In filmmaking, there are many different ‘takes” that typically make up a scene. Actors do their best to avoid making mistakes until the scene is complete and to the satisfaction of the director. One of the things I really enjoy about some filmmakers is how they include some of the out-takes at the end of the movie. Often, these raw clips make me laugh more than the movie itself did. The out-takes are what make the actors seem real, they reveal their authentic character which shows us that we all make mistakes.
1 and 2 Kings remind me of this concept of “takes”. Throughout these two books we have 42 different takes on the role the kings plays in the life of Israel. Each of these Kings set out with a vision as they took on the responsibility of leading the people. The events in the two books of kings happen over approximately 384 years. During this time we read about two characteristics that in part help define the landscape of the vision held by these leaders. Scripture tells us these two things, “He did Evil in the eyes of the Lord” and “He did right in the eyes of the Lord.” Two very closely related statements with incredibly different outcomes which also highlight one of the character traits each of these leaders posses. Out of forty-two “takes” only six of the kings listed started and carried out their role as king with God in the picture. 1 and 2 kings only give us a glimpse into the lives of these men, one has to wonder about the differences in the culture and quality of life between the good kings and the evil kings.
One of the incredible characteristics of our God is that He is the same today as He was in the time of all these kings. Today, as leaders we serve the same God who looks at all we do, the vision we cast, the lives that we live and holds us to the same standard as these kings. Are we doing right in His eyes or are we doing evil in His eyes. What is at the heart of our vision? Are we keeping God at the centre of all we do? Are we giving God the glory for the work he is doing through the plans (vision) he has inspired in us. I hope and pray that what I am doing as a leader having been called by Him into His service is being seen as right in His eyes. I want this “take” on life and leadership to have an impact in His great Story.
We can either heed the warning of the “do not enter” or “danger” sign and stay on this side of safety or we can ignore the warnings and walk into a potentially dangerous situation. The sign has a very clear purpose and is pretty much universal in its message across the world. With that being said, I know that there are a number of people out there that see this sign and ask the question, “how dangerous is it?” For them it sparks a certain amount of curiosity and interest, questioning that of what lies beyond the warning.
“Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.” (2 Peter 3:17). Peter is closing his second letter with this warning, so it makes sense that he writes to us in his letters in a way that alerts us of some potentially “dangerous” situations. The most notable of these warnings is the influence of the false prophets and teachers that have been working their way into the lives of the people and the church. Over and over through his letters we are told that we will suffer because of our faith in Jesus, a warning and notice that our suffering for doing good is commendable before God. As we continue our reading through the text we are also warned of the enemy (the devil) who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 peter 5:8).
As leaders today we can fall prey to theses dangerous situations. Peter describes for us, the means by which the false prophets work, secretly introducing destructive heresies that are contrary to the sound doctrine we are growing in. Often times there is no danger sign shouting out to us to stop. Peter reminds us to grow not only in our faith through knowledge, but in goodness, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection and love. When we build these qualities into our faith, into our leadership we will not stumble, we will see the warning signs against the teachings of false doctrine, we will stand strong in suffering, and we will see the devil prowling around us (standing on guard). We may hear these warnings, we might see the signs, it is up to us to heed them even when our curiosity, our broken human condition of self and pride try to prevail.
Have you ever tried to wear a pair of shoes that didn’t fit properly? If they are too small your toes get a throbbing, aching pain in them from being jammed (no pun intended) together. If the shoes are too big, they will constantly rub on the back of your heel eventually causing you to get a blister. When it comes to shoes there is nothing better than a comfortable snug-fitting pair to keep your toes and heels intact.
The pastoral letters of First and Second Timothy hold a wealth of information for the training and encouragement of leaders today. Paul was writing to Timothy, his protégé, passing down instructions on how church leaders were to be shaped. 2 Timothy 4:5 offers up some heavy hitting instructions for Timothy and for us, “But you [Timothy, Steve, insert your name here], keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”. A part of Paul’s charge to Timothy here was “to do the work of an evangelist”. Is this who you are? An evangelist? I have devoted a considerable amount of time over the past couple of years to understanding God’s call on my life. When I consider my gifting, my abilities, I don’t “fit the shoe” in the role of evangelist. So how can I take this verse, this charge, and apply it to my life? I appreciate Eugene Petersons translation of this verse in the Message, it reads, “keep the message alive”. You or I may not be called to be an evangelist but we are called to be witnesses, men and women that live a life that honors God and reflects his love and compassion to those around us.
We only have to read a few verses into the book of John to understand that he was a “witness to the light”, A witness who testified to “the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14b) You or I may not be the person who is called to “go and tell” (the evangelist), it may be that we are the ones to say “come and see” (the witness). Please don’t get me wrong and think that I am dismissing the role of the evangelist like I would a pair of old worn out shoes. The role of the evangelist is critical in the advancement of the kingdom of God. What I am saying is, if the “shoe doesn’t fit” find a pair that does (discover the gifts that God has given you) and do everything you can to “keep the message alive”. Let your life reflect God’s love, be a witness to the Good news of Jesus Christ, be the one who says, “come and see”, this is what the Lord has done for me.
Some of the key ingredients to growing a “perfect” tomato is providing consistent water, temperature and just the right amount of daylight. According to Google there are 6,840,000 references to “growing perfect tomatoes”, that’s a lot of information to pick and choose from. I have tried to grow tomatoes over the years in varying ways that produced somewhat undesirable results. I am going to attempt another batch this year and the one advantage I have over the others years is an automatic watering system to provide consistent nourishment.
The apostle Paul talks about being “nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed” (1 Tim 4:6). He is writing a letter to Timothy, giving him direction through his letter so that if in his absence He, (Timothy) will know how the people should conduct themselves in the church. With instructions on proper worship and qualifications for overseers and deacons we have quite a list of requirements to live up to as leaders in the church. There are some high expectations to which we are called as leader in the church. In each and every one of us there is a goodness that God has created, it is a goodness that needs consistent nourishment, a source of sustenance that is found in the truth of His word. In order for the goodness to produce new fruit in His kingdom we must give ourselves fully to God, “we have to put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people.” (1 Tim 4:10)
I don’t know of any “automatic system” that will feed or provide the nourishment of God’s word into our lives. The writer of Hebrews describes the need to be nourished by the “solid food” (teachings of righteousness), the same truths of the faith and teaching that Paul writes about here in 1 Timothy. As mature believers, as leaders, we have to be disciplined in our time being nourished by the word. This means spending time in the word, reading and meditating on its truths, living by its example, encouraging others, training ourselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:14) and faithfully teaching others. The word of God provides us the life giving nourishment necessary for growth, health and conditioning to be his leaders in the church today.
Keep your eye on the ball… in the eye of the storm… a bird’s-eye view… beauty in the eye of the beholder… a second set of eyes… in the blink of an eye… camel through the eye of a needle… eye for an eye… evil eye… I could go on and on but I think you get the point. I played baseball in my younger days and heard the “keep your eye on the ball” idiom all the time. I use this phrase when I teach my own kids to catch a ball or attempt to take a swing at it with a bat. “In the blink of an eye”, this phenomenon occurs when you put a bowl of candy or chocolate in front of some sugar crazed kids.
“In the eyes of the Lord”. This is a common expression used when we read through the books of 1 & 2 Kings. Most of the introductory words we read in respect to the reign of each king tells us up front the outcome of their rule. Quite simply they either “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” or “did evil in the eyes of the Lord”. We don’t have to read much further to understand all the particulars of what ‘right & evil’ are. I do believe it is a valuable lesson to spend the time to read deeper into the actions of the kings, to understand how what they did shaped the culture and ultimately the lives of the people. When I reflect on what each of the good and bad kings did, I came to this conclusion: the bad kings focused their actions through their own (self-centered) eyes and the good kings measured their actions as though they were looking through the eyes of the Lord (doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord)
What if we all operated our leadership focus from within this perspective, “lead, teach and preach through the eyes of the Lord. Our eyes, our perspective, has been skewed by the the cultures we live in. 1 and 2 Kings lay out some very clear principles and some not so obvious examples of both “good” leadership, and leadership “folly”. We can learn from the good and from the bad. Learning from those who came before us, should encourage us not make the same costly mistakes. We live in a day and age where our focus is easily distracted and pulled away from what is right in the eyes of the Lord. Spending time in God’s Word, reading, reflecting and praying for direction will help sharpen that focus. It will help us to lead in a way that is right and good.
Have you ever seen a police dog at work? There is an uncanny sense of determination that drives these highly trained animals to do their job. With a single command from their handler they jump to their feet ready, focused and set to complete thier mission. One other characteristic that stands out is the incredible sense of loyalty they have to their human counterpart, a loyalty that often rivals that of human relationships.
Elisha was confident of his calling to serve the Lord (an important leadership principle). In some respects, his story reminds me of that of Solomon’s. Elisha followed closely in the footsteps of Elijah, one of the greatest prophets of his time. It is Elisha’s response to Elijah’s question that is reminiscent of Solomon’s response to God’s question. When asked what he (Elijah) could do for him, Elisha did not request the desire for status or fame. He requested a double portion of his Spirit, a request that shows us his desire to serve the Lord in ways that go far beyond his human capabilities. 2 Kings chapter 2 highlights the story of Elijah’s spectacular parting from this world to be with God in heaven. As I read through this chapter my attention was drawn to the determination and loyalty of Elisha to stick by Elijah’s side despite his attempts to have him stay behind. When I consider the loyalty displayed by Elisha to follow his mentor, I can’t put aside the bigger picture, his loyalty to God. Elisha was on a mission for God.
Elisha was a regular guy, working what was likely a regular job for many in that time. The text tells us that he was ready to follow Elijah when he came and “claimed” him for service. The words “ready to follow” carry a powerful message here for us in context to Elisha’s calling. For many of us today, God had been preparing or is still preparing our hearts for His service. Life carries us in many directions. One day we could be plowing a field like Elisha and be called into leadership or we could be working in the wholesale plumbing business and be called into ministry. Wherever we are, young or old, the Lord has a plan for our lives and when He calls we need to be like Elisha, ready and determined to do great things.
“What have I gotten myself into? “Have you ever asked yourself this question? It is one of those moments in life when you know you are into something, and it is way over your head. You feel like you have lost control and you are considering a long run into the hills. I took on a project once that sent me into this particular state of frenzy. I remember the sluggish sinking feeling that seemed to consume all my energy and to be honest I can’t remember how I made it through. I know I did because there was a finished product to show for my efforts.
I believe Solomon had a similar experience. Listen to his confession before the Lord, “I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number.” (1Kings 3:7-8) It is said that Solomon was around the age of twenty when he became king and had already established a certain stature of wisdom according to his father (2:6,9). We might consider the words “a little child” an expression of inexperience, trepidation or even humility. As a young man Solomon had the privilege of growing up with the example of His father David as king, he was married to Pharaoh’s daughter, he had a son but he knew that this next stage would take him in over his head.
I have to wonder what Solomon’s dream would have been like when the Lord appeared to him for the first time? There was a question, a conversation, an exchange of epic proportions and then, he woke up realizing it had been a dream. The narrative that continues through the next number of chapters in 1 Kings proves that the Solomon’s dream was in fact a new reality for him. He lived on to make decisions that made an impact throughout history, decisions that allow us to gain wisdom into our own leadership. Solomon’s request, his heart’s desire for wisdom to discern between right and wrong and lead the nation in obedience to God’s will should inspire us all. Eventually this story of wisdom and inspiration take us to a place where the forces of darkness take a hold of Solomon’s life, an unfortunate scene we see all too often in today’s world. These lessons both positive and hard are recorded for us so that we might learn and live a life pleasing to our God, so that we might lead with integrity and love.
Have you ever considered the amount of time that passes between a green light and a red light as you are driving? Depending on the speed zone you’re in, it can vary from 3 to 5 seconds. Given that amount of time our brain has to make a quick decision, release the accelerator to slow down or as the old saying goes: “put the pedal to the metal”. At times some of us ignore the yellow warning light all together, our focus is on the red or the green, the stop or go that controls our momentum.
The first chapter of 1 Kings introduces us to a man named Adonijah, one of the sons of King David and third in line to the royal throne. (Let’s consider him the “pedal to the medal” green light type of guy). Then we meet Nathan and Bathsheba (our more cautious red light, action stopping counterparts). What we have here is a collision of ideas, thoughts and emotions about who is going to become King. Adonijah recognizes his father’s failing health and jumps the gun and appoints himself king, “I will be King” he says, completely ignoring the “yellow light” that prompts us to think about our actions. Was he ready to be king? Was he qualified? Did he have the blessing of the current king? Did he seek direction from the Lord? On the flip-side we have Bathsheba making her plea to King David to make good on his promise to have Solomon be his successor, an appeal that ultimately puts a stop to Adonijah’s plan. Bathsheba’s actions seem self-serving at first glance and they may well have been as she feared for her life and the life of her son Solomon. I do believe that our sovereign Lord used each of these events to shape the direction of leadership for His people.
When I reflect on God’s call in my life to be a leader in the church I must admit I spent a lot of time between the red and green lights. Unlike Adonijah, I took a considerable amount of time to listen for God’s direction in my life. Although I may have had some “green light” drivers encouraging (nudging) me from behind, I needed to be sure that the decisions I was making were not self-serving. We may not know the plans that God has for each of our lives but as we trust in Him and seek His direction He will reveal them to us. Our job and a good sound principle of Christ centred leadership is taking the time between the green and the red lights to listen for God’s direction.