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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No Travel Necessary

I answered the songwriters call to pray for the peace of Jerusalem at the Western wall.

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”
1 Kings 8:41-43 (NIV)

In 2003 I had the opportunity to be among the “foreigners” that Solomon prayed for in today’s chapter. I was able to stand and pray at the site of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. There is nothing there now but the unearthed stone remnants which are now known as the “Western Wall” or the “Wailing Wall” because of the crowds who ceaselessly gather there to pray.

It was a special event for me simply because of the historical meaning of the site. I must admit, however, that I didn’t find the experience of praying at the Wall to have any special potency or spiritual power. In fact, I struggle with the belief that a geographical location makes any kind of difference to prayer. Jesus went away to a mountainside to pray regularly, but it had nothing to do with the mountain being somehow a spiritual place. His drawing away was more about getting away from the crowds, the demands of followers, and the stress that comes with working with people. He happened to enjoy going to the nearby mountain, but the same thing could have been accomplished by going to the woods or getting out in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee.

Our place at the lake is very similar. I always feel spiritual peace when I’m at the lake. It’s a great place to relax, to pray, to meditate, and to think. There is nothing sacred in the dirt or water there. It is more about the fact that there is no television signal and only spotty internet service if you have a cellular modem. You’re away from the grind. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful. The stress and anxiety of every day life melt away. The quality of my prayers and meditation at the lake rise because I don’t have work piled on my desk, don’t have my home phone ringing off the hook, and don’t have people demanding my time, energy and resources. There is space to reflect, to mull things over, and to have conversation with both God and others.

Jesus taught that with the pouring out of Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the presence of God would reside in the hearts of believers. We are God’s temple, and we take Him with us wherever we go. Pilgrimages to special places can be meaningful, educational, inspirational and spiritually beneficial, but they are certainly not necessary. I don’t need to write my prayers down and slip them into the Western Wall to be heard. With God’s indwelling Holy Spirit, my prayers are heard wherever I am at any given moment.

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