The Problem with Pictorial Directories

What if church pictorial directories showed us as we really are?

What if church pictorial directories showed us as we really are?

At that time Abijah son of Jeroboam became ill, and Jeroboam said to his wife, “Go, disguise yourself, so you won’t be recognized as the wife of Jeroboam. Then go to Shiloh. Ahijah the prophet is there—the one who told me I would be king over this people.”
1 Kings 14:1-2a (NIV)

Yesterday I had the privilege to give the Sunday message at Westview church in Waukee. I shared a tongue-in-cheek illustration about church pictorial directories. Every church I’ve ever attended has done a pictorial directory. A company comes in with their portrait cameras and families sign up to come to the church to have their professional portrait done. The company puts together a directory of the families for the church and makes money off of the photos packages that they sell.

My illustration was simply that when we go to have our family portraits done, we put on our nice clothes, get cleaned up for the camera, and try our very best to look the part of a picture perfect family. We want to appear to be who we think God and the church want us to be. I think it’s very similar to what many of us church-goers do every Sunday morning. We want to appear, not as we really are, but as who we suspect others want us to be. What would that portrait look like, however, if the camera captured us as we really are?

Jeroboam’s wife did her best to pretend to be someone she was not when she went to Ahijah the prophet. But, God and the prophet saw through her charade, as I believe God does with all of us whenever we try to pull the same trick.

This morning I’m thinking about living authentically and being honest about who I am. Life is messy, humans are imperfect creatures, and the further I get in life’s journey the more I discover the depths of my own depravity and my need of grace and forgiveness from both God and others. Hiding and pretending does nothing for my spiritual progression, and, in fact, only hinders and delays the process. Only when I am honest and authentic with myself, God, and others, can I deal honestly with my blind spots make progress on this spiritual pilgrimage.

 

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Dealing with “God Told Me to Tell You” Statements

source: n3k via Flickr

source: n3k via Flickr

The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. I have been told by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.’”

The old prophet answered, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’” (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house. 1 Kings 13:16-19 (NIV)

Along my journey I have been, from time to time, approached by individuals who proclaim to have some kind of “God told me” word or statement that pertains to me. I am not discounting the possibility that God could speak to me through another person, but I have learned over time to approach these situations with Jesus’ words in mind: “Be shrewd as serpents and gentle as doves.”

The man of God in today’s chapter had been given a clear directive by God. Along comes another prophet whose “God told me” statement contradicted the clear word he’d been given. His blind faith in the stranger had disastrous results. I don’t want to make a similar mistake, so when someone claims to have a word from God that affects me, there are a few simple guidelines I’ve learned to follow:

  • Consider the source. If approached by a stranger or a casual acquaintance whom I don’t know, I am going to be appropriately more cautious. If it comes from Wendy, one of the guys in my inner circle, or a fellow believer who knows me and whom I know and respect, then I’m immediately going to give it greater weight in my consideration.
  • Beware of contradictions. There are some things that I’ve learned about myself and believe wholeheartedly based on my own experiences and faith journey. I am supposed to be in Pella. I believe that God has a purpose for both me and Wendy here. If someone approached me today and said, “God told me that you are supposed to move to Timbuktu,” then I would be immediately, shrewdly suspect. This contradicts all of the sign posts and waypoints on my journey.
  • Seek wisdom. I have a strong circle of family and friends who are wise, who know me well, and whom I have given carte blanche permission to speak into my life. Before giving a stranger’s “God told me” statement any credence, I would run it by these people whom I trust. If I share the word given to me and their B.S. Meters start sounding an alarm, then I feel totally secure dismissing it.
  • Don’t worry. God will accomplish His purposes in me (consider Jonah). I am open and actively listening. I am continually asking, seeking, and knocking. If I’m supposed to move to Timbuktu then that’s where I’m going to end up. Just because a stranger tells me such doesn’t mean I need to obsess about it. Chill. Have faith. Follow. Press on.
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A Lesson for this Leader

rehoboam

King Rehoboam sent out Adoniram, who was in charge of forced labor, but all Israel stoned him to death. 1 Kings 12:8 (NIV)

A few weeks ago we were reading about Solomon’s reign and I commented:

Taxation, nepotism, and slave labor. [Scratching my head, carefully avoiding the receding hairline] If I’m standing in Solomon’s sandals things seem pretty cushy. If I’m standing in the sandals of a common citizen on the outskirts of Gilead who just watched the king’s official walk off with my children, my livestock, and a two month’s supply of olive oil, I’m not exactly feeling the love.

I feel a storm cloud rising on the horizon. 

Today those words came back to me as I read the conversation between Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, and the nation. It sounded to me like the people were being more gracious and reasonable than I might have been if I’d been standing in their sandals. David and Solomon had built a great kingdom, but somewhere along the line they forgot a small principle that Jesus was fond of reminding his followers: Anyone who wants to be great among you must be the servant of all.

I can see the progression across the generations. David, and to a greater extent his son Solomon, and to an even greater extent his grandson Rehoboam, were willing to advance their own self-centered desires by using their power, authority, and position to subjugate their own people rather than serve their own people.

In today’s chapter the inevitable happens. Rehoboam has an opportunity to redeem the situation, but he chooses to follow his father’s example and his peers’ foolishness. The people rebel in a bloody coup. Adoniram, who has been the national slave master since the days of David, is stoned to death. Rehoboam barely escapes with his life.

Today, I am thinking about my own positions of leadership, power, and authority as they relate to my family, my work, and my community. I want my own life and leadership to be marked by Jesus’ admonishment to be a servant all, especially those I lead. I don’t want a blind spot of pride, self-centeredness, or foolishness to keep me from doing the right thing for those I serve.

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Enjoy the Dance

source: 10148140@N07 via Flickr

source: 10148140@N07 via Flickr

King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.
1 Kings 11:1-2 (NIV)

Wendy and I have had held a running conversation throughout our relationship. It ebbs and flows. It weaves its way into our conscious thought, then goes away for a time. Its the never ending subject of Mars and Venus, male and female, man and woman. Wendy has publicly made the comment many times that she knows she can easily manipulate me any time she wants to do so. I, on the other hand, know that I can put my foot down and forcefully demand my way when I desire. So it goes, the give and take of power, control and negotiation within marriage. It has been mysterious ebb and flow of relationship between men and women since the Garden of Eden.

Solomon was a wise man in many ways, but he had a fatal flaw. Solomon loved women. He loved a lot of women. According to today’s chapter the dude had 700 wives “of royal birth.” Most of these were likely to have been arranged marriages with the daughters of kings and rulers throughout the region. A king threatened by Solomon’s power would give his daughter to Solomon in marriage figuring that his son-in-law would want to maintain an amicable relationship with family. Solomon also had 300 concubines. These were likely girls of a lower social class that Solomon saw, desired, and attained by leveraging his royal authority. How interesting that Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, was attained by his father David in a similar manner.

While I am married to one women, God has seen fit to surround me with females. Along with Wendy I have daughters Taylor, Madison who still stand under my umbrella, and sister-in-law Suzanna who has joined us under our roof. I will admit that I, at times, find it wearying to navigate my relationships with all the women in my life. They are each unique with their own unique personality, communication style, needs, and wants. I can’t even fathom trying to navigate relationship 997 other women at the same time. It would be impossible.

As a man, however, I can imagine that Solomon had his favorites among his 1,000 wives and concubines. I also imagine that Solomon’s wives were constantly, actively vying for power and position. They would have had to manipulate people, situations, and Solomon himself in order to gain attention and favor. The political intrigue within the royal harem had to have been intense.

There is also no way that Solomon could have meaningful relationship and influence over so many women from so many different tribes and backgrounds. His foreign wives would naturally want to worship their foreign gods. Solomon needed to keep the peace among all his wives. It’s not hard for me to imagine how it all went wrong. Solomon allowed his wives to worship the gods of their people. He had some favorite wives he wanted to make happy and compliant, and so when they wanted Solomon to build a shrine to their god  he found it easier to say “Yes, dear. Whatever you want.”

Today, I am thinking about men and women. I am appreciative of the beautiful, strong women God has placed in my life and all that I learn about both God and life in the ebb and flow of our relationships. I am thinking about what it means to be a man and how I am called to bring balance to those relationships. I am thinking about fatal flaws and what happens if I don’t capably play my part. It is an eternal mystery, this dance of relationship between male and female. I have more questions than answers. I’m just trying to:

  • lead well
  • avoid stepping on any feet
  • enjoy the dance.
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First Impressions

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan—with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones—she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind. 1 Kings 10:2 (NIV)

It is said, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

For the past couple of weeks Wendy and I have had our house cleaner, less cluttered, and more organized than it has been in nine years. We have had it on the market since the first of the month and have been entertaining a river of strangers flowing in and through. When you’re selling your house, you want the house to make a good first impression.

I thought about the Queen of Sheba this morning and the impression she must have made on Solomon with her traveling entourage and her caravan of goods and riches. Based on the Queen of Sheba’s response to Solomon, the favorable first impression went both ways.

Today, I’m thinking about the first impressions I make in business and in the community. Jesus said that we are to be Light in a dark world. I don’t want that light on a dimmer switch or utilizing a slow fade in. I want that Light to shine with instant brilliance when I meet others.

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“Every Family Has Bad Memories”

“Every Family Has Bad Memories”

Last Sunday I gave the message in the auditorium of Third Church. It was part of a series on “Heroes of the Faith” from Hebrews 11, and I was asked to unpack the story of Isaac and his twin sons, Esau and Jacob.

Because of copyright laws, the audio of two video clips were deleted from the recording:

Before the message began we watched a scene from The Godfather III in which Michael Corleone’s son tells him he is dropping out of law school to study music. His son tells him that he will never be part of his father’s business, stating “I have bed memories.” His father replies, “Every family has bad memories.”

At the end of the message we watched another clip in which a Catholic Cardinal presses Michael to make his confession. At first reluctant, Michael eventually confesses his sins including the ordering of the death of his own brother, Fredo.

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Good Samaritan Redux

This screenshot shows Paul Henreid and Humphre...

“I’m not interested in politics. The problems of the world are not in my department.” – Humphrey Bogart as Rick in “Casablanca” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Solomon conscripted the descendants of all these peoples remaining in the land—whom the Israelites could not exterminate—to serve as slave labor, as it is to this day. But Solomon did not make slaves of any of the Israelites; they were his fighting men, his government officials, his officers, his captains, and the commanders of his chariots and charioteers. 1 Kings 9:21-22 (NIV)

I find it fascinating that throughout history almost every tribe, nation, and people on this earth have practiced some form of racial or tribal differentiation, dominance, and inequity. The systemic system of conscripted slavery described during Solomon’s reign is not unlike what the Israelites themselves experienced in Egypt, and what they would someday experience again with the occupations of Assyria and Babylon. What goes around comes around.

I sometimes hear people speak as if the world is getting better all the time, and that humanity is moving towards peace, harmony, and universal political correctness. Then I watch the evening news. Beheadings, genocide, mass graves, tribal conflict, racial discrimination, and religious intolerance are commonplace. We are all guilty.

Next to the major problems of the world that get pushed to the home screen of my phone on a constant basis, I sometimes feel small and insignificant living in my little Iowa hometown. I hear Humphrey Bogart’s voice in my head from Casablanca as Rick says to Laszlow: “The problems of the world are not in my department.”

And yet, they are in my department. I affect the people and world around me in my sphere of influence. I can recognize and fight the prejudices in my own thoughts, words, relationships, and actions. Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan was about the reality that the “neighbor” in His command to “love your neighbor as yourself” was not just your homogenous tribal group but also the person who is your tribal, racial, social and political enemy. The Jews and Samaritans hated each other the same way the Jews and Palestinians hate each other today. THAT was the whole point of the story.

This morning I wake up far from home amidst a culture very different from my own. I can choose to hold these people, who are very different from me, at arm’s length. Or, I can fight my natural inclinations and choose to understand them, listen to them, feel for them, and love them as I love the quirky white people of my Dutch American heritage back home.

 

 

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