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In Good Times and in Bad

The word of the Lord came to Elijah: “Leave here . . . You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.” So he did what the Lord had told him . . . The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. (1 Kings 17:2-6)

scarThe new ruler was like nothing the people had ever seen before. He was a change agent, an envelope-pusher, and a record-breaker . . . but not in the manner any nation would want. His name was Ahab, king of Israel, and he did “more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him” (1 Kings 16:30), a dubious distinction and difficult to imagine. So I’m picturing Scar in “The Lion King,” for Ahab’s beastly rule in arrogance, weakness, and disgrace was likewise marked by corruption, famine, and malaise.

It was God who withheld rain for three years, but this was no surprise celestial “gotcha.” Rather, He had long ago vowed overflowing blessings when His people followed His good and right ways, and He foretold overwhelming consequences when they forged paths diverging from them. Yet even in times of our rebellion and the difficulties that follow, God provides in the most amazing ways. To the people of the Exodus, He gave bread in the morning and meat in the evening. Now likewise to Elijah—God’s prophet and Ahab’s nemesis—He dispatched raven couriers with food every day. Hasn’t He also seen to our needs, both in the good times and in bad?

Yet mere survival is not the end of the story. In great love for us, God also turns the consequences of wrong into catalysts for good. For when we’re unable to cope, we seek Him in hope. When we do, we find Him still loving, still caring, still calling us back to His open arms. And so it was that even Ahab—this Scar-like king who “behaved in the vilest manner”—upon hearing God’s rebuke, humbled himself before God, found mercy, and avoided disaster (1 Kings 21:25-29).

Regardless of circumstances, God remains sovereign, He is merciful even in judgment, and He will provide. Ours is, like Elijah, to trust God. And to pray that all of our leaders will, like Ahab, humble themselves before Him.

Lord, grace us to trust you and to follow your ways and only your ways, regardless of our circumstances. Turn the hearts of your people and our leaders toward you, where we will find mercy and peace. Amen.

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Post-retirement Planning

Here’s an irony. We study for a dozen-plus years, thousands of days, and tens of thousand of hours to prepare for our careers, and what does HR talk about when we show up eager to put our skills to work? Saving for retirement!! So we voluntarily invest in something called a 401k and involuntarily pay into something called social security—both to prepare for something called retirement, which will occur in another 40-something years! That’s life in America.

investWe’re wise to prepare financially for when the paychecks stop flowing. But the golden years don’t last all that long, and there awaits “the other side,” an eternal Kingdom where dollars don’t spend. How do we plan for that? How do we “lay up treasures . . . as a firm foundation for the coming age,” as the apostle Paul put it?

Certainly Paul was not suggesting we try to earn our way into heaven by way of our own goodness; that’s an impossibility. Instead, I think when people care for the needs of others, give freely of their means, and share with them the good news of salvation in Christ, God is glorified—His purposes are accomplished, His people live in unity, and He is pleased. For those who cried out for God find Him through those who serve in His name. Those who knew no hope now dare to. Those who prayed in desperation find their answers through inspired hearts and human hands. God is loved, and people are, too. And we’re all the richer for it. That’s life in the Kingdom.

God, strengthen me to do what you call me to do today, so that your Kingdom is advanced and your purposes fulfilled. Help me give and love from my heart and through my words and actions. I ask this in the name of Jesus, my Lord. Amen.

Command those who are rich in this world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

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Followership Excellence

[Dear Readers: Today’s post is a slightly revised version of a favorite from 2014. Enjoy!]

“And [Moses] called the place Massah [Testing] and Meribah [Quarreling] because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’”  (Exodus 17:7)

Have you ever noticed how obsessed we are about leadership? Browse around Barnes & Noble, skim this week’s LinkedIn articles, or peruse your church library, and you’ll find that leadership-envy is inescapable.

followershipIt seems to me our fixation on leadership is to some degree symptomatic of two unhealthy causes: we have concluded that leaders have more value than followers; and we are scared that, if we are not leaders, we’re somehow unsuccessful. Which is a shame. Because I believe that more good is accomplished through great followers than through great leaders and that great followers are at least as worthy of our esteem, if not more so.

Great followers toil just as hard, sacrifice just as much, and apply an equally capable—albeit different—skill set as those who chart their course. Great followers are strong enough to temper their own control and respect that of others. They have the character to offer precious insights during the decision-making process and then submit themselves to the conclusions of those in charge. Their candor takes more courage, for they speak to those who hold power over them. And how brave the one who does not violate his or her values and principles, even when pressured to do so by those in authority! All of this for a fraction of the recognition. That is the stuff of heroes. That is greatness. That commands respect. Surely, the last will be first.

But poor followership? It stymies. It divides. It tears down. Makes for ruin. And it shows up in today’s Scripture, the Israelites rebelling against their leader and doubting their God. So defining was the moment that Moses actually named the place after these followers. He called it Testing and Quarreling. Wouldn’t it have been great had Moses been able to name the place, Loyalty and Affirmation? Or Diligence and Unity! It would have been a lasting reminder of great followership. But it could not be, for although Moses is considered among the greatest leaders of all time, it was the poor followers who defined the place.

We are followers. That’s what “disciple” means: “follower.” And our response to true leadership defines where we work and serve. So what will they name the place where we give of ourselves? Division, or Unity? Rebellion, or Obedience? Cowardice, or Courage? Pettiness, or Maturity? Subversion, or Support? Me, or We?

Lord, lead me in your strength, and inspire me to serve people well. Grace me with humility, so I may bring blessing to others and glory to you. Amen.

[Read today’s text, Exodus 17:1-7.]