceived and bore a son, and said, “Now this time my husband will be joined to me, because I have borne him three sons”; therefore he was named Levi. She conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the Lord”; therefore she named him Judah; then she ceased bearing.

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob became very angry with Rachel and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Then she said, “Here is my maid Bilhah; go in to her, that she may bear upon my knees and that I too may have children through her.” So she gave him her maid Bilhah as a wife; and Jacob went in to her. And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son”; therefore she named him Dan. Rachel’s maid Bilhah conceived again and bore Jacob a second son. Then Rachel said, “With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister, and have prevailed”; so she named him Naphtali.

When Leah saw that she had ceased bearing children, she took her maid Zilpah and gave her to Jacob as a wife. Then Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a son. And Leah said, “Good fortune!” so she named him Gad. Leah’s maid Zilpah bore Jacob a second son. And Leah said, “Happy am I! For the women will call me happy”; so she named him Asher.

In the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Is it a small matter that you have taken away my husband? Would you take away my son’s mandrakes also?” Rachel said, “Then he may lie with you tonight for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him, and said, “You must come in to me; for I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night. And God heeded Leah, and she conceived and bore Jacob a fifth son. Leah said, “God has given me my hire because I gave my maid to my husband”; so she named him Issachar. And Leah conceived again, and she bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good dowry; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons”; so she named him Zebulun. Afterwards she bore a daughter, and named her Dinah.

Then God remembered Rachel, and God heeded her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son, and said, “God has taken away my reproach”; and she named him Joseph, saying, “May the Lord add to me another son!”

Matthew 12:38–42

“The Sign of Jonah1

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth. The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!

Naming was done in such a way as to present hopes or to express sentiments of the parents, especially during the birth of their children. With the importance and danger of childbirth in the ancient world, and the way, even today, childbirth has a powerful way of creating the social construct of family.

Just doing the role call at a family gathering would recount years of family conflict. The twin acts of deception and jealousy, which had characterized Jacob himself, through much of his life, flows through the pages in our hands, trickling down across the generations, through marriages, and raising children like a generational curse. This plot twist became a generational curse that would take God’s chosen people from their life in Canaan, ultimately into slavery in Egypt, due to their own jealous and deceptive acts, taught by their parents, and given to them in their very names. If you want to see all the mess that family can be, you will find a buffet of problems in the first book of the Bible alone.

Names can be blessings as well. For the most part, names themselves are not guarantees for either good or bad. The blessing of a name, and really any blessing for that matter, usually comes with the possibility of a downside if we do not handle it well. This may be why we struggle to be as thankful for these gifts as we perhaps could otherwise.

What about the name Jesus? What does it mean? The Bible tells us that it means “Savior”. I think our understanding of ‘savior’ is often a little shallow though. Jesus as our savior does more than just pull us back from the fire at the last moment. His work in saving us reflects God’s work in creating us from the beginning and the Holy Spirit’s work in transforming us today. The name of Jesus, the name of our God (to me at least) is the One who makes something good out of nothing. This was the name that Jonah knew God to be, and the reason he wanted to stay away from Ninevah. He wanted to keep God for the worthy, at least in his own regard, and Ninevah had no one who qualified. Solomon, on the other hand, knew he was nothing when he was made king. He made his first act as king to be seeking out this God who makes something good out of nothing and God did not disappoint Solomon.

What does God’s name mean to you?

What kind of meaning does your name have to those around you?


  1. (Lk 11:29–32)

The Way of Love

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The Way of Love

Deuteronomy 5:22-33

Moses the Mediator of God’s Will1

These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.”

The Lord heard your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they are right in all that they have spoken. If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever! Go say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.

1 Peter 3:8-12

Suffering for Doing Right

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing. For

“Those who desire life

and desire to see good days,

let them keep their tongues from evil

and their lips from speaking deceit;

let them turn away from evil and do good;

let them seek peace and pursue it.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,

and his ears are open to their prayer.

But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Love and suffering go hand in hand. We preach it at weddings. We preach it at funerals. For some reason, all the great romance stories involve suffering and usually dying. I finally got around to watching Star Wars: Rogue One last night and that entire movie was focused around the concept of love and suffering together.. Alan Tudyk, one of my favorite actors played the robot “K-2SO”, and even he had a death scene as he gave his life for the “love” of his companions.

The Mosaic covenant began as God showed love for the Hebrew people by bringing them out of slavery in Egypt and setting them on a path to the Promised Land. Instead of gratitude, they were fearful of that love. While that might seem weird, think about it again. When has true, deep, life-changing love ever come “naturally”. Many guys know the sheer terror of asking out a girl they really care about – fearful of rejection. Many girls get butterflies in their stomach when those guys come near them. Putting on the act and going through the motions is so much easier when you don’t really have feelings for the person with whom you are entering the relationship.

By feelings, I don’t just mean physical attraction either. It is the deeper love that calls forth the willingness to sacrifice – often the kind of love parents feel the first time they meet their newborn baby. Sure, it comes and goes with diaper changes and other messes babies make, but there is a part of it that is truly covenantal, in that it lasts until they are parted by death.

God wanted to show this kind of love to the Hebrew people, and they were terrified of what it might cost them. So they chose to hide from God. Instead of chasing after them, God, did something strange. He used Moses as an intermediary, to go between Him and the people. In a sense, Moses was supposed to carry God’s love to the people. In order to do that, Moses had to act and talk a certain way. He could no longer just be himself, because He was always representing God to the people. Moses had to change. Moses had to learn and begin to love the Hebrew people the way God did.

It was like one of those crazy Shakespearean romances where the guy playing matchmaker falls for the girl he is supposed to win over for his friend. In those type of stories conflict ensues and it either ends as a comedy or tragedy – rarely anything in between. With God however, it is a different kind of story. God actually encourages us to fall in love with the people He loves. He commands it. In fact, He helps us do it.

Jesus came as another kind of mediator between us and God, and He explained that all the laws that Moses taught could be summed up in two simple rules: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. All the rules simply help us know how to do those two things well in different situations. But it is more than just following rules. Rules help you stay on the path, but that does not mean you will go anywhere. Real love means walking the walk, and that is where the suffering comes in. Moses suffered for the Hebrew people. Jesus suffered for us all. God continues to choose to suffer as we give our love away to people and things that do not love us back, while we ignore Him Who is Always Faithful. He does it because that is the way of love.

How have you been called to the Way of Love?

Where does fear hold you back?


  1. (Ex 20:18–21)

Prayer for Comfort

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Prayer for Comfort

Genesis 8:13-19

In the six hundred first year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark, and looked, and saw that the face of the ground was drying. In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dry. Then God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” So Noah went out with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.

Confession and comfort are two sides of growth in prayer. Together, these two kinds of prayer encompass steps 4-10 of the way to recovery and spiritual maturity.

This kind of prayer involved more than wires whispered at a bedside. It is prayer with hands and feet. We go to Jesus as our mediator between God and ourselves, but we also need to go to Jesus to mediate between ourselves and others. It is confession that follows along the line of the teaching Jesus gave in a general sense I response to paying taxes. If you owe your neighbor an apology, God expects you to give it to her. If you owe your neighbor more than an apology, Jesus expects you to pay that as well. Zaccheus it’s a phenomenal example of this from the gospels and Paul writes to the Romans the same thing. Owe no one anything but love.

This kind of full-bodied confession is costly. Between the jabs of confession we need comfort. We need reassurance that, even if we have not been and are not okay in the present, God is meeting us and making a way. There may be no more beautiful and concise picture of this than what James, the brother of Jesus wrote to the churches: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”

It is terrifying seeking reconciliation sometimes. It does not always go well. Sometimes it seems to make things worse because it is often easier to ignore a problem than to address it, especially if there is no convenient solution within our grasp. The healing comes not from our own strength, but from God. The promise we have about comfort is not that we will not suffer, but that we will not suffer alone and that healing and joy will follow.

John 14:27-29

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Critics

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Critics

John 8:48-59

The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is one who seeks it and he is the judge. Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whom you say, ‘He is our God,’ though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

There is nothing like a racial slur to get your blood boiling as you attempt to begin public leadership… but Satan really showed his hand when he could not hold back the religious attack about demon possession. That is the biggest problem with working for the devil. There is no patience, no thoughtfulness, only barrage after barrage of lies poured out like napalm in hopes of covering everything with the stick, stench, and burn, so that the truth becomes unrecognizable. It is not because the devil is stupid, at least I don’t think that is the case. It is because there is no other way. One single truth shines like a lightning bolt in the darkness, becoming instantly visible to all around. A field of truth growing makes those lies equally recognizable. The only way Satan can gain and maintain a foothold anywhere is by eliminating all truth, because any truth will eventually point back to God and to the devil’s downfall.

We live in this battlefield every bit as much as Jesus did. If you’ve not come across critics commissioned from evil incarnate you have not yet really started leading yet. Jesus told us that we are the light of the world. Our very existence testifies to the truth of God’s goodness, love, and redemption in the world because we are all frail, broken people who God works through and with from time to time. Everything good that comes from us will point back to God if you look far enough. Satan can lure us with lies that we created ourselves or are the source of our own strength and goodness, but those lies will not stand the test of time and eventually he will just have to eliminate us to keep his lies going. I think, if the devil really had his own way, he would destroy every single thing in creation, leaving himself last, empty, broken, and alone – the only one left to keep up the lie that God was somehow wrong or unjust. The only enemy he would have left would be himself. Sin truly carries the seed of its own destruction. Or so claim the some of the critics anyway1

So the first step in dealing with critics is to consider the source. That does not mean we should turn a deaf ear to anyone who is not a friend or claim allegiance to a friendly camp. Sometimes we can learn much from our enemies. But regardless of who they are or what they say, it is important to remember that everyone comes from somewhere, is shaped and informed by others, and have their own motivations in raising their concerns. Most of our heated conflict comes from trying to hide those origins and motivations.

Our politics, both church and state, about doctrinal issues get far more heated in times of economic crisis than in times of economic plenty. We go to war when we think those who do not share our values will take from our precious wealth. Likewise, we quit our internal squabbling when we have an external enemy to focus upon, to unite us against. Solutions are not found in either situation though. Indeed, scripture gives plenty of examples of these conflicts between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, between the Jewish people as a whole and the Romans, even between the disciples themselves.

In fact, you have to move through the gospels and make it into the book of Acts before you really start to see communal solutions. There, amidst strong divisions along ancient lines, the Holy Spirit poured out upon 3000 people who hailed form different cultures, spoke different languages, had different understandings of God, His law, and his teachings, and who would not normally associate with one another for fear they might “taint” each other with uncleanness. Within the following decade, that same Spirit would travel across the Near East and up into Europe, into places that had never heard of God before – in spite of a multitude of very active critics. Yes, it requires the Holy Spirit – but not everyone received the Holy Spirit, and not all at the same time. It takes several things for the Spirit to move a community forward.

First of all, it takes humility, which looks like confession and repentance. We love baptism, but we often miss the point that baptism had little to do with getting wet, and a lot to do with getting right with God and others. The confessions that were made at baptisms in the gospel were public and specific. There was no salvation without telling the community what we had done wrong and making amends for those wrongs. The story of Zaccheus is an excellent example of this, and that understanding of confession before baptism is what makes the story of Jesus’ own baptism so powerful… and weird. If we cannot divulge our own weaknesses and failures, we implicitly claim superiority in any situation, which means that if a problem exists around us, it is our fault. People are going hungry? Not my fault, I give to the food pantry! Apparently not enough to solve the problem. People struggling with sexual identity? Not me, I know what is right! And is that “knowledge” making any difference? Broken hearts that lead to self-destructive behaviors know no sexual boundaries. It touches every age, race, religion, political persuasion, and trying to pin it all down on one particular demographic or another is a category mistake.

Because we are human we make mistakes, and these mistakes hurt those around us. When we get hurt, we get defensive and lash back out, with intent to harm because it seems normal to us that if we destroy those around us, no one can harm us, and the devil leads that charge. The one thought that does not occur in those moments is that we need each other, and that the miracle of healing, reconciliation, and grace can only occur between opposite sides of a conflict – between enemies.

If we can get to that place of real honest humility ourselves, then we can start moving towards the next step: Examining how the relationships between us create the situations we live in and the thoughts and feelings we hold. Those who claim that children are not born knowing hatred and bigotry, but learn it from those around them are at least partly right. But it is not their parents alone who are their sole teachers. You and I, every moment we are around children are teaching them one example or another, and if we do not teach them another way, but settle on being passive, and not teaching them anything at all – we reinforce any bad teaching they have. A person’s (of any age) opinion will not, and should not accept as a rational truth of “normal” reality, anything that they do not experience significantly more than another opinion. If we want to claim that there is no division between rich and poor, but a person only sees the rich and poor eating together in public 1 out of every 100 times, you would be a fool to believe they are peers. If, on the other hand, they see people of similar racial, socio-economic, religious, and political backgrounds sharing meals together in public 99 out of 100 times, it makes perfect sense to believe we live in a divided society, and that the normal thing to do is to find the group into which you fit best.

Jesus, made Himself our peer. He even made connections (through Abraham) to His critics, and they felt threatened by that connection. Having thrown their worst words at Him, they could not allow Him to exist if He was indeed connected to themselves. So they picked up their rocks. I think, it was mercy that kept Jesus from defending himself, the way He defended the woman caught in adultery, “Let the one without sin throw the first stone.” That truth, set inside a question of who is worthy to dispense justice, stopped that conflict cold. Jesus would defend us, but not Himself, but it made no difference. The first to choose the stone is always the first to admit defeat and inability to lead.

Jesus does not needs stones. Stones are the way of lies. Jesus leads by humbling Himself, stripping Himself down to vulnerability, and washing the lies from feet of his critics as He invites them to join Him in bringing healing, reconciliation, grace… truth to the world.


  1. “You see, evil always contains the seeds of its own destruction. It is ultimately negative, and therefore encompasses its downfall even at its moments of apparent triumph. No matter how grandiose, how well-planned, how apparently foolproof of an evil plan, the inherent sinfulness will by definition rebound upon its instigators. No matter how apparently successful it may seem upon the way, at the end it will wreck itself. It will founder upon the rocks of iniquity and sink headfirst to vanish without trace into the seas of oblivion.”- Neil Gaiman, *Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

Leading with Fear: Gathering or Scattering?

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Leading with Fear: Gathering or Scattering?

Jeremiah 23:1-81

Restoration after Exile

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

The Righteous Branch of David

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” Then they shall live in their own land.

Fear is a dangerous thing for leaders to employ. Goats own leadership involves a certain degree of fear, to be sure, but it is questionable whether we, as His human agents in leadership should employ fear.

Fear can be used to both scatter and gather. Usually we attribute it to only the former, but it is a powerful tool in shaping the behavior of those around us. Often, like a storm, a little bit of fear scatters us, each off to their own unique place of safety. However if the storm continues and the flood waters rise, we will leave our individual places of safety to seek out a focused, higher ground, especially if we believe that it is the only place that will remain safe.

What does that mean for leaders? Either you use fear sporadically to chase away your flock from a circumstantial place of danger, or you have to exert the effort to pour it on and keep them continually afraid and continually following you. This is brainwashing 101 and for the personality cults that employ it, some use charismatic attraction, but most use some form of fear to keep their members close. This is not Godly leadership, and the prophets and history of the Bible all attest that if we abuse our leadership by using fear tactics, there is a price to pay. God will take our leadership away and we will be seen for the insecure, over-reaching fools we are.

There is a place for fear and scattering though, as Ecclesiastesreminds us. Jesus used it, not only for occasional warnings to keep people safe, such as His warning about following the Pharisees but also to quell the ambition and pride of His own followers. Note though, that even in these instances, Jesus does not act out of a threat to His own leadership, but instead out of care for the well-being of His followers who have lost touch with the reality of their situation.

Matthew 20:17-28

A Third Time Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection2

While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”

The Request of the Mother of James and John3

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

I suppose, in the end, the greatest danger of employing fear is that, like working with poison or explosives, it is a weapon which often ones back to harm those who employ it, bringing us under its own control, eliminating our ability to choose wisely and freely, and thus crippling our own ability to lead. See pretty much any movie or read any story ever made… once the villainous fear-monger is overtaken by fear themselves, their end is near.


  1. (Cp Jer 16:14–15)
  2. (Mk 10:32–34; Lk 18:31–34)
  3. (Mk 10:35–45)